Teach a Man to Fish

One of life’s conundrums is the choice of when to do something for someone and when to teach them to do it for themselves.  This is an age old struggle between parents and children, teachers and students, managers and employees and the Human Resources team and our internal customers.  We all want to help those in need whether it’s a child struggling to open a heavy door or an employee who needs a quick answer.  But are we really “helping” when we constantly rush in to be the hero or are we really fueling a need within ourselves?  Might it not actually be better to teach someone how to be self-sufficient and then step back and out of the way?  This would allow you to make a greater and more broad reaching impact.

Especially for those of us in HR who, generally, are in this function because we enjoy helping others, we might want to take a look at how to more effectively “help” others in the organization.  It would be beneficial to have a plan when someone comes to you with a problem.  A way to identify whether this is a crisis and an immediate need or an opportunity to teach someone to be able to do it for themselves.

Urgent or Immediate needs

HR gets bombarded daily with immediate needs or at least needs that the internal customer thinks are immediate needs.  A few examples of actual immediate needs:  Someone has fallen and you need to call 911, someone is making credible threats and needs to be escorted out of the building, access to systems need to be shut down due to an involuntary termination for cause.  These are the types of needs that you will always handle and are probably not teachable, necessarily, to someone else.

Important needs

Important needs are those that are important but not urgent.   Examples might be a question on an incentive plan and how it works or an update on a particular position you are hiring for.  Some critical needs can lend themselves to establishing SOP’s, Standard Operating Procedures.  Requisitions reports can be created and distributed so that managers can check statuses of their openings.  Webinars can be held to explain the nuances of the incentive plans.

Routine needs

Routine needs are those that someone will call you for every time they need the answer. Someone has an address change, or a title change or a change in the car reimbursement program.  Routine needs are wonderful teaching opportunities.  Offer to walk the person through the steps needed and then establish the SOP’s, standard operating procedures,  and let them know where to access them.

Un-needs

Occasionally, you run into those people, or they hunt you down, with on-going, what we will call, un-needs.  This is the desire to have someone listen to them by creating a perceived need.  In these situations, the best thing to do is to politely remind the person that you have a call coming in or must get back to your work.  You can train someone out of this behavior, but not necessarily teach them.

By defining the different classification of needs, you will work more efficiently, have a broader impact and be able to help others to help themselves.

Time management

sherrie suski, time management

 

There have been copious articles written about time management and everyone no doubt has their favorite strategies. The below are a few that I have found to be helpful in the workplace and in life in general.

 

Know yourself

Part of being a good time manager is knowing what behaviors prevent you from managing your time effectively. The link below gives you a quick summary spreadsheet for determining what your behavior is to day and what your behavior should be in the future to maximize your time. It is helpful to know when your energy is at its peak- is that early morning, late night or somewhere in between. This will help you to plan critical activities for when your energy level is the highest.

 

Multi-task

I know this is contrary to many time management theories out there, but wherever possible, multi-task, especially when something does not require your full attention. When you give up the idea of doing only one thing at a time and look for ways to do two, you can get a whole lot more done. Some quick examples: If you’re on the West coast, schedule East Coast calls on your drive into work. Owe the Far East a call back, pop in your earbuds and make the call while you’re making dinner. 6:00pm pst is around 8:00am there.

 

Touch each e-mail or piece of paper once

This one is big. We all have a tendency to want to “think about” it for a bit and then answer which is likely the answer you would have given in the first place. Force yourself, unless there is truly research that is needed, to answer right away.

 

Start the night before

A big time saver is to lay out your next day the night before. This allows you to hit the ground running in the morning and not have to stop and get organized. Know what you need to accomplish that day, in terms of key deliverables and follow up items.

Get your follow up items out early so that it allows people time to work on them during the day.

 

Take a break

While this may sound counterintuitive, often times taking a quick 10 minute break will help you to re- focus and complete a task in a shorter amount of time than if you had stayed with it past your ability to really focus.

 

Determine what is urgent and what isn’t

Not every e-mail that comes in must be answered right away. Some of the best time managers only answer their e-mails 1-2 times/day. You would be amazed at how many strings of conversation there are where you are only peripherally involved and if you just let them play out, you can catch the last e-mail and be completely up to speed.

