Planning your budget? – Create Your Compensation Strategy Now

Now is a great time to start planning for your yearly strategic budgeting meetings. And since employee compensation is often the largest line item in a budget, it will pay big dividends to think through your compensation structure and get the data you need to make informed budgeting decisions, and to back up your budget requests.

Here are some compensation budgeting tips to get you started:

  • Know where you are in the marketplace when it comes to compensation. Now is a good time to focus on collecting the data you require as you prepare for first of the year/end of the year performance reviews. The market has moved a lot in the past two years, and some positions – especially tech positions – are still continuing to outpace the general market. If you think the 3% across the board average applies to your Software Developer, or your QA Engineer, you may want to do some research with more current salary data.
  • Always ask for more than you think you’ll need. It’s always better to have some extra budget to work with, or to use for the unexpected raise request that may be well-deserved, than to come up short.
  • Be strategic with pay increases. Are you giving people increases just for keeping a seat warm (i.e. cost of living adjustments)? Or are you being more strategic with your available dollars and linking pay to performance and results? If your CFO gives you a 3% budget increase for base salaries, are you going to give everyone a 3% raise? What do you think that does to your top performers, when they see Lazy Len getting the same increase they got? Why not give Rockstar Rudy a 5% raise and Lazy Len a 1% raise? If you’re afraid of having the ensuing conversation, then you likely don’t have the right performance management process in place, or you may need some new tools in your management toolbox for having difficult conversations. Either of these we can help with.
  • Better results should result in better rewards, whether that’s cash or some other form of reward that is more meaningful to that employee. Find out what motivates your staff and leverage it to the company’s benefit, creating a win-win possibility.

Having a consultant in your pocket to help with providing expert guidance and data can be very helpful in making informed decisions. A good one can also work as your ally to provide objective recommendations and supportive data to your company leadership.

More Resources

For more tips and information regarding creating a successful compensation structure including, how to have good conversations about compensation, how to use performance reviews effectively, and how paying the right wage can create a successful business check out these latest blog posts:

Compensation Conversations: How to make them better for your managers and employees.
Thanks to the Internet and social media, employees and potential candidates have access to salary information. How do you make sure that your employees feel fairly compensated? It turns out that paying more money isn’t the only answer. Learn more!

Do Ratings Help or Hinder Performance?
Grading on the curve may have worked for high school and college students, but is it really appropriate to use in evaluating employees? Microsoft recently abandoned their bell-curve-based rating system. Companies need some way to measure and reward performance, so what’s the solution? Learn more!

A Pay for Performance Perspective and Tips
When you give out pay raises, are you giving your worst performers the same raise as the guy or gal who brings in three times as much revenue? Many organizations tend to give across-the-board raises of about the same percentage to all employees. Which means the poor performers have no incentive to work harder, and the top producers have plenty of incentive to find a job with another company that rewards them better. How can you use pay incentives to create a successful business? Learn more!

Onboarding. Start New Employees Out on a Road to Success

Many believe onboarding is the process by which new employees fill out new hire paperwork – they are set up for payroll and benefits and provided a quick overview of the systems they’ll be working on. While these activities are important, onboarding that results in maximizing performance and earning a greater return on your investment requires a little more strategic planning, which our clients have found to be well worth it. By viewing the onboarding process as an investment throughout a new hire’s introduction to the organization, you will greatly impact the new hire’s contribution to your organization and the timeframe in which they can make it happen. We recommend creating a process that focuses on integrating new employees into your culture and team and getting them up to speed and confident in what is expected of them from a conduct and performance perspective.

Here are some tips to consider as you build your organization’s onboarding process:

  • Allow technology to expedite the compliance portion of the process. Email the new hire all the required paperwork in advance of starting. Share relevant information upfront such as the organizations’ pay schedule, insurance options, any information that will affect their household. When they arrive on the first day, they’ll already have it completed or know questions they need answered.

  • Create a schedule for their first day, week and month so they have clear steps on how to get to know the organization (culturally and procedurally) and give them opportunities to interact with teammates. Schedule meetings throughout the first month to engage with different levels of employees throughout the organization to allow them to hear about different teams and projects.
  • Make sure there are lunch plans for their first day. They won’t know going into day one what they can anticipate for lunch, so plan that for them.
  • Communicate to all team members what will be changing when the new employee starts and how the onboarding process will unfold. It will provide a greater sense of security around what they can expect and the importance and value of their role. It’s important to remember that while it is exciting to start a new job, it also means change, which can be a challenge not just for the new employee, but also for other team members.
  • Make the process fun, interesting and productive! Don’t just provide a slide deck overviewing the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Ask other team members to provide the introduction and give them the freedom to be creative and provide anecdotes of the culture in action. Getting existing employees involved will get new employees excited about working with their new teammates.
  • Set and communicate expectations. Let new employees know what the organization, team and individual’s goals are and how their contributions support those goals.
  • Share how things operate and how different teams interact to support one another. Highlight, beyond an organizational chart, how the teams work together and who has accountability for which aspects of projects.
  • Provide a tour of the organization and if it’s a large space, provide a map for future reference. Introduce the new employee to as many people as possible. Make sure they know the logistics of the workspace such as where the cafeteria/kitchen is, the bus routes are, where to park, where the bathrooms are, etc. In addition, show them what’s available off site such as where the nearest coffee shops are, which restaurants do take-out and delivery to the office and which are great when you need to go off site for lunch.
  • Have the tools for their job ready, such as a computer and login information, mobile phone, if appropriate along with the information/instructions needed to get set up quickly and easily.
  • Create a peer onboarding system so they have someone other than their manager to go to if they have logistical questions. Provide guidance to the peer to check in frequently in the initial days to ensure they have what they need or any cultural questions can be answered in a comfortable environment.
  • Have their manager meet with them on the first day and throughout the first week to review and answer questions on expectations. Throughout the first 90 days, there should be frequent check-ins to ensure the new employee is on track, feeling comfortable with their role, and has the tools they need to perform their job.
  • Be consistent. Use the same onboarding process for each new hire and make changes and additions as you get feedback from employees on what worked well and what would have been helpful for them to have during the onboarding process.

Successfully Assessing Cultural Fit

Your organization has a culture. Whether you can articulate that culture, or it’s the culture you want your organization to have, or everyone in the organization believes the culture is the same as what you think it is, you still have a culture at your organization.

As you build your organization, recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees, there is always discussion around culture fit. Job seekers express frustration that the feedback is that they “didn’t fit” and employers will express frustration that they can’t find someone with the skills necessary that will actually “fit” into the organization.

We all have stories of working at organizations with great cultures, and toxic cultures, and weird cultures. But at the end of the day, what culture is the right fit for every individual is highly subjective. So how do we find candidates that are the right fit and how do we assess that through an interview process?

The first step in assessing culture fit is to know what the culture is. Culture needs to be a deliberate thing. Whether the leadership has made a decision of what they want that culture to be or not, it’s there. The most important step to assist you in finding talent that fits in with your culture is to clearly articulate what that culture is. Being able to describe and clarify what the culture is currently or how the organization is going to be built on that front will allow you to assess fit.

Zappos is widely heralded for their phenomenal culture and their approach to building culture. You can read about this in numerous articles across a wide-variety of publications, as well as their own Culture Book. Netflix is also another organization highly regarded for their culture. You may have seen the famous Netflix Culture slides that rocked the world by eliminating the vacation policy. You may not want your culture to be like Zappos or Netflix, but what you can’t argue with is that you will know exactly what can be culturally expected when you work at those organizations. As such, you can more easily assess if a candidate fits and potential candidates can more easily determine if the organization is one where they want to work.

Here are a few ideas to help you assess culture during the recruiting process:

  • Ask questions around the aspects of your culture that may highlight a candidate’s experience in a similar environment.
  • Ask what aspects of the culture resonate with them and why.
  • Have the candidate describe the culture of previous employers and what elements allowed them to be successful or prevented them from thriving.
  • Ask the candidate to describe their ideal work environment.
  • Ask references about the culture they experienced the candidate in and the level of success the culture supported.

Defining your culture isn’t easy. And using the interview process to fully understand if a candidate is a perfect fit isn’t a sure thing to knowing you’ve hired the right person. But without a clearly articulated culture, you are flying blindly on whether someone will be happy and successful with your organization regardless of his or her technical skillset. Putting some work into the definition will ease the process on both you and the candidates of potential interest.

A Pay for Performance Perspective and Tips

Recently Business Insider reported that one of Gawker Media’s writers, Neetzan Zimmerman decided to leave the company to work at a startup social media organization. While the news of someone making a career move may seem mundane, this move is interesting when you start to delve into this particular reporter’s performance successes and how they relate to a pay for performance model. Gawker employs approximately 15 writers and it turns out that Zimmerman was responsible for bringing in 99% of Gawker’s web traffic. 99% of the results that Gawker needs to be successful. 99%! And while we of course don’t know the complete story of why Zimmerman left the company, the statistics provide an interesting perspective regarding whether an organization should use a pay for performance model as an incentive to ensure top performers don’t even think about leaving.

