Tag: Employee Employer Relations

Government Help? A Different Twist!

Occupational Safety & Health AdministrationLet’s face it, few small business owners rarely smile when confronted with the acronym OSHA.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration conjure up scary thoughts for owners thinking unnecessary regulations and oversight into our businesses.  Various state regulation agencies offer similar ill feelings.

But, any successful enterprise does want a safe and healthy work environment where employees flourish.  There is no debate that the merits of a hard working and dedicated staff outweigh the problems with an organization that is unhappy and working against your goals.

There are many free services and benefits that the government offers small business entrepreneurs to help with organizational effectiveness.

  • OSHA provides free on-site consultations to help small and medium sized businesses identify risks in their workplace and give advice on compliance to OSHA standards.  These consultations are not enforcement visits.  In fact, OSHA consultants will not issue citations or report potential violations to enforcement staff.  Learn more here.
  • If your organization operates within the health care or construction industries, OSHA has developed specific modules and guidance that apply to your workplace.  Visit the Compliance Assistance Quick Start for the construction industry and the health care industry.  OSHA also provides a general industry module, which can be found here.
  • OSHA also provides advice and guidelines for organizations working with Hispanic employees.  Here you can find dictionaries, training opportunities, key OSHA publications in Spanish, and Spanish speaking workplace-safety videos.

We just thought it might be a good idea for you to be aware of the potential valuable insights available to you from organizations such as OSHA.  Explore the OSHA small business page for more ideas that may be helpful to your organization.

What Fans & Groupies Mean to Your Organization

A few weeks ago I saw one of my favorite bands, Guster, in concert.  Guster is an alternative rock band (known for using bongos instead of drums) – I’ve seen them live three times now and own all of their cd’s.  Needless to say, I’m a fan.  But I’m not just a fan who likes to listen to their music; I’m kind of a groupie.  I’ve followed the band from the beginning and I’ve enjoyed, respected and defended every piece of music they’ve created.  They’ve evolved as artists and have gotten quite a bit of flack from ex-fans because of it, but I respect their growth and everything they’ve done has really resonated with me.

People aren’t just fans of singers and bands, though.  They’re fans of stores, facebook pages, brands, designers, companies, products, political leaders – you name it, someone has probably said, “I’m a fan of that.”  In fact, the term is used so loosely these days that it may become obsolete.  But as fandom dwindles in importance, groupies become more revered.  It’s not enough to just be a fan.  In the music world, a fan is someone who illegally downloads songs, goes to an occasional concert, and knows, from the entire discography, only a handful of songs.  These are people not truly dedicated – they have outside interests and loyalties and can sometimes jump ship if they no longer agree with the object of their fandom.

If we establish fans and groupies in so many other aspects of our lives, I started wondering if we are proactively seeking out fans and groupies in our employees.  Management and HR strive to keep their people motivated and engaged in their jobs and the company.  Do we differentiate between fans and groupies in the office?

Fans are great employees.  They meet and exceed expectations on a regular basis and are excited to be a part of the company.  Groupies are better.   As in the music-world, they go above and beyond every single day to live their passion for the company and it’s mission.  Groupies will work late and on the weekends without being asked, will enthusiastically contribute to all discussions and won’t fudge their expense reports.  Most importantly, a groupie BELIEVES and is dedicated to the overall growth and intent of the company – they drink the kool-aid (see #2).  Fans, on the other hand, will tote the “company line” and may go through periods of disenfranchisement.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I think for many people there are times when they’re a groupie and other times when they’re a fan.  It’s an ebb and flow, cyclical process. But from the company’s perspective, it’s about catching their employees at varying points of the cyclical process.

Companies should cultivate their groupies into positions of leadership, encouraging them to infect colleagues with their energy and enthusiasm.  Companies should also have open channels of communication with their fans, discerning what is stopping them from being a froth-at-the-mouth, wake up at 4 am to do work every day, talk about it at a cocktail party, groupie.  For that matter, they should also have these discussions with groupies, “why are you so crazy about our company?”  These conversations can enlighten all parties into how employees can be more efficient and motivated in their day-to-day jobs and how management can build a more energetic corporate culture, more compelling products and services, and a stronger long-term growth strategy.