 

Everyone has strategies that work better for them than others. Don’t be afraid to try 20 or 3- and then pick the top 5 that really do save you time and increase efficiency.

Employee Testing

sherrie suski, employee testing

Almost all organizations engage in employee testing of one type or another.  What many organizations don’t understand is almost all of them open you up to some type of potential liability should you be challenged.  Selected and administered well they can be valuable tools in your candidate assessment process, but handled poorly they can cause you a whole host of problems.

Pre-Employment Physicals

Few can argue that Pre-employment physicals or drug screens are a bad idea.  Even with many states, including California, legalizing marijuana, you may still preclude its use while at work, the same way you can insist that your employees not come to work drunk or impaired by the use of prescription drugs.  Just because a substance is legal, does not mean it is OK be under the influence while at work.  Give prospective candidates notice that you will require them to take a pre-employment physical.  Many will simply choose not to apply.

Background Screening

Background screening is another “test” that few will argue with other than those who feel they have some antiquated right to privacy.  Background checks will check driving records, misdemeanor and felony convictions.  How you use this information gets a little trickier.  While you can turn down a candidate who will be driving a company vehicle if they have DUI convictions because you can show a direct correlation between the offense and the job requirement, what about the person who is a 2 time convicted child offender and you have offered him/her a position within an development department?  Can you show a relationship between the offense and the job requirement?

Skills testing

Skills testing can fall into multiple categories.  There are on the job skills tests that are easy to validate.  If the job requires someone to install HVAC systems and you ask them to install an HVAC system, the relationship and applicability are clear.  This type of testing can also include basic grammar and math skills.  The reasoning is that those that can construct a basic sentence with proper grammar and understand basic math are going to be better at their jobs whether they are being hired as an AP Specialist or a Customer Service rep.  These relationships to job proficiency are fairly easy to understand, but be prepared to defend your decision, even with validated tests.

Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests are a gray area and only a handful of companies are using them.  Their theory is that if they hire only those that score exceptionally well on the aptitude tests that they will be able to train them faster, they will catch on more quickly, they will be more creative in terms of finding efficiencies within their jobs.  If you use Aptitude testing, be sure it is only one aspect of your hiring decisions.  It would be easy to come under fire for adverse impact if you established a cut off whereby you would not accept applicants.

Personality Tests

Quite a few companies use personality tests and there are many different versions, Myers-Briggs, DISC, Predictive Index. Personality tests can be helpful especially when you choose one like Predictive Index where you can create the profile for the job and then compare the profiles of the candidates to the job profile.  These can be especially helpful when you have a team of people to hire.   You want variety on your team, but complimentary personalities.  There is no right or waring, pass of fail with a personality test.  Each personality has its own pros and cons.

Define your testing strategy up front and ensure that you understand what you are hoping to accomplish with each one and how you will use the results.

Compensation systems

The last component of an effective HRIS is a Compensation system.  A sophisticated compensation system will save you hours of number crunching using excel spreadsheets.  Many of these systems are sold as a component of Performance Management systems, but there are a few stand alone ones as well.  It is always best to integrate where possible because you save yourself the time and effort involved in paying someone to write the integration software for you and the headaches that come with integrating two systems that were not designed to work together.

The capabilities you want to look for in your Compensation Systems are:

Integration

Ensure that your performance management system and your compensation system are fully integrated so that all the performance scores from the manager’s appraisal,  employees’ self-appraisals and any 360 reviews you have, flow over to your compensation system.  This will make is significantly easier for your managers to be able to rank employees and doll out the appropriate performance based merit increases.

Pro-ration

You want to ensure that your system has the ability to handle pro-rations, preferably down to the day, so that employees who start on September 1st are not eligible to receive the same increase as employees who started January 1st.  If you have implemented an annual bonus program, ensure that the pro-ration will apply here as well.  Also ask if it will handle lump sum increases if someone is at the range max.

Edit Capability

One of the most frustrating aspects of a poorly designed compensation system is when it does not allow for edit capability all the way up the line.  If the spreadsheet gets to your VP’s and they have to send it all the way back to the supervisors to make changes, you will lengthen your process considerably.  You should be able to pick and choose who you want to give edit capability to for each spreadsheet.

