Should we hit the Easy Button?


It’s a question worth pondering.  Is easy indeed always better? The fast, intuitive response might be a resounding “YES”, but given more thought would you change your mind?  While easy gets the job done, does it leave us with the same level and sense of satisfaction of overcoming a challenge, something that was hard, something that, because it didn’t kill us, made is stronger?  Do we need to feel a sense of accomplishment at overcoming something that was not easy, in order to grow as human beings?

In the words of Margaret Thatcher “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”  And, I might add, exceedingly well in spite of it being exceedingly hard.

Perhaps that is because the level of accomplishment that leads to success and promotes self-esteem requires that you do estimable things.  Taking the easy way out does not result in these feelings and does nothing to further predict your ability to undertake great endeavors in the future.  This is part of the reason that colleges would rather see a student who takes Calculus and gets a “C” than a student who takes Pottery and gets an “A”. It is because undertaking something that is hard is a better predictor of success than simply achieving something easy.  

A look at accomplished individuals who regularly win awards and medals shows that they are driven by the effort rather than the result. It is the striving rather than the reward that is long-lived.  The striving, the risk taking, the hard won spoils of war are what build self-esteem, not the awards and trophies that are handed out to both teams, win or lose. 

Self-esteem feels good because it calls on the emotion of pride. Pride in turn arises from one’s sense of confidence and capability. Esteem and related emotions instill a sense of success and the confidence that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

So, are we cheating ourselves when we take the easy way out?  When we cut corners just to get to the result faster? Are we telling our selves that the result is all that matters?  I think “yes”. I think striving to do our absolute best against formidable odds, even if we take a few missteps along the way, is better than taking the easy way out.  It yields accomplishment rather than simply achievement, it builds self-confidence, and it forms a habit that is a predictor of success for the rest of your life

Technology Startups and the Case for HR Leaders


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


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.  

Pulse Surveys


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?


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.


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.

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.

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

startup office

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