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Strategies and Tools that Will Inspire Great HR Practices for Your Agency and Clients!

DEATH BY MEETING: MANAGERS, BEWARE!

In the book, Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business, Patrick Lencioni argues that good meetings should lack “drama.” Consistent with guidelines in this blog over the years, Lencioni recommends holding five-minute daily updates, weekly tactical meetings, and longer less-frequent strategic reviews offsite to discuss major issues.

When structuring a meeting, ask:

Is the meeting necessary?
Are the right people here?
Is everyone clear about the issues to be discussed?
How will the meeting be conducted?
How can you make sure that everybody participates?

A manager at Siemens VDO Automotive stated, “Everyone expected meetings to be bad, so they were –  and no one thought anything could be done about it. What had to change was that idea. People had to understand that they needed to respect each other’s time, and that they should call a meeting only if they needed to do so, and not because they could.”

Amen to that!

EMPLOYMENT REFERENCES: BEYOND NAME, RANK, AND SERIAL NUMBER

Although criminal background checks and credit reports have an important place in hiring, they don’t protect you from hiring someone who has no criminal history or financial problems, but is simply a poor performer. Many firms provide only name, rank, and serial number on employee references, with no comments about qualifications or performance, to avoid being sued for defamation.

However, in the past few years, most states have adopted laws that afford employers substantial protection in these situations. When you need to get or give a reference, you can cite these laws to encourage open dialogue and help prevent you from hiring a lazy, incompetent, dishonest, or counterproductive employee — or even a dangerous one who could harm a third party and trigger a negligent-hiring suit against your organization.

Protect your rights by including, in your employment application or in a separate document, a release that the applicant must sign that acknowledges a previous employer’s right (and your right, at any time) to discuss their job performance, reasons for separation, and whatever else state law allows. Cite the law. Faxing a copy of the signed release to previous employers might make the difference in your ability to have a candid conversation with them. 

EXPAND YOUR TIME!

Do you find yourself over scheduled and overwhelmed? Did last week seem like a complete blur — just another seven days marked off the calendar of your life? Have you convinced yourself that “there’s not a minute to spare?” Are you surrounded by time and labor-saving devices undreamed of in the past, yet have little or no time to get it all done? 

Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. If it seems that you don’t have enough time in your life (never mind just the workday) consider these suggestions:

  1. Beware of over-commitment. Resist the temptation to turn every impulse or opportunity into another appointment. It’s OK to say “no.” For example, you can say “I have a policy against doing more than five appointments in a week.”
  2. Focus on critical time commitments and eliminate trivial ones. If you manage your daily to-do lists, you’ll often cross off the easiest items first even though they’re relatively unimportant. Reduce your list to no more than six critical items and take care of them before you even consider the trivial tasks.
  3. Throw away those magazines and cancel your subscriptions. If you haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, the chances are that they simply create unneeded pressure. Either trash them or donate them to the public library. When you need information, go get it! 
  4. Duck out whenever you can get away with it. Use a cancelled appointment as an opportunity to spend some time for yourself. Resist the temptation to fill up the void with yet another commitment. 
  5. Carve out time for yourself. Whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour before the day begins, or an hour or two in the evening, it’s essential to create some personal time. Calendar this as you would any other appointment.

There’s a fine balance between who we are and what we do. Maintaining a sense of balance requires a clear assessment of priorities and a plan to stay focused. As Stephen Covey notes, your goal is to work on critical issues in a non-urgent manner. Do this, and you’ll expand time, too.

CHANGE: A PLACE TO START!

Change is inevitable. If you need proof, just look at where you were 10 years ago.

Fast Company magazine sees change management as one of the three essential components for survival in today’s economy (learning and leadership are the others). Although changing with the times makes sense, there can be a great amount of emotional resistance in getting people to “move their cheese.” The word “change” evokes images of a distant past. For most people, their first experience with the concept came when their parents told them to change one of their behaviors. Since early on “change” has been associated with control, the threat of punishment behind it, and rebellion.

