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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2018 HR Audit Checklist

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

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

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

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

Download our 2018 HR Audit Checklist Now!

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

So here’s what we’ve come up with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



HR Strategy and Goal Setting for 2018

Learn top views on developing the best human resource (HR) strategy planning process and examples of setting ideal employee developmental performance goals and objectives.

In my HR career, I have found us to be a very reactive bunch. We tend to tackle whatever is in front of us or on fire with little thought to what’s ahead. I don’t think this is a deliberate action, but more a coping mechanism. Over the years HR has changed. As more and different responsibility was added, we had to tackle whatever was coming at us in the moment and didn’t have time to think about what was happening next month or even tomorrow for that matter. Now as all HR professionals are becoming more comfortable in their role, we have more time to think ahead and, dare I say it, actually work on developing HR strategy.

HR strategy is a tricky thing. Tricky because it is easy to focus on things that don’t actually matter. Tricky because it has to be flexible. Tricky because it usually has to happen on a limited budget and with limited resources. I’m sure that last sentence resonated. The lack of budget and limited resources, especially with our audience, stifles many ideas in the HR planning process.

But it doesn’t have to.

We believe that small businesses can do anything big businesses can do, you simply have to know how to scale. But even the best execution begins with a plan. Here is a how we take our clients through their new year HR planning process.

Our human resource planning process breaks HR down into three major components: compliance, recruiting and strategic initiatives. This is how we break out our services to our clients and have found it to be the most effective way to look at individual components of HR and then plan around each of them.

Whenever we are working with a startup or small business, the first thing we want to get in order is the compliance piece. Compliance covers all things legally required of employers as well as foundational aspects of human resources. We start with our HR Audit to see where there may be gaps we need to fill quickly.

We believe that HR audits should be conducted on a regular basis, but at a minimum, whenever the HR lead changes hands which is why we always do it with new clients. The great thing about the audit is that it can be used to easily set goals for the upcoming year around any compliance issues that fall into one of these categories:

Missing Altogether – if there is anything uncovered during an HR Audit that isn’t covered, it should be put as priority one on the goal list.

Could Be More Buttoned Up – most HR teams have convoluted and confusing processes that haven’t been changed because “that’s the way it’s always been”. When conducting the HR Audit professionals should not only be asking if something is being handled, but also, could it be handled better?

Could Better Leverage Technology – a large component of every HR strategic plan should include adding or better leveraging technology. With the vast array of subscription based software and technology companies focusing in the small business space, there is little excuse for any HR department to not be leveraging technology at some level. Further, we find that many outfits have software but aren’t using it effectively, leaving very helpful features unused.

To set goals around HR Compliance, HR leaders should ask themselves is the particular compliance area in place, is it working as it should, could it be better and is there any technology that we could leverage to make it flow more freely. So many HR Department of One’s find themselves stuck in the weeds and it is often this compliance area that has them there. This can run like a well-oiled machine with the right focus on getting it right.

A large component of human resource planning focuses on recruiting. I have written about our workforce planning process before and will be revisiting it in more detail in February. An effective recruiting strategy and therefore overall HR strategy is reliant upon how well a group goes through a workforce planning process. We know that in small businesses, it is a necessary process. Once you know what positions are likely to be open in 2018, you can then revisit what has worked for you in the past, and plan to do more, as well as areas you know you need to move into more, such as social recruiting.

To set goals around recruiting, HR leaders need to know the answer to what positions will be open, what positions have we struggled with in the past, what recruiting methods have we had great success with and what area do we need to at least dip our toe in?

Strategic Initiatives
Strategic is a word we throw around a lot in HR. We want to be more strategic or be given the opportunity to be more strategic. I contend that we don’t need permission and “being strategic” isn’t something you are, but something you do.

I consider strategic initiatives to be those things that are not required by law but make the workforce better. This would include things such as leadership development programs, on-boarding programs, employer branding or social recruiting initiatives and so on. It is anything that raises the level of HR service and helps better establish and manage employee performance goals and objectives.

To set goals around strategic initiatives, leaders should ask themselves in what areas they struggled with the most in previous years. Was it in performance management? This could indicate a need for a better performance management process or even leadership training. Did the company struggle with getting new hires up to speed? Maybe an on-boarding process is in order.

The thing about strategic initiatives is that they shouldn’t be based on what would be nice to have or what may make the leader’s life easier, but what the employee base actually needs. Many times the answer lies in some form of a more effective process, more employee training or both.

