Monday, December 27, 2010

Termination Decisions: HR or Management?

So today it happened twice:

I'm watching "Better Off Ted" --> a show about a company focusing primarily on the research and development department of a large organization. It's the second season, second episode and the show is about potential lay offs in the department.  They are talking about the termination process and the line starts with "When HR decides to terminate someone..." My husband looks over at me and giggles. "See even TV says it's your decision to terminate people. No wonder people are scared of you." (He thinks he's funny.)

And then...

I'm reading my favorite online magazine, Inc. Magazine. The heading reads "2010: The Year in Bizarre HR" and of course I click on the link.  It's 9 different stories about terminations or warnings to employees for "bizarre" reasons.  And while it says "Bizarre HR" all I could really think was, "Bizarre Management". As far as I know, even if HR "approves" the action, the decision lies with senior management (at least it should).

Here's the article (it's quick and in a slide show format with the option for reading more for each story):

At the end of the day - there are usually three parts of a story - their side, your side and the part that isn't exaggerated.  My point however - management needs be the ones seen responsible for termination decisions.  A human resources department shouldn't be code for the "Place Blame Department" or the "Department of Bad Decisions".  If managers really want their employees to follow protocol they have determined is important to the organization, it is their responsibility to make sure it is understood and interpreted the way they want it to.  Buy-in is critical (this includes their OWN buy-in).  And then of course, compassion is needed when managing to the policies.  Policies should be flexible enough to be broken for the right reason.
If your intent is to implement a policy so you have the right to terminate someone - you're so not doing the managing - you're letting it be done for you. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: Think before you implement

Today, I had the huge honor of going to a company wide quarterly goal-setting meeting.  Not only did they score themselves on the previous quarter's results, they set new targets and goals, with dates and deadlines to meet and hit.  Really - it was an HR dream...

Two things came out of it for me:

1.) They make each other accountable for the goals that they set each quarter
2.) They aren't afraid to admit failure

I was in awe and delighted by the pragmatic and laser-like approach to the entire day-session. Yes - they spent a day developing new goals TOGETHER (as opposed to in silos like so many other companies I have been part of!)

The day also inspired the following...

Two goals were initiated by the operations/administrative department:

1.) The need for an employee handbook
2.) The need for a formalized performance appraisal system

While I applaud companies who try to be diligent around systems and processes, my question back to the team was simply, "Why do you want to formalize it? What is your end goal?"  Surprisingly, the answer back came in the form of a question, "Because it seems like it's what you're supposed to do?"

It's true - as companies start to grow, it becomes easier to manage information and communication by implementing a process or a procedure.  However, I encourage companies to ensure they know what the end result is supposed to look like before the decision is made to implement something.

So here are some questions to ask yourself and your team when deciding on whether or not to implement a new process or procedure: Will the entire management team buy in and commit to managing the same way?  Does each department or manager NEED to follow the same process and procedure?  Could this lead to more inequality down the road if there is a lack of buy in? Will it be seen as an administrative task or chore rather than something that leads to further development? 

Personally - I'm a fan of policies and procedures and performance development...but it has to fit the organization, the culture and of course, it has to promote and support employee engagement. If it doesn't, then at the end of the day you will find employees and management alike breaking (or trying to) all of the rules and ultimately defeating the purpose entirely.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: Things you should do if you're looking for a job

Typically, my blog is geared towards management teams and helping them to manage without having to have an HR department on their team when it comes to employee support.  But today - after a week of recruiting for one of my clients, I feel I need to do a special PSA to help those that are looking for a job...

In no particular order here are a few of my pet peeves:

1.) If you customize your resume to each job you're applying for (which I recommend) be sure to edit it and get the company / position right.  Nothing looks worse than you saying how excited you are to see a posting from Company ABC when really, you're applying to Company XYZ.

2.) Write down the jobs you're applying for.  When I call you for a phone interview I shouldn't be the one reminding you of the position you applied for and when.  Nothing says "I'm desperate and I'll apply to anything," like "Oh, um, can you remind me the position you're phoning about? Which website was it posted on?"

3.) If you're applying for a position be sure to look at your current facebook profile picture and/or security settings. While WHAT you look like isn't what is being judged, your choice of picture depicting WHO you are IS. One of my applicants was sitting on a toilet (outdoors), pants down etc.  While a hilarious picture, it was a judgment call I wasn't comfortable with.  Another one put up a December nude male calendar pin-up.  Again - what you do on your time is totally up to you.  But you're applying for a job.  Your choices are being judged. (PS - It's confirmed they are them, because they also leave their profiles quite wide open including city and graduation dates).

Yes - technically - recruiters are not to discriminate based on a picture. Pictures do not determine if a person can do a job or not.  Nor do resumes tell a complete story.  But I've got one position I'm recruiting for, and have close to 100 applicants.  It's pretty entry level so everyone brings the same skill set.  I need to start eliminating somehow - this is an easy first choice. Is it right? It doesn't matter.

If I can find you - make sure you make a good first impression.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: Articles like this give HR a bad name

Last week I received of an email from the Daily HR Advisor.  It's an American publication and as such, a lot of the information is almost foreign to me, despite the fact that we share a border (this is even AFTER I ran a few HR departments IN the US...).  But this title in particular made me angry - to the point where I couldn't even READ the article at first.

This was the title: Challenge: Prevent off-the-clock work and time thievery.  What do you think this is about?

Okay, so admittedly I did eventually read the article, and basically it's a lawyer who is giving the advice that if you allow employees to work after hours they can come back and sue you.  They go so far as to say stop giving them blackberries and make sure the overtime policy is clearly laid out.  In addition, it also said to police your employees so you can make sure employees stop stealing time from you, the Employer. 

This type of stuff frustrates the heck out of me. I hate policies for the sake of policies. Some of my clients prefer to run their organization with strict guidelines.  Unfortunately, these same companies have the lowest employee engagement levels.  In contrast, employers like Google have policies that state, "Don't be evil."  I like policies that are employer and employee conscientious - policies that meet and serve purposes for both sides.  It allows and encourages employees and managers alike to be accountable. 

In a case like "time thievery"  I am a big fan of talking to employees about their performance rather than strict  guidelines -- I recently read a quote that said, feedback about a blind spot was the best gift you could give anyone. 

Okay so regarding the issue relating to employees who sue for having to work overtime - it pains me to say it, but implementing a policy probably is the right decision for an employer to do.  It definitely will mitigate your risks. 

To the employees who claim they are working over time for answering emails outside of work hours - have fun staying stagnant.  Working hard is part of recognition and rewards. You just prevented yourself from a great career and opened the door to a boring 9-5 job.  Well done.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: Culture Therapy

"Wow - it sure isn't what it used to be."

"Remember when we there was no such thing as..."

"It's just different now."

Do any of these phrases sound familiar in your organization?  Start-ups suffer from it most.  As companies grow, and more employees are brought on indicating success, something funny starts to happen. The old ways of doing things, suddenly don't work anymore.  Communication doesn't seem to be as free as it once was. Change of course, is inevitable. After all, if you aren't changing, invariably, you aren't growing either. 

But is there something an organization can do to keep that passionate, energetic buzz they had when it was just a four or five person team?  The answer is an emphatic "Yes!"

First and foremost, management has to agree they want to maintain the culture. They are the ones that have to continually believe in the original principles that guided them at the onset of their success.  Management needs to remind themselves of the core characteristics that define what it means to be at the company.  In addition to that, they need to review the values that underlie the character and behavior of the organization.

One of the recommendations I make to clients who are in the 10-15 employee mark is to create a time capsule that they agree to review annually.  Write down the keys to success and review with all staff annually - this demonstrates your commitment, gets buy-in and new feedback from employees and helps to maintain storytelling.  Storytelling not only connects employees to the company, it also connects employees with each other. 

Oh and one other task for management - be sure to make everyone own the culture from today and into tomorrow.  It's everyone's responsibility - if your staff are complaining, get them to be part of the solution. Cultural therapy is a requirement that begins with management but is supported by the entire community in your organization. 