We were resistant to being told to change then, and we remain so today, even if it makes sense to do so! That’s why managers and leaders have to be very careful when going about the process.

Before implementing “change” in your workplace, start by asking team members to describe an experience in their career that involved change. Ask them how going through the process felt and what the eventual outcome was. Acknowledge that not all change is positive: Things often change for the worse. Telling stories allows us to connect emotionally with change by expressing our fears and anxieties, as well as our hopes and desires. We can build on past lessons, including successes and failures alike. 

Going through this type of group exercise allows team members to have some ownership of the change that will affect them. Once these emotional fears and anxieties are on the table, they will disappear in the light of understanding — and big changes can happen!

BUSINESS ETHICS 101

Michael Hoffman, executive director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College, advises employees and employers to examine ethical challenges by using these five standards:

  1. The Law Test: If it’s illegal, don’t do it.
  2. The Harm Test: If this action will harm any third party, can it possibly be justified? If so, be prepared to compensate those affected before a third party asks you to do so.
  3. The Newspaper Test: The world-wide, front-page, prime-time publicity on Justin Bieber has had a devastating impact on his image. Show the media a whiff of ethical impropriety and see how quickly they can turn it into your own personal nightmare.
  4. The Child Test: What would you tell your kid to do in your situation? Don’t engage in any activity that you wouldn’t be proud to see your child doing.
  5. The Smell Test: This is where your intuition takes over. If something doesn’t smell right or feel right, the chances are that it’s wrong! If you aren’t sure, revisit your company’s ethical guidelines or discuss the matter with someone you can trust.

WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT: THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

According to Dr. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management, “profound knowledge” generally comes from the outside – because no organization can fully understand itself. An effective human resources program requires thinking from outside the box. One way to get an outside perspective is to study principles applied in disciplines completely different from your situation.

For example, try a “marketing” approach to workforce management. Savvy marketers test, test, and retest a variety of messages to see which one works best. Applying this principle to enhance your employees’ automation skills, test different training systems on small groups of workers. Once you have empirical data on which program works best, roll it out to the rest of your staff. 

Marketers also suggest “nurturing” prospects with a series of messages to gain their attention. The same could be said when it comes to grabbing your employees’ attention. A one-time message will probably get lost in the clutter we all face. If that’s the case, spread out your bonus and other incentive programs.

COMPLIANCE/PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT CHECKLIST

How effectively are your compliance and personnel management practices? Rate your performance using a 1 to 10 scale, on which 1 is “we’re doomed,” 5 is mediocre, and 10 is perfect:

                                                                                                                         POINTS:

1. We have a fail-safe system designed to hire only trustworthy            
        employees.

2.    All new employees go through an extensive orientation 
                 experience

 3.    We have clearly identified the workflow obligations for
                each employee.

         4.   We have clearly communicated our company’s vision, 
               mission, values, and goals to our workforce 

        5.   Our employees are very clear on expected performance
              standards.

6.   We allow employees to devote time and resources to 
              furthering their career development.

7.   We have eliminated all unwanted turnover.

        8.    We have taken all steps “reasonably necessary” to
               avoid compliance law concerns.

        9. We have systems in place to proactively encourage
         innovation.

10. We celebrate and reward superior performance.

                                       TOTAL:

If your score is less than 80, you have a lot of work to do. It’s time to start talking about how to achieve better results in harder times.

BEWARE OF TRAINING TRAPS!

