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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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3 Ways to Make Small Business Recruiting Easier

Discover human resources job recruitment strategies and staff employee hr recruiting methods and solutions for small business. Tap here to visit AcaciaHRSolutions.com

I wish I had a magic wand that I could twirl in the air and it would find the perfect candidate for every open role we are working on. I know a few hiring managers who wish we had one too. A startup client just received Series B funding and has been waiting for that funding to hire into twelve new positions. Twelve. Now. We are hiring them all now.

When I first started this business and knew that I wanted to offer recruiting services, I had to figure out how to scale them so that I alone could manage. More importantly, I had to figure out how to find candidates without the budget to spend a lot on advertising on job boards. I needed the recruiting process to be easy and cheap and yet somehow find the right candidates in a timely manner.

Easy peasy right?!?

I have tons of blog posts on creating more proactive recruiting strategies to help scale budgets and resources which you can read here. For the purposes of this post I want to share three quick tips to make your process easier. These may seem like common sense to most, but what we find is that common sense is often known but not executed. If you aren’t utilizing the tips below in your recruiting process make it a priority to implement them as soon as possible.

Get Ahead of It
This is likely the topic I’ve talked about the most. In order to create a truly proactive recruiting strategy you have to stop waiting for the job to be open and recruit for it long before that. Walking through workforce planning activities with leaders can help anticipate openings before they happen. It can also help identify sources and timeframes for recruiting long before you actually need the position filled.

The recruiting process will never be easy as long as it is reactive. For small business HR leaders to ease the burden of recruiting, they have to get ahead of it and anticipate what is coming rather than react to it.

Assemble a Team
In all aspects of HR, leaders have to stop thinking that they have to do it all alone. From handling the day to day HR needs to recruiting, other people in the business can and should help. Hiring managers can share open positions with their network. All employees can share social media posts about open positions. Employee referral programs can be leveraged to supplement applicant flow.

I realize that you may have to take baby steps to make this happen if others aren’t used to helping. One of the easiest things you can do is encourage all employees to share job openings with their networks. Creating scripts they can easily copy into their social networks will make them more likely to do so. Leveraging rewards or recognition for employees who share will also motivate more to do so. Using employee networks to share job openings takes no budget dollars and gives employers the opportunity to get their job openings in front of people who may otherwise never see it. It also lends credibility to the business as a great place to work when employees are willing to encourage their contacts to apply for openings.

Hiring managers can get more involved in the hiring process by being responsible for following up with candidates. One of our startup clients went through a process last year where we trained all hiring managers on how to give real time feedback in the recruiting process. We promised that we would not make anyone do it until they felt comfortable, but they had to agree to eventually be willing to try it on their own. Over the course of several weeks we did role playing exercises and communication training to get managers to a place where they felt comfortable telling candidates in real time where they stood with their candidacy. This simple change has cut the time that HR has to spend following up with interviewed candidates in half. Candidates aren’t flooding their inbox or voicemail asking for an update. Candidates themselves have expressed gratitude about knowing right away and not wondering.

What’s more, hiring managers have reported that having the honest conversation with a candidate about why they are hesitant to move forward has given the candidate the opportunity to rebuttal, which in some cases does change the hiring manager’s mind.

Getting more people in the business involved in recruiting can only bring good things.

Leverage Technology
I’m not going to belabor this point because I talk about it a lot, but it is always worth mentioning. We live in an amazing age with so much technology available to us. So much of the recruiting process can be automated now. Further, small businesses no longer can use the excuse that they can’t afford technology with so many no cost or low cost options available.

Since this is always a hot topic for us, we decided to host a webinar geared towards helping small business human resource team automate their recruiting process with technology that is readily available to them. And by readily available we mean free or extremely low cost.

We know that small business HR teams are not leveraging technology to the fullest extent and this webinar is going to set them on the right path to do so. It will talk about using employees to share openings as mentioned above, but also cover things like tracking candidates when you don’t have an applicant tracking system and automating responses to keep them informed.

This webinar is perfect for anyone who handles recruiting in a startup or small business setting.

 

Again, I doubt you read any of this and see anything you haven’t heard or thought of before. Yet, these are the very things we implement quickly when we work with a new client because they often aren’t in place. We know they will help, but actually sitting down to implement takes action we put off for some reason or another.

