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.

Socializing Your Purpose Statement

people-woman-coffee-meetingThere are many different versions of a Purpose Statement.  Some call it, the mission statement, the WHY or the Go-To statement, but they all drive toward answering the same question though, “Why are we in business?”  Now that you have defined your Purpose Statement, with the input and guidance from your cross functional teams, it is time to broadcast it.

By all means, allow the employees and teams that were involved in creating it help you to socialize it throughout the organization.  This serves two purposes.  One, your team is invested in this statement and will appreciate seeing it trumpeted to the rest of the organization and their work celebrated and two, the rest of your organization feels differently about edicts coming from top management than they do about edicts coming from their peers.  The likelihood of success is much greater when it comes from both.  You can’t be everywhere at once, especially in a large organization, so anoint your team as the ambassadors of the Purpose Statement.

So, let’s talk about way in which you can socialize this message.  Is there a Company newsletter?  Run the cover article covering the new Purpose Statement, explaining what it means to you and to the team that helped to design it.  Make sure you publish their names and, if possible, their pictures.  Everyone likes to see their name in print attached to a corporate initiative.  Perhaps there are company-wide business meetings that occur monthly or quarterly.  Have a banner printed up with your new Purpose Statement.  Let it scroll down behind you as you announce the new direction.  Allow each of the team members to come up and speak about what it means to them personally and how they think they will apply it to their daily lives at work. Giveaways, while a little corny, do work to keep the message in front of everyone.  Mousepads, sports bottles, key chains are all inexpensive reminders of what you stand for.

Start to use the words and phrases that are incorporated into your Purpose Statement in your verbal and written communication. People repeat what they hear and read.  Think about ways in which can act that will be physical manifestations.  If your Purpose Statement talks about giving back, think about ways you can show you are giving back.  Can you set up a charity for employees that run into financial trouble?  A Lend a Hand Fund so to speak.  Can you engage with a local charity and support back to school or Thanksgiving food drives?  You will find that the more ways you can think of to deliver your message, the easier it will become for employees to understand it and live it.

Stereotypical Startup Culture Can Be Detrimental – Part 2

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Last month, I started to explore the ways that the stereotypical culture may be detrimental to a business’s overall health. This is not to say that there aren’t benefits to the fun, laid back atmosphere that everyone associates with startups.

However, I do believe it is important for entrepreneurs that are looking to grow their companies to consider these points when developing the plans for their company culture. We already touched on how many startups spend too much money and face the issue of unclear boundaries between superiors and subordinates. This month we’ll touch on a few more company culture decisions that may not reap the positive results that they are expected to reap.

 

The “Hands Off” Approach is Not Always Helpful

Many companies live and breath the low-key “laissez-faire” approach to management and culture. When hiring “cultural fits” is the focus of the recruitment process, the mindset is often that the new hires will fall into place. Many startups feel that it’s easier to just let the new hires adjust and discover things on their own, rather than forcing them into endless meetings and orientations when they start the job.

The problem with this approach is that the lack of engagement leaves the new employees’ development up to chance. If employees aren’t explicitly informed about the work quality and cultural expectations, they are never given the chance to develop according to the company’s intended standards. Company culture, standards of work, and the overall environment may begin to suffer over time as the lack of direction starts to take its toll.

 

Charisma Isn’t Everything

This is probably the most controversial point in this series. The reality is that many startups will hire based on culture fits, and the expected culture for startups is “fun, charismatic, people-persons”. This will undoubtedly make for a very pleasant place, full of employees who can easily make friends and create beautifully intune work.

But, it’s extremely important for startups to look beyond the perfect culture-fit and to also hire employees that have the skillsets and work ethics to build the startup into profitability and greatness. A business cannot be successful if everyone is fun and personable, but no one really has the skills that are necessary to build and innovate.


 

For more ideas on startup culture, check out the Entrepreneur articles that inspired me: here & here

 

Stereotypical Startup Culture Can Be Detrimental – Part 1

startup culture

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.

Don’t Make the Classic “Startup Mistakes” – Part 2

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Last month, I started a list of the most common mistakes made by newly formed startups. Starting a business is absolutely a leap of faith, so it’s important that you do as much as you can to set yourself up for success. Let’s go through a few more ways to avoid missteps while trying to build a healthy, strong, viable business.

 

Be Realistic

This is applicable in every aspect of your business model. When your company is finally off of the ground, and it’s time to start taking on clients (or delivering goods), it’s vastly important to make sure that you can deliver on what you promise to your clients. Don’t take on a huge contract just because the money is good; make sure that you have the resources to follow through. The last thing that you want to do is have your first clients be disappointed; the news of bad business practices travels fast. Do everything that you can to ensure that your initial clients are beyond satisfied.

 

On that same note, be realistic about growth and spending. Younger generations are flying to opportunities that promise “startup culture”. There will not be a shortage of applicants looking for the opportunity to be a part of your new (potentially hugely profitable) company. It’s important to be mindful of your growth in terms of hiring. Also, try to avoiding stretching your budgets to offer “perks” like catered lunches and happy hours just to keep up with what everyone else is doing.

 

Find the Correct Investors

As startups begin to grow, it is not uncommon for cash reserves to start diminishing. As you start looking for your second round of funding, you’ll undoubtedly encounter several investors whose interest is piqued by what your startup has to offer. Before you make an agreement, and papers are signed, be sure that you and your investor(s) are on the same page. You want to avoid getting into partnerships where a common interest is mistaken for a common vision. Come up with agreements about expectations, and trust your gut. If you don’t think that an investor will align with your goals and expectations, it’s likely that they will not.

 

For sources & resources, go to these sites: American Express & Forbes & Entrepreneur

 

Don’t Make the Classic “Startup Mistakes” – Part 1

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It takes a great deal of courage to take the plunge and open your own business. The startup lifestyle is a hugely rewarding one, and can be extremely lucrative if it is carried out correctly. But it’s also one of long hours, very hard work, and a lot of faith. As an entrepreneur and owner of a startup, the pressure is on you to make good decisions, as your livelihood (and the livelihood of others) quite literally depends on it.

The one thing that you want to do is avoid making the same detrimental mistakes that other startups have made in the past. The following pieces of advice will help you avoid making damaging mistakes early on in your startup’s life.

 

Make Sure Your Business Isn’t Too Niche

It is true that a niche project can be the ticket to a wildly successful business. The general thought process is that niche industries usually mean fewer competitors and a higher probability of making it big. But, the reality is that a truly good business model will always have competition. The true test is whether your product and business model will be strong enough to beat out the competition. Avoid making the mistake of starting a business with a niche so small that there is little to no possibility of long term growth.

 

Time Your Product (Or Service) Release Properly

Jonathan Wegener, founder of Timehop was quoted saying “”The biggest mistake I see is companies waiting too long to release the product.” This is absolutely true. Many founders and their founding employees get caught up in trying to release the perfect version of their product or service, and that can be hugely detrimental for their timeline. It’s important to take a step back and determine if the Minimum Viable Product has been created. If so, launch! All of the extra bells and whistles can be added on as your business moves forward; they aren’t important for your initial launch. Avoid wasting time and resources upfront; use your initial product to gain resources, a following, and investors.

 

Be sure to check back next month to see more tips to avoid the most common startup mistakes.

 


 
To see the resources for this article, see here and here.