Once goals are established in each of these three areas, an overall HR strategy can be developed. This strategy will be a guide post for all projects throughout the year. Every new initiative should be helping the HR team, and therefore the company, meet its overall objective. It is hard to know how effective HR is or has been without these goals. Of course they may shift throughout the year as business changes, but creating an overall plan early on, allows leaders to focus their HR efforts and get ahead of the curve instead of being run over by it.

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3 Resolutions Small Business Leaders Should Make for the New Year

Get the best small business leadership help, tips, resources and advice including 3 New Years resolutions for owners.

Even if you are not a typical resolution setter, there is something about the new year that gives us all a feeling of starting fresh. We have the opportunity to begin again, even if working towards the same goals. There is a renewal in the new year that is invigorating.

I’m not necessarily a resolution setter, but I am a goal setter. Some might say that’s the same thing. I set goals for myself and my business every December and make plans to carry them out in the new year. This year, I get to add a new category to my goal list: leadership. For the first time in my business I have a team surrounding me. In 2018, the leader I am and how I work with them has to be a priority.

Here are three resolutions/goals I am setting for myself as I lead my team next year. If you are a small business leader yourself, they are worth taking a look at.

Training & Development:
Always at the top of my list is training and development. In all small businesses, employees wear many hats. All roles are strategy + execution, meaning not only do you get to develop the strategy, you then have to execute it. Employees can not be expected to be a jack of all trades. If I am asking my employees to do something a bit out of their experience or skill set, which I almost always am, then I need to provide the proper training to ensure their success.

Further, professional development is at the top of many employee’s Christmas wish list. In 2018, I want to make sure my employees have the opportunities to seek out professional development.

Customized Motivation:
For decades the ideas behind motivation and specifically using perks to motivate has been that one size fits all. More and more I’m seeing big businesses turn towards customized motivational tools. Customized meaning fit to the individual.

This can be done on many levels. First, in the way we work with our employees. Since no two are alike, customizing our leadership approach to them means they are likely to better respond. I love using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to better understand employees personalities. If I can better understand them, I can customize my approach and my motivational tools to help develop them further.

Challenge Myself:
When things are busy, I tend to forget about my own development. I focus on the work and forget that leaders need to work on their skills as much as their employees. This can be as simple as setting a reading goal, attending conferences or establishing a larger goal that pushes you outside of your comfort zone.

As leaders we can get so focused on our employees or our business, that we forget that we need to continually be challenging ourselves as well. I plan to think about how I can do that better and more consistently in the coming year.

If you are anything like me, 2017 passed by faster than you can believe. Looking back I know I didn’t focus in on some of the areas as heavy as I should have this year. I plan to take the new year as an opportunity to correct that. I want to focus on making myself and my team better. I want to be deliberate about not getting so caught up in doing the work, that I forget about the people helping me to make it happen. It certainly takes focus, but will be more than worth it.

Those are my top three leadership priorities for 2018. What are yours? Do any of these resonate with you or do you have a different focus? Would love to hear your leadership priorities in the new year. Leave a comment below or send us a note. We would love to hear from you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Using the Holidays to Jump Start Small Business Team Building

Find out how to jump start the best fun, creative, simple team building engagement activities, bonding exercises & ideas for small businesses companies employees & work groups

We officially are in the home stretch of 2017. We are one week out before Christmas and only two weeks out from a brand new year. With all of the vacations that happen during the holiday season, this is likely the last full week of 2017 that many are working.

Many of you may have already had your work holiday event for the year, but with this one full working week, we wanted to give a few ideas on how you can use that holiday party or even time together over the next few weeks to jumpstart your team building efforts for 2018.

Pay Attention to Tradition
Traditions are as important in a workplace setting as they are in a family. Don’t believe me? Stop doing something that you have done every year for the past 5 years and see how employees react. Even the smallest thing, like a $5 giftcard to Starbucks can become a tradition that employees honor. They may make fun of it, but believe me, inside they value it. Build up morale going into the new year by honoring the traditions of the past. If budgets are tight or leadership ideas have changed, find some way to still honor the tradition even if you have to change it up a bit.

Then, while going through the tradition, pay attention to what parts of it employees enjoy the most. Let me give you an example. A client of our does an annual holiday outing at the house of the founder. He invites all 23 employees and their significant others to his home for an evening of dinner, drinks and just hanging out. There isn’t really an agenda for the evening, but every year, his wife gives a toast. In this toast she shares how the year has gone from the perspective of a wife who deals with her husband in the evenings after the workday. It has become a bit of a roast of the CEO in a light hearted way that only a spouse could get away with delivering.