Hiring for fit, encouraging the existing employee pool with rewards and recognition, keeping production teams small and scheduling regular Q/A sessions are keys to cultural therapy as well.

Want more info? Visit

Friday, December 3, 2010

Before your company jumps into the social media party...

This post was originally published on the Business Instinct  Group blog!  Click on the link to view it here!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lessons learned from a coffee shop

The other day I was in a coffee shop talking to a friend about a presentation I was about to make.  While we are never quiet when we are together, I didn't think our volume was out of the norm either.  An...ummm...more "mature" gentleman was sharing one of the few plug-ins (for our laptops) and was sitting closer than I prefer to have strangers sitting next to me, so I knew I was being even more extra cautious of our volume.  As we were wrapping up our discussion, in a gruff voice, he says, "Are you one of them HR ladies? Cause you sound like you're an HR lady."  I smiled politely and said, "Well I help companies with their HR, yes."  What he said next...well let's just say, I wasn't exactly prepared for it.

"I hate HR people. This little know it all, pulled me into a boardroom and said I was done.  I worked for that company for 22 years and just like that, I was done.  Stupid.  I mean, they think that Gen Y has all the answers, but who's going to teach them. I'm the only one that knew how to do anything.  Guess I should have seen it coming. They'd been asking me all these questions and really, until the last day, I didn't really understand it.  I just kept giving them answers over and over again.  Now I guess they were just raping me. I hate HR people."

Blank stare. What else was I supposed to do?  I rummaged for my keys, put away my lap top and quietly said, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? Ahh, don't be sorry.  Now I get to play the stock market all day.  I should have quit years ago. I hated my job.  I was just there for the pension - which HR totally screwed up on. Changed it and didn't really explain it.  Left me almost near penniless.  Good thing I'm good with these computers.  I get to do what I love, and it turns out I'm pretty good at it."

Blank stare. "That's good," I somewhat mumbled.

"Yup - I can definitely tell you're in HR."

Blank stare. This meant he hated me without knowing me. "How's that?" I asked meekly, preparing myself for something awful.

"You were doing a presentation on recruitment, right? You don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure that out!"

I awe.  But I did learn a lesson - staying in a role until someone tells you it's time to be done isn't worth it, unless you love doing it.  Then they may as well take you out on a stretcher!  But otherwise - if you're not long for the job, chances are, no one is long for you!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: An Acquisition Strategy Must-Have

When it comes to your employees - every book, article and blog out there these days says that your employees make the difference on a bottom line.  Hiring people that fit your overall culture, truly listening to them and paying attention to their needs and wants, providing an environment that individuals can excel in and a place where they are rewarded for acting upon their strengths is absolutely key. 

So what happens when you merge or acquire a company where you had no influence on the hiring and therefore the culture is potentially almost opposite of what your company is today? Do you have a plan for that?

I've been a part of a couple of acquisitions and unfortunately, not all have been successful.  Once I walked in during mid acquisition - that's probably another blog in itself (insert "gong show" reference here), another time I supported a sale of a division to another company and I have also been part of a couple of acquisitions from start to finish.  Truth be told - I learned far more from some pretty epic mistakes - but happy to have the experiences to look back on.

While I could definitely go over all the don'ts and learnings from my failures - it is honestly much easier for me to just discuss the "Do's".  At the end of the day - above anything else - there really is only one "DO" during an acquisition and it can actually be summed up in one word, "COMMUNICATE".  Yup - that's it.  Be transparent and communicate it.  K maybe two things...(I've always said if I was good at math, I wouldn't be in HR...I digress!)

So here's the deal - if you've never been acquired by a company, you've never experienced so much uncertainty in your life.  Even IF the company assures you no changes will happen (insert disclaimer such as, "at this time" here) the initial thought of almost every employee is, "Will they keep me? Will I still have a job? Will my benefits change? How will I pay the mortgage? I have kids - what will they do?"  In a matter of seconds, fear renders an employee useless. 

So - what can you do to help this employee? COMMUNICATE. And I don't mean once or twice and here or there - have a targeted plan.  Update your portal/intranet daily. Make real connections in person. Send a ton of the acquirer's management team to the acquired's office and have real live opportunities to ask questions.  Town hall meetings regularly need to happen. An anonymous question box should be created. Employee's of the acquired's team need the opportunity to talk about what they do and what they value (don't let the HR person of the acquired's office tell you that - they too are feeling fearful.)  And finally when you are communicating - be real, be transparent.  It's okay for you to say "I don't know".  It's also okay for you to say, "We're still discussing X.  And due to X I'm not at liberty to discuss it."  Employees get that not everything is up for discussion (especially if you're a public company) - but be real with them. Don't make it up.

And finally don't avoid your employees - not only will you lose the faith of your new employees, you may even lose the faith of your own.  You've built your business big enough so that it can go out and acquire another business.  Don't blow it by being shady. 

You've got a voice and an opportunity to create something great. Just communicate.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Irish Management Team at PWC Suspended

So by now, this is pretty much old news.  But in case you haven't heard, male managers at PriceWaterhouse Coopers in Ireland emailed each other a top 13 "hot" list, indicating that the firm had done well in it's latest hiring practices of women. Nothing pornographic - just their office pictures, names and titles were included in the email...and one or two crude comments coming from the men.  It was sent to about 17 different males in the office, and then of course went viral. Then days later, a Dublin based KPMG firm also came under fire for similar texts/emails. Who knew accountants were so scandalous?

I've spent the last few days trying to figure out what I would do if I was Carmel O'Conner (the Human Resources Partner in Ireland, leading the investigation for PWC) and am therefore, clearly behind the times in stating an opinion. But here's the deal - sitting with my HR hat - this isn't so black and white for me. 

Most newspaper articles / blogs that I've read have likened the guys to those that are displayed in the hit show, "Mad Men" (which is based on a 1960's advertising firm).  Some articles proclaim massive disgust over the incident and are even stating that they should be fired.  And then there are those people who are unnamed, but claim they work for the firm think it's being blown out of proportion.  They even go on to say, "It happens every year."

So let's take a look at this from a very black and white perspective (traditional HR, if you will).

In other words, a sexual harassment policy that requires an investigation usually includes language around the following:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct
of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
- such conduct might reasonably be expected to cause insecurity, discomfort or humiliation of another individual;
- submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individuals employment or status;
- submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used, or is threatened to be used, as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual;
- such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individuals work performance or creating a hostile or offensive work environment; 
- or such conduct is demeaning to an individual because of his or her gender.

So yes - the women could have been uncomfortable and felt the conduct was demeaning, but in fact, none of them are launching a complaint, nor to my knowledge, is anyone else at the firm and therefore, according to most policies, technically no investigation really needs to be started (besides, first step is to ask the person(s) to stop, when they don't stop then mediation/investigations take place...policy speaking of course).  In fact, it's rumoured that the only women who DO care are the ones who DIDN'T make the list.  The women are embarrassed - but only because their pictures have been posted all over the world  (a newspaper  got a hold of the email and thus...even more viral).  It's been stated that they just want to get on with their careers.

If there is no complaint - is there an issue? You know, other than the fact that media is asking for their heads and this is somewhat of a PR nightmare for PWC.

So if I was the HR partner - it's probably more or less a misuse of email and their intranet site (which, I'm certain is fairly clear in their technology policies).  It's not really business use to be rating these women and sending it out to others for debate. But is that a "fire-able" offence?  Not really - more like a first warning. And they were suspended so therefore it's definitely on their record.   That should, and most likely will, satisfy the consequences of the behaviour.

I want to be clear - I'm not saying that I agree with what they did.  But I live in a real world where I know this stuff happens.  And if you think it's just men - you're wrong.  Perhaps I've never been in an organization where they actually went so far as to compile an email that went viral, but "lists" exist.  Trust me. And let me say it one more time - women do it too.

So to the HR partner - I do not envy the spot you are currently in.  As far as PWC goes - tough to be you. Will you lose clients over this? Probably not so that you will actually feel it.  To the women, yup, the international media attention probably isn't all that it's cracked up to be. I do feel sorry for you in that regard. Probably not the easiest way to start your career.  But it's a pretty crazy story for the grandchildren.  And to the men - OUCH.  Even if you do get to keep your jobs, let this be a lesson to you - nothing in email is sacred. Ever.