Co-planners

Invariably someone will pick an inconvenient time to terminate and you will be left with a situation where you need to assign another person to actually complete the merit increases for their group.  Your system should allow you to select a co-planner or, even better, to switch managers once the process has already launched. 

Custom Reporting

Your system should come equipped with an easy to use and easy to understand reporting functionality.  Nothing is as frustrating as having a new system and then having to dump everything in excel in order to actually manipulate the data.  Spend some time up front fully understand the reporting capability and figuring out whether it will truly provide you with the info you need to report on.

Multiple types of Compensation

Your system should handle base salary increases, short term incentives and long term incentives like Equity awards or RSU’s.  A system that cannot adequately handle long term equity incentives will give you a lopsided view of your employees’ compensation and how that compares to market

As with the other components of the HRIS that we have talked about, putting twice as much time in up front as you expected will yield the best results in the end. 

Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant Tracking Systems are systems that allow you to create a user/applicant experience.

The application process becomes paperless with an applicant tracking system, so it is simple to store, recall, or purge applications from the system with just a few clicks. This helps to ensure that no critical information is lost and all necessary information is readily available for open positions now or in the future.  If you choose the right system it will make your life much easier.  If you choose the wrong one, it may be unusable or more cumbersome than an actual paper process.

Applicant tracking systems fulfill four main purposes: 1) to manage applications for positions (especially in the face of a high volume of applicants regularly received today) 2) to screen out candidates who lack the required skills 3) to assist with hiring compliance 4) to provide metrics that can enhance the hiring process.

Manage Applications

Depending on the volume of positions you have open and the volume of applications received, this can be a lifesaver or not worth the efforts.  If you have say 10-20 generic positions, an ATS may not be necessary.  However, if you have 100 positions and they are more specialized requiring advanced degrees and skill sets, an ATS will save you a significant amount of time. 

Screen out Candidates

It’s just as important to know what you don’t want as to know what you do. As any recruiter who manages a high volume of positions in a market or time where unemployment is high, knows, it takes an inordinate amount of time just to sift through all the resumes from people who are not remotely qualified for the positions.  With a good ATS you can input key words and the system will spit out resumes that have those key words. 

Hiring Compliance

An ATS can assist companies with hiring compliance. Employment laws prevent employers from discriminating in their hiring practices based on age, gender and ethnicity, among other things. By using an applicant tracking system to select candidates to interview the system gives employers the ability to stay at an arm’s length when selecting their candidates.  They simply type in the key words and the system selects the candidates.  Although failure to hire litigation is much rarer than wrongful termination, it does happen.

Metrics

Every department needs to be responsible for metrics that drive the business.  HR can gain a well-deserved place at the table by focusing on the same metrics that drive the rest of the organization.  By utilizing an ATS, you will be able to pull resumes submitted for a particular position, pre-screed resumes, candidates brought in for interviews and offers made and rejected.  Armed with this information, you can laser focus your recruiting efforts and provide funnel data by position to your hiring managers.  Most are surprised to see that it could take 100 resumes received to net 1 hire.

HR Systems

Sherrie Suski, HR Systems

The choices in HR systems today are mind boggling.  Everyone wants to get on the band wagon and sell you something that will supposedly make your life easier, is user friendly, (read good UX), allows you to crunch large volumes of data in minutes.  HR systems can be as basic as an HRIS or as complicated as a performance management system with 360 review capability and goal planning and accomplishments.

Let’s talk first about functionality and next week about what you want to look for.

HRIS

An HRIS is a Human Resources Information System.  

This is your basic system that tracks all the pertinent information about your employees.  

HRIS solutions typically track:

  • Training of employees
  • Open enrollment and management of benefits
  • Compensation management
  • Human resources reporting
  • Self-service for applicants, employees, and managers
  • Personal information, Pay information, title, job grade etc..

Performance Management Systems

You may also have a separate Performance System.  A Performance Management System normally includes performance appraisal data and productivity information data. Documentation of employee performance and of how the performance was measured and reported is critical to your employees understanding this type of system.  Many of these systems come with the capability to offer:

  • Performance appraisals
  • 360 reviews where an employee is reviewed by the manager, their peers and their subordinates
  • goal planning, setting and accomplishments
  • Succession and development plans

Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant Tracking Systems are systems that allow you to create a user/applicant experience.

