Workplace Giving

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There are a number of ways that employers can support employees in their desire to give back, especially during the holiday period.  Employers themselves, can, of course, contribute to a charity directly, but, in the spirit of engagement, it is more special to allow employees a say over how the dollars or donations are being distributed.  Some employees will want to give to a specific charity that supports a cause near and dear to them.  Others will want to give to a specific person who they know is in need over the holidays.  Below is a description of the many ways that employers can facilitate the spirit of giving.

Workplace Giving through Deductions

If you work for a company, organization or the federal government, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to participate in a workplace giving program. Workplace giving is an easy and efficient way to make tax-deductible donations to the charities you care about with donations taken directly out of your paycheck. 

This type of giving can be set up through payroll and can be a one-time gift or can be set up as per paycheck deductions of either a percentage or dollar amount.  Many organizations will choose to match, at least to some degree, the dollars that employees contribute.

Employer Provided Donations

Some employers give their employees each a certain amount that they may contribute to any charity or person of their choosing.  The employers only ask, in return, is that the employee share what they choose to use the dollars for.  This can yield especially heartwarming stories of how the employee “spent” the money and what the surprised recipient’s reaction was.  Sharing these throughout an organization can spur others to think about ways they can actively better the life of another.

Non-cash Donations

Certainly not all contributions need to be in cash.  Opportunities abound over the holiday period for employees to bring in food for food drives.  Numbers of organizations will welcome the extra set of hands if groups of employees are available to help sort, shelve and package food items for delivery.  Some services, such as Meals on Wheels will allow the delivery of the food baskets also.

There are wonderful opportunities to make a child’s holiday bright be buying an extra gift or two as you are shopping for others on your list, to brighten a deserving child’s holiday.  Large organizations such as the Marines run annual campaigns like Toys for Tots, but smaller neighborhood organizations run gift drives as well.

Organizations may choose to set up an Angel Tree where an employee picks the name of a family or child and on the back is a description of the wants/needs of that family.  Companies can provide ornaments to replace each card that is chosen until the whole tree is filled with beautiful ornaments, a reflection of what has been given back.  

These are just a few ways that each and everyone one of us can feel what the true meaning of the holidays is all about- giving freely of our time and love to those around us.  

Pulse Surveys

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Pulse Surveys can be called many different name, employee satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, employee experience surveys, etc.  One of the reasons I like PULSE, is because they are truly designed to measure the pulse of the employees and of the organization, as a whole, at a given point in time.  Not all employees who take them are satisfied or necessarily dissatisfied, nor are they engaged or disengaged.  However, all employees have an opinion, and when give a chance to air it, usually do not disappoint.

Pulse surveys take on three primary forms- Annual Surveys, which may measure a broad level of employee satisfaction, Weekly check ins that might tackle a topic or two and Reaction Surveys, which measure the employees reactions to a certain initiative.

 

Annual Employee Surveys

Annual Employee Surveys are common amongst employers pursuing an Employer of Choice philosophy.  They provide management with the knowledge and tools to build positive employee relations and a corresponding positive work environment. Employee attitudes, burnout tendencies, engagement, loyalty and workplace environment are key indicators for employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity.

Effective businesses focus on creating and reinforcing employee satisfaction to get the most out of their human capital. Properly constructed employee satisfaction surveys provide the insights that are foundational to creating and reinforcing productive work environments. These surveys can address topics such as compensation, workload, perceptions of management, flexibility of schedules, teamwork, appropriate resources, etc.

 

Weekly Check-ins

Weekly Check-ins provide management insight into a particular topic or issue that is important in the near term.  Frequently organization will adopt Guiding Principles or Corporate Values and choose to focus their efforts around one of these initiatives per quarter.  Guiding Principles are principles that guide an organization throughout its life in all circumstances, irrespective of changes in its goals, strategies, type of work, or the top management.  These can be quick questions, maybe just one or two, that give an organization directional guidance on that particular topic.  These can also be useful for a department when you don’t necessarily want to check in with the organization in its entirety.

 

Reaction Surveys

Reactions surveys are just that.  They test the reaction of employees to a specific initiative.  You may have rolled out copious communications on a a particular initiative and yes, when it goes live, you hear a rumbling through the grape vine that not everyone is happy, there are misunderstandings.  Reaction surveys give everyone an anonymous voice.  Both Survey Monkey and CustomInsight offer employers a free vehicle to use to create these surveys and analyze the data collected.

