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 organization...here 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 know...now 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 michelleb@elevatedhr.com (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 debate...giving 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?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Company Party Dos and Dont's

After walking the dog tonight with my ski jacket, mitts and toque (hat for Americans reading this blog), my thoughts quickly turned of the upcoming holiday season...scary to think Halloween is just over a month away and Christmas is quickly knocking on its door. 

Speaking of Halloween and Christmas, many companies are well on their way to planning seasonal events  as team building and morale-boosting initiatives. And while I'm sure to re-post this blog the week I'm actually attending a party or two myself, it's good to keep the following tips in mind while planning for the big event.

First and foremost, check your office insurance policies - do they include events? More specifically do they include events with alcohol?  How about an open-bar? While it's not illegal to have alcohol at an employee party, you are putting your organization at risk.  Embarrassing behavior is one thing, but a sexual-harassment suit is even worse. I'm certain I too would have been one of the ones to grumble about not having an open-bar - but I'm sure we can all imagine it being much worse if we had to be in the middle of a lawsuit. Many companies now are electing to hand out drink tickets - sticking at 2 free ones.  It seems to work and is still reviewed as generous but keeps the potential for disaster at a much...much lesser risk.
Second, you may want to consider throwing a party on a weeknight.  Sure, it seems pretty lame but my old company threw a St. Patrick's Day party regardless of the day it landed on.  For the past three years, it was a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.  Surprisingly, people still made it into work the next day and a few who thought ahead, took the next day off.  Either way, it was a good time, a great way to break up the week and people were honestly pretty responsible.

Always make sure you are in a venue that serves food.  If anything is "open" at an office party, it should be the food.  Compliment greasy and salty foods with proteins and starches as they absorb more alcohol, thus ultimately lessening your risk of disaster.

Ensure you have taxi-chits available at the door for people to utilize.  In some cases, insurance won't cover your event unless you provide them. 
Finally, when sending out the invitation and information about the party, it's a good idea to add a few "rules" - everything from time it starts, to the time it ends (so people know when to actually leave), to what people should wear, and who they are allowed to bring.  Most people think it's a "given", but there is always one employee who didn't "get it" or didn't "quite understand".  Please remember to tell people to drink responsibly.  And last but not least (and this is important), emphasize that attendance is strictly voluntary, not mandatory.  Trust me - that little tidbit  (in writing) could save you thousands of dollars!!  For more information on how, email me at info@elevatedhr.com


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Considering a 360 Review? Here are a few tips!

A 360 Review is a powerful development tool and quite different to traditional manager-subordinate appraisals. As such a 360 process does not replace the traditional one-to-one process - it augments it, and should be used to support development.

360 degree reviews involve the reviewee receiving feedback from people (named or anonymous) whose views are considered helpful and relevant. The feedback is typically provided on a form showing job skills/abilities/attitudinal/behavioural criteria and some sort of scoring or value judgement system. The reviewee should also assess themselves using the same feedback instrument or form.

360 degree respondents can be the reviewee's peers, up-line managers/execs, subordinate staff, team members, other staff, customers, suppliers - anyone who comes into contact with the reviewee and has opinions/views/reactions of and to the reviewee. Numerous systems and providers are available - and all work well. However, as with any system - it's only as good as the user. Therefore, develop your tool in a word document first and foremost, decide how you want it to look and then decide if a system is right for you.

You can develop your own 360 degree feedback system by running a workshop (depending on extent and complexity of the required process) involving the reviewees during which process and materials can be created and drafted. The participative workshop approach will give you something that's wholly appropriate and 'owned' instead of something off-the-shelf or adapted, which could be arbitrary, and sometimes impracticable (in terms of criteria and process).

I would recommend against restricting the 360 feedback to peers and managers only – but in some cases, it’s the only choice you have. However, to use the feedback process for its fullest '360 degree' benefit involve customers, staff, suppliers, inspectors, contractors, and others for whom good working relationships and understanding with the reviewee affect overall job performance, quality, service, etc.

It is my view that no aspects of 360 feedback should ever be mandatory for any reviewee or respondent. Given more than three or four similar role-types being appraised it's not sensible to produce individually tailored criteria, in which case when it comes to the respondents completing the feedback not all the criteria will be applicable for all respondents, nor for all reviewees either. When designing the feedback instruments (whether hard-copy documents or online materials), it's useful to allow space for several 'other' aspects that the reviewee might wish to add to the standard criteria, and space for respondents to add 'other' comments. Open honest feedback can touch sensitivities, so be sure that reviewers understand and agree to the criteria, respondents (by type, if not named) and process.

