Get out of your own way

21 Nov

I have a client who is so passionate about her product that she is involved in every last aspect of her business, down to splitting hairs between commas and semicolons.  As a few Southerners are want to say, bless her little pea-pickin heart. However, her insistence on staying in the weeds is going to prevent her from making a hiring decision she probably needs to make.

She desperately needs to add a position to her team. We can’t get past the minutiae to agree on the position and what it should do. I totally get the stress involved around turning over your ideas, trust, and business over to a new team addition.  But if you want to grow, you must. (By the way, the fact that I just started my sentence with but would distract her for a couple of hours.)

So here’s a basic primer for getting out of your own way:

– Write a clear job description.
– Conduct a thorough hiring process.
– Hire someone you connect with and who has the basics of what you need.
– Give that person the training, information,  and resources s/he needs to do the job.
– Set performance expectations and timelines.
– Schedule follow-ups.
– Be there to answer questions and redirect as necessary.
– Stop rethinking everything.

There will be course corrections along the way, but you’ll know pretty quickly whether the person can do the job and then you can move on to building your business.


What’s inside the mystery box?

16 Oct

Remember that game show where contestants could take the obvious cash prize, or risk it all to see what mystery awaited behind the curtain or in the prettily wrapped box? Sometimes, I could barely contain myself, trying to decide if it was better to go with the known (money) or the unknown (whatever I couldn’t see). Seems like most of the people took the risk and went for the unknown.

I post jobs for a lot of my client employers. Nearly 95 percent of the time, the employers are confidential until the first round of interviews. Why? In most cases it is simple math.

Which option would you choose from the scenarios below if you owned a company?

A) You would rather spend hours posting your vacant position,  sorting through incoming resumes (discovering over half of the resumes received don’t even come close to meeting the job requirements), fielding inquiries and answering questions, waffling over each resume because you can’t be objective (because even an adolescent starts to look like a possible candidate after the position has been vacant for awhile and you have been doing your job plus that job), and schlepping through numerous screenings and only slightly fewer first round interviews. Oh, and while you’re doing that, you are not generating revenue, referrals, or new business.

B) You continue on in relative peace going about the business of your business,  while someone else does the heavy lifting mentioned in letter A above and presents you with 3-5 qualified candidates who have been screened and meet the position qualifications.  Oh, and you continue going about the business of your business,  ideally making money.

I think most business owners do the math and go with B. It’s often the game show all over again for candidates. Do they miss the chance for something exciting (or not) and pass, applying only to jobs where they “know” what they’re applying to? Or do they roll the dice and apply because the packaging may be interesting and turn out to be far better than the seemingly “sure thing.”

As a business owner, you must play a little of the same game and evaluate the risk of revealing all too early in the hiring process, or utilizing other resources to stay focused on your business and what it should be doing–making you money.

Sometimes, the mystery has a higher payout for both the candidate and the employer.

Employee development just got easier

13 Sep

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are an excellent opportunity for employers to provide professional development for their employees at little to no cost.

As I work with employers to define benefits to attract and retain talent in what is becoming (once again) an increasingly competitive job market, creative benefits are key. The creative integration of MOOCs into your professional development and benefits offerings may provide a solution. A MOOC is a college-level course in a variety of subject areas from a variety of institutions of higher education such as Princeton, Standford, MIT, The Ohio State University, Penn State, and many more. As an employer, you have an engaging tool to train up your workforce at your fingertips.

  1. Give your workforce 2 hours per week to work on pre-approved course. Assign a completion date and make sure your employee provides proof of completion.
  2. Create a MOOC club much like you would a book club. Within a team or department, have everyone vote on a course and then take the course together. By working together, talking about the course content, and experiencing a subject, the department will grow in its collective knowledge and build stronger bonds.
  3. Give every employee a gift card or bonus for each course they complete, or enter them into a drawing for a larger/higher value prize.
  4. Use successful completion of pre-determined courses as part of an employee’s performance development plan. By working with an employee to define and agree to specific courses, you can create a career path for your employee and your employee can buy into his or her career with you.

A word of caution: Check with your attorney or HR department to find out if or how you will be expected to compensate an employee for any mandated course completion requirements. Additionally, access to these courses (whether an employee has Internet access or a computer at home, for example) must be considered.

Safety first – No matter your size

7 May

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in response to several recent safety-related fatalities among temporary workers, announced that it will begin focusing more and more on safety within this segment of workers.

It may be no surprise that this announcement comes out at the start of what may be the time of year when many companies add temporary labor to their payrolls to work in construction, landscape, farming, day laborers, and many other “peak” industries.

