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.

Uncovering Your Company Culture

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Ask yourself some quick questions and you can likely uncover your Company culture that exists today.  Although employees often ask these questions, sometimes members of management forget to ask the very basic questions that help them to understand their Company Culture from the employee’s point of view, good or in need of improvement.    Do we do our best to meet employee’s needs?  Do we treat each other with empathy, dignity and respect? Do we respond to our customers, internally and externally, with urgency and positive impact?  Do we hold ourselves accountable?  Are we inquisitive? Do we empower our employees to amaze our customers?  Are we consistent in delivering excellence? The answers to these questions will help you to start to get a better idea of how your culture is shaped.   

After asking, the easy part, and answering honestly, the hard part, you will have a good idea of your current company culture.  There may be facets of that culture that you think it would be healthy to change.  In order to change, though, everyone needs to be on the same page and moving forward in the same direction.  It is often useful at this stage to create a focus group of employees who will create and take the journey with you to develop a Purpose Statement for your Company.   There are many different versions of this, the mission statement, the WHY, the Go-To statement or the Purpose Statement.  They all drive toward answering the same question though, “Why are we in business?”

Kick off your focus group with cross functional participation.  Explain the purpose of the meeting and open a brainstorming session.  The idea here is to get as many thoughts on a whiteboard as possible, not to qualify them at this point.  Let the team go away for a week and think about the ideas that have been generated.  At the next meeting, start to work through which ideas capture the essence of who you think you are or want to become as a company, the reason you would tell the rest of the world for why you are in business.  This statement should be “action-oriented” and should inspire people to actively DO something. Well written purpose statements not only help to guide your team internally toward a common understanding and goal, but are valuable tools externally for attracting quality candidates and customers. While the statements themselves serve as reminders of what is important to your organization, the process of engaging the workforce to develop them allows people to feel ownership for “their” organization.

Once your Purpose statement is finalized, which is a big step in the right direction, and one you should celebrate with the workforce, you are not yet finished.  Next, you should decide how to socialize and message these statements. You might look at adding them to mousepads as free giveaways, using them on your website or having an artist depict them on the wall in the lobby.  The point is to continually incorporate your Purpose Statement into the way in which you do business until it is ingrained and second nature.

As a side note, culture can and should be driven by initiatives, performance metrics, goals and other measures, but culture also needs to be driven by the less tangible, kindness, compassion and empathy.  Cultures are driven by the words used and the deeds carried out every day.  They are driven by doing what is right for your employees as human beings.  By bringing in flowers on Mother’s Day, by handing out Good Gotchas, by taking the time to listen and to genuinely care.

Stereotypical Startup Culture Can Be Detrimental – Part 1

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This is the era of the startup. Between the simultaneous unemployment crisis America has been experiencing in for the past few years, and the technological boom that is seemingly unstoppable, startups (primarily in the tech sector) have been popping up left and right. With this influx of startups came an entirely new culture: one of relaxed schedules, no dress codes, huge personal freedoms, and a never ending supply of snacks. The stereotypical startup is full of young, charismatic go-getters who thrive in a “fun” and “casual” workplace.

While this new culture and mindset have been hugely beneficial for some companies (see: Google and Facebook), it may not be the right move for all startups. There are a few ways that “startup culture” can actually do more harm than good for certain startup businesses.

 

Too Much Money is Being Spent

This is actually one of the biggest problems that many startups are facing. Everyone wants to emulate the Google culture, with the free food,  the games, and the chic & fun office space. But, the reality is that most startups cannot afford those overhead costs. Many companies will use a lot of the money from their investors to foster this fun space. While this will absolutely make a great impression on both employees and clients alike, it’s important to make sure that your company is saving money and focusing funds on creating a viable product/service.

 

The Lines Between Boss & Subordinate May Be Blurred

The beautiful part of startup culture is that it’s generally an environment of openness and personal connections. For a lot of companies, “culture fit” is important and people are hired based on how well they will get along with the existing employees. This creates a comfortable place of work and creativity, which is fantastic for productivity.

However, this wholly democratic environment may may lead to issues when hard decisions or conversations need to take place. If the bosses aren’t seen as leaders, and are instead seen as friends & peers, it makes it difficult to reign in a rowdy team, or to provide disciplinary action when an employee is out of line.


 

Be sure to check out the blog next month to learn more about the potential downfalls of the stereotypical startup culture.