Recruiting isn’t going to go away and unless we get ahead of it, leverage the team around us and automate the pieces that we can, it will continue to be daunting.

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Part 2: How an HR Department of One can Become More Agile

Find out about the best human resource management HR help, support, services, systems, packages, documents and basics of sample policies in support for small businesses and companies.

In part one, I started the discussion around how HR departments of one can use agile methodology to make their current practices more efficient. Using these methodologies such as adaptability, simplicity and unity, not only makes people process more efficient, they also free up the HR leader to spend time out of the day to day HR stuff and on things that really matter to employee success. I explained that in our work we have found two key areas that HR can start to look at for opportunities to become more agile.

The first is in recruiting. If you don’t want to go back and read that post, the cliff notes version is this. Agile recruiting teams (or the HR person in an HR department of one) is always looking for ways to make the recruiting process better. They are reviewing how the process is working and running through iterations of change to see what improves the process the most. They throw out the idea that the way we have always recruited candidates is the best way and look for ways to better leverage technology or change the entire approach to who and how we recruit for certain positions, as we did with the client described in the post. Recruiting is notoriously reactive, but truly agile recruiting means becoming more proactive, trying new things and learning from past mistakes.

There is another area where HRDO1 can use agile principles to become more efficient and effective in their work. This area is hands down the area where HR practitioners tell us they get “stuck in the weeds” the most.

Administration

Believe it or not, the day to day administration of people programs seems to be the place where HR leaders get stuck the most. We know this to be true because as we continue to create programs or training offerings for small business HR leaders, the ones that gain the most interest are those aimed at alleviating the burden of day to day HR administration.

It’s even the topic chosen for my Smart Stage presentation at SHRM18. I gave the speaker team two topics that I could deliver and they chose Getting Out of the Weeds: How HR Departments of One Can Move from Fire Fighter to HR Igniter. HRDO1 are represented in large numbers at a SHRM conference and they try to provide content specific to them as much as possible.

HR teams do a couple of different things to make the day to day administration of people process more agile. The rest of this post will focus on one.

Empowering Managers

As I mentioned in the post about empowering managers to handle employee grievances, leaders, especially inexperienced ones, will push off as much uncomfortable work on HR as they can. What we find is that uncomfortable not only means difficult conversations but really anything people related that they don’t want to do. See if this sounds familiar.

Instead of finding a form an employee asked for on the intranet, where the leader knows it is available, they send the employee to HR.

Instead of addressing a minor employee relations issue the minute it happens, they wait for HR to have the discussion.

Instead of empowering employees to problem solve issues on their own, they send them to HR for help.

Basically, anything people related that leaders don’t want to do, they send them to HR.

If HR leaders are to become more agile in their every day work, they must empower leaders to take on more of the day to day people management. This means ensuring that people processes are simple, not overly time consuming and easy to access. Here are a few simple ideas to make this concept become more clear.

In order to prevent every employee who needs a form from coming to HR, place all common forms on an intranet or shared drive that all leaders have access to. This could include tax forms, leave of absence paperwork, disciplinary document templates and performance management forms. Be sure to let all leaders know where the forms are anytime HR is asked for a form, remind that leader that they have access to all of the forms and the employee does not need to come to HR. Certainly if your HRM system offers any self service options you will want to ensure you are fully utilizing all you have available to you, but for many small business leaders these systems are not available.

Another idea is in the area of employee grievances which I talked about in a previous post.

A third idea to empower leaders is in the area of people coaching. Beyond grievances, leaders must feel equipped to deal with the day to day people management needs. This means training leaders on how to be a coach and mentor to employees. It means putting systems in place that allow leaders to ensure their employees have what they need to do their job effectively. It means contributing to and driving the type of culture and vision that aligns all company goals.

I once worked on a project to revamp a performance management process for a growing company. When I first met the HR leader who was an HR department of one, she explained that she runs her business this way: HR owns nothing, they simply facilitate. This means that HR creates the policies and processes needed to achieve business goals and then facilitates the empowerment of leaders to make it happen. She was one of the most visionary HR leaders I have ever worked with and I learned so much from her approach. Talk about the true epitome of an HR business partner. This approach is what executives use, why can’t HR?
For HR departments of one to truly get out from under the burden of heavy administration, they are going to have to empower leaders to handle more of the day to day activities. Using agile methodologies to make processes more simple and easier to manage will help do this.