In all cases, once you have collected and analyzed the data, give the feedback and have a plan of action to present an implement.  Collecting data and not acting on it is worse than not collecting the data in the first place. Use this as an opportunity to show your employees that you really do care and you will be rewarded with their honest thoughts and opinions going forward, helping you, as an employer, to create a truly great place to work.

What do most start-ups have in common?

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There are as many types of start ups as there are investors to invest in them but most have a few things in common.  Knowing what these are, in advance, will help you to stay one step ahead of your investors, your market and your competition.

 

VC’s are an impatient bunch

Venture Capitalists, commonly referred to as VC’s,  are those that invest dollars in multiple start up business enterprises with the hopes of hitting it big in 1 out of 10, in my experience, although different VC’s may tell you otherwise. Various VC’s play in different niches established by the stage of the business.  For instance, idea generation, proto-type product, mature product, revenue, growth and profitability.  However, they share at least one thing in common which is impatience.  Impatience to get a product to market, to show profitability, to attract later stage investors at higher valuations and to make a very profitable exit.  

Fail fast is a fact worth remembering.  You are less likely to burn investor bridges with $1M in when you determine that your idea or product has little chance of success than after you have $10-20M in.

Don’t underestimate the marketing spin

No matter how good your product is, whether it be software, SaaS, or shoes, it needs to be marketed effectively.  What will you brand around and how will you differentiate in the marketplace should be the first questions you ask yourself and your team.  Keep your head in the sky and think about the ways you want people to “feel” when they hear about your product.  Stay away from long lists of functionality.  People buy, for the most part, on emotional reactions.  

Shelter your employees

Start ups are volatile and not everyone needs to know every brutal truth.  There will be times when you are putting payroll on the execs credit cards, but you don’t necessarily need to share that with everyone in the company.  Trust me, I have been one of those execs floating 1,000’s of dollars for a couple of weeks before funding closed.  Some who join your start up will be true entrepreneurial types and for those the uncertainty will not matter.  Others, however, will be employees looking for stability, with families to support.  You don’t want to shrink your candidate pool any further than is necessary.  Portray a positive, stable and growth oriented environment.  

Act bigger than you are

Allocate a few dollars into presenting a professional image.  Maybe that is the receptionist in the lobby who doubles as the AP specialist.  Maybe that’s a phone system where you can look like you have lines for a variety of different functions.  To some extent, it follows the old adage of “Fake it till you make it.”  If you have 20 employees and someone asks the response is still truthful if you say “we are still under 100” but send a very different signal to a potential customer.

Start ups are, by their very nature, challenging in many respects.  Knowing a few of the most common pitfalls can help to guarantee yours is that 1 in 10 that everyone is looking for to hit it big!

Performance Management Systems

Ideally your performance management system should support an already robust relationship between your managers and their subordinates, not create or replace it. It should help to focus your efforts on actually improving performance and managing the development of your employees. Well chosen, a system will support what you are trying to build in your organization and will be viewed as a part of a seamless approach to creating a valued workforce, as well as allowing your organization to streamline the performance review process online.

Organizations today are very interested in measuring and improving their workforce and their performance and productivity, or their ability to create value at speed.

Customer Service

Do your research.  Call the customer service center at all times of the day. Night weekend.  Many companies today are using Call Centers in India and, need I have to say this, that can lead to a very frustrating experience for the user.  Do they understand HR or only their system?  What kind of training is done for the employees in the service center?

Administrator level of Difficulty

Unless you are fortunate enough to have a systems admin who is solely dedicated to bringing up your Performance Management System, you will want to fully understand what is involved in setting up the back end.  Some performance management systems do much of the work for you, others, Like Cornerstone, expect that you will architect and set up the entire back end.

UX

To borrow a term from the development world, UX, cannot and should not be underrated.   The user experience should be pleasant, not frustrating and the flow of the process should be intuitive.  If your managers have to hunt for buttons or try and figure it out, it’s not designed well.

On- the-Go

Is it accessible on the go.  Does it utilize responsive design, that allows the systems to perform the same on a mobile device as it would on a laptop?  Much of our world is mobile now and your workforce will expect that they should not have to be tied to a desk in order to work with your Performance Management system

Demo it

Allow your managers to demo the top 2-3 selections and choose the one that they feel best meets their needs.  You will have immediate buy in and advocates throughout the organization.  