Many organizations have a tendency to give a cost of living pay or ‘thanks a latte’ increase across the board, which usually amounts to about 3%, without truly measuring which employees are bringing the most value. This means that even poor performers are being rewarded. By not differentiating financial rewards between top and poor performers, there is no incentive for poor performers to “up their game” to accomplish the tasks that are most critical to the bottom line. And it’s a slap in the face to the ones who are giving it their all (and then some) to achieve success for the company when they receive the same, or minimally different, increases as the slacker sitting across from them.

Quick tips for creating a successful pay for performance model:

  • Define what metrics are driving your business success (revenue, number of clicks, safety, service quality, clinical outcomes, patient experience, efficiency, etc.).
  • Communicate clearly and often with employees to track their progress.
  • As part of your performance management plan, create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals for employees.

By creating a pay-for-performance culture, employees have a clear line of sight on how their daily actions contribute to the success of the organization and the size of their paycheck, which puts organizations in a position to thrive.

To help you have productive conversations with employees regarding compensation, we have put together these tips.

Compensation Conversations – How to make them better for your managers and employees

Employees and potential candidates are more knowledgeable about salary data than ever before, either through the internet or colleagues, so ensure your organization is confident with its base pay compensation plan and understands how it compares in the marketplace. Having the ability to share with employees the process by which your organization makes pay decisions increases employee engagement and satisfaction as they feel like they are thoughtfully considered and valued.

Why is compensation communication important?
This is the time of year when you have either already administered salary increases or are getting ready to do so. And inevitably, this process brings up questions regarding pay that managers may not be properly equipped to answer. If your employees feel that your pay decisions are arbitrary or do not understand how your compensation strategy tracks back to the organization’s overall business goals, it leads to confusion and a sense of powerlessness. Disengagement naturally follows, possibly leading your employees to look for other opportunities, taking with them their skill set and institutional knowledge. Giving your managers the tools to explain base pay setting, raise increases (or no increase), reasons for differences in starting pay and wage differentials, makes conversations more productive and clear while also making the employee feel like you are being thoughtful and straightforward with your approach.

According to a study done by Mercer in 2002, when employees are well informed and communicated with clearly about the pay-setting process in their organization, they walk away feeling much more satisfied even if they don’t agree with the actual number. The bottom-line is that employees who understand the process in which pay is determined have greater engagement and satisfaction. Not to mention your managers will also feel empowered and supported during the salary review process.

Top three compensation communication tips:

  1. Communicate throughout the year – Instead of having a conversation about pay practices once a year, keep employees informed throughout the year specifically when it comes to how performance tracks to your compensation plan. Ongoing communication makes employees feel informed and empowered, and helps them understand how their actions and contributions can help improve the bottom-line – both their own and the company’s.
  2. Train your management team – Ensuring your managers have the tools they need to help roll out a compensation plan or answer questions about the plan will help to increase employee buy-in.
  3. Educate employees on their total compensation package including benefits, rewards and other items unique to your culture (such as education and development opportunities as well as work life balance programs) they receive throughout the year.

In the coming weeks and months we will be sharing tips and information for creating an effective compensation strategy, communicating compensation details with employees and developing a benchmarking process. Let us know if you have a specific question or an aspect of compensation you would like us to explore in more detail.

Interesting Work More Important Than Money

Are you concerned compensation is what’s preventing candidates from joining your organization?

In our recent Bay Area Bioscience Recruiting Trends Survey we asked organizations to share the most effective ways in which they attract talent. And here are the results:

  1. Providing challenging or cutting edge projects
  2. The organization’s environment/culture
  3. Products and/or services offered
  4. Compensation

You read that correctly – compensation came in fourth. These results serve as a good rule of thumb as you create your hiring plan as well as your retention strategy. Happy employees (employees that are going to contribute to your organization over the long term and truly invest in the goals you are looking to accomplish) are ones that are working on projects that engage and challenge them. There are many different ways to motivate employees. The most important things you can do is check out the research available to you and then ask your employees (they know better than anyone). Until you have the projects, culture, and products candidates can get excited about, you’ll always struggle to bring in and retain quality talent.

You can check out all the results by downloading the full white paper here.

Do Ratings Help or Hinder Performance?

This is the question on the minds of many leading organizations these days. Microsoft recently shared that they were doing away with their stacked ranking system, a key element of the performance review process that was based on a bell curve and forced the elimination of the lowest-rated 20% of employees. Microsoft went so far as to eliminate ratings altogether in their performance reviews.

At the same time, Yahoo!’s CEO implemented stacked ranking, forcing managers to rate staff using the designations “occasionally misses” and “misses” to accommodate a bell curve strategy, even if the designation wasn’t completely accurate. While Yahoo!’s CEO denied that the ratings were forced, many employees disagreed (mostly anonymously). She has been widely criticized for her decision, and interestingly most pointed the finger at the HR head in charge of communicating and executing the controversial plan for the poorly executed roll-out.

When it comes to managing, measuring and rewarding performance, what is the right way? Unfortunately there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to performance reviews. Every organization and employee is different, and an effective performance review process takes into account cultural aspects of the organization.

In an effort to help you better understand and implement performance reviews that add value, we put together some best practices that should serve as the cornerstone to any performance management plan, whether you choose to do ratings or not.

Performance feedback should be a continuous, ongoing process. You are missing out on a huge opportunity to accomplish goals and move initiatives forward if you wait to address performance issues on an annual basis. Be proactive and provide ongoing feedback so that there are not any surprises during an employee’s yearly, or even quarterly, evaluation. This approach gives the employee the directives they need to change course immediately if needed, or incent them to continue the course they are on.

Provide a clear line of sight between the employee’s responsibilities and the organization’s goals. Ensuring employees understand how their work directly affects the organization’s success is an essential driver to getting employees to perform well. If your employees know where the finish line is they are more apt to reach it.

Use SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. It is important to make sure each employee’s goals meet each of these five criteria, otherwise it can be difficult and highly subjective determining whether a goal is met. And if it is clear that a particular goal is not met, it is easier to assess the reasons why the employee didn’t make it (i.e. it was not because of poor communication on the organization’s part).

Be mindful of the process and timing. An effective performance evaluation requires giving managers and employees plenty of time to complete the process in a thoughtful way. Rushing through an evaluation makes it seem like you are just crossing something off your list. Create an environment that shows you value their contribution and feedback and you’ll experience greater results and engagement from your employees.

Training is important. Give your team the tools they require to administer reviews that result in the actions your business requires to be competitive in the marketplace. For managers, you might need to provide additional training to prepare them for dealing with difficult questions or delivering challenging messages. Employees may not always like what they hear, but they will always respect an honest and straightforward response.

Understand what motivates your employees. Not all employees are motivated by the same thing. Check in regularly with employees to see what gets them excited about coming to work. It’s not just about compensation (although if you don’t get that right it is a big demotivator). In fact, Resourceful HR recently conducted a survey about what attracts and retains talent – compensation came in fourth. Check out the results here. Link to whitepaper/resource page. Be creative and consider other rewards you can provide in lieu of raises or bonuses. Consider opportunities for additional training, leadership/career development opportunities or team rewards. It’s important to remember that pay systems alone do not keep people nor manage their performance.

Invest in Employee Learning – You’ll be glad you did!

This year’s motto at Resourceful HR is to go deep and it is especially appropriate when it comes to giving our employees opportunities to continue their education and encouraging our clients to provide educational opportunities to their employees. There are so many operational benefits when it comes to educating employees including loyalty, productivity, confidence and ownership. And if that is not enough to make education a priority consider this – educating your employees helps ensure your customers are being served effectively so you can be even more competitive in your industry.

There are many ways to provide continuing education including, paying for a class an employee wants to take or an industry conference they want to attend, organizing lunch and learn meetings, inviting a vendor or outside expert to share their expertise on a specific topic, providing mentoring opportunities and providing a library of books and DVDs associated with the topics your employees want to learn more about. Another opportunity to capitalize on your employee educational efforts is to involve your employees as much as possible – have them lead a training or if they attend a conference have them share what they learned with the rest of the staff or with their team.

Understanding the importance of keeping up with the trends of your industry and the news and laws that affect you industry will ensure you stay ahead of your competitors. Share with us what you are doing to create a learning environment at your organization in the comments below.

Hitting the 20-Employee Mark Part 2 – Creating Structure for Successful Growth and Greater Productivity

As you begin to hit 20 employees, you may find your staff requires more structure and communication regarding your vision and goals for the business. Having a plan in place for meeting this need is very important as it gives employees more visibility of where the business is heading, reassurance that you are managing growth effectively and ensures they have the tools and information they need to help you accomplish your goals. Communication around “how am I doing?” and “how does what I am doing fit in with what other team members and departments are doing?” is also important as it helps ensure productivity by giving employees a greater understanding about how their responsibilities impact long-term and day-to-day milestones.