Finally, the question as to anonymity of respondents is up to you. A grown-up organization with grown-up people should be able to cope with, and derive more benefit from, operating the process transparently - but you need to decide this. Some people are happier giving feedback anonymously. And some people are not able to deal particularly well with criticism from a named person. Either way pick what works best for you and your organization.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Training Follow-Up - If you're not doing it, why are you bothering to train?

When I worked at a mid-sized investment firm, we were getting all kinds of requests for training - some technical, some soft skill.  We decided to produce a lot of in-house training ourselves based on the requests and thought by hiring a full-time trainer we would save on the course fees and be able to customize it completely to our work environment.  This in fact, was a great decision for our organization.

About 6 months in with the new trainer getting fantastic reviews on the type of training we were now providing, something for me anyway, seemed to be missing.  While training was happening, I didn't necessarily see a link back to increased organizational effectiveness - and at the end of the day, whether or not we are providing training internally and externally - the goal has to be just that - an increase in organizational effectiveness. Nothing more, nothing less.

We all get busy in our day-to-day lives and often find it easier to revert back to what's easy rather than go towards the discomfort of actually implementing a new skill.  It takes a lot of discipline as well as support to change your old behavior into something more desirable and effective.  That said, for any business, be it large or small, management has to believe in the training and continuously follow-up with the employee to ensure they are following through on the new skills.  Even something as simple as sending an employee to an Excel training class: without ever giving them a project to implement the Excel training in, it's guaranteed in less than 30 days they will have lost and/or forgotten most of the skills they have learned.

Here are some quick tips business owners and managers/supervisors can implement after they have sent someone to training:

BEFORE THE TRAINING - make sure you and the trainee sit down and determine what items need to be learned.  Most courses come with agendas - set your expectations for the training so they go in knowing what they should be paying attention to most.

RIGHT AFTER THE TRAINING - meet again with the employee to see what they have learned.  Talk about their challenges, likes and dislikes.  I recommend you do not wait too long to have this meeting after they have returned to work.  This is important as details tend to become more muddled as time goes on.

ASSIGNMENT - now that they are back, they have indicated what they learned, it's time to put them to the test.  If you sent them to a course on how to run effective meetings, encourage them to run meeting X.  If you sent them to a leadership training course, ask them how they are going to start implementing the training - typically we all have those people that we struggle with in the work setting - ask them how they are going to take a leadership role in that relationship and watch for results.

FOLLOW-UP - after they have demonstrated the new skill in some form or fashion it's important that you follow-up.  Even asking a simple question, like, "What are you still implementing today?" they will know you are serious and want them to utilize the skills they have learned.  This should be done at least monthly - but remember, this can all be done informally! It's just important you do it.

If you're investing big money into your employees - it's important you know why you're spending those dollars.  If you don't see value in it - chances are, neither will they.  Or they will for the first week, and then they will revert back to old habits without you mentoring and coaching them to success.  Learning new things takes repeated practice before it becomes habit.


Friday, September 10, 2010

What is Wrongful Dismissal?

In general, an employer is permitted to terminate employment without just cause, provided they give an employee reasonable notice or compensation instead of reasonable notice. An exception to this is if an employer has violated an employee’s human rights or violated certain parts of the Employment Standards Act (i.e. failure to reinstate an employee after pregnancy leave).

There is an implied term in every contract of employment that an employer will provide an employee with reasonable notice of termination. This presumption may be rebutted with a valid and enforceable termination clause (this will be expanded on below). Absent an enforceable and valid termination clause, an employer must provide an employee with reasonable advance notice of termination or payment in an amount equivalent to all salary and benefits that would have been earned by the employee during the reasonable notice period. The ‘wrongful’ in wrongful dismissal, refers to the failure of an employer to provide an employee with reasonable notice and does not refer to the dismissal itself.