In summary, spend the time up front to truly evaluate the systems that will best meet your organization’s needs.  You will likely live with the approach for quite some time, so make sure it is one that will actually create efficiencies and not additional work for you and your team.

Mergers and Acquisitions Terminology

Whether it’s a first car, a first house or a first job, there is always a first.  The same holds true for mergers and acquisitions.  You will likely always remember your first M&A activity regardless of whether your company was the acquirer or the acquiree.  You might, however, remember it more fondly if you were a part of the acquirer as often job losses can occur if you were part of the aquiree company.  You will hear a number of terms tossed around that everyone in the room seems to understand.  Below are a few of the basics that are part of most M&A activities.

Acquisition of Assets– also known as an asset sale- A merger

or consolidation in which an acquirer purchases the selling firm’s assets.  The can purchase all of the assets or only a select few and are not required to accept the liabilities.

Acquisition of stock or a stock sale-A merger or consolidation in which an acquirer purchases the acquiree’s stock.  This means they purchase all of the assets and all of the liabilities

Letter of intent or Agreement in Principle–An outline of the understanding between the two companies, including the price and the major terms.

Deal Structure–The nature of the fee paid by the acquiring entity in a merger transaction. Typical deal structure may include stock, cash or other valuable.

Due Diligence–In the process of an acquisition, the acquiring firm needs to see the target firm’s internal books as well as to audit their systems, processes and salaries. The acquiring firm does an internal audit. Offers are made contingent upon the findings of the due diligence process.  Most due diligence processes go on for at least 90 days, but can last up to 6 months or more in complex situations

EBITDA–Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.

Restructuring–This can be as simple as selling off an unprofitable or unwanted division or as complex as re-structuring the entire way the new entity does business and is branded.  This is especially important when there is vertical or horizontal integration required.

Synergy–When the two companies are properly integrated and functioning, an output is achieved that is greater than the output obtained when the parts function independently

Human Resources should always play and important role up front in any due diligence process, as well as in the process of the actual merger of the two entities.

HR Financial Due Diligence– assessing HR financial risks, liabilities, and plan structures of compensation, benefits, and pension plans, workforce dynamics.

Human Capital Due Diligence assessing Human Capital aspects including culture, organizational structure, performance management, and workforce development approaches

Time spent up front will ensure that there are less unpleasant or unexpected surprises as the M&A activity draws to a close.

A Good Culture = Caring about Others

pexels-photo-169915We have talked it the past weeks about how to understand what your company culture is, how to create the change to what you would like it to be, how to incorporate your Purpose Statement and Guiding Principles and how to align your Performance Management system and goals with the culture in order to get the best results.

Especially at this time of year, it is important to remember that creating a great culture, one in which employees will feel inspired to do great things and will give their all, all of the time, comes down to creating an environment of caring.  All of the words and posters, e-mails, employee newsletters and team building sessions don’t really move  you to your end goal unless you truly care about each of your employees as human beings and actively show and encourage that on a daily basis.

Over and over again, studies have shown that employee engagement is a better predictor of both productively and turnover than employee satisfaction is. When employees feel cared for and valued, employee’s engage.  They engage with each other, they engage in their work and they engage with management.  Engaged employees take less sick days, are far more productive, do not file litigation and are generally happier.

Truly caring is not about handing out big bonuses and merit increases or about officially recognizing someone for the best sales performance.  Truly caring starts at a much more basic level.  Truly caring is asking for someone’s opinion and then taking the time to really listen and understand what they have to say.  It means following up with an employee who mentioned they were going house hunting or has a parent ill in the hospital.  It means promptly and courteously responding to each and every request as if it were the most important one.  We all get 100’s of emails each day and it can be tempting to just ignore the never ending onslaught, but take the time to respond if only to say “I am swamped, but can get back to you over the weekend”  It means setting and meeting or beating expectations.  There is nothing worse than committing to deliver something to an employee and then letting it just fall through the cracks.  If you are not truly committed, you are better off, not setting the expectations.  People need to know you care about them as individuals and once that connection has been established you will be amazed how willing they will be to go above and beyond in all aspects of their jobs.

So, as we enter this holiday season, take some time to show those around you that you truly care.  They say if you practice a new skill for 30 days, it becomes a habit.  What an amazing 2017 we would create if caring became a habit.