It appears a lack of common sense when it comes to all things Internet/email/social media has prevailed once again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: Disabled employee is terminated for dishonesty

So for those of you who personally know me, have often heard of my frustration when it comes to the human resources reputation.   Ultimately, I truly do love the profession and I love that it can support a business as well as protect it.   I say it often, your employees are your greatest asset, but can also be your greatest liability. 

Here's a recent case that demonstrates the liability...

Winpak Ltd. v. C.E.P., Local 830, 2010

Cole's notes version of the case: Set in the province of Manitoba, Canada an employee goes on disability due to an injured back. The injury did not occur due to work, however prevented the employee to work, much like an illness.

When an employee goes on long term disability (LTD), during the first 12 months (typically) you are only asked about being able to do your own job.  After 12 months, the insurance provider asks if there are any accommodations that could be made, or if you could do another job, similar in stature and pay.  If you cannot, your long term disability benefits are continued.

Typically a long questionnaire is asked, and in the case of above, he said that he could no longer do anything, he couldn't even drive - he was pretty much bed ridden and could only watch TV/movies (direct quote!)  The doctor, didn't deny any of this, wrote a note and did not state a date of return.  If the doctor can't find anything, but the patient still complains, this is typical practice.  It's like the guy who has migraines, but nothing can be found, but he still says she's in pain - it's hard for a doctor to say, "You're lying" or "I don't believe you."

Anyway, the insurance company hires an investigator who follows him for two days.  And guess what? He can drive, and is caught carrying bags to his car. He drives around all day going to various stores and seems to be walking without issue (videotaped).  He picks up his wife in the car both days.  And at one point goes to the gym for 4 hours.  Yup - 4 hours.  (Later he claims that his physio therapist told him to swim, but he conveniently left that off the questionnaire...)  No matter how you slice it, he's certainly not bed ridden.

So he was fired for cause - and it turns out, as long as you have really good evidence that the person was indeed showing dishonesty - you've got it - no payout, nothing. Dishonesty = cause.  And I'm pretty sure now that the insurance agency will take their run at him too - after all, it smells like fraud!

A human resources department has to be vigilant when handling benefits claims.  Of course they have to be supportive of the employee - but they also have to be looking out for the company and make sure the company is protected.  In most cases, Long Term Disability insurance is paid for by the employee to avoid taxes should they ever have to use it.  This guy was going to make insurance premiums go up for everyone - if he was truly, legitimately disabled - sure - not a problem.  I can't say for sure that a Human Resources representative was part of this case, but if they were - they were doing their job. 

An outsourced HR representative can help in these types of situations - if you've got questions, we've got answers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Elevated HR Solutions: Mentorship Programs in the Workplace

Lately, I've been writing as part of the community on Ask Inc. ( often tweets questions from people in the business world, and a lot of the questions have been HR focused.  Funny - it's the whole reason why I went into my own business (quick questions, that need quick answers)!  But even better than giving, I find myself receiving a lot of other valuable insight, reading and learning from others - and in a way it's almost an online mentorship program, but completely informal.

Of course, this got me thinking - I've had some tremendous mentors in both my past and present.  And I'm excited about the ones I will continue to meet, especially as my business grows.  However, I started reminiscing and realized how I've disconnected from past mentors and am now on the hunt to re-connect.  While I probably didn't recognize it then, and certainly took it for granted - they are the people that helped to shape me now.  From CEO's and CFO's, to peers and co-workers, to industry HR leaders, to parents and grandparents - I would not be anywhere without all of you in my life - so to that - here is one big shout-out of thanks!

As for mentorship programs in companies - I have tried several times to implement formal programs and then have honestly...failed.  And as I write this blog, I'm trying to really grasp why.  I mean - I have always had a mentor in a company - it was part of my accelerated growth plan in any company I worked for.  Gravitate to those who have excelled and learn from them - politically it was the best advice I was given and actually followed through on.  But as soon as I was tasked as in charge of a  formal mentorship program, I just found it fizzled.  However - it obviously doesn't fail in every organization - check out this link:

As I continue to think (and most likely make up an excuse!), perhaps it's because we couldn't ever find enough mentors who had time to be mentors.  Formal mentors.  I mean, mentors too, gravitate towards proteges they are going to get the most reward back from.  I have found myself in several situations, where someone has asked me to help, but then really, they didn't want help - I think they just wanted to gripe or tell their story and then move on.  In addition to that, our pool of employees wasn't ever very big - I can see that it would be easier if a company had 1000+ employees in the same city (like the Xerox case above).

Okay - so enough about my failures (I mean, really, who likes to admit they fail...)

A solution that I think would most likely work really well for any company is a formalized mentorship program that can be found OUTSIDE the organization.  If you promote the various mentorship opportunities that exist in various cities, employees can learn from others, those same employees can vent "safely" as opposed to someone internally, leadership opportunities can be created and then employees can implement those same skills back into the organization.  It's a win-win for everyone.

For example, I stumbled across the mentorship program with the HRIA (Human Resources Institute of Alberta) and have signed up to be a mentor...and now I wait to be matched up with a protege.  The HRIA is using a system called Mentor Scout Clients and their client list is quite impressive (Best Buy, Home Depot) and I have to admit, it's really neat how they collect the information and match people electronically.  I'll keep posting about where this will go!

This site however, actually lists a large majority of mentorship programs that are available.  How neat - that you could potentially be connected around the world?

So in conclusion - perhaps rather than focusing on building an entire mentorship program internally - you communicate the opportunities and provide resources on the options to be mentored externally.  It seems like a really good option - especially for those companies that don't have the resources or time to spend on Mentor Scout.  I'm a fan of making employees accountable - as long as you give them the tools to be successful!  That's what I think is a great return on investment!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Elevated HR: A new approach to HR

As I sit an hour early for a flight and watch the disappointed passengers of a cancelled flight to Thompson, Manitoba due to weather, I pause silently and give thanks that I am going to a much more weather predictable city…cough…Calgary. Time to reflect.  Time to ponder. Time to think. It’s been a while. 
This new venture as an entrepreneur has had so many ups and downs in such a short time. That said the ups have definitely outweighed the downs.  I know that I wouldn’t be sitting writing this blog if they hadn’t.  I’d be solely concentrating on finding a job – any job that was good for the soul.
This past week has taken me into a direction that could not have been predicted.  Friendships of more than 15 years appeared at my door early Saturday morning.  For the first time in a long time, I engaged in conversation where I didn’t have to be on the top of my game and “sell” my service.  And yet something funny happened – I couldn’t stop talking about Elevated HR.  The passion continues to climb – it’s in my bones, it’s in my blood – it’s who I am, it’s what I want to be. It’s me – authentic and real. 
Back up only 12 hours prior to their arrival… on Friday, I had a pitch to a potential new client (fingers are crossed) following up with a debrief with a potential new partner.  I found myself getting emotional at times, describing the weird journey I’ve been on in the last 12 weeks.  And then he asked me “Why are you doing this? You could probably make a lot more as an executive in a company.”  Without hesitation I responded, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” It’s the right thing for me, but more importantly I believe it’s the right thing for organizations. I know this is a service that can be used by the thousands of small to medium sized businesses out there – and it’s scalable…and…it’s just RIGHT.
Look – I know that the whole Human Resources function has a bad reputation. Even I tend to cringe when I tell people what I do (knowing I have only 17 seconds to convince them that I’m not your “typical” HR person). As someone who has been there (and done that), an HR rep typically cares about people and wants to genuinely help.  But occasionally we get caught…we get caught in black and white and forget that the gray is what we actually need to be looking at.  We get thinking that one answer fits all – like one size fits all.  But people are not cut from the same cookie cutter – so a cookie cutter approach simply doesn’t work. An HR representative has to look at all sides of the equation – and then, needs to understand business and the business goals/objectives.  Forgetting that – is simply put – an HR fail.
So going back to what I do and why I do it – because it’s the right thing to do…
Organizations have different goals. Organizations have different wants and needs when it comes to their employees. But management teams need support that protects, saves time and saves money when it comes to their employees.  Most business owners didn’t start their own business for the sake of managing employees.  But employees are necessary to grow and expand.  Employees are truly amazing assets and also their greatest liabilities.  My goal is to help organizations manage. Easier. Faster. Confidently. And of course, affordably. 
I created Elevated HR because I believe it’s time for a new way of doing HR.  If you have employees – or need to grow your business by hiring employees – I can help.  And I guarantee to provide a real return on investment – if I don’t, you’re not charged a dime. 
That’s the Elevated HR guarantee.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Elevated HR: Determining the Salary Equation

Often when I am advising clients on their hiring strategy, I am also asked to help them determine what to pay an individual.  I always find it funny that the first question I am asked is, "What does the market pay for X?"  While a company certainly needs to be competitive, the first question any company needs to ask is "What can I afford in relation to the expected return on investment?"