The Employment Standards Act only provides minimum notice periods, which is different depending on the province.  An employee can be entitled to a notice period beyond the statutory minimum, depending on a number of factors which the courts will consider in determining the appropriate notice period. These factors include: length of employment; training and experience required to fill the position; responsibility attached to the position; availability of equivalent alternative employment; employee’s relevant education, training and experience; the employee’s age; and if there was inducement to leave another job. If an employer has acted unfairly or in bad faith at the time of termination, an employee may be entitled to an increase in the amount of notice they are entitled to.
Employers are increasingly looking to minimize their exposure to common law notice periods (i.e. notice periods that are awarded by the Courts depending on the factors listed above) by inserting a termination clause in their employment agreement with their employees. A termination clause is an unambiguous, statutorily compliant, clause that outlines the amount of notice an employer will provide an employee if they are terminated without cause. For example, the Ontario Court in its decision in the case of Lloyd v. Oracle Corp. Canada [2004] O.J. No. 1806 upheld a termination clause that read as follows: “Oracle may terminate your employment at any time, without cause, upon giving prior written notice in accordance with the Ontario Employment Standards Act, or any similar legislation which is in force in the province within which Oracle’s offer of employment is accepted”. The Court reasoned that the termination clause was sufficient to rebut the common law presumption of reasonable notice and the clause met the minimum requirements of the Employment Standards Act.
In the majority of instances when a termination clause is present, the termination clause will provide for a notice period that is less than what an employee would have received under the common law presumption of reasonable notice. It is for this reason that many employees seek to challenge the validity and enforceability of these clauses. Some arguments that are usually put forth to challenge these clauses include, misrepresentation, lack of consideration, duress and unconscionability. Employees also tend to challenge the specific content of these clauses. In this regard, the employee will argue that the clause is too vague and ambiguous or that it fails to comply with the minimum notice periods required by the applicable employment legislation in the province.
In the event an employer has not provided an employee with reasonable notice and/or severance in accordance with their minimum entitlements under the Employment Standards Act, the employee has the option of pursuing a claim under the Employment Standards Act or through the civil courts. An employee cannot elect to pursue a remedy under both. If an employee elects to pursue a remedy under the Employment Standards Act, any award will be limited to the maximum allowed under the Act. Alternatively, if the employee feels that they are entitled to a reasonable notice period beyond the statutory minimum, the employee would have to pursue a claim in the civil courts.

Kevin Keays was fired from a Honda assembly plant in Alliston, Ont., in March 2000. Three years earlier, he had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, which led the 13-year employee to take time off work.

His employers at Honda recommended he apply for a program — run under the Ontario Human Rights Code — that would exempt him from being penalized for repeatedly missing work. Keays also saw a company doctor. After more workplace absences and a breakdown in his relationship with his employer, Honda Canada cancelled Keays' enrolment in the provincial program and ordered him to see another company doctor.

Keays, acting on his lawyer's advice, refused unless Honda officials first told him more about the purpose of the visit with the doctor. Honda fired Keays for insubordination.

The Ontario Superior Court ruled Keays was fired without cause and awarded him 24 months of salary in lieu of formal notice, and $500,000 in punitive damages for violating his human rights. It was the largest award of punitive damages in a Canadian employment case.

Honda, a rather large organization took a rather large risk and it was costly.  Can your small business afford to take a risk?


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My business doesn't need HR...or does it?

A human resources department can be one of the most costly of all departments in any given organization. However, that same department can save time, effort and money if it operates at the level you need it to.

Small businesses are no different and in my experience, could utilize support when it comes to answering questions about their human capital.  That's why I started the service, "HR Advice @ Your Fingertips".  It's a 24/7 service for all and any inquiries a small business has about their employees.

The most typical questions I receive from business owners are:
  • How do I discipline a staff member?
  • Do I have the right to terminate?
  • I'm changing his salary.  Does it need to be documented?
  • Do I need to have an offer letter for a term employee?
  • What's an average salary for X position?
  • What can I do with a manager who lacks "people management" skills?
  • Should I have a dress code policy?
  • One of my employees is taking Short Term Disability. What rights do I have as an employer?
  • Are there any free sites for advertising my position?
  • What questions can I ask in a reference check?
For a simple and affordable price, a small business owner and his/her management team can get the advice and assistance needed from a seasoned HR expert who can handle your unique challenges.  Our goal is to save you time, stop small issues from becoming complex, and help you to avoid larger legal bills.  For more information about "HR Advice @ Your Fingertips" please email me at michelleb@elevatedhr.com !


Monday, September 6, 2010

Is there a definition of leadership?

During the last few years as a senior manager for multiple organizations, I have been evaluating my opinion of what a leader is versus what a leader isn't to help me build my own leadership style.  If you go online, there are about a million different definitions of leadership.  Some have the same meaning and just use different words.  One commonality however, is that most definitions are very generic -- but  I have found that generalizations about leadership didn't help me very much.  In order for me to understand how to lead and why to lead and what it even means to lead, I needed to be clear on what actually embodied leadership.

Over three years ago now, I was looking for a change in my life -- ultimately I needed to take a leadership role IN and FOR my life.  I had worked so hard to be taken seriously and respected as a young executive, that I forgot who I was. Instead, most of my actions were for everyone but myself.  In July of 2007, I attended a course called 21st Century Leadership which was situated in Dumas Bay (just outside of Seattle), Washington.  Not knowing what I was walking into, I had one goal in mind - to become the leader I always thought I was.  But the operative word was "thought".  Not that what I "thought" was technically wrong -- it just wasn't congruent with my behaviors, which means it wasn't practical to implement.  And congruency in my mind, is what truly makes a leader.  The ability to influence self and others in a productive, goal-driven direction done through example, conviction and character.