Offering insight into your vision and communicating job responsibilities are interrelated (although they also require independent analysis and a custom approach).  Your attention to these details will absolutely affect the efficiency and financial performance of your organization. The most profitable organizations on the “Best Places to Work” lists focus on developing programs and processes that address these issues and the good news is these deliverables don’t need to be elaborate. The key is taking a step back, assessing the structure and communication needs unique to your business, recognizing any inter-relationships and then acting on an intentional, “do-able” plan you can test to see what works and what doesn’t. The key is to start doing this while you are still relatively small. The bigger you get, the harder it is to undo or reinvent what isn’t working. Putting these mechanisms in place now will help you remain nimble while ensuring employees who are contributing important skill sets and institutional knowledge remain on board.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Write down who does what and what you need them to do. This boils down to creating job responsibilities and defining the goals you want employees to achieve. Goals don’t need to be lofty but do need to be measurable. If it’s something that needs to get done to achieve your business plan, it’s a goal and should be documented. If you can articulate a goal in writing in order to measure it, you can move it. The employer should provide the goal and the employee and employer should craft the roadmap (i.e. job responsibilities) to get there. It’s ok to leave most of the legwork to the employee if you as the employer give good guidance and direction. You already have a lot on your plate, I know. Asking them to create the draft generally yields more buy-in and accountability. Goals shouldn’t be more than 12 months out. Shorter lines of sight equate to greater results.
  2. Identify what’s missing. Inevitably in a smaller company, you are not going to have every skill you would like to have. Prioritize the “must haves” from the nice to “haves” for the next 12 months. Where is your business now and where do you want it to be in 12 months? What’s missing from making that happen? Determine your budget. Be ok with mitigation plans. As small business owners, we can’t always have what we want but we can come darn close.
  3. How’s your leadership bench? Are they farmers or hackers (i.e. are they going to cultivate your organization or tear it to shreds because their management style is abrasive and focused on control rather than growth?)? You need leaders who can grow your talent. If you are going to invest in any area, invest here. Don’t allow your managers to act as “technicians” even if part of their job is still doing the technician work. Groom them to think like a mini-owner of their unit and find good mentors who can teach them to get work done successfully through other people in a collaborative and supportive manner. They should be revered as a coach and leader by their staff and not as someone to fear.
  4. Consider messaging. Employees want to know what’s going on but not everyone will share the same level of understanding of the business. Keep this in mind as you talk about the company’s financials, sales plans, expense management, etc. Before communicating to a particular group of employees, think through what they care about, be transparent and speak only to what you’ve identified. I’ve found that some leaders will share everything with everyone in an effort to be collaborative and transparent but not every employee knows what to personally do with the information or really even cares about knowing all of it. Employees all want to help but need to see how that’s possible. Keep it simple, personal and relevant to them.
  5. Define at least a few “rules of engagement”. This doesn’t have to be a full on employee handbook, which I know is a four-letter word to many employers. Small “playbooks”, if you will, at the 20-employee mark are a good idea. You are probably getting at least some questions around “what’s our policy on this?” or “how much money can I spend on that?” Having at least a few expectations laid out will save you a lot of time from repeating yourself or remembering what you did for Bob six months ago in an effort to be consistent. You can make case-by-case decisions but just need to feel comfortable explaining your intent if called into question.

These are a few ideas I recommend to clients and am putting in place myself. If you have ideas to share, please do in the comments section. We’d love to hear your ideas for successfully setting the stage at 20.

We also encourage you to learn more about the employment laws you need to be familiar with when you reach 20 employees. For more information check out Part 1 of our hitting 20-employee mark.

My Career Path Mantra: Accept What Comes – Stay the Course – Opportunities Will Come.

Ultimate success comes from achieving lots of short-term, manageable wins that over time result in huge outcomes instead of focusing on big finish lines and self-imposed, arbitrary deadlines.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to attend the Women in Leadership Luncheon at the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia Community College. Jennifer Olsen, the President of Resourceful HR, was asked to present as the keynote speaker that afternoon and asked me to attend the event with her.  At the time, I mostly thought of the luncheon as an “on the job” task and never imagined that the experience would have an impact on how I view my own professional career.

For most of my young adult life, I knew that I had to graduate from college and find a great job with a well-recognized company. When I landed my first job after completing my undergraduate degree, I was overcome with relief in knowing that I had succeeded in life because I had gotten my “dream job.” This great sense of accomplishment diminished within the first year of my professional career and I was increasingly feeling a lack of connection with my job and the people who I worked with. At the time, I felt like I was working a job that I had not even applied for and I felt like the training and direction I was receiving was mediocre at best. Now, I realize that ultimately, it was a difference of expectations that created the gap between myself and my previous employer. After I listened to Jennifer’s speech, it dawned on me that when it comes to plans, it is almost impossible to stick to your original ones without revisions. Not only do your wants and needs change but how you meet your goals and overcome your challenges will too.

In those 60 minutes, I learned so much more about this face of the company…much more than I had learned working side-by-side with Jennifer. She stated “you don’t have to write the ending before taking the first step towards the ending you want. You just have to have enough figured out to give it a go and be prepared to pivot if things start to turn towards the unexpected.”

After Jennifer completed her speech, I realized I wrote down a few takeaways from the expedition her story took me on and here they are:

  • “Embrace your flaws and more quickly let go of dead visions of what [you] thought [you] wanted that can clutter [your] path.”
  • Just because you went off your plan, doesn’t mean you failed it.
  • “Real success is a process; a series of small steps with help from many wonderful people.”
  • “Leave room for the unexpected as sometimes those experiences turn out to be richer than what was originally planned.”

Jennifer made me realize that “ultimate success comes from achieving lots of short-term, manageable wins that over time result in huge outcomes instead of focusing on big finish lines and self-imposed, arbitrary deadlines.” She showed me that no matter who you are in life, to have pride in your journey because that is what humanizes us. The path Jennifer took had bumps in it that were not a part of her plan, but she embraces those hiccups and is a better President and leader because of it.

The Yahoo Telecommuting Policy Change – What Does it Mean to the Rest of Us?

I, like most, was surprised when Yahoo announced on February 22nd that they were eliminating their “Work From Home” benefit and forcing all employees to report to work at a Yahoo office starting in June. From the New York Times to Mother Nature Network, the story was picked up everywhere. All highlighted opinions, stats and facts regarding working from home versus onsite as well as the potential fallout and/or benefits CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision may have on turning around the organization.

Initially Resourceful HR wasn’t going to blog about Yahoo’s telecommuting decision and subsequent discussions because we didn’t want to add to the noise. But given the number of times this topic has come up in conversations over the past month, particularly with clients, the pros/cons and best practices of telecommunicating are clearly on everyone’s mind.

So what are people saying about the Yahoo Telecommuting Policy Change?  LOTS! There is much speculation on the real purpose of the change. Is it: For the ideas and innovation that come from spontaneous and impromptu interactions in the hallway of the office? To inspire those not really engaged with the turnaround of Yahoo to quit, thereby avoiding a massive layoff? To highlight Marissa Mayer’s strength of character as a leader and her ability to make the unpopular decision? Because the VPN logs highlighted that employees were not logging in enough when they were working from home? To dramatically and immediately shift the culture of the organization – one described as stagnant at the time she was hired? Or something else?

Many support Marissa Mayer’s choice and others are extremely critical. Topics commonly covered in the opinion pieces highlight that the change won’t last, it is a massive step backwards for working parents, and an archaic approach to leadership. Some even go so far as to claim Marissa Mayer broke the code of motherhood by changing the policy.

But Yahoo isn’t alone in making the move. Best Buy changed their Results Oriented Workforce just a couple weeks later, requiring 4,000 corporate employees to return to the office. Best Buy, however, included in their message that they were encouraging employees to work with their managers to determine if telecommuting was a viable option for their situation.

I don’t anticipate there is going to be a lot of companies getting rid of telecommuting as a result of these two large, struggling organizations’ decisions. But it has caused many of us to sit back and think about our own policies and if they are leading to the results we desire.

There are many considerations when building or evaluating a telecommuting policy. You can read some in this previous blog post.

As you evaluate a telecommuting policy, I encourage you to put yourself in your employees’ shoes and visualize how a telecommuting policy may change their daily lives and subsequently impact their contribution to the organization. Are you willing to model the behavior you are requiring with a policy change? Think big picture about the impact of a telecommuting policy on your organization’s goals, employees, and customers.

What are your short and long-term business goals and how does your culture and policies support these goals? Create a telecommuting policy that ensures you receive the greatest contribution and productivity from your employees.

Consider the following as you evaluate your telecommuting strategy and related policy:

  • What is the employment brand you desire to have? Is telecommuting a big piece of that and a driver behind why your employees chose to work for you?
  • Does your culture promote the levels of communication and openness required to be successful when employees are dispersed and working from home?
  • If you change your telecommuting policy, how will that impact your company’s culture and employment brand?
  • If you are going to make a blanket policy change, are there employees that will likely leave the organization? Are there exceptions you’d be willing to make for the policy?
  • How will your employees feel about the change in policy? As you look at the different groups of employees, will this have a more dramatic impact on certain demographics?
  • How would your customers perceive the change in telecommuting policy? Would that impact their decision to purchase from you?
  • What kind of talent do you need to hire now and in the future and will this policy change impact your ability to attract them?

Only time will tell whether the moves made by Yahoo and Best Buy were for the best. Obviously, the shareholders simply want to see positive financial returns. I’m curious about how the change impacts their ability to recruit talent in a tough market. What are your thoughts on telecommuting? Share your comments below whether you think it helps or hinders an organization.