So, who are your fans?  Who are your groupies?

Fueling Small Business Growth with Aligned Compensation

The natural dilemma of every small business is investing in growth ahead of realizing profitable and positive cash flow results.  It’s a constant push/pull realizing you need more resources – product, plant capacity, people, etc. – to deliver growth you have confidence will materialize, but don’t have the capital to invest.

Maybe there is a creative solution on the people side of the ledger.  These are tough times and the market is ripe with great people looking for work and a chance to prove out their worth.  Small businesses need great people resources and “can’t afford” the investment.

Consider an incentive laden “hiring” approach that is directly tied to “money coming in” for the firm:

  • Offer low to no wages.  Definition of relationship as contractor or employee with benefits depends on the ability and willingness to pay wages
  • Provide benefits as incentive to “hire” commensurate with lower wage scale
  • New business has associated Gross Margin attributes after Cost of Goods Sold (COGS).  Include in COGS a fee for marketing, sales, development talent for these people who can directly drive these new customers or new revenue growth.
  • The approach requires analysis to ensure that this new growth adds incremental margin that does not disrupt any current SG&A requirements or cash flow
  • Overpay market for the risk taken on by these individuals and you may find them hungry to deliver for future employment rewards and direct alignment of compensation with success for your business

This solution certainly is not for everyone, on the employer or individual side.  However, there are times when it’s an alignment of needs where this approach can be mutually beneficial.

From Mad Men to Today: Playing the Corporate Gender Role Game

HRI’s CEO, Shaun Emerson, recently published his first post as a guest blogger over on Women of HR.  His post revolves around W.C. Fields’ famous words, “it aint what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” Professional women, whether it is conscious or not, often “answer” to stereotypes and standards that, despite the great accomplishments in our history, still exist.  It’s important to acknowledge and appreciate what our female predecessors have overcome throughout their careers.  In doing this we pave the way for our own and future generations’ success.

With Mad Men returning to the airwaves for another season, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of women in yesterday’s and today’s working world.  Mad Men is the quintessential example, and primary exposure we have today, to yesterday’s working world.  We casually gloss over the exclusion of women from positions of power and instead focus on the glamorous and fashionable lifestyle of the era.  Jackie-O sunglasses, 2-martini-lunches, and high-waisted pencil skirts may be sexy but sexual harassment at work definitely isn’t.  Just ask HR.

It might not be that Mad Men fans actively perpetuate, or believe in, gender based stereotypes but it seems that the show and commentary brings into glaring relief the work we still have left to do.  We may not be subjected to sexist jokes in the office, but what attitudes still linger?  As Shaun points out, women may feel compelled to clean up the conference room after meetings while their male colleagues do not.

Over at Venture Beat, Steve Blank provides eleven pieces of advice, gleaned from his own career, he’s given his daughters as they enter college and the professional work force.  His points, in summary are that for most companies, the “rules” are set by men and as women it’s our responsibility to learn these rules to be successful and climb the corporate ladder.  He further articulates:

Some find the idea of gender differences uncomfortable. Having fought to have men and women be treated equally, discovering that there may be gender specific hard-wiring for behavior sets up cognitive dissonance. Some simply won’t accept that there are workplace gender differences.

Essentially, gender differences exist in the workplace.  And this may not be all that bad.  It is, according to Blank, a reality that needs to be accounted for as we operate in our professional lives.  I tend to agree.  Sure, the Mad Men made the rules in the 1950’s, restricting many women from rising past the rank of receptionist, and their sons, according to Blank, may still be making the rules today.  It’s not so important who makes the rules but how we, as women, respond and adapt to these rules.  In any professional situation, for both men and women, there is a “game” that needs to be played.  If we disagree with the rules of the game, then we need to change them or find a new game.