A few final thoughts. HR leaders have to move away from two things to really be able to embrace agile. First, they are going to have to stop thinking that broken processes can’t get better because that’s just how it is for their business. Even with no budget or little resources, things can always be improved. Second, they have to move away from a fear of failure. Agile methodologies use iterations or sprints to identify hang ups or areas that could be improved. We work with many technology startups and we have learned the value of these sprints first hand. They reveal where the product has opportunity for improvement and areas that don’t need as much focus. There is no reason HR can not roll out processes as a sprint and change it again when they identify parts of it that aren’t working.

Agile HR is an innovative way for leaders to move beyond the traditional way of doing things and rethink human resource processes. It is easier to implement than one thinks and can improve efficiency tremendously.

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Part 1: How an HR Department of One can Become More Agile

Discover agile hr policies including advice, templates and solutions for human resources leadership and hiring staff employees recruiting support for small business owners.

Sometimes as HR leaders we think that business concepts or processes do not apply to us. This is increasingly true for a small business HR leader who is just trying to get their head above water. The idea of implementing a business process when you are looking for a life preserver seems like suicide.

A worse mindset, and one we combat daily with our clients, is the idea that small businesses can’t implement certain business processes because they are so small. Surely that business process costs money and takes resources that the business doesn’t have. You know what I say to that.

Small businesses can do anything big businesses can do. They just have to know how to scale.

One area that HR departments of all sizes can innovate is to focus on the idea of becoming more agile. Of course agile is a software development concept, but it’s underlying principles have been adopted across organizations of all sizes. For an HR Department of One, adopting agile principles can help that practitioner be more effective and, here’s the kicker, free up their time to focus on the things that really help grow employees and in turn, the business.

Agile HR departments above all else are adaptable. They can change direction quickly and fail fast. They are also simplistic in execution, focusing on ease of use for the customer, the employee. The processes implemented by an agile HR team have the greater company goals in mind and are pushing towards those goals, adjusting all the time to ensure they hit their target.

In our work with small business HR leaders (or small business leaders handling the HR function) we have found two areas that HR can become more agile and the benefits that brings.

Recruiting:
Recruiting process are, and always will be, a work in progress. One area that we can all do better at is in the skills we look for in potential candidates. Our go to process for years has been to create a job description with a laundry list of all the skills and experience necessary to do the job, post that laundry list on a job board and check the boxes as resumes come in. Passing on only the ones who meet all the right check marks. Agile groups would do this much differently resulting in better hires.

Rather than focus on skill set, agile groups might ask about intrinsic skills like collaboration or creativity. They would ask the hiring managers how the right candidate would be successful and use that to shape interview questions. They would also spend time observing the team the candidate would be joining to ensure they understood the job and were looking for the right thing.

If recruiting methods were failing, they would constantly adjust, not keep posting on the same job board that produces no or the wrong candidates. There is always innovation that can be done in recruiting and not all of it is coming up with mind blowing new methods that haven’t been thought of before. Sometimes, trying an old method in a different way is just the innovation a recruiting process needs.

Let me give you an example of how we used agile thinking to change the way we recruit for a client.

This client has openings for hourly manufacturing line workers about 4-5 times a year. These positions are notoriously hard to fill by all traditional methods. The first year we worked with the client, we wouldn’t start hiring until there was a vacancy and by the time we had it filled, the line had been missing a person for weeks slowing down production.

Trying to be agile HR consultants, we sat down with leadership and brainstormed ideas on how to improve the recruiting process and how to adjust what we were doing. We went through several iterations, software teams call these sprints, to come up with the process that has been working for well over a year now.

We realized that more importantly than checking the boxes for skill set was to find the right type of person who would be content working on a manufacturing line. The work is repetitive which not everyone likes. Some parts of the line are isolated meaning that individual works alone for much of their shift. Other parts of the line are congested meaning that individuals work almost shoulder to shoulder day in and day out. Observing all of this made us realize we needed to focus more on personality traits than skill set.

And that the skill set wasn’t nearly as important as we thought.