And the employees love it.

The CEO didn’t realize how much they loved it until he was asked one year at a meeting a few days before the event if his wife was gearing up for her annual toast. He didn’t even think of it as a tradition until that point. His wife wasn’t planning on giving one that year until he realized that employees thought it was the best part of the night. Now that he knows, he is sure to have it be a part of the evening every year. His wife even writes down little tidbits throughout the year so she can remember the most important stuff when the time comes.

This toast/roast does a couple of things for this team. First, it reminds them of where they have been. It’s amazing what we can forget in the space of a few months. Second, it humanizes the CEO a little. A family member of a high ranking leader can always bring out a little vulnerability that the employees may not realize is there but highly appreciate seeing. Third, it gives the CEO something to build momentum from in the coming year.


Keep It Going:
The hardest part about all the holiday festivities and the myriad of opportunities for natural team building it brings is that it all seems to fizzle and fade in January. Just like those New Year gym goers who seem to disappear around March, any momentum you have from the end of year camaraderie is gone by Valentine’s. It doesn’t have to be this way however.

I suggest to clients that they sit down in December and plan next year’s team building events. Whether those be in-house team building activities during regular meetings or events at an outside location, planning them when people are already in the team building spirit makes things much easier. Plus, it has the added benefit of the types of activities employee’s enjoy being top of mind.

Team building activities should be planned for every month of the year. Now before you roll your eyes, keep in mind I’m not talking about extravagant trips to a spa each time – although if you have that kind of cash, go for it. I’m talking about activities that are designed to allow employees to grow stronger as a team. It can be as simple as beginning and advanced getting to know you activities or an afternoon where everyone gets to share what they feel is going really well and what isn’t. Team activities can be simple and yet have a powerful impact on the ability of the team to work together.

Most leaders think about team activities as a once or twice a year thing. They think about them around holidays or specific company milestone dates such as an anniversary, but the reality is you need mini activities throughout the year to make those larger moments more meaningful and to help the effects from them last.

Once you lose the momentum, your next activity has you starting from scratch or worse, a negative place. Building activities into the year and building off the momentum of the larger activities means constant work towards becoming a stronger team. Work that is always evolving and bettering itself. Use this holiday season to jumpstart that momentum and carry it into 2018.

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Is Your Job Posting Holding Back Your Recruitment Strategy?

Discover the best cost effective, innovative employee recruitment process plans and creative HR selection practices & employer strategies for human resources.

Hands down, the topic I get asked about the most from small business leaders is recruiting. How to recruit top talent? Where to find top talent? How to afford top talent? What to do to promote the business and build a brand? How to compete with larger competitors? It is top of mind for any startup or business in growth mode and seemingly a constant struggle.

I don’t report to have all the answers. In fact, anyone who does is lying. There is no silver bullet in recruiting. None. Not one. Zero.

What works for one may not work for another. Some brands can get away with things other brands wouldn’t dream of. Some can pay less because they are a pathway to Google. Others can pay more because they are Google. You get the picture. Nearly every business struggles with recruiting in some form or fashion. Even the big ones.

While there is no one size fits all solution to effective recruiting strategies, there is one truth, having a strategy is better than not. And most companies are missing that boat. Going through the recruitment planning process is essential for small businesses to be able to succeed in finding the talent they need. Most go through no process however, dive right in and hope for the best.

And by diving right in I mean they post their job descriptions on a major job board and pray the one who walks on water applies and wants less money than they are offering.

You laugh because it’s true.

I’m guilty and I know you are too. Unless I’ve been called in specifically to help in recruitment planning, it’s hard to get a company to change their ideas about job postings. If something has worked for them in the past, they are going to keep doing it. Apparently, even if it’s not working for them they are going to keep doing it because they bought a $10,000 package and darn it they are going to use it.

I believe as time goes on, the competitive nature of small business hiring is only going to get worse. Merry Christmas to all. I think that getting people to apply at all to a brand they have never heard of is going to become increasingly difficult. Let me correct that, getting the right people to apply is going to become increasingly difficult. Even the most creative recruitment strategies are going to go bust if the right people aren’t attracted to them.

Like moths to a flame, that job ad may be the burning light your recruiting needs.