Employers: Ready, Set, Engage!

With U.S. employers competing for top talent in industries such as software, biotech and other highly competitive industries, retaining and engaging current employees is mission critical in today’s growing global talent market. As companies promote aggressive recruiting strategies, retaining and cultivating the talent that already exists is an equally essential endeavor.

With a known talent shortage in the U.S. in some industries, prioritizing the value of current employees makes great sense to the bottom line. When a candidate becomes dissatisfied with their current work environment, they are far more open to new opportunities: recruiters look for this open door. Hiring and training new employees, regardless of the industry, is far less cost effective than keeping current employees engaged and happy. In today’s market, 71% of U.S. employees feel they are “not engaged” at work, and 29% of employees feel they are actively “disengaged” (Gallup International 2011). With so many low cost and no cost ways to effectively engage employees and improve retention, why not spend more time building loyalty and stability in your existing team?

A recent report published by Deloitte indicates that key global players, including Australia and Canada, are stepping up their game by improving competitive immigration policies to take advantage of skills developed in other countries. Deloitte’s recommendations to address the lack of highly needed skill sets in the U.S., includes lightening up on licensing standards, while expanding technical and vocational training programs (as well as apprenticeships), to create alternative pathways to developing highly specialized skills.

Imagine an enormous ship sitting just 12 miles off the shore of California; although this looks like a cruise ship, there is no recreational agenda. The cabins are offices and the guests drop in to build businesses. Although this ship does not yet exist, the concept is the brain child of Blueseed, a company founded by a young entrepreneur, designed to offset restrictive U.S. immigration laws and to build new businesses, while reaping the benefits of new jobs.

On the local scene, Seattle recently witnessed the departure of Sarepta Therapeutics (formerly AVI Biopharma). Although the biotech industry is establishing a strong foothold in the area, Sarepta opted to move to Boston because the company wasn’t finding enough of the skill sets it needed in the Seattle area to execute on its strategy.

If you have a business with specific talent demands what does this mean to you? From a recruiting perspective, we know that landing good talent requires multiple approaches, a strong story, and impeccable timing, particularly if you own a small or mid-market sized business requiring the same niche talent that large corporations aggressively pursue. If a recruiter approaches a passive candidate with strong skill sets, the candidate has to have the motivation and appropriate incentives to consider the move (and the risk) to take on a new role.

The purpose of employee engagement is to build a culture of committed and loyal individuals who want to give more than what is required (and who are less likely to move to a competitor when approached by recruiters!). Below are some tips designed to help build awareness and improve employee engagement, regardless of the industry:

  1. Make sure your company has a clearly communicated mission, vision, and strategy. A sense of purpose drives employee engagement.
  2. Execute transparent communication; employees should have a connection to how the company is doing financially and how objectives are being accomplished; this creates a sense of “buy-in” and helps employees feel their work has a direct impact.
  3. Build a strong team; your Human Resources partner can actively develop healthy team dynamics, assist in overcoming minor communication issues that can become far more serious, and promote participation and recognition.
  4. Create a culture of trust. By facilitating an environment where employees feel their voices are heard and thoughts can be shared, a strong sense of community naturally follows.
  5. Recognize employees for what they bring to the table; positive affirmation and acknowledgement is a great no cost way to bolster a sense of loyalty within the team.
  6. And finally-make sure employees know what is expected. By providing the tools, training, and resources to achieve what is expected, employees will reward you with impactful work that benefits the organization as a whole.

If you have suggestions or methods that have been effective in building and retaining a strong team, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Everyone Looks Up

Jessica Garcia Dudek is a partner at Oxygen Learning, which develops customized training programs that create paradigm shifts for clients in a variety of industries. Oxygen Learning will be hosting Resourceful HR’s NW Best Practices Roundtable in 2012 Q3 where guests will share their knowledge about leadership development. Learn more.

Hopefully you have had the opportunity to work with an exceptional leader – an individual who is able to inspire, motivate, mobilize a team, get things done and achieve results, all while making each and every person on the team feel valued and excited about the project. Nothing feels better than to be a part of a team of individuals with synergistic skill sets and a similar work ethic as it not only makes the experience extremely satisfying, it takes the project and its results to another level.

While we all know the benefits this brings to an organization’s bottom-line, we probably have all experienced at one point in our careers the opposite – the leaders who’ve managed to create a completely opposing environment, leaving the team deflated, uninspired and not feeling valued. This doesn’t mean that the work didn’t get done. It just wasn’t a positive experience that generated even greater results down the road. Essentially, it became a missed opportunity – leaving employees less engaged and business goals out of reach.

We have found that companies who make leadership development an HR initiative, experience greater employee productivity, retention and satisfaction. And while there are a million different leadership methodologies and books about what makes an effective leader it’s important to start the process by asking some fundamental, strategic questions. It is ideal to ask these questions at the beginning of building your company but it is equally valuable to ask these questions if you have been in business for many years. In order to achieve the business results and competitive edge you are seeking, consider asking the following:

  • What are the leadership skills you would like your leaders to exude in order to achieve your business goals?
  • Does your leadership team exude the characteristics you would like your employees to possess? Are they leading by example?
  • What leadership skills are needed in order to further your company’s brand and culture so that clients and new job candidates are attracted to what you have to offer?
  • Are you hiring individuals that have a proven track record of exhibiting the leadership skills, characteristics and results you need to be competitive in the marketplace?
  • If you choose to roll out a leadership development program, what is your goal? What challenges are you facing that you think the program will address?
  • Are you planning to make the long-term commitment needed to make leadership development effective? It is not something that happens overnight and it needs to become a part of your culture and a cornerstone initiative. If the answer is yes, I can guarantee it will be a success that you and the business will benefit from when it comes to attracting new customers and cutting edge talent.

Answering these questions and defining the results you are seeking is key to launching a leadership program, whether you use internal resources or decide to partner with an outside company. If you decide to enlist the expertise of an outside resource, there are a couple of things to consider:

  • Make sure the company you are partnering with asks the questions above.
  • Make sure they ask a lot of questions to understand your business goals, objectives and culture.
  • Make sure they are focused on the outcome. They should be vigilant about understanding how you will measure success at the end of the engagement.
  • Avoid a one-size fits all approach, make sure they are flexible and can provide customized options that fit your stage of growth and your culture.
  • Check references to ensure you will receive the results you are seeking.

Leadership development can have a huge impact on the success of your company. People look up. A leader’s ability to role model the behaviors they want to see, and communicate their company’s strategic vision in a clear and compelling way, will keep their team motivated and knowledgeable about how their day-to-day performance influences the bottom-line. We’d like to hear from you! Share your stories of successful leadership by sharing a comment on our blog.

Plan for Upcoming Trends – Accommodating Five Generations

When the next generation of workers enters the workforce in 2015 we will mark a new era of the greatest age diversity we have ever experienced in the workplace at one time – five generations coming together. This is a result of delays in the retirement age as well as workers deciding to work well into retirement. The five generations include:

  • Traditionalists
  • Baby Boomers
  • Gen X
  • Millennials
  • Gen 2020

Is your company ready to utilize their collective strengths and manage them effectively? Each generation has its own expectations regarding the work environment, what is and should be expected of them and reward systems. Being deliberate in finding ways to accommodate their various expectations will enable you to take advantage of the differences among the groups so your company receives all they have to offer. Here are several areas to consider as you get started:

Engagement: Develop customized ways to engage different groups. For example, Traditionalists and many Baby Boomers commonly prefer pensions and company directed retirement options, while Millennials prefer self-directing their retirement portfolios. Millennials expect to be included in big picture decisions more so than prior generations and company loyalty is more self-interest led than in prior generations. All styles are valid and must be accommodated to ensure your company receives maximum benefit from their collective talents.

Social Media: Younger workers expect it to be a part of their job, while older workers may see it as a waste of time and may feel resentful of employees spending time on social media sites. While Traditionalists and Baby Boomers came to work with all of the knowledge they needed to do their jobs, many of the Millennials use the internet and social media to solve problems and find the knowledge they need to complete their work. Training on social media as well as policies about use in the workplace is needed to deal with the lack of understanding to bring the two groups together.

Mentoring/Reverse Mentoring: One way to maximize productivity and increase knowledge across your workforce is to connect different generations in coaching or mentoring relationships. The older workers can offer years of experience and wisdom in the field while the younger workers can teach the older workers about new technology.

Flexibility/Schedule/Hours: Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are used to an 8-to-5 work day in an office while younger workers are used to more flexibility with regard to hours and work location. “Regular” hours when the office is staffed may need to be altered or expanded to accommodate both groups.

Training Styles: Older workers are more comfortable with traditional training methods while younger groups prefer to use technology in their training. Your best bet when it comes to training is to find out what works for your employees and create programs that honor different learning styles.

Be ready for the new workplace by planning ahead and making incremental changes to the way your company does business. Contact us for help designing custom programs that will work for you!

Engaging Your Workforce!