As I sat and watched each individual do their job, I realized that with a few days of training even I, someone who is not mechanically inclined whatsoever, could probably do ok at the job. We had been looking for someone with a few years experience on a line, but the reality is the job didn’t require any experience. We helped the leaders see that by opening up the position to those with no experience and focusing more on personality and cultural fit, we might actually be able to keep the positions filled.

But we needed a major compromise first.

The leaders were a bit hesitant to go with the no experience requirement. They agreed that the job could be trained, but they weren’t sure they had time to train. They also had reservations about interviewing for mostly personality fit. Their question, which is a fair one, was could we really assess that fully in the interview process.

No, not really.

After a ton of discussion, here was our final solution. We will hire for no experience, but develop a standard training program that utilizes current employees to help get new employees up to speed quickly. Further, everyone is hired as temporary for 4 weeks. This gives us the opportunity to truly assess personality fit. Finally, rather than wait until we have an opening, we start the temporary process at the beginning of every quarter even if there are no openings. By the time the person is through the temp process and it has been decided they are a fit, there has always been a place for them.

To ensure the temporary process is attractive to individuals, we guarantee their pay for 4 weeks even if they are let go earlier. They don’t have to worry about only being needed for a week and then let go. If they leave at the end of week one, they are cut a check for the entire 4 weeks. Every perk is retro’d back to their start date as a temp rather than their regular employee date. This allows them to take advantage of benefits and paid time off earlier than other temp positions would.

This process is outside the traditional recruiting methods and took flexibility on the part of leadership and our recruiting team. We certainly aren’t the first to think of a process like this, but it does demonstrate how recruiting teams can use agile methods (creativity, flexibility and iterations), change the way they recruit and reap the benefits.

Rather than have a blog posts that runs over 2000 words, we decided to break this post up into two parts. Part two will be released on Thursday and will detail the other way we have found that HR Department’s of One can become more agile.

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DISRUPTHR Los Angeles Gearing up for 2018 Events

Witness the future of human resources management at Disrupt HR technology trends conference events

Human resource professionals need to read blogs, attend events and converse with people who challenge their way of thinking about the way we work. If there is one glaring truth I have learned since being laid off, starting my own business and managing several different kinds of HR events, it is this.

We get stuck in ruts.

When DISRUPTHR came onto the scene several years ago I was intrigued by the idea of an event that in short bursts of information did just that. Challenged the way we think about HR. What’s more, I love that it isn’t just for HR professionals. All business leaders can get something out of these talks. I would argue that some of the topics are designed for them directly.

When I moved to Los Angeles there wasn’t a DISRUPTHR chapter. There was interest in starting one in Orange County and so I volunteered to help organize that and spoke at the first one. One request that came out of that event over and over was to host a similar event in Los Angeles.

Because if you live in LA or OC, you know that crossing county lines into the other is not something anyone wants to do.

We held our first Los Angeles events in 2016. The buzz around the event has been very positive. We held an event in 2017 and are now gearing up for our first 2018 event.

Once you do a few events like this you learn a few things. We have learned about timing of the event and how many speakers are a good number. We’ve learned about ambience and how to better partner with vendors who want to help us put these events together.

And we’ve learned what topics attendees crave.

Like culture. The buzzword that isn’t a buzzword. The elicit elephant in the room that everyone is trying to define. A holy grail goal to emulate companies like Zappos or Google. A word that is spoken every day in HR and leadership circles everywhere.

For our first event in 2018 we are going to explore this topic.

We are currently accepting speaker applications for this event who want to explore this idea of culture. The one thing we find most valuable is when speakers have opposing views. Do you think culture is bunk and we should stop talking about it? We want to hear from you. Have you experienced a business boost from a focus on culture? Would love to hear that topic as well. We would also love to hear from business leaders on their ideas around cultures. Like I said, the event is titled DISRUPTHR but the only way to truly disrupt is to get outside perspectives.

Of course we could never pull off any event without the help of our amazing partners. The wonderful group at Haworth is partnering with us for the second time. Their office in downtown LA is a perfect location for any event. Boasting 360 degree views of Los Angeles it is a showroom for all of their stylish and comfortable office furniture. There will be more to come about Haworth and other partners in a post closer to our next event date.

Our goal this year is to reach as many leaders in the Los Angeles area who need a little disruption in the way they think about employee related topics. We would love to see HR professionals bring their entire leadership team. Major change happens when multiple people are on board so what better way to start re-imagining HR than by involving other business leaders.