Establishing Goals

darts-dart-board-bull-s-eye-game-70459We talked about how to establish Core Competencies in your Performance Appraisals, in the last article, in order to tie your Guiding Principles to your Performance Management system and to reinforce the Culture you are trying to create.  Keeping in mind that the overall goal is to increase employee engagement to drive bottom line results, it is important that you add goals to your Performance Appraisals as well.  I am a big believer in SMART goals.  

I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here as there are numerous websites devoted only to this, but in a nutshell, SMART stand for:

  1. – Specific – the more granular the better
  2. – Measurable- make sure you have systems and processes in place that can actually measure whether or not you achieve the goals
  3. – Achievable- stretch goals are fine; impossible goals are not.  No one will strive to meet something, putting in 110% ,for something they do not believe is possible
  4. – Realistic- I personally like some of the variants for this goal a bit better than “Realistic”.  You might use Relevant or  Results Oriented to ensure that the goal is meaningful given where your business is
  5. – Time based- the goals should not be open ended- they should have dates by which they should be completed.  Usually shorter time frames for employees in nonexempt roles and longer for those in managerial positions.

 

Implementing goals in an organization for the first time can be a challenging exercise.  One of the many jobs as CEO or President of a Company is to establish goals that support the strategic plan, which is a written document that articulates the organization’s strategy for achieving its mission and vision.  It does not have to be an overly complicated process.  They can be basic goals such as, Increase revenue by 20% or Gain an additional 5% of market share.  At the point at which you are comfortable with the goals, you can share them with your Executive team.  There should be as system in place whereby they can then align their goals in support of yours.  The first year out, it may be best to limit goal generation to the Executive Team or at least no further than the Director level.  The real work is not in defining the goals but in managing the business in support of the goals.  This requires dedication to and support of the process.  If you have monthly or quarterly management review meetings they should be a part of each presentation, outlining where each team is in support of these goals and allowing others in the room to ask clarifying questions.  It can be helpful when you are just starting the process to actually flowchart the goals in the organization to give everyone a quick visual of how the goals are aligned.
It is very rewarding at the end of the year to look back and see all that has been achieved.  Sometimes we forget to take just a few minutes to celebrate our successes before we launch into the next set of goals and deliverables.  

Creating your Guiding Principles

Sherrie Suski discusses guiding principlesJust like there are many different versions of a Purpose Statement, there are many different versions of Guiding Principles.  They can go by How’s, Core Principles, Core Values or Guiding Principles.  But, by any name, their main purpose is to start to establish what you stand for and what you believe in. They start to form the framework for how you will guide your company, how you will do business and how you will realize your Purpose Statement.

As with the purpose statement, it is always best to engage your workforce in the creation of your guiding principles.  Have a few brainstorming sessions, have an idea box or e-mail address that suggestions can be submitted to, have a contest, anything that will start people talking and then thinking, and it usually does happen in that order, about how they are going to actively contribute to the Company’s Purpose Statement.  Let people know up front that the management team appreciates all of their input, will take all of it into consideration, will summarize it and will come back to the group with 4-8 Guiding Principles.  There is some debate to be had over the ideal number of principles.  My preference is to have about six.  You need enough to cover everything you need to, but not so many that no one can remember them all.  Keep in mind that you will want them hanging or painted on a wall and you don’t want it to look like a long story that no one wants to take the time to read.

Some examples of Guiding Principles might be:

  1. Do what is right and not what is easy
  2. Be appreciative
  3. Have a positive impact with each encounter
  4. Be humble
  5. Focus on our customers

Once you have identified your core Guiding Principles, it’s time to announce them to the Company.  Make sure this is accomplished with some fanfare and that, preferably, it is participatory.  People remember how they feel and it is much easier to elicit a feeling if you are participating in something than it is if you are simply listening to something.  One idea might be to break your team up into groups and to have each group take one of the Guiding Principles.  Ask them to come up with a skit to depict the wrong way to portray and GP and then the right way.  Be sure to end with the right way as that’s what you want people remembering.  Teams can have a lot of fun with this exercise!  Imagine a skit showing how NOT to be humble where someone is walking around boasting how great they are and taking all the credit for a goal that has been achieved and then showcasing what the same scenario would look like when someone was being humble, giving credit to the team in its entirety.

Guiding Principles should concisely convey how a company defines itself from a variety of different perspectives.  Make sure that your Guiding Principles speak to your external customers, your internal employees (which can also be customers) and to what success means to you. Your Guiding principles should flesh out your purpose Statement, adding more specific information on how you plan to accomplish that on a daily basis. Ideally you become recognized by your Guiding Principles and stand out amidst your competition.