I often listen to my clients as they are talking to a candidate for the first time to hear what they share. In highly competitive markets some of them have honed quite a sales pitch. It’s impressive really. They give such a speech that the candidate can’t wait to join. Usually these are candidates who have been sourced by some recruiter or another and the manager knows they have to do their best sales job to land them. Then I wonder what would happen if that same sales pitch was turned into the job ad. If the boring lines about job duties was removed and the vision for the company, team and this roles future was shared. Would a job posting had worked if it was more of a sales pitch on the company rather than one long to do list.

I think it’s something worth playing around with. I know that one common complaint I hear from small business HR practitioners, typically HR Department’s of One, is that they don’t have time to explore sourcing strategies in recruitment. They think they don’t have the time to search for candidates, make contact and hope they are interested. So they have to rely on job postings to get the job done. I’ve rebuted that here, but for the sake of this post I’m going to pretend it’s true.

If you don’t have time to source or explore different recruitment strategies outside of posting jobs on job boards, then why not at least get creative with that job ad to see if maybe, just maybe, something different will work better?

Of course, you want to keep it on brand. I have had my fair share of conversations with leaders who appreciate how I jazzed up a job ad, but didn’t feel like it represented them well. And you’ll want to monitor to see if the quality of candidates does change, either for the better or worse. If better, great. If worse, time to adjust again.

Sometimes it can be as simple as adding more about the company or highlighting certain aspects of the job that usually aren’t on a job description. Maybe it’s highlighting some of the perks of the company that are different than medical, dental and paid vacation. Maybe it’s the raw honesty of saying that you don’t have a lot to offer, but the chance to get in on the ground floor and build something amazing.

In my six years in business, I’ve met more people than you can imagine who would jump at that opportunity.

So maybe if your current job posting is getting you nowhere and you don’t have time for a total recruitment plan revamp, simply take a look at your job postings and see if they could be holding you back. Try to switch them up, make them stand out from others. Tell a story that shows candidates why applying to your job is worth their time. Give them the same sales pitch that makes candidates want to work for you when they get in the door. Often it’s the simplest changes that make the biggest differences.

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Top Performing Employees May Not Be Your Best Leaders

Discover how to improve employee engagement, productivity, performance and leadership management with talent development training, strategy and planning systems.

As even the flattest of organizations grow, they find the need to add more leaders. When that growth happens quickly, organizations may look internally to see who may be able to fill those leadership shoes. One of the top metrics used in this case is employee performance. It only makes sense that top performers would move into leadership positions.

Except that sometimes it doesn’t.

Up until this point, those high performers have been assessed on skill set. Even if your performance management process includes some form of people skills in it’s evaluations, chances are good that all of the metrics that deem them a top performer, are skill based.

And yet.

Leadership positions require people management skills. Obvious, but true. Just because you have the technical skills to do a job, doesn’t mean you have the people skills to lead others. They are simply not the same thing. Further, and maybe a more important note, leadership requires a will to lead. Something that is sometimes lacking in employees who are tapped for leadership positions.

At the same time, it is an admirable characteristic and sometimes a competitive advantage of small businesses that they promote from within. So, if a business is going to make it a priority, there are a few things they should have in place before ever assuming that someone who is good in their job would be good at leading others to do that same job.

Talent Management Strategy
A robust talent management strategy ensures that employees receive ongoing development that is not only focused on improving employee performance, but enhancing the more intrinsic skills necessary for people management. While talent management strategies may seem like something only big businesses can do, I find that startups and small businesses can actually have greater success with them. Here’s how.

When businesses are small, leaders have fewer direct reports. When businesses are small, they are often more flat and have less convoluted layers that make truly effective leader to employee interaction difficult. When businesses are small, the daily interactions that leader and supervisor have naturally can become part of a talent management strategy meaning that everyone, not just top performers, can be included.

Effective talent management strategies begin in the recruitment process and never end. They heavily involve the employee’s leader. They do not have to be fancy, but they should be two-sided. Meaning the employee should be asked about their career aspirations and the role they see the organization playing in getting them there.

And when they mention leadership positions as part of the long term goals, the next phase comes into play.

Leadership Development
When we create leadership development programs, we believe an integral part is customization. For the organization of course, but more importantly for the individual. For this reason, we create an overarching leadership development training plan that allows wiggle room for each individual to create their own plan. In fact, one of the components of our programs is that every individual involved gets to create their own idea of a plan that could get them where they want to go. We then take the leadership development training that everyone must go through, mesh that with each individual’s customized plan and create an overall strategy that creates ready leaders when needed.

It sounds much more complicated than it is.