If you are interested in attending, speaking or partnering with us for our upcoming DISRUPTHR Los Angeles or any other event, join our mailing list to get more details. Our subscribers get early access and updates on speakers and partner opportunities before anyone else.

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Three Ways to Empower Leaders to Deal with Employee Grievances

Discover the formal workplace employee grievance handling process, procedure, steps and policy examples for staff at work in human resource management.

Few things strike fear in the hearts of leaders everywhere like having difficult conversations with employees. Difficult could mean a variety of things: giving negative feedback, sharing bad company news or listening to employee complaints.

Like when an employee tells you they are being harassed.

Or that they think their supervisor plays favorites.

Or when they demand more pay.

Communicating with employees in regular circumstances can be difficult, but throw in

No wonder they push employee grievance issues off on HR.

If we think about things that are HR time killers, employee grievances has to be up high on the list. I know HR leaders who spend all day on grievances. Or at the very least, unnecessary employee relations issues that take up way more time than they should. In an effort to deal with grievances, companies create grievance policies and procedures and carve out a section in their handbook to explain them both.

But if HR leaders ever want to spend less of their own time on employee grievances, they need to empower leaders to handle every complaint to the point they can and use HR as more of a sounding board than a participant. The process takes baby steps but for that leader wanting to empower leaders to handle more grievances on their own, here are a few things you can do.

Set the Tone Early
Shortly after I started my business I realized that by handling all employee relations issues as part of our outsourcing services, my phone would ring all the time with nothing but employee issues. Whether it be questions from leaders or complaints from employees, I knew that in order to keep this manageable I had to set expectations on the types of things that could be handled in house and the types of things to escalate to HR. In-house HR practitioners can do this too.

For me this was a more formal process during the client onboarding process. I created a list of scenarios that could happen on a day to day basis and gave them tips on how to handle them. For other items listed, such as a sexual harassment complaint, I gave advice on what to say initially, but then encouraged them to notify me immediately. It didn’t prevent leaders from calling me with things I wanted them to handle themselves, but it did give me the opportunity to remind them about the list and refer them back to it.

There isn’t any reason an HR leader can’t create their own guide to make accessible to leaders to refer to when employee grievances come their way.

Train on Communication
There are three topics that I get asked to train to the most and they all center around communication. The topics are: The Art of Difficult Conversations, Balancing Communication – How Much is Enough and Saying What You Mean (in a way others can hear it). It doesn’t matter how seasoned a leader is, no one feels as though they are a pro at facilitating difficult conversations. The more uncomfortable the topic, the more difficult it is to find the right words.

The more focused training a leader has around communication, the more comfortable they will feel having tough dialogue with an employee. While formal, facilitated training is best if available, encouraging leaders to read books on communication or even practice having tough conversations during meetings can go a long way. Anytime the HR leader has the opportunity to teach communication skills, they should take advantage.

Make them Participate
One of my early clients was a self professed confrontation avoider. He admitted early on that he would avoid having difficult conversations for as long as he could. He knew that it often made things worse rather than better, but hated tough conversations so much that he found it easier to avoid and deal with larger problems than face head on.

His desire to avoid was so strong that if he had his way, he wouldn’t even participate. He wanted to call me, tell me the issue and then have me take it 100% from there and just tell him when everyone was happy again.

Not so fast sir.

We all love pushing things off we don’t want to do. Unfortunately for HR, we can easily become the place where things are pushed. Especially those “touchy feely” things other leaders do not want to deal with. Employee grievances are often at the top of this list.

But we can’t give them that out.

Any leader who tells me they would prefer that I have a conversation because they don’t trust their own ability or are uncomfortable doing it don’t just get a pass. I will handle the conversation, but they are going to sit in. And they are going to sit in with the intention of being able to handle it on their own in the near future. Sitting in isn’t a free pass to just be a witness, it’s a learning opportunity and I want them to treat it as such.

Of course all leaders should have formal training on employee grievances early in their tenure with the company and then anytime the opportunity arises. If there seems to be a reoccurring theme in employee complaints, it’s probably a good idea to do some training around that area. In any kind of annual training you do, like preventing sexual harassment, you should carve out specific time to train leaders on how to handle this exact type of grievance from employees.