The way we engage our employees and value others is intrinsic to the social and emotional learning programs we produce. As a senior level HR executive, I have had the opportunity to work at several organizations and see what works and what does not. As a client of Resourceful HR, I wanted to share with blog readers some of the best practices I have learned throughout my career.

By Jean Battersby Wooten, Human Resources Manager, Committee for Children

I recently had the opportunity to attend Resourceful HR’s NW HR Best Practices Roundtable where the focus was employee engagement. This is a poignant topic for our organization as our team thinks of employee engagement as a cornerstone to the work we do. The way we engage our employees and value others is intrinsic to the social and emotional learning programs we produce. As a senior level HR executive, I have had the opportunity to work at several organizations and see what works and what does not. As a client of Resourceful HR, I wanted to share with blog readers some of the best practices I have learned throughout my career.

I also hope to hear from you! Employment engagement is ever evolving. It is a dynamic process that never really ends – it is not something we can just cross off our list after accomplishing a few tasks. What are the best practices you employ in your organization on a sustainable basis and what are the ways in which you measure engagement?

The following are just some of the techniques Committee for Children employs:

–          Employee engagement starts during the interview/hiring process (whether you are hired or not). We value expertise and the time job candidates spend engaging with our organization. Our goal is to show candidates respect throughout the whole process – this means keeping them informed, sticking to deadlines and keeping the relationship going even if they are not hired. You never know if you may need their contribution down the road.

–          Empower your employees. Giving your employees a full picture of what you are want to accomplish ensures they have the information they need to make good decisions. We share the strategic plan with the entire company and then each senior manager communicates with their team. This way every individual understands how their goals influence the results of the strategic plan.

–          Recognize all contributors. Recognize the efforts of all when possible. When a school or school district decides to purchase one of our programs, we acknowledge all that were involved. There are many contributors that helped along the way and we go out of our way to make sure everyone’s efforts are acknowledged, including designers and developers, the production and packaging teams, the financial team, client support services, our marketing team…the list goes on and on. Every purchase is a result of ALL of our employees’ synergistic efforts and all should be recognized for their contributions.

–          Focus on feedback. This is a crucial aspect that impacts our employee engagement initiatives. For two years in a row, our employees have voted us a Best Places to Work sponsored by the Puget Sound Business Journal. While the recognition is nice, it is not what drives our participation in this process. As part of the process, our employees are asked to complete a comprehensive survey (that requires 85% of employees to voluntarily fill it out in order to be considered for the award). The results from the survey let us know what we need to be focusing on in order to create greater job appreciation (i.e. what motivates people, what provides the support they need, what benefits are important to them). This feedback is then turned into our ‘marching orders’ for the year – We dive into each aspect and then work hard to create the environment our employees are desiring.

–          Listen, listen, listen. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Our culture thrives on transparent communications. While it is nice to have the Best Places to Work survey tool to collect feedback, the most important thing you can do is to listen and then communicate to employees that you hear them. For instance, you may learn there is a benefit that is lacking. While you may not have control over the benefit, it is still important to let employees know they were heard and tell them what you can and cannot do to help them. Another way we ensure everyone is at the table, even when they cannot, is to make notes from staff meetings and executive meetings available on our SharePoint.

And lastly, the best way to engage employees is to be engaged yourself. Enlisting your HR staff and making sure your managers are on board is key to creating a work force that comes to work feeling valued, respected and wanting to contribute!

_ _ _

About Jean

Jean is a successful human resources professional with over 25 years of experience. She is a natural leader with a passion for helping others reach their full potential. The industries she has worked in include high tech, professional services, manufacturing, distribution, insurance, non-profit and academia.

About Committee for Children

Committee for Children is a 30-year-old nonprofit whose vision is safe children thriving in a peaceful world—a world in which children can grow up to be peaceful, empathic, responsible citizens. It may seem like a tall order, but their social-emotional learning materials are in schools from Illinois to Iraq, Chile to California. They’ve taught millions of children skills that help them stay safe, manage their emotions, solve problems, avoid risky behavior, and improve their academics. And with your help, they can reach millions more—one child, one classroom, one community at a time.  Visit them at

Think Twice Before Requesting Employees’ (or Potential Employees’) Facebook Password

Scoping out employees’ and potential employees’ online lives has become commonplace for employers, and there are many solid reasons to do so. However, requesting employees’ Facebook passwords, or any access information to their personal online accounts, is another situation entirely. Not only does gaining such access to employee accounts bring little useful information, it delivers a negative message to employees and may expose employers to a host of ethical and legal issues.

Scoping out employees’ and potential employees’ online lives has become commonplace for employers, and there are many solid reasons to do so. However, requesting employees’ Facebook passwords, or any access information to their personal online accounts, is another situation entirely. Not only does gaining such access to employee accounts bring little useful information, it delivers a negative message to employees and may expose employers to a host of ethical and legal issues.

First, consider the message that you send to your employees when you request their passwords to their personal online accounts. Do you really want to be Big Brother, with a finger in every aspect of your employees’ lives? Do you really want to encourage employees to conceal information from you, which is what they are likely to do in an attempt to maintain a modicum of privacy? Do you want to send the message that you place such a low value on information security that you would ask your employees to violate the security policies of their online services providers?

Second, consider the ethics of such a request. Can you honestly say that you have a business interest in gaining such access to your employees’ private online accounts? Can you honestly say you have the right to access these accounts? Is it ethical to place an employee in a position of having to choose to protect their privacy or please their employer?

And finally, such requests carry numerous legal implications. While this area of law is unsettled, such requests likely violate the law on several fronts.

  1. Terms of Use Violation. Requesting that employees provide their passwords is asking employees to violate their contracts with the online providers. Nearly without exception, online providers’ Terms of Use prohibit users from sharing their passwords, and the practice of requesting employees’ access information has already been condemned by Facebook and other social media providers.
  2. Unauthorized Access. Some courts have found that an employer’s request for access information from an employee is essentially coercive because of the power imbalance between employer and employee. Therefore, using such information may then be considered “unauthorized access” in violation of some state laws.
  3. Discriminatory Information. Accessing your employees’ private online accounts may provide you with information that you, as an employer, may not request or consider in making employment decisions, such as ethnicity or religious affiliation. An employer may not legally use such information in the employment arena, and merely possessing such information may cause future headaches in the case of a disgruntled employee looking to bolster a discrimination claim.
  4. National Labor Relations Act. Requiring your employees to provide you with their passwords to social media sites is likely in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, a federal law that prohibits, among other things, employers from acting to discourage employees from “concerted activity” regarding their employment and working conditions. Recent case law has held that employees’ actions on social media are considered protected “concerted activity” and that employers are limited in what they can do to regulate or restrict such social media activities.

Overall, requesting your employees’ Facebook passwords or other access information to their personal online accounts, while perhaps the latest trend in employee relations, is a high-risk, low-reward strategy that employers should avoid.

 – – –

Lauren Burgon is an associate at Equinox Business Law Group, working closely with business owners to ensure they are minimizing risk and protecting assets. While she especially enjoys working with business owners in planning ahead to avoid litigation, other areas of Lauren’s practice include protecting clients’ intellectual property rights and assisting them in drafting carefully written nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. More recently, Lauren’s practice has developed in Internet and online issues, advising her clients on their online presence, retail activity, social media, and the ramifications of virtual work with customers worldwide. Read more about Lauren.

New Types of Retaliation: Are You Watching Out For and Preventing “Associational Retaliation” Claims?

Do you have employees who are related or who are dating one another? I suspect most of you do. Did you know that if one employee complains of discrimination, and you happen to discipline the related employee around the same time, you could be liable for retaliation under federal law? The U.S. Supreme Court recently said “yes” to this question, so based on this decision, you as an employer may need to take extra care when disciplining employees who are related or dating.

“How can this happen,” you say? You thought the only person who could bring a lawsuit would be the person who was complaining of discrimination, right? Wrong. Suppose you have an employee Susan, who is the sister of employee Nick. Susan files a complaint with the EEOC that she is being discriminated against by her supervisor John, claiming that he sexually harassed her. Several weeks after Susan complains, you fire her brother Nick. The Supreme Court has now said that Nick can bring a claim alleging that you fired him to retaliate against Susan for filing a discrimination claim with the EEOC. Confusing? You bet!

The facts of Thompson v. North American Stainless

Here are the facts of the Supreme Court case, Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP. As you know, employers cannot retaliate against an employee for engaging in protected activity, such as making a complaint of discrimination. Specifically, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee who has opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII or “made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner” in a discrimination investigation, proceeding or lawsuit. Before Thompson, the only persons who had successfully asserted retaliation claims were employees who had themselves engaged in protected activity.

In Thompson, two employees, Miriam Regalado and Eric Thompson, were engaged to be married, and both worked for the same employer, North American Stainless (NAS). Miriam filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against NAS. A short time later, NAS fired her fiancé Eric. He then sued, claiming that the only reason NAS fired him was to retaliate against Miriam because she had engaged in protected activity – i.e. she complained of discrimination to the EEOC. Eric admitted that he had not engaged in any protected activity on his own. In other words, he had not complained about discrimination, nor had he complained about any discrimination against his fiancée by NAS.