Following that, 2 more questions need to be asked:

1.) What is the minimum education and experience needed to get this position off the ground and running?
2.) What is the performance I expect out of the first 90 days?

Then, it's time to ask what is the market paying and fit YOUR expectations into that range.

Here is an example:

I need to run pretty lean right now, but definitely need some administrative help to make sure my vendors get paid and my clients are paying me.  In addition to that, I need someone to send the initial teasers to potential clients and follow-up with thank-you's after pitches and finally schedule follow-up meetings with clients who have signed on.  This will allow me to focus more on sales and delivery, pitch to more potentials, therefore turning more potentials into clients, and turning more clients into lifers, therefore generating even more revenue.  By hiring this person, I would hope to triple revenue because I will have the time to do so.

If I'm currently bringing in $200 a month, by hiring this person I now make $600 a month, I decide I can afford $200 a month.  This includes vacation, health and dental benefits and sick benefits.  It does not include external training or the work/life balance options or the various creative options I will also offer the person.

Education isn't a factor (but basic skills like use of the Internet, grammar, reading, writing etc. is necessary - however the school, program etc. is not important to me).  I need them to somehow prove to me they can take an instruction and follow through.  They may not have direct office experience, but they need to know how to use Google and figure out the problem at hand (so if they have a degree and no experience, that would work to).   My expectation is that after two weeks, I'm not having to explain myself, they've got it and can run with it.  I may not always agree with their way of completing the task, but customer service must always be first.  First impressions and follow-up impressions will be something I look for.

If I go to various websites on the web - I can see that the market is paying anywhere between $50 to $350 a month for the same position.  I can't go above the $200 mark, so I look for less education and less experience.  I do need someone to be smart, and stay for at least 6 months, so instead of paying the bottom, I pay $100 and set performance measures during the first 90 days to get them to the $150 mark.  If they don't meet my expectations, they don't have a job, but I also didn't overpay them in relation to my budget either.  My benefits package and work/life balance also makes up for the other part of the total salary package - which I don't offer until after the 90 day mark. 

And this is how I determine the salary equation.  What can I afford vs. the projected return vs. education vs. experience vs. external market.  I want to be fair - but I need to do what's right for the business.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flu and Cold Season - Tips for a healthier workplace

Okay so we all know him/her...the martyr that walks in the door with puffy eyes, a red nose (dripping disgusting-ness), hacking away at their lungs, kleenex everywhere.  Every five seconds or so, you hear the sniff, or a cough or a moan that says, "Please let me die!" And yet they still show up to work...YUCK!

As I've mentioned before in my blog, you can have policies and procedures for many things.  But having a policy to send someone home if they are sick isn't one of them.  Instead, I encourage my clients to create a culture that deals with health and illness.  From experience, combining all measures below will make the difference, but implementing one independent of another hasn't necessarily worked in the past.  However, they are easy and you will see an increase in operations if you choose to implement:

1.) Build Prevention and Education Programs
  • Offer Health and Wellness classes (nurses will often do this for free) that provides tips on keeping healthy throughout the year - this also allows staff to interact with each other and explain to each other how uncomfortable they are around sick people
  • In your employee newsletter give stats on illness and encourage people to stay home if they are sick
  • Make sure people know that even the President/Owner of the company takes a few days off to get better when he/she is sick (this really helps employees understand what the culture is)
  • Offer hand sanitizer for free to each employee (you could even put it in their new employee orientation kit they receive on their first day)
  • Have keyboards professionally cleaned at least quarterly with a product that is meant to kill germs
2.) Change sick days to sick occurrences
Rather than a set number of sick days per year, change it to a set number of occurrences per year.  That way people will stay home until they get better.  A doctor's note should always be required if there is an illness past 2 days.  But those that take a day off for a headache, still only have that day to take off.  Those that are sick for longer will provide the doctor's note and will be sure to take care of themselves.  There is the argument that doctors won't see them (they don't want them in the waiting rooms if they are sick) but it is a way to make an employee accountable - and an accountable culture is a wining culture. You're management team should be educated on how to manage this policy effectively. (CAUTION: I have to admit, if you implement this without a prevention program, it most likely will be abused.)

3.) Allow staff to work from home
Some illnesses do not affect energy levels, but can still be contagious.  As such, staff may elect to work from home on occasion.  I had some staff drive in to pick up a file or two and then leave 10 minutes later and were productive throughout the day.  If you're IT is not set up to allow for working at home, I encourage you to do so.  Employees can remain active, get better and not affect fellow co-workers.

If you want your employees to stay healthy, and get healthy fast when they do fall to illness implementing the above is not only cheap, you will see the return on investment in just one flu and cold season.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

He needs to be I have cause?

Here's a crazy tale: An employee can get drunk at a party, knock out a client and drive into a co-worker's vehicle as he is fleeing the scene.  In addition to that, you can have multiple witnesses and you still don't have cause UNLESS...

1.) You have a record of repeated behavior (written, with his/her signature agreeing to past behavior and the consequences of it - a good rule of thumb is at least 3 written warnings)

2.) You have offered him "help" for alcoholism and he has denied treatment (in writing)

3.) You have a policy that outlines expected behavior at events and the consequences of behavior

And even then, a judge may see it differently. Ugh.

You can take your chances and still let the employee go with cause. However, the minute he or she goes to a lawyer, they will come back and state that you not only need to provide minimum notice in terms of termination pay, you also need to provide additional monies.  It can then escalate into hourly invoices from lawyers and depending if you come to an agreement or not, court (and more hourly lawyer invoices).

So what should you do?

I would not want an employee who shows no control to be a representative of my company either.  That said, here is the simplest thing to do:

A.) Make sure your employment agreements have a termination clause that outlines you can terminate for any reason by providing termination pay (which is at minimum the provincial standards, but could be more)

B.) Terminate the employee without cause, which means you do not specify why you are letting the employee go. All you need to say is, "Your services are no longer required."

C.) Provide the amount stipulated in the employment agreement. At the very least, it needs to meet the minimum standards in each province.

In Alberta it looks like this:

    • one week - for employment of more than three months, but less than two years
    • two weeks - for employment of two years, but less than four years,
    • four weeks - for employment of four years, but less than six years,
    • five weeks - for employment of six years, but less than eight years,
    • six weeks - for employment of eight years, but less than 10 years, and
    • eight weeks - for employment of 10 years or more.
    Depending on the province you are in, this changes. So be sure to make sure your employment agreements reflect the right termination clause dependent on the province.

    Now all of this said, the employee may be entitled to more based on age, position, how easy it would be to find an additional position etc. Therefore, a common practice is to add an additional amount called "Severance Pay". This is up to each organization what amount they would want to add, but common practice is double. That said, you are not required by law to offer anything.

    Once again, I'm not a lawyer.

    But I've been there - in these exact situations, mulitple times. If you create an internal process and follow it consistently, you protect yourself. If you choose to go down the path of straight termination with cause, and provide no notice to the employee, you've had fair warning, and should expect a call from a lawyer.

    Sure, some employees do not have any idea what their rights are - but it just takes one that does.