Of course there is training that needs to happen from an employee perspective as well, but we will save that for another post. The more HR leaders empower leaders to handle the employee grievances on their own that they can, the more time that HR leader has to focus on areas that really need their attention. Focus on this for 6 months and the way that your company handles grievances as a whole will change dramatically.

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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.

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Three Questions to Ask Every Candidate for Your Small Business Roles

Learn the top three interview questions to ask a potential employee when finding, recruiting and hiring good prospective staff employees for your small business.

Businesses of all sizes struggle to find the talent they need. Across many industries it is a candidate’s market right now necessitating the need for even the most competitive of businesses to get creative with their recruiting strategies. It is for this reason that I find startups and small businesses employing a hiring strategy that proves detrimental 100% of the time. I’m not even sure you can call it a strategy.

It is really a free-for-all.

When hiring gets tough, these businesses whose names are not as well known, whose compensation package is not as attractive, whose stability is shaky on a good day resort to hiring whoever will say yes to their offer and hope for the best. Hoping for the best typically ends in facing the worst. An employee that has to be let go and in the time between hire and now has created a wake of destruction. Something no small business can easily recover from.

Maybe a little dramatic, but true.

The small businesses who avoid this phenomenon are those who have created an effective recruiting strategy that helps them attract talent AND those who have put that talent through a thorough interview process to ensure they really are best all around fit. Because here is what I know to be true, there are people out there who want to work for small businesses. They exist. Finding them might take a bit longer, but they are there. Figuring out if your small business is the right one for them is on you. Rushing through the process may only result in bad hires.

Bad hires leads to lost time, productivity and morale. All things small businesses can not afford.

Once a business has found that individual that seems right from a skillset perspective, the interview process becomes most important. We screen many candidates every day for one business or another and find ourselves asking the same few questions to get to the heart of whether that person will work in the environment we are hiring for. It is often the answers to these three questions that help us decide whether to move this person along in the process or not.

“Have you worked for a company our size before?”
In this question size means both employee population and revenue. Here’s the thing. Working for a large company is not the same experience as working for a small one. Coming from an environment where you have a support team around you to a team where the CEO could also be the guy who cleans the toilets is a world of difference. If a candidate’s background is 100% large business where they are used to having a team around them then transitioning to a small environment may be difficult.

From a revenue perspective every small business is different. Our client range from very well funded startups who have no issues with cash flow to those who are worried they will make payroll every two weeks. It takes a certain kind of person to stick it out for the long haul in the second environment.

Startup life is crazy and not everyone is cut out for it. Finding out what type of experience they have similar to your environment is crucial. That isn’t to say that if they have never worked in a small environment that you shouldn’t hire them, but it should prompt you to ask a lot of questions around how they would react in certain situations to assess if they can really make the transition.

“Give me examples of times when you were responsible for both strategy + execution.”
I love this one. One of my early clients said, “Sabrina, all of our roles are strategy + execution. We can’t just have strategist and we can’t just have doers. We need people who are capable of both at the same time.” That has stuck with me over the years. All positions in any startup or small business are strategy plus execution. The head of marketing doesn’t just have to come up with the marketing strategy, she has to execute it. The head of HR doesn’t just get to come up with the recruiting strategy, she has to sift through resumes and pre-screen candidates to execute that strategy. If candidates have been in roles where they have created strategy for years and then sent others to execute or in roles where they didn’t really create strategy, they may not be a fit. Be sure to dig into their specific role in each aspect. Again, if a team created the strategy or executed, how would they do this as a one person shop?

It probably sounds like the first two questions get at the same thing and in a way they do. The second question makes the candidate prove their answer to the first.

“How do you see this business growing?”
Small businesses need people who are passionate about what they are doing. They need people who are invested in the product or service that the business is offering. If you only have a team of 20, every hire should be invested in the growth of the company. This answer tells you how much research they have done, how much insight they have into the industry as a whole and how they perceive their experience fitting in.

I’ve asked this question before and had people go on for 20 minutes about all the possible directions a business could take. I’ve also had people answer in 30 seconds with a canned answer about growth and stability. The latter may not be an immediate disqualifier, but it doesn’t get me excited that the candidate is really invested.

Specifically the first hires for a small business need to be invested in the vision of the company. Asking them how they see the company growing can help determine their initial level of investment and interest.