The trial court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of NAS, ruling that Title VII protects from retaliation only employees who have actually engaged in activity protected by the law and that the statute does not protect employees who are merely related to such an individual.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and held that the fiancé (Eric) could sue for retaliation because he fell within the “zone of interests” protected by Title VII. The Court found that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision must be interpreted to cover a broad range of employer conduct. Thus, the anti-retaliation provision covers any employer action that might dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.Under the facts of Thompson, the Court concluded that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC if he or she thought that his or her fiancée might get fired. Accordingly, Eric Thompson could proceed with his lawsuit, claiming that he had been fired by NAS as a way to retaliate against his fiancée for complaining to the EEOC.

What does this mean for you as an employer?

Retaliation lawsuits have been on the rise and this decision expands the types of retaliation claims that may be brought under Title VII. Now retaliation claims can be brought by an employee related to another employee – so-called “associational retaliation.” But you ask – who can bring this type of claim? Do the employees have to be related or engaged to be married? What if employees are “just friends”? Unfortunately for employers, the Supreme Court refused to identify a fixed class of relationships for which third-party reprisals are unlawful: “We expect that firing a close family member will almost always meet the . . . standard” for alleging a claim of retaliation, whereas “inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so, but beyond that we are reluctant to generalize.”

Thus, I recommend that you exercise caution when handling complaints of discrimination, as well as when handling employee discipline of family members or close acquaintances of employees who have complained of discrimination, in order to avoid actual or perceived retaliation. Additionally, having good documentation in support of discipline decisions – particularly documentation that shows a track record of poor performance – will be one way to counter these types of retaliation claims.

Nancy Anderson, a shareholder in Graham & Dunn’s Labor and Employment team, brings with her nearly twenty years of experience in representing and advising employers on all types of employment law claims and compliance with federal and state labor and employment law. She is a regular speaker on wage/hour and employment law issues, and has authored numerous articles on defending wage and hour claims and class actions. In the coming months, Nancy will continue to write in more detail on this issue as well as other suggested topics.

Adam BelzbergAdam Belzberg is an Associate with Graham & Dunn’s Labor and Employment team and represents management in all aspects of labor and employment law, defends employers with regard to claims of employment discrimination, wage and hour compliance, employment torts and contracts, and unfair labor practices. In addition to his litigation practice, Adam regularly provides advice and counsel to employers on labor and personnel management issues.

Employee Tips for Soliciting and Receiving Feedback

Have you ever started a new job and received very little guidance or attention from your manager? How do you know the difference between the silence that means, “you’re doing a good job,” and the silence that means, “I don’t have time to think about what you’re doing”? The last thing you want is to find out several months or a year down the road that the latter is true. While it can feel daunting to solicit feedback from your manager, it is sometimes the only way to find out if your work is satisfactory.

Giving feedback is just as scary as getting it. Often managers do not offer constructive feedback because they are afraid of how it will be received. Your manager is taking a risk in order to offer you guidance about how your work is impacting them and the company. By asking “how am I doing” you are opening the door and showing your manager that you are willing to hear what they have to say. This will lessen the anxiety all around. Feedback is valuable information and it’s in your best interest to get as much of it as you can!

If you find that it is difficult to get information from your manager you may want to ask specific questions. For instance, rather than saying, “how did I do on that project” you might ask, “were you satisfied with the amount of time and resources spent on that project”?

Here are some tips to consider when opening the lines of communication:

  • Listen carefully and resist the urge to interrupt with excuses. You may want to take notes on expectations moving forward and jot down any areas that you do not understand. It’s ok to ask for clarification and to review the situation to ensure you both understand everything involved. Your manager will appreciate that you are taking the feedback and conversation seriously, whether the comments are kudos or concerns.
  • Focus on understanding the problem and creating a solution rather than excusing or justifying your behavior. Avoid the temptation to shift the blame or point your finger at others. Take the opportunity to learn what you can do differently.
  • Participate in the conversation. Don’t ignore what you are being told even if you feel the information is inaccurate. Keep in mind that this is his or her perception of your performance. Don’t just agree to make him or her go away. Be open to making changes and ask for help. Part of their job is to help you be successful.
  • If you are feeling hurt or offended by the feedback you may wish to take a break before responding or continuing the conversation.

You can use these conversations to learn more about how your manager works and what she or he values. Once you know what your manager values you will have an easier time pleasing her or him. If s/he values coming in ahead of deadline, you know that you want to be careful to give deadlines that you can always meet or beat. If your manager values precision, you want to promise just what you can deliver and come in on time and budget.

It is important to understand how we are perceived by others in the workplace and the only way to find out is to ask. Develop a habit of asking for feedback. You may be surprised at what you learn and at how easy it is to please your manager when you are better in tune with what they want and expect from you.

What is your experience with getting and giving feedback in the workplace? Please share your stories about how feedback (or lack of feedback) has affected your working relationships.

The Office Holiday Party is Right Around the Corner….

It’s that time of year again when employers begin to think about bringing the company together to celebrate the holidays and thank employees for their hard work and dedication. As an employer, how do you carefully plan a party that accommodates employees’ diverse beliefs and traditions? What type of party makes sense? Will it be neutral and non-religious or will you elect to represent all the religions? In any case, it’s a good idea to invite a committee of employees to participate in the planning and selection of decorations and food to ensure it is a party employees are excited about.

The location of the party is another important choice. Employers usually want employees to be able to get away from the office and their desks, but often the costs associated with an off-site party combined with the business’s needs dictate that the party be kept onsite. If that is the case in your company, do your best to find an area that allows plenty of room for mingling. If the party takes place during business hours, it makes sense that it would be employees only. However, if the party is held in the evening or on a weekend, it is more common and reasonable to allow employees to bring a guest.

Other things to consider that should go into your planning are the types of activities that will take place:

  • Will there be games? If so, be sure to offer optional activities that appeal to those who are less social. Some people you may not suspect are introverted and cringe at group events.
  • Will you provide music and dancing? If you can’t afford to hire a band or DJ, ask a few employees to put together some music on a CD or iPod. This is fun way for employees to be involved and they usually do a great job finding out what the group likes.
  • What is on the menu? Be sensitive to your employees’ food allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • What kind of beverages will be served? If alcohol is on the menu, be sure to have a plan to get employees home safely if they’ve had too much to drink. Have a car service or taxi tickets on hand.

Because this time of year represents a time of giving and giving in group settings can be awkward, consider tying the party to a food or toy drive. The group will appreciate the company’s focus on helping the community, while also celebrating fellow employees.

One last thing to consider; if in your company the holiday weeks are just too busy to celebrate in the way you want, an alternative could be to throw a “new year’s kickoff celebration” in January. Employees are less stressed and employers may be able to get some great deals on some fun event or party venues. It’s different as well as cost-effective and employees may really appreciate having something to look forward to in January. If you decide to do that, it’s a good idea to still acknowledge the holidays and the employees’ hard work with a note or a card. Slip in a “save the date” notice so they know something is coming in January.

Keep your Workforce Engaged – Employee Appreciation Ideas

According to Mercer’s October 2011 What’s Work survey report, research shows that despite ongoing economic uncertainty, employees are still considering leaving their current company for a better opportunity. Analysis of the study reveals that “non-financial factors play a prominent role in influencing employee motivation and engagement.”

These two factors combined make it more critical than ever for businesses to provide employees with appreciation “perks” that resonate with employees while increasing retention. It’s important to note too, that not every employee appreciates the same things and what might seem like a perk to one might be perceived as a waste of time/money to another. The more you can customize the perk, the better. Have options that appeal to those who are more social and those who are more introverted. Some people you may not suspect are introverted and cringe at group events.
>> CONTINUE READING for great hands-on employee appreciation ideas >>

A Day in the Life… A Telecommuter and Her Company

In recognition of October, which was National Work and Family Month, we wanted to share some information to help you make a more successful telecommute policy for your company. As a telecommuter and parent of two, I have the fortune of experiencing both sides of the work/family table. As a parent, I appreciate the ability to telecommute because it allows me to best meet the demands of my family while also fulfilling my professional goals. As an HR professional, among other things, I design telecommute policies that balance the needs of both the employer and employee and promote a flexible and family friendly work place.

There are many important considerations that both employer and employee must consider and discuss prior to agreeing to a telecommuting situation. For the purposes of this blog, I will approach telecommuting through the eyes of the telecommuter and the employer and address the considerations that should be evaluated when instituting this option.
>> CONTINUE READING important considerations for both employers and employees >>

Employee Performance Management: Giving Feedback to Your Employees

Encouraging regular, ongoing feedback in the workplace is a powerful tool for organizations. It boosts employee morale and allows your employees to know whether what they are doing from day to day meets your needs as a supervisor.

Most people find consistent, timely feedback provided by management and peers to be important to their overall job satisfaction. So why do so many companies have only an annual performance evaluation process? As you consider your evaluation process, here are some key things to remember about giving feedback:

Be Honest and Reinforce Positive Actions:
To be valuable the feedback you give must be honest; something you genuinely believe. Some managers believe that feedback must be balanced between reinforcement of positive behavior and correction of negative behavior so they will make up things to “complain about” to an excellent employee. When this happens the employee is likely to feel underappreciated and their morale can be affected, causing a star employee to behave more like an average employee. If you are lucky enough to have a star employee in your department you will be best served to focus on what she or he is doing well.

