The Case for Transparent Compensation Practices

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Years ago you could find policies written in Employee Handbooks threatening termination if you were to speak to another employee about your salary or bonus.  The whole process was hush hush and no one really understood how salary increases or job worth was calculated.  Only the select few could afford the salary surveys that were published annually.  Gone are those days.  Salary surveys for your industry, revenue size, employee size and market are now only a click away.  Compensation is finally coming out of the black box and into the light.  So why should you subscribe to this new trend?

 

It’s the Law

Perhaps the most basic reason is that it’s the law.  Employers can no longer prohibit employees from openly discussing their salaries and bonuses or threaten them with termination for doing so. The NLRB specifically ruled “You cannot forbid employees – either verbally or in written policy – from discussing salaries or other job conditions among themselves. Discussing salaries is considered a “protected concerted activity” by the NLRB and it’s protected regardless of whether employees are talking to each other in person or through social media.”

 

Takes it out of the realm of mystery

There are a myriad of other reasons that you shouldn’t prevent employees from understanding their own salaries and others.  One of those, is that it shouldn’t be a mystery. Employees should understand that creating salary structures is a science based on market data.

 

Encourages well thought out salary ranges and structures

Once you know that you aren’t the only one looking at and depending on the salary structures to make hiring decisions, give increases and calculate promotions, it behooves you to take an extra hard look at your structures.  Could you defend them to the outside world?  Are they updated?  Have you properly defined your market?  Does the work force slot in where they should with no one falling below the minimum and only a few over the top?

 

Defocuses people on pay disparities

Employees can spend an alarming amount of time thinking about pay and whether they are compensated fairly to both the market and the person sitting next to them.  Being transparent about you pay practices puts people at ease.  They trust that they are paid fairly because they understand the process and have full access to the data.

 

Better management of promotional opportunities

Employees will frequently bid on jobs without have any concept of whether the job they are bidding on is actually above or below their current job in terms of salary grades.  By allowing employees to have access to the structures, you decrease the number of bids you get for jobs that, once the employee finds out it is a decrease in pay, is no longer interested.  

 

There are many reasons to run a more transparent compensation practice, but perhaps the biggest is trust.  When you are trying to build a culture of trust, it is significantly easier when you are open and willing to answer the questions your employees have.

 

Technology Startups and the Case for HR Leaders

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Technology start-ups may not be on every corner these days, but depending on your location, they are still prevalent.   The economy is doing well, the DOW crested 26,000 and the VC community has money to spend and to invest in promising series A startups. Entrepreneurs and founders who are fortunate enough to pitch an idea and retain an investment go about the arduous process of actually building a team to grow the business. They strive to build a team of dynamic, qualified and adaptable people. However, the labor market is tight and there is a significant amount of competition for these individuals.  The best and the brightest.  And not only do they have to attract them, they have to retain them.

Few startup companies have the resources or the desire to invest in a senior level Human Resources.  They are normally very focused on hiring the development team and maybe a Operations or Marketing resource, but almost never HR.  Below are a few reasons it makes sense, however, to consider a senior level HR resource, whether regular employee or consultant, earlier rather than later

 

Entrepreneurs and developers often lack the experience handling people 

Tech tends to attract a very young workforce and it’s not unusual to find an average age in the late 20’s to early 30’s.  They lack experience in hiring, training, and retaining people. This is a skill set possessed by seasoned HR leaders who are experienced in multiple industries. An HR resource can ensure that you bring the best talent on board and that you retain that talent through the critical phases.  Nothing halts a software company faster than losing their lead architect.

 

Business Strategies

As new age-ish as it sounds, it is important to develop vision and mission statements focusing on the company’s core philosophies up front.  Getting everyone aligned and moving in the same direction is critical to getting out in front of the competition. An experienced HR leader who has experience synchronizing the overall organizational goals can be of great help in formulating strong business strategies. 

 

Neutral Third Party

It is not unusual to run into divergent views in a startup.  How to execute a business plan, which direction to go, how much money to spend on what are all potential pitfalls.  A neutral HR leader will be able to organize a meeting of the minds and prevent valuable time from being wasted arguing about who is right. 

 

Keep the energy up

HR leaders should be responsible for energizing the organization.  Providing ways for employees to stay engaged, whether it be all night hack-a-thons, nerf gun wars or contest.  It’s easy to be energized in the beginning before the product or process hits multiple snags, but in order to be successful and come to the other side, you need someone to keep that energy flowing right through a profitable exit or IPO.

Although it sounds cliché, people are truly any organizations biggest asset and getting it right from the start will pay huge dividends in the end.  An experienced HR leader, as an employee or consultant, can save startup organizations from a multitude of woes from expensive hiring and firing mistakes, to poor retention to lack of management of change initiatives.

Some of the Best Things are Free

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That statement is never more accurate than when talking about employee satisfaction.  Employers often create employee surveys to discover ways to boost employee satisfaction and retain employees.  They think of programs with hefty price tags including, incentive pay, additional benefits, and perquisites. When reviewing results of such surveys, many employers are concerned they won’t be able to respond to employee needs/asks that surface. However, they may be missing existing internal satisfiers that are already in place but are not being utilized. In some cases, attention to current programs and opportunities can reap great rewards and be real opportunities for employee satisfaction.

Career growth and even professional relationships are often motivators of satisfaction and engagement. One of the reasons employees leave a company is career growth opportunities.  Career growth does not have to be the typical upwardly mobile, vertical track, but can be horizontal growth as well.  Many employees would relish the opportunity to become more involved in a different part the business.  A reason employee stay is the relationships made in the workplace. One survey showed 25 percent of departing employees revealed that they would have stayed in their position with the company if they had a more respectful and connected relationship with their direct manager.  Employees are human beings who want to feel that others care about them and that includes their direct supervisor.

Employees want to learn and experience healthy professional relationships. Management must connect with workers both professionally and personally, and, depending on the work atmosphere and nature of the company, create a fun work environment.  Initiating conversations about things outside of work is one way managers can show an interest in their employees’ lives. Other things managers can do to build employee satisfaction are:

  • Allow employees to use and demonstrate their strengths. Everyone wants to be valued and make a difference. Know where to place each employee for the greatest results. Ask what an employee wants to do in the company and look for opportunities to create the experience.
  • Ensure employees understand the goals of the business and how the work they are doing impacts those goals.  Make sure they understand how they fit into the big picture. Individuals on a team create winning scenarios when everyone knows their role and the rules of the game.
  • Enhance communication. Really listen to your employees. Ask what is and is not working and take action to explore where the company can and cannot implement idea changers. Have managers meet with employees on a regular basis and report on performance, engagement, and employee feedback.
  • Consider stay interviews to understand engagement and exit interviews to understand turnover better. Especially for your HiPo’s, conducting regular stay interviews pays off with better engagement and less risk of them turning elsewhere.
  • Create a learning environment. Foster internal opportunities to learn from one another and expand upon existing skills. Implement programs like “a Day in the Life” where you employees get up to eight (8) hours a year to shadow someone in a job that they would like to know more about.  While this may cause a hiccup on that particular day, future projects led by a well-rounded work teams will create greater quality, be more productive and come up with winning solutions faster.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it costs thousands of dollars to ensure that your employees rank high in satisfaction.  Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of thought and a lot of care.  

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.