The reality is, having the desire to lead is a necessary trait to actual leadership. Sure some people are natural leaders, but others aren’t. For those, that willingness to be self aware of their shortcomings and be willing to work together and individually to overcome is essential. Asking them to come up with their own leadership development plan, helps identify how self aware they are and how willing they are going to be to work on the hard stuff.

The leadership development training should cover all the things leaders need to know such as moving from peer to supervisor or having those difficult conversations (two of our most requested training programs). It should provide basic understanding of leadership’s role in employee engagement. It will provide leaders with the basic people skills every leader needs. It is training that even outside leaders should go through once they join the organization. The training is high level, while individual leadership development plans are more detailed.

While tapping that high performer on the shoulder and moving them into a leadership role may seem like the obvious answer, it may not be the best solution. Easy, yes. Best, maybe not. The earlier an organization creates a strategy that helps them grow the talent they have into the leaders they need, the more successful they will be at actually doing so. Then their competitive advantage becomes two-fold. Having a robust talent and leadership development strategy while also promoting from within. In this day and age, individuals are willing to stick with companies who offer those things over ones who pay the most.

For organizations overwhelmed with implementing this type of initiative I always suggest to start with just one component and add on from there. Create a robust onboarding program first or a leadership development program. Even just doing a few workshops with top leaders that starts to create common language around what leadership in the organization should look like is a great and easy place to start. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, the point is to be deliberate. Make talent management and leadership development a priority and only good things can come from it.

And for my small business clients, I always say, the earlier the better. It is not nearly as time consuming or costly as you may think to implement these programs. Get ahead of it before behaviors are out of control and you have to start from a negative place. Correcting bad leadership behaviors takes much longer than cultivating them in the first place.

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Make Microlearning Part of Your Learning and Development Strategy

Learn how to use microlearning in designing and developing effective human resource methods for a staff training development plan and learning program for employees

I have talked quite a bit over the years about how I believe training and development is an essential component of any business. Even small businesses, with limited budgets and resources, can put a focus on employee learning and will reap significant rewards by doing so. It is one of the main reasons we are rolling out our learning management system next year. It is our way of helping our startup and small business clients put an emphasis on employee development.

In recent years, web based training has taken a front seat in many businesses. Anything that allows employees to take a training course when and where it best suits them is important for many businesses with so many mobile employees. Training efficiency has become as important as training efficacy.

For this reason, when I am proposing a new training and development plan to potential clients, I always build in multiple training methods. I find that the best training programs, especially leadership development programs, include a mix of in-person and web based training modules. Certain topics are better suited for an in-person facilitated traditional training setting, while others can be understood just as easily from an online course. The important piece is to understand which is which and more importantly, vary the length of time.

One of the things my team and I are enjoying playing around with and will be adding more opportunities for our clients to use in 2018 is microlearning. In this day and age we want everything at our fingertips quickly. We watch videos instead of reading because we can get to the information quickly. We can get as much out of a 15 minute YouTube video as we can a two hour long documentary if done correctly. That is the idea behind microlearning.

We consider microlearning sessions to be no more than 15-20 minutes in length. They are quick hits of information that can be consumed anytime, anywhere. They supplement the greater training and development strategy by dialing in on a subject that is only touched on in another training sessions.

Let me give you an example.

We created a leadership development program for a startup that is executed for all new leaders coming into the business or being promoted into a managerial position. The program consists of four in-person training sessions on what we consider the big leadership topics: communication, engagement/development, leading through change and leadership style. Obviously in even a full day training session, which these aren’t, you can not cover every inch of these topics. You have to hit the major points and use other learnings throughout the year to supplement.

This is where microlearning come in.

Under each of these topics we created sub-topics. Some of these are going to be the same from company to company, while others are specific to whatever the company may face. These topics can be covered in web based training, but we know that to keep the trainee engaged and wanting to continue the sessions, we must break up the style and length of time. Rather than have a 2 hour session on motivating teams, we can offer a one hour high level webinar and then offer 4-15 minute microlearning sessions which speak to different personality types allowing the leader to pick the ones that most apply to their team.

Employees are more likely to participate in and find value in training that they feel most applies to them. We find that requiring the big training, but then giving multiple options for additional training in the form of microlearning encourages leaders to participate more and feel they get more out of it.

And any training and development program is only as good as what an employee can get out of it and put to use.

Another great thing about microlearning is that they can be used to allow other employees to share their expertise. Employees who may not feel comfortable getting up in front of a group for an hour and training on a topic even if they are an expert, but they may be willing to record a quick 15 minute session via an online service where they don’t have to stand in front of anyone and can get straight to the point.