The application process becomes paperless with an applicant tracking system, so it is simple to store, recall, or purge applications from the system with just a few clicks. This helps to ensure that no critical information is lost and all necessary information is readily available for open positions now or in the future.

Compensation systems

Ideally your compensation system should track all aspects of your employee’s compensation including:

  • Base salary
  • Bonuses
  • Incentive comp
  • Long term incentive comp
  • Equity/stock/RSU’s etc..

It is helpful if your Performance Appraisal system feeds directly into your compensation system, meaning less manual input or expensive integration for you.

Be very careful in selecting your systems.  Spend at least 3x the time you allotted to understanding and testing the system before you commit.  On a personal note, we have had a very bad experience with Cornestone.  While their systems have a lot of capability, you would literally need to be a system admin in order to build out the back end which they require you to do.  They are the farthest thing from user friendly with very poor UX design.

Microlearning

Sherrie Suski, Microlearning

Micro learning is the new buzz word in the Learning and Development Community.  It is defined as 3-5 minute short, focused learning sessions that are designed to meet a specific learning outcome.  As with many buzz words, the term is often misused and misunderstood. Many have taken it to mean that all learning should be conducted in bite sized chunks as demonstrated in the graphic below which indicates that humans have only 24 minutes per week to devote to actual learning, and that is based on a 40 hour work week, which is a thing of the past for many of us routinely working 60 hour work weeks.   Others will site the growth of the millennial workforce that will make up over 75% of the total workforce by 2025 and their much talked about short attention span of 90 seconds.

However, it is unlikely that complex new skills can be acquired in 24 minutes a week, but new skills acquired can be reinforced, practiced and lead to a performance gain in 24 minutes a week.  This is where micro learning really needs to be focused.  On the refinement and not on the acquisition.  Millennials, right alongside other generations, can be uber focused for longer periods of time when the content is engaging and rewarding.

Microlearning modules are best focused on moving right to the point without all the history behind the why, which should be captured in the original training.  Video should be an important and engaging component, as should real life scenarios.

Microlearning can be an excellent approach to training for simple tasks as it improves retention and fills in performance gaps and is certainly more cost efficient.  However, it should be used in conjunction with, not as a substitute for, more traditional types of learning as it is not suitable for complex tasks and can easily run the risk of seeming fragmented. 

Creating an Environment of Engagement

Sherrie Suski, Environment of Engagement

With the first quarter of 2017 only visible in the rear-view mirror, as unbelievable as that seems, it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate what we want to accomplish in our organizations by the end of this year.

Employee engagement continues to be the buzz word of the decade. Constituents quote the statistics that engaged employees are more than 3 times as productive than the unengaged or 10x as productive as the actively disengaged.

Creating an environment of engagement and learning

To understand this concept, we need to understand the true meaning of the word empathy.  Empathy, as defined by the dictionary, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.   Borrowing a term from Big Data, it means focusing on the user experience or UX.  It will require designing work for the employee through the lens of user experience (UX) with the goal being able to help the employees feel good about the work they are doing and have a solid understanding of the connection to the greater organizational goals.

It has little to do with nerf guns, skateboards and other “tools” used to sell an environment of engagement and much more to do with spending the time to understand what is important to the individual actually performing the job.  Maybe it’s ergonomic, like a chair with better back support, maybe it’s auditory, like a pair of headphones to tune out the chatter around them, maybe it’s offering a rotation of job duties to stave of boredom and the repetitive nature of the job.

Adopting a Management Style that supports engagement

Equally important to creating the right environment is fostering the right management style to support a team environment. A team is a group of talented people who work together to accomplish something beyond their individual best. In order to work together they need to be supported by managers who allows them to thrive. This style is built by leaders who understand how to communicate the vision of the company in a way that engages and encourages everyone to work towards that goal.

Leaders who are effective communicators, develop a sense of community, and show authentic transparency and concern for others will be able to build high performing and engaged teams of talented people.”

Creating jobs that support engagement

Go beyond traditional training classes that support skills based on-the-job training and look for peer-to-peer opportunities.  investigate ways to allow employees to “try out” another position for a day or even a few hours.   This has multiple advantages.  Not only does it build a more well-rounded and cross trained workforce, but it circles back to our definition of empathy, to understand and share the feelings of another.  A workforce who has had the opportunity to “stand in another’s shoes” is a workforce that is better equipped to understand the full business cycle.