In a memorandum released on April 29 to its Regional Administrators, OSHA Director of Enforcement Programs Thomas Galassi, acknowledged the increasing number of fatalities and indicated that “the agency is making a concerted effort using enforcement, outreach and training to assure that temporary workers are protected from workplace hazards.” Galassi went on to request that the Regional Administrators make a concerted effort to identify this at-risk population of workers and specifically called out temporary and staffing agencies as being companies that likely employs many of these workers.

The memo further outlines steps for inspection and documentation that OSHA inspectors are to take when they encounter temporary workers.

As an employer, you can help reduce workplace injury, regardless of the type of employees or work, by providing regular education and training to your staff – ALL staff. If they are on your property or doing work that represents your company, the investment in additional education and training could be the difference in providing a safe work environment or a bankrupting law suit, or even a tragic death. Here are just a few tips:

  • Look around your business. What types of safety education or training exists? It might be as simple as having the fire department do a fire safety training at your location, or as extensive as offering equipment safety training.
  • Think about how you can incorporate a “safety first” mentality into your culture. Utilize your staff meetings, internal communications, etc. to regularly share education and tips on how to create and maintain a safe work environment.
  • Appoint a “Safety Czar” and allow this person to focus on creating a safer work environment. Depending on your company size, this could be an exclusive position or one role of an employee’s regular job.
  • Schedule and hold regular safety training according to your industry’s requirements.
  • Make sure you quickly and clearly address and correct anyone who is violating safety protocols. If you let even one person “get away” with something, you are opening yourself up to increased risk.
  • Document everything you do, who attends, and any related disciplinary conversations you end up having. This will be protection for you, as well as the employees.

Remember, the people who help your company succeed, whether they are permanent or temporary, are your greatest asset.  The more you care for them, the more they care for your company.

For more information about OSHA, and to get access to useful resources, visit the OSHA website.


Why don’t we (really) hire slow and fire fast?

18 Mar

C’mon. Admit it. You want your professional colleagues and clients to believe that you are a savvy business owner. We all do. Maybe you’ve even been a little guilty of being a tad bit condescending when, chatting over drinks, your fellow business owner is bemoaning the latest employee leaving her company, and you offer up the brilliant little tidbit that you always hire slow and fire fast. Be truthful now and think about your last new hire or termination. Did you really have a thorough hiring process that put the candidate through a bit of a wringer? Did you really exit the under-performing employee (who has been with you from day one…who is your sister’s friend’s mother’s daughter…) as quickly as you should have?

As someone who works with organizations that are primarily family-owned, micro-employers (by definition, a small company employs up to 500 people), I promise you that every one of my clients has the best intent, but invariably suffers from two common issues when it comes to employment:

  1. By the time they decide to hire someone, they are desperate. They are tired of doing the job themselves that they know they needed to staff. Or they did not properly plan the timing of when to hire, or account for the time it would take leading up to the new employee’s first day to source and recruit that new hire.
  2. When it comes to separating an employee, nearly every employer has become emotionally involved with the person and either cannot terminate him or her, or puts together such a complicated termination plan that it will cost the employer a lot more, both financially and emotionally.

Turnover is costly (see a calculator here). It can cost you anywhere from 1.5 times the annual salary of the position that is turning to 3 or more times the annual salary. Where do these costs come from? Lack of productivity; presenteeism from the surviving staff; your time or your staff’s overtime pay to fill in and get the job done; absenteeism when the survivors are just too tired to come in and do their own jobs because they covered for the vacant position; the costs associated with posting the job and sorting the resumes, and then interviewing; the cost to train (again) the new employee, which may include classes or someone else being taken away from their job in order to train the new person; and the costs associated with new people coming into a company (technology, office supplies, uniforms, etc.). When you consider all of this, slowing down the hiring process starts to make sense.

When working with my clients on finding a new member for their team, we begin with a conversation of how we reached the point of our conversation. Who was last in the position? How long were they there? Why is the position vacant? What is the goal start date of the new employee? What is the goal start date of the recruiting process? What has been their process in the past? Once I understand all of this, I generally understand where many of the challenges will be (and have been).

From there, I educate my clients on my suggested very lengthy process for sourcing and recruiting. It begins with a solid job description (which yields a job posting AND the foundation for rigorous interviewing) and moves on through a sourcing process through multiple channels, a screening process that will hopefully pare my short list down to 3 to 5 good candidates, to a rigorous multi-step interview process, and finally through a few levels of background and reference checks. This process could take several weeks to a few months, depending on the flexibility of all parties involved. Generally, this scares most small business owners and right like that, the “hire slow” philosophy just went out the door.

The “fire fast” philosophy, while a good one, is also frequently a myth. Most small business owners, as naturally happens when you work side-by-side, day in and day out with a small group of people, build relationships with their employees that go beyond “just business.” I am not talking about inappropriate relationships. I am talking about the natural friendships that develop between people who are “in the trenches” each day.