>> CONTINUE READING more key points about giving feedback >>

Succession Planning: What are you doing to maximize and hold onto your talent?

Most companies recognize that its biggest assets are its employees. What many companies don’t see, though, is that when coached correctly those same great people have the potential to grow into even bigger and better positions. Most people’s goals include being successful, meeting specific milestones and continuing to gain levels of responsibility in work. To take advantage of the raw talent in entry level positions, and keep hold of their biggest assets, companies are well served by capturing this natural urge to learn and grow by mapping out succession plans for employees early on.

As employees progress up the company ladder, one goal to have is to find and train your own replacement. A lot of people are afraid of this concept because of the fear of working yourself out of a job. Successful managers understand that good players make good teams and that good, high functioning teams allow the manager to take on new job challenges. In order for the manager to grow into a new position there has to be somebody to take over the work that she or he was doing. It is in a manager’s best interest to have employees ready and able to take over the work that they would like to leave behind and replace with higher level work. You don’t want to be passed up for promotion because there wasn’t anyone to replace you in your current role.
>> CONTINUE READING for key suggestions in formulating a successful succession plan >>

Employee Performance Management: Strategies for Getting an Employee Back on Track

Have you had one team member bring down the morale of an entire department? There are many reasons why an employee may become dissatisfied and there are several ways to get the situation back on track, or better yet, from happening in the first place. With very little monetary expense and a moderate investment of time you can cultivate a work place that promotes employee morale, mutual trust and active engagement. These qualities set the stage for high productivity, employee retention and customer satisfaction.

The critical task for you as a leader is to quickly spot a potential problem and successfully manage it so it does not erode the culture you have built among your staff and customers. There are a variety of methods for intervening and remedying unproductive employee behavior. Here are just a few ideas to help get an employee back on track:

CONTINUE READING for ideas to help get an employee back on track

Employee Performance: Aligning Employee Passion, Aptitude and Ability to Maximize Performance

Are you truly tapping into the wealth of experience, knowledge and innovation that literally exists at your fingertips? Each of your employees possesses a rich background of accumulated knowledge and skills that often remains dormant due to the narrow focus of most job descriptions and the silo-oriented nature of most organizational cultures. Rather than seeing your human resources as a rich tapestry of wisdom to be mined and celebrated, too often people are utilized as narrowly defined cogs in the wheels of the organizational “machine.”

To use a technological analogy, imagine purchasing a powerful new computer and then utilizing it only for adding numbers or typing letters. You’ve paid a great deal of hard-earned money for a machine with enormous potential and then you treat it as an adding machine and typewriter. The opportunity cost to your organization of not taking advantage of the computer’s multitude of other features is astronomical. Well, the same is true when you overlook or under-utilize the boundless capabilities of your workforce.

>> READ ON for a few simple ideas to help you start capitalizing on your employee’s talents and attributes >>

Clark Nuber Senior HR Director Discusses Successful New Company Initiatives to Foster Leadership and Improve Employee Retention

Jennifer Olsen interviews Tracy White, Senior HR Director from Clark Nuber, P.S., a Seattle based public accounting firm. Ms. White discusses the first year successes of Clark Nuber’s recently rolled out Leadership Development Institute as it prepares to graduate its first classes. The Institute offers interested employees classes to further develop their leadership skills in areas such as marketing, sales, and communication.

Clark Nuber has gained both awards and reputation for being an employee focused company continually working to create innovative programs that develop employee leadership skills and community involvement. Visit Clark Nuber online at

Every Business Is In The Communication Business

Even though we continue to see technology streamline how we conduct business, the old fashioned human voice remains a crucial element when it comes to doing business. The way you communicate can instantly affect the emotions, attitudes, and productivity of people. For example, the voices on a company’s telephone lines, made up of employees, speak volumes for a business’ brand. For this reason, it’s important for supervisors to correct any person whose communication style or manner is too informal, too rude, or too vulgar. You must consider it something serious and move rapidly to correct the issue.

Some tactics supervisors can use:

  • Timing: Meeting with the employee as soon as you’ve heard an inappropriate exchange. This emphasizes the seriousness and is critical when dealing with a complaint regarding rudeness or inappropriate language.
  • Preparation: Be sure to have an example of the improper behavior you want to remedy, whether it’s through firsthand experience or a complaint. This is not something that has to be a “pattern”. An inappropriate exchange happening once is once too many. Again, you must act on it immediately.
  • Attitude: Be sure to display the attitude you want when addressing the issue. If a staff member is too informal, you should be businesslike and straightforward but relaxed. If the employee is rude or uses inappropriate language, you need to be firm, and let them know that they should know better than to use this kind of language in the work place.
  • Behavior: Be direct and to the point. Stress that rude manners are unacceptable in any business environment.

Key Points to remember:

  • Act immediately
  • Don’t be afraid to let someone understand the consequences of their actions
  • Don’t accept excuses for inappropriate behavior or language
  • Emphasize that the individual represents the company

What To Do About A Bully Boss

I was recently asked by Forbes magazine what advice I would give an employee who is being bullied by a boss. Some of my response and great tips from other professionals can be found in the published articles.

Part I –
Part II –

I want to share with our readers some additional information that I think is helpful to know when you are dealing with this first hand or advising others. Unfortunately, employees perceive supervisor “bullying” more often than management may realize which inadvertently can get the organization into legal hot water and leaves both parties feeling unfulfilled and resentful. Here is a quick synopsis of what I often encounter:

  • Boss isn’t getting what he/she needs from their direct report in order to meet the department/organizational objectives.
  • The direct reporter isn’t getting the feedback he/she requires to understand what’s expected or how they can improve performance. He/she rationalizes this result by convincing her/himself that their career growth is stymied by the supervisor and/or that they are not receiving the same opportunities as their peers and are being treated unfairly or “bullied”.
  • Neither is getting what they need to be successful.

>> READ MORE What To Do About A Bully Boss >>

HR Legal News – Title VII Sex Discrimination – Part II

This HR legal news monthly update is brought to you by David Black, HR attorney and Andrew Niederhauser, Group Assistant for the NW HR Best Practices Roundtable. Each month they cover a legal development relevant to the HR profession to provide you with greater insight into law and the practical ramifications for employers. If there is a particular aspect of the law or situation you are interested in having us explore please contact David.

>> READ MORE HR Legal News – Title VII Sex Discrimination – Part II >>

Salary Increase? – How to Answer the Raise Question During Tough Times

The economic status of many companies has been challenged over the past year and a half. Many companies reacted by scrutinizing the budget and slashing line items to help them “get through” this tough time. Most of these organizations decided raises should be among the first to go. Whether these were merit based or just an annual cost of living increase, these organizations went through the exercise of weighing out the pros and cons of “freezing” this annual salary change.

>> So, how do you respond to an employee who is requesting a raise?

Tips for Creating Effective Relationships in the Workplace

In work, as in life, the relationships you form require forethought and nurturing. What is the key to having successful relationships at work? If you have a troubled relationship with someone in the workplace, how do you turn it around?

Keeping in mind that you can only control your own actions, and reactions, the way you behave will either help or hinder a relationship and in turn your career. No matter the training, education or experience you may possess, if you can’t play well with others, you will never successfully accomplish what you need to in the work place. How many times have you encountered someone really personable, enthusiastic, willing to listen and work with you? Those people stick out in your mind and without a doubt, you will seek them out again when you need assistance with a project. On the other end of the spectrum, someone who is challenging, hard to work with, or not a team player is someone that you will inevitably steer clear of.

So, how do you work toward having effective working relationships?

Leadership: Creating Value Through Employer-Employee Relationships

One of the most critical responsibilities of a leader is to cultivate a work environment that promotes a high level of employee morale, mutual trust and active engagement. These qualities set the stage for high productivity, employee retention and customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, despite your best intentions and active efforts, occasionally you are faced with a situation where you have a disgruntled employee and you find yourself presented with a conflict that requires you to ask, “do I address the situation head on or do I wait and hope that it will resolve itself over time?”

Just as you must invest time and energy into building and sustaining a healthy relationship with your family and close friends, so too must you be willing to nurture and grow a productive relationship with your employees, especially those that are struggling.
>> How do I grow my employee relationships? >>

Which Management Style Will Maximize your Team’s Worth?