When Startup Culture Changes

startup-photos-largeIt is a very intense time when a startup first goes into business. Everyone is working full-tilt and you likely have a small, close-knit staff that appreciates a fun and free atmosphere. But there will always come a time when a startup is no longer a startup. Either it goes out of business or continues to mature into a regular company. This is a transition few, especially young people, tend to think about when they dream of beginning a new startup. But the fact remains that startup cultures, by definition, are ultimately unsustainable for a number of reasons, and it’s critically important to have a vision for your business beyond the early stages and a plan for when the inevitable transition occurs.

Fix The Typical Weaknesses Of Startups

For example, spending often gets out of hand at startups because you want to have a good time around the office, offer fun perks and haven’t gotten around to hiring an accountant yet. If you don’t have an accountant or finance person to manage, interpret and advise you on the numbers, it’s critical that you bring one on. Know also that many startups fall into the trap of making emotional rather than rational decisions. This is especially true when it comes to creative differences and underperforming employees. You may like them and want them to stay around. They may be old friends. But at some point you’re going to have to start making the tough business decisions, and that includes letting people go if necessary.

You’ll Need To Bring In New Employees

Of course it’s possible your new employees will hold the same passion for your company that you and your original team do. But it’s also likely that they’ll be a step down when it comes to engagement. It’s the responsibility of you, your employees and the established company culture you’ve built to get any new employees as impassioned about your work as you are. You will not only need to bring in these new employees, you will have to train them. Sometimes, that means abandoning your startup’s stereotypical laissez-faire attitude for some micromanaging. It’s very important to develop a good training program at your company as well – without one, you risk new employees getting confused or lost and ultimately dissatisfied.

Your Organization Will Start Getting More Complex

When an organization starts to get more complex, it will require more complex methods of managing it, many of which are typically adopted by more “normal” businesses. You will need to choose your leaders carefully at each level. You will need to be able to distribute workload more fairly, so typical long startup hours are not needed to be worked by large numbers of people. Long hours are usually a necessity at the beginning, but it’ll only be so long before disillusionment and burnout set in.

Keep Your Startup Culture Alive!

While by definition a “startup culture” never lasts forever because your company isn’t a startup forever, there are some things you can do to ensure that “new startup feel” continues. Perks are nice, but they aren’t going to keep employees invested in your business in the long term. Make sure to always listen to the suggestions of other employees while having a defined hierarchy. Hold onto your established values. Reflect upon them, and live them every day during your startup.This will help ensure continued growth and employee engagement.

Raising Funds For Your Startup – Without Investors

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You’re an entrepreneurial spirit; you have an idea and you know it has potential, but you’re just not sure what to do next.

Well, one of the first things you’re going to have to do is get some money. That’s the hard and fast truth; it’s incredibly difficult to get a business off of the ground without at least a little bit of financial capital to work with. But for some, the idea of fundraising is appalling, and finding funds through an investor seems even more daunting.

The good news is that there are ways to build funds for your business in its first phase that don’t involve pitching to potential investors. So, if you’re an investor who wants to avoid the standard path to fundraising, explore some of these alternatives:

 

Back Yourself

This is probably the most difficult (and scary) option to wrap your head around, but honestly, if you really believe in your business, you should be ready and willing to invest yourself fully into your idea. Depending on how financially established you are, you may have a few options that you can tap into. Look at your savings, and determine how much you can reasonably put towards your business. If you have a mortgage you may be able to refinance / make use of your home equity.

Remember, no one is going to want to invest in a business if its founder isn’t willing to put a bit of their own money on the line.

 

Partner with the Correct People

This really comes down to networking and networking well. If you have people in your network that believe in both your business idea and you, you may very well have the co-founders or investors you’re looking for right there within arm’s reach.

As an entrepreneur, you should always be working your network, and your network’s network to build connections. You’ve probably already researched the various channels you’ll need to access when growing your business (distributions, supplies, clientele, etc.), and made connections with people in all of those realms. Don’t be afraid to look for investors within those channels.

One of the most important parts of your business will be the people that you build it with. If you can get an existing supplier to invest in your business, you’ll not only have an investor….you’ll have the supplies that you need.


There are a few other ways that you can get around the investor pitch. Check back soon for more ideas!