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Vacation Policy 101: Use it or...Lose it!?!? Can they do that?

    Just like clock-work, I'm getting the annual question from friends regarding their vacation policy.  "Heya - my HR department says I have to take all my holidays by December 31 or I lose them and won't get paid for them. Can they do that? I mean is that legal?"

    First a major disclosure here - I am not a laywer. So any advice I give does not represent that of a lawyer. 

    But no. They can't do that.  You are to be paid either in days off or in actual salary (and as a side note, depending on the province that you work in you have to ask for permission to get paid WITHOUT taking time off...the province actually WANTS you to take a break as well!)

    I am guilty of writing the same email, a "Friendly reminder from your friendly HR department" that basically states, "Don't forget to schedule your vacation time.  Remember it's a use it or lose it  policy".  But here's the truth - it never was (technically).  If the employee has earned it, it's theirs to take.  We knew that.  We just wanted you to take your vacation.

    Employers have valid reasons for wanting their employees to take the time off.  Not only do studies show that a rested employee is a much more productive employee, it makes sense for the employer's pocket books as well. I once worked in a company that allowed endless accrual.  One employee ended up terminating employment by providing 2 weeks notice (due to stress no less) and the company had to end up paying the employee out for 27 months of vacation.  At that time it was a $215,000 pay out.  For a tiny little company, this hurt.  A lot.

    I often get people saying, "Well I'd actually like to take 6 weeks off and travel, so I want to accrue my time from this year to next year."  I have never really thought of myself as Catbert (The Evil HR Director) but my initial thought was, if a company can have you be gone for 6 weeks, not replace you, do they really need you?  I mean come on people - I get wanting to take an extended vacation - but if you look at it from the organization's perspective, they too have a company to run.

    Now going back to the "Use it or lose it" policy. Look - they can't do it - they can't take your vacation time away. But they CAN schedule you your time for you.  So take your pick - schedule your own time or have it scheduled for you.

    Here's the deal - if you've been too busy to utilize all of your vacation this year due to various projects, your manager AND HR will be sympathetic...ummm...SHOULD be sympathetic.  Work something out with them that is fair in both worlds.  But if it's because you had nothing better to do, I can't blame the company for wanting you to use it.  They need to balance their liabilies with their assets (which should be you).

    So in conclusion:  They can schedule the time for you without warning (the only "right" you have is that you have earned it.)  They can't take it away in it's entirety.  They do not have to pay you out for it in cash (unless you terminate).  But take the vacation you've earned - if for nothing more than to just re-charge those batteries. 

    A fried employee does no good to anyone.

    Now, if they keep denying you the option for have an entirely different situation on your hands.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Exit Interviews - Exposing hidden secrets upon resignation

    The lessons I have learned from the early days of my career are definitely amongst the most valuable.  Perhaps it’s because I was the most impressionable back then (not that I would ever admit it). I was ego-centric and thought I knew everything.  I have definitely eaten some very delicious humble pie in my career.  I always tried to brush it off quickly but as I have grown older (and hopefully wiser) I love to look back on the lessons I have learned. “Did I really do that?”
    One lesson learned in particular comes to mind after I attended a networking event and was asked if I conduct exit interviews and if I saw value from them.  My answer was “Yes and yes.”
    Exit Interviews are those meetings an organization has when they are off-boarding an employee.  Typically, conducted by an HR representative (or anyone that is not a direct supervisor, as it allows for more open and candid responses), it’s a set of pre-selected questions asking the employee what their experience was like while working for the company.
    My first exit-interview looked something like this:
    Me: “Why did you decide to leave?”
    Employee: “I got a better job.”
    Me (somewhat puzzled by tone, but trying to maintain control): “What about the job that makes it better?”
    Employee: “Everything.”
    Me (definitely flustered, voice cracking slightly): “Do you have any suggestions to make X a better place to work? Was there anything that would have prevented you from leaving?”
    Employee (leans in across the table, makes direct eye contact with me and in a very quiet, monotone voice says): “Don’t you think it’s ironic that you’re asking me how I feel now that I’m leaving when you had 5 years to get my opinion previously? Why would I want to provide you any feedback to make this a better workplace AFTER I leave. Go f**k yourself.”  (I’m probably paraphrasing everything BUT the last sentence.)
    Me (shaking, but trying to not let her see it, most likely on the verge of tears…I hadn’t really developed any sort of thick skin at this point): “I appreciate that.  If it’s any consolation, I’m new to this. You’re right, we should have asked you prior to you leaving.  That’s my fault.  May I take this as a suggestion for us to improve?”
    Employee (honestly surprised at my response…perhaps she was looking for a fight, but both her face and voice softened): “Uhh. Sure. Sorry, I shouldn’t have sworn.  It’s just I put my heart and soul into this organization and…and you just didn’t ever seem to care…”
    The interview actually lasted close to an hour and half and a week later I did an anonymous employee survey (big lesson learned).  She gave me a ton of examples (some were valid, some were just the opinion of a disgruntled employee) but I realized how important the information was that she provided.  And at the end of the day, it actually allowed her some closure too – she was harbouring a lot of feelings and by opening up, it allowed her to finally say what she always wanted to. She didn’t end up holding anything back – because she didn’t have anything to lose.
    That said, not all exit interviews provide a lot of valuable insight.  But if you ask the same questions, and implement a rating scale of some sort, you can use the exit interviews as one component towards a report card for the organization as a whole on a semi-annual or annual basis. 
    After a few exit interviews, from the same department, we realized the manager may need some additional leadership support. At another company, information regarding our compensation came up and we did a salary review, realizing we were not only paying at the 30th percentile, our benefits were not on par with the market at all. 
    While deep, dark secrets don’t always come to the surface – having a standardized approach to off-boarding an employee makes it easier for management to make decisions that affect the staff.  (But at the same time, it’s equally as important to ask the employees how they feel while they are still in fact employees.)
    Oh and one other thing – I don’t do exit interviews when the company has made the decision. I just think it’s asking a lot to get an employee’s perspective on things when you’ve just told them they no longer have a job.  But it’s the organization’s call. (Just a recommendation from someone who has been in the situation and realized this wasn’t a good call!)

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Elevated HR Solutions: What to do when a management position isn't an option...

    You've all met the amazing sales person right? The one who dominates with clients, pitches a solution effortlessly, and arrives with the documents signed, sealed and delivered without batting an eye.  Now have you watched as organizations try to promote that guy into management? Typically - it's a massive flop.  The best sales guys are not meant to be the best managers - keep them in the role that they are good at.  I beg of you...please.  The best sales guys (in my experience) have been the biggest headaches for me.  Let's just say Michael Scott exists - in at least 1 out of every 5 organizations. 

    The same goes on in the tech world - you've met him.  That guy who sits in the corner and knows the server inside and out, or the guy who can develop a software program without thinking and have it do, look, feel even smell the way you want it to.  But can he talk to people? Typically - not really.  Should he be leading a team? No. Not if it doesn't play to his strengths. Not if he doesn`t have help.  That's just asking for a disaster.  And yet, many organizations still do it - promote those into management that simply shouldn`t be.  But why?

    It's one of two things: recognition (of the title/status) and money (perception that management makes more). 

    So if management isn't the answer - what can an organization do?

    Have you heard the term dual-career ladder? If not, it is a set of one or more non-supervisory jobs in a job series which receive higher pay than traditional non-supervisory jobs because they require the performance of higher level and more complex duties and possession of advanced, specialized skills not generally required of similar non-supervisory jobs.  How is that for technical HR talk? (Yup, even we speak geek occasionally). 

    Simply put - you have two paths of growth in an organization:

    1.) One that recognizes the technical growth and promotion as a subject matter expert, paying the individual for the levels of growth as they would from a managerial side

    2.) One that recognizes management skills and ability to lead

    It seems easy and works even in sales - make him a subject matter expert and get him to talk about himself and his success in training sessions (sales guys love that!) just don`t give him management titles or responsibility.  He`ll end up making more (especially those on commission) because they are doing what they are really good at - and they help the organizatio by providing valuable tips they`ve been successful with.  As for the techie - send him to courses, give him a new title representing his knowledge etc., and don`t forget about the pay increase (for this to work, it has to be on par with a manager`s pay increases).