The possibilities of how you use microlearning are really endless. I’ve talked mostly about web based, but they could be in the form of podcasts or blog reading. Any medium that allows the user to consume helpful information in a few minutes of time can be considered powerful microlearning that adds to the overall learning and development program.

Are you using microlearning in your business? I would love to hear how you are using it and how it’s working for your employees. Leave a comment below or email us directly to tell your story.

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Creating a Positive Employee Experience for Your Small Business

Creating a Positive Employee Experience for Your Small BusinessI met with the HR Manager of a potential client last week and she described the company as a 10 year old startup. She explained that while the business was established, growing and thriving, they still liked to do things “scrappy”.

I like that definition.

When you are small and scrappy, all employees must wear multiple hats. I have clients who when you walked into their office you wouldn’t immediately know who the CEO is because they are all working together doing whatever needs to be done to move things forward. It is a unique experience and one that can take some getting used to if it is new. It is the reason many individuals who spend most of their career in big business and then move to small business, have a hard time adjusting or quit before they can really get their feet wet.

It is for this reason that during the interview process, I ask candidates about their experience in small business. If they have none, we spend a good amount of time talking about what small business environments are like and how they might be able to work within that. Many think that small businesses must be easier but the reality is very different.

Beyond making sure that candidates know what they are getting into, leaders can do their part to create a positive employee experience even when you are asking people to do things they may not want to do. In the beginning, everyone is in the weeds and not able to be as strategic as they want. How do you maintain positivity during that period to ensure employees stick with you for the long term?

Most businesses focus on customer experience. Some are paying attention to candidate experience. The place where they fall short is in employee experience. Especially in small businesses, where everyone is moving a million miles a minute, employee experience is usually not considered until someone is walking out the door. Over the years that we have been in business I have witnessed vastly different environments from one business to the next. For those who are creating positive employee experiences there are a few common traits.

Before we get into those I will say that for any of this to work small business leaders have to be deliberate. They have to be intentional. They have to think beyond the service or product they are selling and focus on the employees who are helping them to make it happen. Without that intentionality, culture builds itself and employee experience can become a very problematic thing.

Open Communication

Without fail the first thing a new client tells me about their workplace is that they have an open communication policy. I have learned to ask them what that means to them. I often find out that what it means to them is not what it means to their employees. When you only have 15 or even 50 employees it is very easy for everyone to interact on a daily basis. Even if the work is not overlapping, which is rare, there is no reason why open communication should not be practiced and encouraged.

I have a client who shares in the recruiting process that all employees have the ability and are expected to share ideas and push back, even to senior leaders, when they feel something isn’t right. Not only do they say that, but they mean it. Small businesses that truly foster open communication in both word and deed and do not put boundaries on that communication or make it political have much better employee experiences.

Honest Communication

This one is big. Especially if the small business is in startup phase or experiencing some issues with funding, honest communication about where the business stands to all employees is critical. We serve as a grievance hotline for clients and one of the most common complaints really stem from employees just feeling insecure about their longevity with the company. They feel their leaders are hiding things from them because they aren’t telling them where things stand financially or what the growth trajectory looks like.

Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to share, even the not so positive news, about how the company is doing. Employees are likely to be more loyal to a leader who they feel is honest with them even in darker periods. We all want to work for someone we feel we can trust and being honest is a crucial step in building that trust.

Get Out of Their Way

I founded this business by myself. For many years I did it all. I’ve built the brand by myself and handled all client work from top to bottom. Once I reached max capacity I started adding team members. While it is nice to delegate and move things off my plate, it’s also tough at times to have someone else do things in a way that I wouldn’t. I have to remind myself to get out of their way and let them do it.

Because founders are clearly passionate about the business and have a very vested interest in how things are going, they can be some of the worst micromanagers. Even if they weren’t prone to micromanaging before their entrepreneurial journey, starting a business can turn them into one. Nothing turns competent, capable employees off faster than being micromanaged.

To avoid this in my business, all my staff is virtual and I have a policy that allows them to work when, how and where they want. All I want to know is that the work is being done. Keeping it this way keeps me from seeing what they are doing every day and wondering if they should be focusing on something else. It also minimizes my urge to tell them how to do something they are completely capable of doing on their own. Something I believe they appreciate.

Creating positive employee experiences isn’t about fun parties or foosball tables. It is about fostering an environment where employees feel like they can trust leadership, where there is an open and continual loop of information and where deeply honest conversations can be had without consequence. Having those fundamentals in place makes everything else that much easier.

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