Not rushing through the interview process and ensuring a robust question and answer session helps business leaders make the right hire. No questions are fail proof. Bad hires may still slip through the cracks. But being diligent about asking tough questions and questions that get to the heart of what you are trying to do can help mitigate some of that risk.

Do you have a favorite question you like to ask small business candidates?

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HR Tech for the Smallest of Businesses

Discover the value and benefits of human resources employee training strategy, learning programs and HR staff development process plans for small businesses.

Whenever I speak to small business groups the question comes up about HR tech that is available and affordable for small employers. We are going to be writing more about specific HR technology throughout the year, but thought we would start a post that simply lists all of the vendors that currently cater or at least have HR tech available to even the smallest of businesses.

As a refresher, our business provides HR outsourcing and consulting services to startups and small businesses with less than 100 employees. These businesses have one of three scenarios going on with their HR management. They have an HR Department of One, a non-HR person (admin) handling HR or they have no HR management system in place and just hope for the best each month.

It is primarily the HR Department of One that I am speaking to when the topic comes up. Those HR professionals who handle all aspects of human resources for a company in the startup or early growth stage of business development. They are the ones that ask most often about HR technology.

Here’s why they ask.

HR professionals in small businesses are stuck in the weeds. You are going to hear me talk about this a lot this year. I will be doing a Smart Stage session on it at SHRM. They are so bogged down with compliance and day to day employee management that they can’t get to the higher level goals they have for themselves as HR business partners. Whenever I talk about getting out of the weeds, one of the points I make is that we have to leverage or better leverage HR technology.

This usually leads to a bit of push back stating that they do not have the budget for HR tech and that all the good services aren’t available to businesses of their size. In 2018 that simply isn’t true. With many HR technology vendors offer subscription services, there is tech available to companies of all sizes at rather affordable rates.

So often, the issue isn’t having the tech available but how to make the business case to your leaders. We will be helping with that in a later post.
In other instances, the small business actually has HR technology in place but it is either no longer meeting their needs or they aren’t sure how to utilize it fully to do what they need it to do. More on that later as well.

Clearly, HR technology for this particular niche will be a focus for us this year as we try to help more and more HR Department of One businesses get out from under the tactical struggle of keeping up with HR “stuff”.

Out of all of that this initial post is born. To put this list together we searched for HR Technology vendors that were available to employers with 2 or more users. Some do have an employee threshold of 50 or more but all market themselves to employers under 100 which is where most of our clients and readers fall.

To further cull the list a bit we threw out anyone with high implementation fees ($10K or more) and those that we thought whose pricing, even if catering to small businesses was way out of budget for what we know our clients to expect or are able to pay. Overall annual fees of $100k, even for the best software is just not attainable for most small employers.

The list is in alphabetical order by category. It is not a ranking. We have offered no commentary on our thoughts of the HR tech provided by the vendor…..yet. Our recommendations will be coming later this year.

For us we expect this post to be a living document. It will be updated as we learn about more vendors. We know the list is far from complete as is and hope that if you know of or are an HR technology provider, you will send us a note to have you added.

To add to or be added to this list, email Christine directly.

One last note. None of these links are affiliate links. We were not paid by any company to include them on our list nor will we let any company pay us to be added. We simply want this to be a resource for our readers who are looking for one list of all the HR technology available to them.

HRIS Systems

Talent Acquisition

Leave Management

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The Value of Learning and Development in Small Business

Discover the value and benefits of human resources employee training strategy, learning programs and HR staff development process plans for small businesses.

When interviewing candidates for startup or small business roles, the most common question that comes up centers around the stability of the business. For some this is a very easy question to answer. They are well funded, turning a profit and being smart about how they grow mitigating the risk of future downturns creating the need for layoffs. For other business, the answer gets a bit trickier. The stability of the company relies on the ability of new employees to come in and make a difference.

A CEO and I were once interviewing a potential head of sales candidate who asked about company stability. The CEO was brutally honest when he answered, “that is going to depend on you.” This is reality for many small businesses who need employees to make a mark quickly in order to move the business where it needs to be.

In these cases, recruiting candidates is tougher. Finding that person who is ok with potential instability and is willing to take a chance can be difficult. In most cases, if the employer is at this stage, they are also not paying top wages or offering other great perks. They have to rely on something else to close the deal with that candidate.