    The pitfalls - don`t undervalue the technical side.  Employee`s aren`t stupid and if they feel like you`ve made the technical side a lot harder to achieve in order to achieve recognition and monetary rewards, they are going to want to become managers instead.  Make both ladders tangible and exciting and have them pick which route they want to take to the top.  Empowerment. Choice. People love that!

    You have a need for both in your organization - so provide the option and of course, walk the walk as you talk the talk.  There aren`t always enough management spots open - but there are always ways to recognize success.

    Want to learn more about implement Dual Career Ladders? Visit and contact me!

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Elevated HR Solutions: Recruiting blunders you need to avoid

    If in the next 18 months, you were going to lose 46% of your new hires - would you change something with regards to your recruiting methodology?

    Based on a new 3-year study completed by Leadership IQ, this isn't just an's the norm.  Surprisingly, only 11% fail due to a lack of technical skills, meaning the candidate's interpersonal skills (or lack thereof) contributed to their failure in the position.  (As a side note: The majority of those that fail can't accept feedback, can't manage/understand emotions and lack motivation.)

    As per a previous blog I wrote, make sure you understand the questions you are asking and know the answers you are looking for - sticking to this will increase your success rate in finding the right candidate. But there are a few other recruiting blunders you can avoid:

    A weak job description/posting.  There is an art to this: post too little and a credible candidate is most likely going to look the other way. Instead, you are going to be flooded with unqualified candidates.  Post too much: a credible candidate is likely going to get bored just reading it (and may even think they are under qualified for the role.) 

    The job posting needs to give a good understanding of what the company is like and it needs to balance qualifications and responsibilities of the position, all wrapped up in a tight package.

    Speed Interviewing.  Unfortunately speed interviewing is not as successful as speed dating (and I guess I don't really know how successful speed dating is either...but I digress.) I know you're busy - but trying to squeeze in a bunch of interviews in between conference call calls, client meetings, employee sessions and networking events is just a recipe for disaster.  If you want to really watch out for key signs like motivation, receiving feedback and emotional tendencies you can't be worrying about the next fire-fighting session you're about to encounter.  

    Taking time to to really analyze the interview afterwards, and write notes about the candidate that will help you reflect later on when selecting the best candidate for the position.

    Using only one source.  I get it - job boards are expensive.  But choosing between workopolis or monster and simply waiting for candidates to come in isn't how you would do sales, so why is it the way you would want to attract a great candidate?  Your friend here is SOCIAL MEDIA - twitter, facebook, and their more professional cousin, linkedin, is a great way to advertise (and best of's free!) 

    Social Media also connects with candidates who aren't really looking, but if they see your tweet, status update, or network activity, they might think twice about it and actually apply.

    Keeping "hush-hush" about the position. Sometimes it's part of your strategy to stay quiet about a new position...but for the most part, be open and honest about what you're looking for internally.  Not only are some of your best candidates probably sitting right in front of you and ready for the next challenge, your employees are also your walking billboards/advertisements.

    Formalize a recruiting referral program, and you will get your employees searching for top notch employees who fit the culture and the mold of the company. Based on experience, most employees won't refer candidates unless they are great, as they are putting their neck on the line for the candidate.

    Only hiring for technical ability.  As I said above, only 11% failed due to a lack of technical skill.  But an amazing "techie" (who knows it) can have enough arrogance to bring down an entire organization.  You can train the technical, but it's a lot more difficult to train the interpersonal side. 

    Why ruin an entire department/organization by bringing in a skilled employee who doesn't realize the size of their ego?

    Simply put: recruitment is an art (and even a little bit of a science). It takes time for mastery. If you need help - there are many great professionals out there to support you and if time is of the essence, it's also a great return on investment.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    RadioShack Gaff: Update

    My typical HR engagements with small businesses look like this:

    Business:) This is my problem.  What can we do?
    Me:) Here is solution A and the pros and cons are X.  Here is solution B and the pros and cons are Y.  Here is solution C and the pros and cons are Z.   What are your major goals and concerns so  that I can further help you narrow down your choices?
    Business:) D and E
    Me:) Based on that my recommendation is F.

    Now think back to 2006 and when Radio Shack decided to let 400 employees go by email.

    Radio Shack:) We need to do a reduction of 400 employees. How should we do it?
    HR/Legal team:) Let's email them all. Then everyone gets the message at the same time and we don't have to worry about the grapevine.
    Radio Shack:) Sounds great.  We'll also save a ton on paper and postage.
    HR/Legal Team:) Yes - using the fastest form of information transfer is really the best idea. It's simple and easy.

    Now, I'll admit - when I put on my management hat, I see operational efficiencies galore: management doesn't need to fly around facing the people and looking at them in the eyes while they are told they no longer have jobs, paper is saved (good for the pocket and the environment) and no one has to be paid to lick stamps!  But seriously? This really happened? Someone thought this was a good idea?

    Quote for quote, this what the 400 unlucky employees read the following when they showed up to work: "The work force reduction notification is currently in progress.  Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated." 

    So never mind the bad press that they should have been prepared for, when employees feel they are treated without respect or dignity they are much more likely to claim wrongful dismissal - and with 400 fighting together, I don't care how good your legal team organization is hooped.

    So here's the update 4 years later:  Radio Shack's annual revenue has dropped about 16 percent (or nearly a billion dollars) and its annual income has dropped about 24 percent.  How about employee satisfaction? Well let the client service tell you that story!

    At the end of the day - it doesn't matter how big or small your organization is.  Treat people with respect - if you were in their shoes and you were about to be terminated, do it the way you would want it done to you.  Losing your job isn't the end of the world, but how you help them move to the next stage makes a difference...for them...but also for you.  It shouldn't take an HR expert to guide you this way and point out the pros and cons. 

    But if you need one...I'm here - and I will guarantee if we work together, I won't cost you your credibility that Terri Hatcher and Howie Long helped to build for you in those terrible commercials or a billion dollars in lost revenue.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    What would an HR Blog be without some recruitment tips?

    I still remember the first interview I did – was I 19 years old at the time? Trying to pretend I was 30? (Shutter, as I’m now that old…focus…) Anyway, I remember walking in with my list of questions, hair tied back tightly, poised and seven minutes later the interview was done. I didn’t feel good about the questions and worse, I had no idea if the candidate was even any good because I forgot what I was even asking. In addition to that, I hadn’t even bothered to write down what she actually said. Yup, utter disaster. But I did learn a lot. I needed to understand what I was asking and why.

    In 2007, I stumbled across the following and have used this as my base ever since. I recruited for many years before it, but I sincerely got better once I implemented this formula.

    Question #1: "Where did you get that tie/jacket/purse/blouse?”

    Purpose: Develop the rapport needed to get the interview off the ground.

    Every interview should begin with an icebreaker. It helps nervous applicants calm down and builds a sense of trust. If you have a 45-minute interview, you should spend at least the first five minutes trying to connect on a neutral topic. Make the person feel at ease and you'll solicit better information—and much more honest responses.

    Alternate Version 1: "How about those Flames?”
    Alternate Version 2: "Were you affected by the heat wave/cold snap?"
    Alternate Version 3: "Did you have a good holiday?"

    Question #2: "Talk about a time when you had to overcome major obstacles."

    Purpose: Get a clear picture of the candidate's past performance.

    Variations on this question should actually comprise your next several questions. Don't hesitate to guide the candidate through the variety of tasks (both tangible and theoretical) necessary to perform the job, and listen carefully to how he or she has handled such challenges. Pay attention to intangibles: some people are better at performing in interviews than on the job. If your candidate continually plays the role of hero or victim, that's a red flag that you're probably not getting the whole story.

    Alternate Version 1: "Tell me about a time when you wrote a report that was well received. Why do you think it was successful?"
    Alternate Version 2: "Describe a time when you hired (or fired) the wrong person."
    Alternate Version 3: "If you had to do that activity again, how would you do it differently?"