In today’s workplace teams are working leaner than ever, which means keeping them productive and motivated is more important than ever. Managers have the difficult task of ensuring their teams stay focused, yet creating a welcoming and positive environment. The kind of supervisory style that you possess could be a deciding factor in your team achieving its goals. Many times you already are the perfect match for your team and yet you still may need to tweak your style for specific situations to maximize performance. Before making any adjustments, you must first understand your management style.
>> What traits best describe your management style? >>

Non-cash Incentives – Motivate Employees and Increase Engagement

Studies show that employees who are rewarded for going above and beyond are more productive and satisfied, show greater loyalty and are more willing to contribute in an impactful and meaningful way. The list below outlines some quick tips on how to increase employee engagement and motivation through non-cash incentives:

  • Consider non-traditional incentive systems. Research shows that generations X and Y want different things than prior generations. For example, years of service awards like clocks, trophies and plaques, may not be rewarding to a new generation of workers especially since more people are working in shorter stints rather than long-term periods. Here you will find more information about the nuances of Generation X and Y.
  • Solicit feedback. The best way to find out what motivates an employee is to ask them.
  • Incent the behavior you want to drive. Create a clear plan for rewards that is tied to strategic goals and activities. Rewards given haphazardly will not have the long-term effects you desire.
  • Be creative. For instance, a company we have worked with created dollar bills with the CEO’s picture on them and implemented a system and criteria in which employees earn these dollars. The recipient buys something of his or her choice and turns in the receipt along with the company ‘dollars’ for reimbursement. It’s a very fun, popular program among the staff that drives loyalty and increased performance.
  • More ideas. We share more tips on how to motivate employees here

Thinking About a Reduction in Workforce (RIF)?

While many companies don’t approach a workforce reduction lightly, often employers don’t take the correct measures to insure they are handling the process legally and effectively. Having the right plan in place insures employees who remain are productive and allows you to avoid problematic situations such as claims of alleged discrimination, claims of breach of contract, violation of wage statues and federal layoff rules. Following the right guidelines will enable you to make informed decisions about how to structure the layoff and minimize the risk of a lawsuit.

>> Read the overview of what you should take into account as you think about reducing your workforce >>

Will Teleworking Work for your Business?

Telework, once seen as a privilege given only to the highest performing employees at the discretion of management, is now widely utilized as a powerful tool to cut costs, increase productivity and retain high caliber talent. For example, an organization can significantly reduce its energy consumption and facility space requirements while providing employees with an incentive to produce greater results. The key to success lies in program design. Little planned, ad hoc telework arrangements generally prove problematic and increase risk to the organization when inequitably distributed amongst employees. Telework arrangements should always be in the best interest of the company before being deployed.

>> Continue Reading >>

Employee Performance Management: Inspiring Employees In A Down Economy

As 2009 comes to a close, many organizations are preparing to head into their annual employee performance management process. It’s been a tough year for many companies and in today’s economic environment it may be difficult for you to provide similar financial incentives to your employees as you have done in the past.

Because of this, it is even more important to plan ahead, set expectations, and implement a performance management process that ensures that your employees will continue to feel valued. It’s during challenging times like this that employees need open and honest feedback and a sense that they add value and are part of the organization’s future success.

>> 3 key components for an effective employee performance management plan >>

Work-life Balance: How Will Your Generation Influence Work-life Balance?

Many employers are beginning to understand that work-life balance is important in order to maintain focused, attentive, healthy and happy staff.

According to Wikipedia, Americans first uttered the phrase “work-life balance” around 1986. The phrase is fairly common place today but the reality is that many Americans work more hours than our predecessors did twenty-five years ago. The work environment is competitive and many employees are being pushed to do more with less. While this is occurring, we do see potential change on the horizon as many employers are beginning to understand that work-life balance is important in order to maintain focused, attentive, healthy and happy staff.

>> How Work-life balance will change in the years ahead >>

Employment Assistance Programs – Don’t Let Personal Problems Impact Productivity

At least 15-20% of the workforce is affected by moderate to serious personal problems at any given time. These problems can include financial difficulties, marital problems, family issues, drug or alcohol dependence and emotional problems. When employees don’t know where to turn for help, their problems may increase and if the problems remain untreated, employees’ work performance can decline. Providing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can play a vital role in helping employees going through a difficult time remain productive at work. The EAP can be offered as a voluntary, confidential program and suggested to employees experiencing personal difficulties.

>> How does having an EAP help you? >>

Acknowledging and Incorporating Workplace Diversity

Our individual experiences shape how we take in and respond to information. Our personality preferences, culture, family experiences and even regional norms act as filters to the vast amounts of information we give and receive each day. In some respects, this is a gift. We need to be able to decipher the difference between relevant and irrelevant information in our technology-driven world. Without this our head might explode. However, our filters become dangerous when they lead to assumptions and misunderstandings.
>> How can we insure workplace diversity benefits rather than harms our organization? >>

Gain the Greatest Benefit from Executive Coaching – Ask these Key Questions

Key QuestionsWhen it comes to executive coaching people tend to fall into one of two camps. It either is viewed as a panacea that will magically “fix” a manager experiencing performance problems, or it is viewed as a superfluous expenditure that will reap very little benefit for the person being coached or the company-at-large.

>> How to produce positive coaching results >>

The First Step to Getting Back to Business As Usual After a Lay-off

If you’ve ever been at a company who has reduced their workforce by one or more people then you’ve experienced the uneasy atmosphere that follows. Employees who didn’t get cut are thankful they still have their jobs, yet also feel sad and sometimes guilty that their friends are gone and they are still employed. The management team also feels uneasy. They have a job to do and business needs don’t go away, yet they don’t want to appear unsympathetic to what has happened.

How do you get back to “business as usual”? The management staff needs to set the tone and get everyone focused on pursuing the goals of the business. A meeting with your staff is a good way to regroup and set the tone: acknowledge the loss of friends and coworkers and the need to get back on track. It is important to use the meeting as a way to get current employees involved and working together toward a common goal on a project or issue. Communication is key to ensuring your employees know what to do next.

Get An “A” In Communication

Your employees always do what you want, correct? If the answer is no or not always, we urge you to look at your internal communication strategies. We are in the communications age, yet so many companies fail to use communications to their advantage in streamlining performance expectations. Companies often still treat communications in an ad hoc fashion, assuming “someone” will get the information in “some form” and will understand what is expected of them. These companies are often bewildered and upset when employees fail to follow-through. The companies who get the “A” are those that treat communications in an intentional and proactive fashion. A well thought-out communications plan has goals, deadlines, success measures and management commitment. 
>> The very word itself, COMMUNICATIONS, can help guide such a plan >>

Performance Management Drives Business Results

Performance reviews are an effective tool in business to increase communication, establish expectations, reinforce good performance and improve poor performance. Reviews also provide an opportunity for employers to encourage teamwork and keep a pulse on employee morale. Preparation and execution of an effective performance review can be an easy task but if done incorrectly, the process can take on unnecessary complexity, harm the relationship between employee/employer as well as leave the employee confused and nervous. These are never positive attributes for fully functioning organization.

>> Tips to ensure performance reviews motivate employees and improve morale >>

Identifying HR Best Practices

As a business owner, you most likely spend considerable time and effort in your organization identifying the sales, marketing and customer service best practices that attract, acquire and retain happy customers. Do you extend this same analysis and information capture to the human resource aspects of your business? How might doing so increase revenue?

>> Is Your Organization Utilizing HR Best Practices? >>

Extending Your Market Brand – Employees are Brand Ambassadors

In our free market system, strong and positive consumer brand recognition is essential to a company’s long-term viability. While this is always true no matter the economic climate, it’s especially true right now. Consumer spending is more cautious and deliberate and product/service options, while temporarily squeezed, will increase as talented individuals opt to start their own businesses rather than work for someone else. Creating a strong brand image and extending its reach as far as possible is essential to insuring your company stands strong amongst its competition as we move forward in the market.
>> What does this have to do with HR? >>

Reduce Conflict, Increase Productivity

When discussing conflict in the workplace it is quite likely that the images that come to mind are of harsh glares, voices raised in anger and slamming doors. These are the classic tell-tale signs of active disagreement and open hostility in the workplace. However, it’s important to note that these tend to be situation-specific and momentary in nature.

In reality, a far more pervasive, destructive and less easily detected form of conflict might be doing damage to the morale and productivity of your organization – constant, low-level discord which can take many forms, from bickering and sniping to passive-aggressive avoidance behaviors.
>> Read more about the steps you can take to reduce conflict in the workplace >>

Holding Onto Key Employee Talent

As a leader in your organization, has the following thought recently crossed your mind:

“My key talent isn’t going to leave because they have nowhere else to go.”

Many research studies and my own personal experiences demonstrate that leading up to and following reductions in force, employee morale, productivity and engagement decrease. Given the current economic climate, managing your talent is just as critical as managing your overall business. Let’s face it , critical talent always has options, regardless of market conditions.

READ ON >> Retaining Key Talent = Answering A Key Question >>

Uncovering Hidden Employee Talent

As companies continue to feel the impact of these economic times, I see more people taking on different roles and responsibilities. Employers are getting wiser and focusing on what specific strengths and skills employees have that can impact the bottom line quickly. These organizations are also rewarding employees for wearing more than one hat as it is cheaper to add responsibilities to a person’s plate rather than hire a new employee.

>> Read on – the talent you need may be sitting right under your nose >>

Employee Benefits: A Problem or Opportunity

In today’s economy, most employers view employee benefits as a high cost problem. Switch your thinking! It can be an opportunity. When designed properly, you can save premium dollars and give your employees incentive to stay healthy. In my opinion, wellness is paramount to turning the tide in rising health care costs. Many Americans are living “high risk” lifestyles. These “high risk” conditions are the root cause for more than half of all health care expenditures.

What are these high risk conditions?