Some use potential equity later down the road, others rely heavily on the opportunity to work on whatever new awesome technology their business specializes in, but the ones who seem to close the deal more often are the ones who offer opportunities for learning and development.

Probably not what you thought, but in our experience, true.

So true in fact that I encourage my startup clients to think about building out learning and development plans before they launch. Before they hire their first employee or quickly thereafter, develop a budget and a guideline for how they will offer opportunities for growth to employees. In this instance growth is in terms of knowledge, not necessarily promotions.

Let me walk you through how this can be done.

We believe that effective learning and development begins in the onboarding process. Throwing employees into the deep end and expecting them to swim is an old-school leadership tactic that simply isn’t effective. Creating opportunities in the onboarding process that allow employees to learn about company culture, vision, mission and motto will help that set that employee off on the right foot. Even if they have to hit the ground running from a tactical perspective, time can still be carved out to learn what matters to the organization and its guiding principles.

Few things are less effective than a brand new sales person heading off into a sales pitch without this foundational information.

Beyond the onboarding process, small businesses should incorporate learning and development on a regular basis. Contrary to popular belief, it is neither hard nor cost prohibitive to do so. The most effective small business L&D programs include a mix of self learning, mentorship and formal education. Here’s why.

Learning and development should be tailored to the individual. At the same time, every business should have educational opportunities that all employees share so as to perpetuate culture and create a common language. The self learning and mentorship can be customized to each individual while the formal education is group training that all employees share.

This group training can be delivered in a variety of formats based on the environment of the company and employee base. Teams with a high number of virtual employees may want to deliver group training in an e-learning format. Small teams who are still in the “getting to know you” phase, may want training delivered in-house by a facilitator who can help them not only understand the concept, but help them work better together.

The bottom line is there is no one size fits all solution for learning and development.

I have a small business client who has been in business for 5 years and has 24 employees. Due to unexpected, but obviously welcomed growth, they found the need to move from a flatter organization to one with a new leadership layer. When the decision was made to promote employees into leadership roles, the founder wanted to make the promotional process a thorough one. Rather than just move employees into higher level roles and hope for the best, he wanted to put them through a bit of training and development and use feedback from those sessions to aide in his decision.

We created four courses to be taken over the course of 90 days. These courses focused on basic leadership skills, employee engagement, moving from peer to supervisor and having difficult conversations. Because an employee’s participation in the course was going to be used as part of the promotional decision, the founder wanted all courses to be facilitated in-person and he attended them all. The criteria to be invited to the course was simple, raise your hand. Any employee who felt like they were ready to take on a leadership role was allowed to attend. Even if the founder felt they weren’t ready, he vowed to keep an open mind and see how they did.

It was an amazing exercise for all involved, including me the facilitator. Eight employees attended signed up for the courses. After each course at least one employee would drop out saying that they knew they weren’t ready. At the end of the four courses, the founder had 4 employees who he now better understood, had seen examples of their leadership potential and commitment to it and, by his own admission, had a really tough decision on his hands. In the months following, other employees have asked when we are holding the sessions again because they think they are ready this time.

Probably the most unexpected result of this process, was that other employees who were either in the training directly or saw the results as those in the training interacted with them, completely approved of the decision on who to promote. They were behind this person 100% even if that meant they didn’t get the job. In a small business, this isn’t always the case as feelings get hurt, people feel they are owed something or they just don’t like the person who was promoted, but with this process, everyone was onboard. The individuals who went through the training felt valued and appreciated for having gone through it and even though only one person was promoted, several leaders emerged from the process.

The cost of putting together these solutions were about half of what the leader expected and the only other thing he had to give was his time and an open mind. He has decided they are well worth it and is incorporating this process into all future promotions.

Training and development makes employees feel as though their employer cares about investing into their future. They become better equipped to deal with their roles and potential leadership challenges. They develop a greater sense of loyalty and devotion to an organization that is investing back into their career. Even the simplest of programs can have this effect.

As time goes on, this will become more and more of a competitive advantage. We are seeing it in our hiring and also in the number of clients reaching out to get assistance with developing these programs. As pay and perks become even more competitive and less of a deciding factor, programs that focus on employee development and training will gain a leg up. It is something small businesses of all sizes should pay close attention to and consider.

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