    Question #3: "What interests you about this position?"

    Purpose: Find out how the candidate feels about the job and the company.

    People apply for jobs for plenty reasons besides the obvious ones. Asking a candidate why he or she wants the position gives insight into their motivation. The answer may be personal (such as a narrative about what spurred them to seek a new job), or it may connect the candidate to the company: her experience with the brand, the mission statement, or the organization's role in the community. Any of these answers (or some combination) are acceptable—a personal answer can communicate trust, and a connection to the business indicates loyalty and a sense of ownership.

    Alternate Version 1: "Where does this job fit into your career path?"
    Alternate Version 2: "If you had to convince a friend or colleague to apply for this job, what might you tell them?"
    Alternate Version 3: "What motivated you to apply for this job?"

    Question #4: "Is there intelligent life in outer space?"

    Purpose: Find out what kind of thinker the candidate is and how he deals with surprises.

    This is your curveball, designed to make the candidate ad-lib instead of just reciting well-rehearsed answers. How much will he or she play along? As long as it's not too short or too long, virtually any response is a good one. But pay attention to attitude, the way the candidate approaches the problem, and the ease or difficulty they have in coming up with a response.

    Alternate Version 1: "How many phone books are there in New York City?"
    Alternate Version 2: "How do they get the caramel inside a Caramilk bar?
    Alternate Version 3: "Why do people climb mountains?"

    Question #5: "Imagine we've just hired you. What's the most important thing on your to-do list on the first day of work?"

    Purpose: Learn about the candidate's judgment and decision-making skills.

    This is an example of a situational question, which is like a behavioral question in that it's designed to assess judgment, but it's also like a curveball question because it illuminates the candidate's thought process. You want to see whether he demonstrates the competencies and priorities that are important to the job.

    Alternate Version 1: "Say a coworker tells you that he submitted phony expense account receipts. Do you tell your boss?"
    Alternate Version 2: "How would you handle an employee whose performance is fine but who you know has the potential to do better?"
    Alternate Version 3: "What would you do if you got behind schedule with your part of a project?"

    Question #6: "Why did you get into this line of work?"

    Purpose: Measure the fit between the candidate's values and the culture of your company.

    It risks a long, drawn-out answer, but this type of question will help you select candidates that fit your company's culture. It's not about finding people like you, or people with similar backgrounds that led them to your company, but about getting a sense of their values and motivations. Concepts like values and culture can be subjective and difficult to define, but you should be looking for someone whose work ethic, motivations, and methods match the company's. This isn't a quantitative measurement so much as a qualitative one. Coke and Pepsi may seem the same to people outside the soft-drink industry, but each houses people with different approaches to making cola and running a business.

    Alternate Version 1: "What do you like best about your current job?"
    Alternate Version 2: "When did you realize this would be your career?"
    Alternate Version 3: "What keeps you coming to work besides the paycheck?"

    Question #7: "But enough about you. What about us?"

    Purpose: Find out if the candidate has done his or her homework.

    It's a cliché to end an interview with the standard, 'So, any questions?' But the fact remains that you really do want to let the candidate ask a few things of you. Reversing roles communicates that the company seeks an open a dialogue, and it helps you ascertain just how curious and knowledgeable a candidate is about your company. If he doesn't ask any questions about the job or the business, it's a safe bet his heart isn't in it. Listen for insightful questions that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the circumstances of the job, the company, the competitive landscape, or the industry.

    Alternate Version 1: "Where do you think the company should be in ten years?"
    Alternate Version 2: "What's your opinion of our new product?"
    Alternate Version 3: "Have you seen the company's new ad campaign?"

    Finally - there is a debate about what to do when the candidate is a dud - do you keep going and waste both of your time in effort to make the candidate feel good about coming all the way down for an in-person interview or do you just cut your losses early when you know it's a done deal? Personally - when I know it's a done deal, I turn the interview into a commercial for the company...the purpose, turn a dud of a candidate into a walking billboard for how amazing we are.  At least I didn't totally waste my time!

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    How to spot a fear-based management regime

    A friend and I got together today over coffee.  He was telling me how his organization was moving from structure A to structure B and he was contemplating whether or not it was time for him to make a move.  It wasn't so much that he didn't like his job, but he was finally at the point while although he was making good money he didn't think he could handle the politics anymore.  He was tired of management and not being able to voice his opinion and in his words, was tired of being "everyone's whipping boy." 

    So while driving back from Edmonton, I tried to figure out why anyone in this day and age would think it's ok to run a fear-based organization.  The stats exist and tell a pretty compelling story -- those companies with great employees that are respected, also win the race with clients/consumers/customers and repeat clients/consumers/customers.  It's not rocket science.  It's pretty much the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them to do to you."  You get what you give.  Why would you want to scare the crap out of your employees?

    So if you're a manager or an employee in an are some quick clues to tell whether or not you might just be caught in a fear-based regime...

    ...When employees on purpose choose to surf facebook all day long, and do the real work after hours just in case one of the executives walks by...

    ...When the water cooler talk starts in the morning with conversation about whose stock is rising and whose is falling and a preoccupation with status and political capital is on everyone's mind...

    ...When intellectual capital is hoarded and people are afraid to share ideas or opinions...

    ...When management's obsession with metrics on a weekly basis becomes daily or hourly...

    ...When your company drones on and on about a handbook or policy rather than looking at the situation or the individual...

    ...When upper management is noticeably uncomfortable with the thought of "brain-storming sessions" and does it only to "look" good but then not actually listen or implement any of the ideas...

    ...If management has become hostage to their employees because he/she/they stop sharing what they are doing or neglect to document what they do in effort to become indispensable...

    ...If management threatens job loss as a consequence of not doing something in a large meeting setting...

    ...If brown-nosers rule (in other words, if management is never challenged on ANYTHING)...

    ...If management says "Be happy to have a job considering the economy"...

    Look - managers have to know that people want to be empowered and motivated.  Fear-trampled employees don't do a thing for your business.  Admittedly, management by fear is a hard habit to break, because fearful employees don't speak up.  However, competitors are hiring the best talent - and will eventually hire yours.  This means they will steal the market share and running a company based on fear makes it easy to do it - even when you pay them a lot of money. 

    Do you really want to find out what your meek, submissive, broken-down employees can do in an environment that allows them to thrive?

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Business Partners or Business People: How should HR really be perceived?

    In my quest to change the face of HR, I have found some awesome like-minded people on the net.  They value the idea of promoting HR to the same level as marketing and sales departments.  The problem: HR people know they need to change how they are perceived, it's just uncertain whether or not the rest of the world will actually ever get it and agree due to a lengthy history of "drama, fluff and let's face it...tyranny".

    During my career, I have had the opportunity to sit at the Executive table more times than not.  Every company I have worked for has said that they put the people first and know they are the success of the business.  And quite honestly, when you go to most corporate websites, they all say the same thing (well, on the career pages anyway).  But there are certainly those companies who do not walk the talk.

    As a consumer, I am honestly drawn to those company's that have great employees.  It radiates from the receptionist, through to sales and customer service, you see it in the marketing team as they design ads and if you ever have to dispute a payment, even finance can have a chipper disposition.  I want to use their services (even if they are a bit more expensive) and I will refer them as well.  So how is this environment created and maintained?  Let me be the first to say: It's really not HR's job.  It's the collective whole as a management team.  But HR is there to play a significant role...

    As a human resources professional, my goal is always  to understand the company and where it is they want to go.  I want to develop programs that promote the future.  I want to help build the culture that the CEO wants.  As such, I would label the profession as a Business Partner.  But I also want to understand the bottom line, the outputs of certain positions and the return on investment.  I want to make sure that I have the best person for the job for the least amount of money (I'm sure a few eyebrows are now raised!)... What I mean by that is, if I have a person that is really great at their job, their output and quality is outstanding, to the point where they really take on more work than just what one person could ideally do - I want to pay them well (since they are doing the job for two) but not necessarily  double.  I've said this before, you can lose staff because you are underpaying them, but you can lose valuable profits by paying too much.  In all reality, a business wants to hire superstars (even in junior roles), develop programs to keep them engaged and motivated with always keeping an eye on the bottom line.  HR needs to do this constantly when supporting management with decisions.  They really do need to be business-minded individuals.  As a department, they need to consistently ask "Was this program worth it? Can I be doing better to service my clients? What are areas that we can improve?"