How to Properly Terminate an Employee

sherrie-suski-parting-waysYou may have done everything right.  You may have given verbal warnings, written warnings, worked through an honest Performance Improvement Plan and coached and counseled, but there comes time when it becomes obvious that your employee is either unwilling to or incapable of performing the essential job functions.  

It’s a hard decision to come to as all of would like to see our subordinates succeed and when one fails, it is a failure, of sorts, for you and your whole team. There are a few steps you can take, though to make it easiest on yourself and the employee you are separating.

 

No Surprises

If you have done everything right, it will not come as a surprise to your employee that the time has come for them to move on.  They may be sad, but they will not stare at you with a look of incredulousness.  If you believe your employee will be surprised, revisit your process, because you have not done all you should have.

Focus on Behavior, not the Person

This really does make a difference.  It is not the person you cannot tolerate (or if it is the person, then pretend that it is not) it is the behavior.  Acknowledge that not everyone is good at everything and that there may be positions where this person would be much better suited.

Be unapologetically Truthful

Be matter of fact when discussing their shortcomings.  Outline the reasons you have come to the decision to terminate their employment.  You don’t need to be sorry about it or apologize for your decision.  Although it may seem kind to leave the door open for them to appeal your decision, it really is not.

Offer to Help

Not that someone being terminated will usually take you up on this, but it’s a nice gesture.  You can offer to review a resume, assure them that only dates of employment and title of last position will be released.  Assure them that you will not contest unemployment, assuming you will not.

Don’t give References

Resist the urge to offer or agree to give them a reference.  Although it sounds odd, I have had more people than not ask for references, verbal or written, after hearing they will be terminated.  I usually tell them that they would not want the reference I would give.
Carried out correctly, although never pleasant, a termination does not have to be unduly uncomfortable.  I have gotten plenty of hugs and even a few Christmas cards from employees I have had to terminate.  It can be done with dignity and respect.

The Performance Improvement Process

sherrie suski-employee performanceThere are many philosophies and lines of thought on carrying out a performance improvement process with your employees. Probably as many as there are in terms of how to discipline your kids and, honestly, there is probably some overlap.  The root of a consistent, equitable, defensible performance improvement process is communication and documentation.

Document and communicate what you are trying to achieve

It starts with ensuring that you know what behavior and goals you are trying to achieve and that those are DOCUMENTED and then COMMUNICATED to your employees.  It would surprise you to know how often I hear that Susie is not following the rules or that Tom is not meeting his goals, when, in fact, the manager has never sat down with Susie or Tom to explain the rules to them, help them to understand the goals and ask if they have any questions.

Catch infractions early

The next part that always catches me off guard is when the manager comes into my office and is ready to terminate someone that day.  All of these offenses and infractions have been building up for months and now the manager simply cannot go another minute with this employee.  My first question is always “Have you COMMUNICATED these issues to the employee and DOCUMENTED them in writing.  Nine times out of 10, the answer is “no”.  Conflict is uncomfortable, but a necessary part of managerial life and especially necessary in a performance improvement process.  It doesn’t have to be exceptionally unpleasant or result in a screaming match; in fact it can be very matter of fact and held in a normal tone of voice.  If your employee is not doing what you need them to do, you have to let them know and the sooner the better.  Do yourself a favor and get into the habit of documenting your conversations so you will have notes to look back on.

Stay consistent

Most performance improvement processes consist of some combination of friendly reminders, verbal warnings, first written warnings, final or second written warning and terminations.  Exactly what your process is, is less important than two points 1) that you fully communicate the policy and 2) that you remain consistent.  Inconsistent application of your policy is the easiest way to lose in front of the EEOC or in litigation.  You may not mean to be discriminatory, but if you are not consistent, you run the risk of treating a certain protected class unfairly.

Follow up

Lastly, follow up. Similar to the first time you tell your child to pick up their clothes, unless you have the world’s most remarkable child, it isn’t going to happen the first time you ask and remain consistent for the rest of their life.  Just because you ask your employee to change their behavior, it is going to be necessary for you to remind them.  Compliment them if they are improving and bring to their attention when they start to backslide.

Performance Improvement is all about helping your employees to succeed and become valued members of your team!