Now imagine you learn that your employee (or as you tend to call him or her, your friend) starts acting like an employee. He or she never calls…or calls too late when you expected him or her in the office at 9:00 a.m. Or maybe what used to be excellent levels of work (in both quality and quantity) starts to fall off to mediocre or, heaven forbid, sub-standard levels of work. Do you start documenting and disciplining? Probably not. What I have seen generally happen is that you accept their stories, their poor excuses for even poorer performance. “They’re my friend!” you cry. “They wouldn’t do this to me!” you reason. And rather than recognize that you are the owner of a business in which you are fully financially, emotionally, and physically involved in (and they are not, usually beyond their scheduled workweek and job description), you begin to offer up your own weak rationale for their behavior. Rather than have a much-needed and frank discussion with them regarding their performance, you work longer hours and reason harder that this is a passing thing, not a performance issue. Rather than document, you dismiss. When the proverbial poo hits the fan, you now have a track record and no documentation wrapped up tightly in buzzing anger and the knowledge that this relationship cannot be saved. Yet, you still know them a little too well and if you terminate them they will a) not be able to pay their bills, b) tell everyone in your circle that you are a bad employer, c) get kicked while they are already down because their kid is failing his high school Geometry class, or d) tell everyone your secrets that you accidentally blurted out that one night when you all went out for a few-t00-many martinis.

Get over it. You run a business. You started your business for any number of reasons, the least of which was to earn your own living, and the best of which was to create something to leave for your own family or sell so you could retire to Italy (okay, that might be my ideal retirement creeping in…). You did not start your business to be a social worker for your extended family and friends who were ready for the hiring (possibly because nobody else would hire them), or to become a whipping post for those people you hired (as legitimately as you knew how to at the time) and who have grown into friends who take advantage of friends. Problematic employees cost you. A lot. (See the paragraph above right after the numbered list.)

From day one, develop policies and processes for all that could go wrong (generally called an Employee Manual) and all that will hopefully go right and move your company forward. Include a progressive discipline policy that has a first step of having a coaching discussion with the employee when something goes awry (unless what the employee did was so egregious…then terminate immediately). You should be direct and specific (and informed) as to what happened and explain this to the employee. Be very clear how this negatively impacts your business. Thereafter, document, document, document. Make sure the subsequent conversations that are being addressed are for the same issue, and that the disciplinary measures are progressive to the point he or she is terminated with cause. This process will generally not take that long and is the most ideal process to ensure that you don’t end up in court for wrongful termination, or end up facing an unemployment claim and increased unemployment insurance costs.

You best options, in both cases, is to have clearly define roles and responsibilities, underpinned by clear and consistent processes. Once you have these in place, hiring slow and firing fast start to make a lot of sense, financially and otherwise, and become a lot easier, financially and otherwise.

Fading fast and failing the interview

8 Mar

Does this sound like you? You have an open position at your company. You have a lot of responsibility and wear a lot of hats. The thought of interviewing a short-list of candidates seems daunting (and time-consuming), let alone the thought of sorting through a pile of resumes. To save time, you decide a quick 15 minute meet-and-greet with the first three or four candidates that seem like a match. After all, time is money and the time it takes to do thorough interviews means you’re not out there making money! 

Have you ever heard the saying hire slow and fire fast? I have found that most small business owners struggle on both counts. They struggle to fire fast because a lot of the people who work for them have become friends, a not uncommon occurrence in small offices and close workplaces. However, an arguably more costly decision is to not hire slowly.

Nearly everyone is great on a first date. It’s not until date 2 or 3, or even after a few lengthy conversations, that the truth starts to come out. If you hire too fast, you may never get to the truth. Until it’s too late.

Even a lengthy initial phone screen, in my opinion a “must” after a thorough sorting and scoring process of received resumes, can turn up a truth that will set you free from further wasting your valuable time. Recently, I conducted a round of telephone screens for a client for a key position in her business. The position involved a lot of customer interaction, much of which would be on the telephone and include answering a lot of questions from customers who would likely need education about the businesses services. By 45 minutes into the interview, one of the candidates was clearly becoming frustrated with the interview and her energy was clearly flagging. Obviously, this candidate would not be able to manage the constantly-changing pace of my client’s office, while dealing with three bosses of vastly different personalities, clients with lots (and lots) of questions, and 8-hour days. Essentially, the candidate faded…and failed.

I totally get that taking time to source, sort, and interview candidates can be time consuming. It would not be unreasonable to estimate the time needed to find your next BEST employee to be in the double-digit hours for each top candidate you identify. However, the benefits of taking your time to hire your next candidate will be invaluable.

What women (and men) want

25 Feb

I recently attended a webinar offered by Kenexa on employee engagement and compensation and a particular slide in the PowerPoint deck caught my attention: What employees want. Wow…is there really a simple answer? A magic bullet? Turns out, there actually IS a pretty simple answer to what employees want, but balancing the component parts of that answer is the art.