    As for changing the face of HR: Collectively, we have to stop "asking" to be at the executive table and just prove it.  What I mean by that is, stop waiting to give input, just give it.  Design management reports that you would want if this business was yours.  Ask to see the budgets and where the business sits collectively. If you can't get access to it, at least track it for your department.  Before implementing programs, understand what the value is you wish to create and the value you wish to track (monetarily).  At the end of the day - it is about the employees, but let's face it, it's about the money.  By working as a business partner and having a business mindset - you can achieve both.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Big Sigh! It's performance review time.

    This morning I went to a networking meeting and a woman who was there promoting her business said she gave seminars on how to provide performance reviews, especially to generation X and Y.  I'm always intrigued by those who say they "get" the new generation and "really know the secrets" of delivering/doing something because generation X and Y is so different than the rest of the generations.  I guess when I say intrigued, I mean the little hairs stick up on the back of my neck and I immediately go into testing mode, to see if I'm in alignment with their thinking in general.  Alright - I am slowly getting off topic here (Generation X and Y issues are probably an entire blog in itself never mind a post!)  At any rate, the discussion that she lead this morning also got me thinking again about Performance Reviews in general.

    I have worked with some pretty sophisticated software when it comes to Performance Management.  At the end of the day (and I believe I've said this before), software is only ever as good as the user.  My goal now, and while I was leading HR for a ton of different organizations, was to make the whole process simple and easy to use (otherwise managers wouldn't use it).  For some reason, all organizations feel they need to have a section to rate behaviors or competencies like "team work" and then give it a score (usually based on a 1-5 scale).  Our goal as HR was to get managers in alignment when it came to the scoring.  But guess what? It was the proverbial sh*t show.  And while I tried to pretend I couldn't understand why adults couldn't give feedback - I knew deep down, it had nothing to do with the feedback, but everything to do with the fact that you can't quantify competencies.  People aren't made from the same cookie cutter - so to have the same rating scale is impossible.

    I'll give you an example.  Let's say one of the competencies you have to rate is "Integrity".  You give your staff member a 3 because he/she meets your expectations when it comes to integrity.  But on a scale of 1-5, how many of your staff members are actually going to be happy with a 3?  Probably none.  Then when they see their score, they are most likely going to ask you why you scored them a 3. Do you have an answer for them?  What if they responded back to you and said, "Look, I have a ton of integrity.  Everyone in the office steals office supplies and I choose not to."  Sure - that could be considered integrity...but it's also what you expect of them.  But when you ask them, "Do you report those who are stealing the supplies to management?" their answer most likely will be, "Of course not.  It's not my place to rat out my colleagues."   So really, do you now mark them a 2??  And you can see how this cycle could get out of control very quickly -- even when, as the experts say, you are "armed" with examples to "support your score".

    So here's the question - should we even be rating employees on competencies that are clearly so open-ended?  As said above,  realistically no clear scoring system can ever be put in place because each person has their own thoughts and feelings when it comes to rating a particular behavior or competency.  So in my opinion, it's an emphatic "NO!"

    So then what should a performance review include?  In my view (and I like simplicity) it's three basic sections - Strengths with commentary to provide praise and reinforcement for good behaviour and Areas for Improvement with an action plan on how they will improve.  Finally, a note or two about what they need more of from you, their manager.  Performance reviews don't need to be fancy or elaborate or cost you a ton of money by way of fancy software.  All I recommend is to sit down formally, write down what you talked about and get a consensus on the items that need to be addressed. Finally, LISTEN when they ask you for help.  If it's that simple - you'll find managers (or yourself) will want to do the process that much more often if you allow for it to be that simple!

    I know I many of you are going to start asking, "Well if I don't score their behaviors, how do I implement a bonus program? Or determine what their annual increase should be? I need something concrete."  Really? You were going to give  them a bonus based on being a good person (in other words, scoring a 5 on integrity)?  If so, email me at (we've got lots to talk about!) ;)

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Health and Wellness Programs - A must or are they just bust?

    The other day I had a client ask me if she should implement a health and wellness program in her small, almost medium-sized company.  Dominated primarily by women, sitting at their desks all day long she was concerned that she was promoting a sedentary lifestyle and thought it might be a good idea to promote health and wellness in some fashion.

    My first question, blunt as always was, "Why do you want to do something like that?"  She was rather taken aback with the question and stammered out, "I don't know - I just think it might be a good idea. It's what other company's are doing...right?"

    Yes - many company's are definitely instituting some sort of health and wellness program.  And the health and wellness industry in itself has made major gains with corporations paying significant money towards the idea of being a healthier workplace.  But before any company decides whether or not to invest in health and wellness programs - they need to ask themselves the all important question, "Why?"  If you don't know the why, then how do you know if you are actually receiving a return on investment?

    Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about implementing a health and wellness initiative:

    1.) Are your insurance premiums high or rising every year? If yes, then you need to find out where specifically they are rising. (If it's massage/chiro etc. those are usually preventative, which IS a health and wellness program, but if it's prescriptions/specialist etc. raising costs, then perhaps you do have an unhealthy organization, and you can put a metric in place to see if your h/w program can change those costs).

    2.) How many sick days does the average employee use in your organization? Several studies over the past few years have shown that the average sick days taken by employees are between 5.7 to 8.5 days.  If your average is higher than this, this is another good metric to put in place before implementing a health and wellness program.  However, the biggest strategy in terms of combating sick day over usage was not calling them sick days.  (This is a different topic altogether and is of great personal days as opposed to sick days).

    3.) Will the staff actually see this as a positive move or will they see it as self-serving for the company? If the employees are not going to take it as a positive step - then you're really spending money for the sake of spending money (no real return).

    4.) What percentage of your staff will use the program?  Most health and wellness programs have between a 13% to 18% participant rate.  Is that worth it to your organization?

    Some lessons learned...(and maybe where some of my cynicism comes from...)

    A few my clients had introduced payment of gym memberships up to a certain dollar amount per month.  Issue 1: People with families complained that it took them away from their families, and asked if they could submit for a treadmill or a bicycle.  The clients agreed to this proposal. But then came along issue 2: Is yoga like a gym membership? How about kick-boxing? The client said sure, as it promoted fitness.  But then came issue 3: Are golf clubs fitness items? How about golf lessons, are they like a membership?  Can I include a locker in my gym membership? That's where the line was drawn and the client went back to "gym memberships only." Fed up with employees, it didn't matter if the program was working or not.  Publish the rules, make sure the rules promote what you want, and stick to them!

    Another client started a program: Lose 10 lbs in 10 weeks.  Despite the fact that this seems to promote unhealthy weight loss, some people don't even need to lose 10 lbs. So participants were very few and far between.  The programs do need to be all inclusive - so in this case my recommendation was to change it to a percentage of body fat or the Body Mass Index (especially since it was a competition and had a $500 bonus attached to the winner.)   However, even a program like this, where it's administered internally, you have to be careful with sharing weight information.  I'm an "ok" size, but I'm not sure I want to broadcast how heavy I am to all my co-workers.

    At another organization I worked at, I brought in a hypnotist to help our smokers stop smoking - $2,400 later - not one employee quit.  It seemed like the right thing to do, we even had a metric (they would stop taking so many breaks during the day and thus work more) but the problem is, none of them actually wanted to quit.  We didn't bother to ask - we just implemented it.  In hindsight (and it's always 20/20), we should have made sure the smokers wanted to quit.

    If you want people to be healthier - get their buy-in with the programs first.  Ask them if they would participate.  If so, what would they like to participate in?  Tell them your goals of the program and help you come up with the outcomes -- trust me, this is a true lesson I learned and a great way to get your return on investment.

    Health and Wellness is important - but at what cost and can you quantify it?