I believe that true leaders lead for the joy of creating something bigger than themselves.  If you would like to learn more about leadership or would like your employees to be empowered to learn more about leadership, 21st Century Leadership is a ground-breaking, innovative course that will demonstrate congruent self-expression that creates value (for not only others, but oneself as well).  Contact me at michelleb@elevatedhr.com for more information, including the next opportunity to take part!  The investment in yourself or your employees will be well worth the return!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Wrongful Dismissals Could Mean the End of a Small Business

My major draw in supporting small businesses is the fact that they do not have the resources, the time, or the knowledge to deal with HR related issues.  That said - a small business has huge risks associated with their employees and most of the time they don't even know it!  Their employees are their greatest asset -- but also their greatest liability.

Small businesses rarely have employment agreements (other than those promises scratched across a napkin) but the risk of choosing not to have them could be costly for an employer. An employment agreement helps a small business to set out expectations as appropriate (reporting structure, salary, start date, probationary period),  it contains items that stops an employee from taking the knowledge learned to their competitors, outlines how the termination process will work and typically includes a job description that outlines minimum standards of work.  Once these are agreed to (signatures included) both the employer and the employee have a duty to act accordingly.  (I'm a huge proponent of employment agreements, and I can help you create yours without having to consult a lawyer!)

So now you've got this employee and he or she is not working out.  Let's say, you do in fact have an employment agreement where you have outlined the minimum termination package that is in line with the statute.  Unfortunately, even though you and the employee have agreed to this, there is no rule of thumb that this is an appropriate payout for a termination (but it does help!)  There are a few things you should keep in mind when terminating an employee and determining what you will pay them:

1.) Cause is almost impossible to prove.  So trying to pay anyone without notice is asking for trouble.  Unless those video cameras have caught the person red-handed stealing from your till and you can see their face beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's doubtful you have a case for cause.

2.) So considering there is going to be a payout, typically the best thing to do is never state why the employee is no longer wanted in the company.  The biggest danger is saying, "You're just not doing what I want. It's not working for me."  I Instead, when you are going to terminate someone, state, "Your services are no longer required."  A lack of performance, in the eyes of the law, is not a justifiable reason for termination without months and even years of demonstrating how this lack of performance hurts the business.  An employer must show a track record of support for the employee.

3.) So how much notice does an employer have to provide an employee when they no longer have a need for them? Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb.  It just has to be "fair".  But if you're not fair - a judge could have a hay day in court with you, and a judgement against a small business could not only be costly, it could mean the end of the small business.  The items that determine a payout are as follows: the character of employment (what position was held), length of service, age of the employee and the type of work available in a similar position.  The higher position, the longer the service, the older the employee and a dreary job market makes a pay-out that much more. 

If you go online right now, you can type in Wrongful Dismissal cases.  I wouldn't want my name on that list, nor would I want to have to pay a lawyer, plus a settlement.  But if you need help when terminating an employee, Elevated HR Solutions can help.  Just contact me at michelleb@elevatedhr.com

The process can be brutal - but with careful planning and help, a small business can stay in control of both their business and their costs!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Policies and Procedure Manuals - A Pain or a Way to Develop/Maintain/Preserve Culture?

I have worked for multiple organizations, of small to medium size and ALL of them have implemented a Policy and Procedures Manual/Employee Handbook.  But now, as I'm venturing off into this new gig of supporting small businesses, I often meet clients of small size who say to me, "I don't really need a policy manual - if a decision needs to be made, I'll deal with it on the go."  While I appreciate this insight, my advice is that if you are going to set yourself up for growth (which all businesses should be doing), setting policies and procedures you can live with today, will also help you tomorrow when you have less time to think about the small stuff and need more energy geared towards growing your empire.

That said, they take a while to produce in the beginning.  The first step is brainstorming questions/issues/ideas that need to be dealt with regularly (and I even have a questionnaire that can help this process be quick) and then come up with answers that you can manage to and stick with.  From there, the entire process is easy and simple. 

The cool thing about an employee handbook is you can actually create the culture you want inside it.  It's how you word your policies that make the difference.  On top of it, management (especially middle management) can now manage to the policies, allowing the business owner to deal with the strategic side of the business.  And if everyone is rowing their boat in the same direction, just imagine how fast your company can grow.

Finally - I should note that I'm a big proponent of breaking policies for the right reasons.  They are there as a guide, but because people are not cut from the same cookie-cutter, nor are the various situations encountered when dealing with employees - policy and procedure manuals shouldn't be there to "manage" but there as a "guide".  You will be able to develop, maintain and preserve any culture you want utilizing this strategy.