In a nutshell, and this should not surprise anyone, employees want RESPECT. Yep, Aretha got it right. All we want is a little respect. The question is, what does that mean? Well, it varies from employee to employee, but if you address the following 7 areas, you’ll be certain to hit on your employees’ sweet spots.

R: Recognition. You might be surprised to learn that this is a close second to pay. All the pay in the world does not make up for the lack of a simple “Thank you,” or “Nice job.” While fair pay is important, people often view their paychecks as one part of a transaction: I will do my job; you will pay me. It’s generally an impersonal (but important) transaction of “this for that.” However, when someone takes a moment from a busy day to stop, look you in the eye, and give you a warm, genuine acknowledgement, it is PERSONAL. In this day and age, personal goes a long way.

E: Exciting work. We can’t all be James Bond. Some of us will just have to deal with the fact that we have an office job and no expense account. Exciting work, though, is relative. Every small company gets projects that are short-term, but offer a bit of a challenge, or require out-of-the-box thinking. When you understand what makes your employees tick outside of the day-to-day demands of their jobs, you might find an untapped talent or interest. These little projects, as well as the opportunity to own the job for which they were hired, may be just enough excitement for your team.

S: Security. This is a tough one. As an employer, you simply can’t guarantee that jobs will be there tomorrow. The economy is too schizophrenic, and the butterfly effect is too real. So, how do you guarantee security? You can’t. But what you can do is ensure that you approach security from a physical, emotional and psychological perspective. First, provide your employees with an environment that is safe and secure. They spend upwards of one-third of their life in your facilities. Make sure they feel safe coming, going and being there. Make sure you are investing in technology that allows them to do their job without being hacked, phished, or harassed. You might be surprised to learn that this “want” was third out of seven.

P: Pay. This was the “want” at the top of the list, but it may not be exactly what you’re thinking. Unless it’s your mother, very few people are willing to work for free. People want to be fairly and equitably compensated for the work they do. As a small employer, you may not be able to compete with the big companies, but a great place to start understanding what “fair” pay is is online. Google job titles and salaries. Visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook to explore position descriptions and pay ranges. Remember that a lower salary may be acceptable if you can offer other benefits, such as free parking, flexible work schedules, and even more vacation.

E: Education and career growth. Who wants to do the same job day in and day out, forever? Nobody! Look at opportunities that will allow your employees to grow. A few ways to accomplish this include adding a small, per-employee budget to send an employee to a class or certification program each year, opportunities for your employees to develop and deliver classes (related to business need, of course) to your other staff or clients, or even expanded roles (with appropriate compensation increases) that will help your employees stretch their skills naturally. Also, don’t be shy about talking to your vendors or professional trade association to see if there are low- and no-cost webinars and courses that your employees can attend. Banks will frequently sponsor programs (lunches, breakfasts, etc.) that are highly educational in exchange for an opportunity for them to get their materials into your employees’ hands.

C: Conditions. Closely related to security, your employees want a nice place to work. You don’t have to make costly renovations to your office to provide nice conditions. Think creatively. Will putting a table and chairs outside, but within reach of wi-fi, expand your “office,” while providing a change of scenery? Do you have a space in your offices that can be converted to a creative room, stocked with healthy snacks, games, white boards, and comfy seating to allow your team to think creatively? Are your office colors vibrant and interesting? A lot of this is visual, but also think about your “rules” and processes. Is it easy to get work done? Is it enjoyable to come to work? Are people and tools accessible when your team needs them? Finally, what is the tone of your office? Are people happy and helpful…or hateful? It is important to keep an eye on this, particularly, because hateful could be a short step away from harassment or discrimination–a potentially costly condition, indeed. All of these contribute to the conditions in the workplace.

T: Truth. Truth touches on all the areas above, as well as ensuring your workplace has an honest, productive and CONSTRUCTIVE culture. I had a client who was in serious financial trouble and found himself in the position of needing to sell his business. Rather than communicating with his team and letting them know that times were tough, he said nothing. One morning they all came to work and found a “For Sale” sign on the building. They panicked and their trust was violated. Over a year later and he is still trying to regain their trust and move the business forward. They are still struggling with being blindsided. Truth also means being honest with your employees when they are not doing the job you need them to do. Small business owners sometimes have a more personal relationship with their employees, which increases the difficulty they have in being honest and direct. Establish now your communication approach and apply it consistently…no matter what. You and your team will be better for it.

The percentage breakdown, in terms of importance, for each of these areas:

R – 20%
E – 7%
S – 18%
P – 25%
C – 9%
T – 11%

Remember, the goal is to find the right mix for you and your unique company and needs. And avoid assuming that just because you might not want something, it does not mean your team does not want it.

Source: Kenexa