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.