Two woodsmen were each cutting a large tree. The first woodsman took two hours to fell his tree. While he was chopping away, he noticed that his colleague was taking a break every 15 minutes. To his great surprise, the other woodsman chopped his tree down first. Afterwards, woodsman #1 approached woodsman #2 and said “I can’t believe you dropped your tree before I did, especially since you were taking breaks!” Replied woodsman #2, “I wasn’t taking breaks; I was sharpening my saw.”
As Steven Covey says, one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is continuously sharpening your (and your company’s) saw. In today’s knowledge economy, shrewd managers see training as an ongoing process essential for sustained growth. Conceptually, training involves two separate areas: technical and emotional. Although it’s easy to provide technical training through online and computer-based applications, emotional training requires people to communicate directly. For example, reading material and a Web-based training program on sexual harassment doesn’t dig deep enough to deal with the real emotional issues involved. Only dialogue can do that.
Here are five reasons why training programs fail – and how you can make them succeed:
  1. Failure to commit. You need to commit your company to training as a process rather than an event. The company must understand its skill and cultural needs, and have a strategic plan, budget, schedule, and a way to benchmark results.
  2. Poor training tools. Not all training tools are created equal. There’s no such thing as a generic program. For example, there are dozens of online tools for technical training. To test which programs are most effective with your workers, have different employees each try one program and then compare the results.
  3. Poor follow-up. One-time training seldom works. Just as you can’t teach someone to ride a bike by reading a book, people can’t learn a new skill by attending a single training session. There must be a follow-up process to incorporate what was learned during the training experience.
  4. Lack of employee incentive. Why should your employees want to go to training? What rewards or payoffs will they obtain? How will you reinforce the learning experience so the employee wants to do it again?
  5. Failure to leverage the training effort Let’s say that one of your employees gains a valuable insight during a training session. To what extent do you encourage them to share this information with coworkers who it might impact? How do you encourage them to use what they’ve learned to help the company run more effectively? What are you doing to leverage the bang for your training buck?
Avoid these five traps – and you’ll be well on your way to sharpening your company’s saw.

DON’T TURN WORK COMP CLAIMS INTO EMPLOYMENT PRACTICE CASES

For years employers have taken comfort in knowing that someone injured on the job was subject to the exclusivity rule of Workers Compensation: Businesses traded off their strict liability exposure to workplace injuries for a limited exposure and payments. However, decisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and state tort laws have eroded the exclusivity doctrine. For example, an employer firing an employee who’s on Workers Compensation leave might face not only a Workers Comp retaliation claim but a wrongful discharge suit under the ADA, FMLA, or state tort laws.

Employers must rely on the advice of their human resources professional, claims manager, employment practices attorney, and Workers Compensation attorney in handling the “Bermuda Triangle” of exclusivity issues, including those related to termination of health care and other benefits, the question of “reasonable accommodation vs. light duty,” and termination of employment. Trying to manage these claims on your own is a formula for disaster.

Here are some general guidelines in dealing with this complicated area:

  1. Give injured employees every reason to return to work.
  2. Speak to a professional before taking any adverse employment actions against someone who has filed a Comp claim.
  3. Make sure your employee handbook and other policy documents describe how you handle health care and other benefits payments to employees on leave. For example, although your health care provider might terminate coverage after 90 days of non-active employment, you might have a 12-week obligation under the FMLA, and perhaps an even longer obligation under your own policies.
  4. Move slowly. There’s usually no reason to rush it in this area.
  5. Finally, although checks and balances, including medical certifications, are essential, take the “high road” and treat employees as you’d want one of your family members to be treated.

WHAT MAKES LOW WAGE EARNERS TICK?

Managers often make the mistake of thinking that low wage earners have the same motivations as they do. If you harken back to high school or college and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’ll remember that the most basic level of need is “survival.” This motivates most low wage earners. An extra dollar or two an hour might represent a “living wage” that keeps them on the job.

The next levels of need are “security” and then “belonging.” Financial security involves education and habits. That’s why it’s beneficial to open your books to all employees, talk about their careers and financial expectations, and bring in financial experts to advise them. To give low wage earners the opportunity to “belong” to something, you might also support company sports teams and other extracurricular activities.

Very few low wage earners feel that management acknowledges their efforts. Bear in mind that acknowledgement costs absolutely nothing. A note from the boss, an announcement to the workforce, or a Friday afternoon pizza party can all pay enormous dividends.

Finally, don’t assume that you know what motivates low wage earners. To find out, ask them.

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