I don’t really consider myself a feminist.  I do, however, think too few women realize and respect how far we have come in so little time.  To put it in perspective, women won the right to vote less than a century ago and it was only 50 years ago that shows like Mad Men (and Leave it to Beaver) were a reality.  Today we don’t just vote, we hold political office; and we don’t just make coffee in the office, we own and run successful companies.  Acknowledging the great strides we have made in living history is the first step to overcoming the obstacles we still face.

Think about your own office and what “game” is being played and what reality exists.  Do Mad Men run your office?  Are your female employees aware of the rules of the game and afforded equal opportunities?  Even more broadly, are you looking at all of your team members equally?  Thinking about your team outside of gender (and age, and racial, and any other) stereotypes is the first step to overcoming any professional barriers that are left to break through.

Maybe I am a feminist after all?

Sherron Watkins’ 10-80-10

Last Thursday morning, I went to a gathering at Roosevelt University to hear Sherron Watkins answer questions from a gathering of students and business people. In case you are not familiar with the name, Sherron Watkins is the woman who exposed the wrong doings at Enron. As a VP in Andy Fastow’s group, she notified Ken Lay, Enron’s CEO, of Fastow’s fraudulent activities. Though Lay didn’t investigate the claims in Watkin’s letter, the letter was ultimately uncovered by the government and provided the impetus for their actions against Enron. I was impressed with Ms. Watkins. Smart and Insightful. Uncomfortable with the whistleblower label. She had a number of interesting comments. Of particular interest was her answer to the question of how such egregious behavior could exist in a business. She believes that such behavior primarily comes from faulty compensation policy. She commented that if you divided the people in the room into groups, 10% would always do the right thing no matter what, 10% are likely to be ethically challenged from the get go and 80% could go either way depending on their compensation plan, direction from a superior or recognition that everyone else is doing it so it must be ok. Watkins’ observations should get us thinking (and acting):

- Do I have an ethically challenged 10% in my group?
- Is my culture tempting the 80% to do questionable things? Will they self-police?
- Are my expectations for behavior and performance clear? Is it documented so there is no doubt? Do I communicate it and live it?
- Is my compensation plan and policy consistent with the behavior I want?

In 2004, Ms. Watkins was interviewed for the documentary, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”. She was asked if what happened at Enron would happen again. There was no doubt in her mind. As the details continue to rollout on our mortgage mess (some coming out yet this AM), it sure smells like Enron like behavior was at play. I’m wondering was it some of the 80% or just the 10%? What do you think?

Roll Up Your Sleeves!

I just couldn’t resist blogging about “Undercover Boss,” the new television reality show where top executives from companies go to the frontline, undercover, and perform entry-level jobs.

The first episode was really good. The COO changed various operational items based on what he had experienced. However, my enthusiasm faded after the second and third episode. This could be the result of “Reality TV,” but it seemed like the other episodes resulted in the executives giving away vacations and promotions to the employees they met. That changes the dynamic and purpose of the show. It leaves the viewer anticipating “What is he going to do for that employee?” versus “What is he going to change operationally to avoid this situation in the future?” For example, the Hooters and 7-11 CEOs gave away a vacation to each of their employees. This was very generous, but not necessary. The 7-11 CEO heard from one of his store night managers that they didn’t feel there were any other opportunities within the organization and the job was a dead end! After the undercover “operation,” the employee was promoted and moved into another position. Nothing was said about how the Company addressed the issue of communicating career opportunities to the stores! I would be more interested in how to impact thousands of employees rather than just one.

I did see some “snip-its” at the end of the show about the employees participating in some corporate efforts, but it seemed to be more afterthought and certainly not a highlight. Again, this is probably a result of a “Reality TV” production rather than a business lesson.

Employees LOVE to tell you about and show you their jobs. However, if you engage in this, you need to be ready to take action that will impact the majority and not just appease an individual. At minimum, you will need to respond to what you have seen even if you can’t give the employees what they want. Don’t ignore the issues but rather acknowledge them and engage your people to create and participate in change.

Perhaps it is time you “roll up your sleeves!”