Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Interviewing for Results

Hiring the right employees for your business is critical.  Your employees represent your company.  They create the product or service that propels your business forward.  They, as a group, create your company culture.  If you are a new company, you may be anxious to get people on board to allow your company to evolve quickly.  Certainly makes sense, but taking the time to hire the right employees using the right approach, can help you ensure that your company will be successful.

A bit about company culture:  It starts with the founders/owners and expands quickly around the first group of early hires.  It is worth the time to sit down early and consciously plan your company culture.  Create a company mission statement.  Think about the values you want associated with your company.  Then, very deliberately, behave and hire in such a way that you instill those values into your culture.

It isn't uncommon for early stage companies to hop immediately on the hiring bandwagon without fully vetting out their interview process.  Some may focus immediately on their technical needs and go with their 'gut' regarding cultural fit.  This approach can be augmented to ensure that cultural fit, including personal values and work style, are explored more fully during the interview process.  It is also recommended that workplace peers and/or other managers interview candidates to ensure that multiple perspectives are solicited.

Hiring basics, Step 1:  What's 'legal' and ethical to ask during an interview:
During an interview, questions should be aimed at learning about the candidate's ability to perform the job requirements and match your corporate values.  All questions should ensure that equal employment opportunity (EEO) is taken into consideration.  Specifically, managers should be familiar with three important federal EEO statutes: 
  1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - applies to employers of 15 or more employees and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin or religion.
  2. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) - also applies to employers of 15 or more employees and bars discrimination because of a person's physical or mental disability and requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations during the hiring process and during employment.
  3. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) - applies to employers of 20 or more employees and prohibits discrimination based on age against employees age 40 or over in favor of younger employees.
Examples of allowable questions:
  • Do you have the legal right to be employed in the United States?
  • Are you able to work the days/times required for this job?
  • Are you over 18 year of age (or 21 for some jobs if a bona fide occupational qualification--i.e. being a bartender)?
  • Can you perform the essential job duties or functions for this position?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

Unallowable questions or practices:
  • Are you married?  Do you have kids?
  • What is your national origin?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Unallowable practice: asking candidates to attach a photo to an application 

One last note regarding allowable practices, do take interview notes, but focus on job-specific criteria and commentary and write your notes on a separate piece of paper instead of on the resume.  Interview notes should not become a part of an employee file.
Technical Qualifications, Step 2:

Asking or testing your employees to find out if they have the technical skills to perform their job duties is allowable as long as the approach is uniformly applied to all candidates for a specific role.  Having a small group of individuals create a technical question profile to use with all candidates will ensure that everyone is compared equally.

Company Values 'Fit', Step 3:

One of the most effective ways to approach a candidate's values 'fit' is to first identify those key values for your company and for the role in question.  Once that is accomplished, behavioral questions can be developed to help assess the candidate's fit.  A behavioral approach is based on the premise that past performance is a strong predictor of future behavior.  Managers should develop interview questions that seek to uncover candidates' real-life experiences to illustrate their ability to perform essential job duties.

Examples of behavioral interview questions:

If the role is going to face deadlines at times, a question may be:
  • Describe a time when you had a tight deadline and how you reacted to the requirement?

If having excellent communication skills is essential for the role:
  • Talk about a time when you had to communicate verbally to convey an important point and how you did it?

If initiative is a core value:
  • Describe a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty to accomplish a key task?
The key is to ask open-ended questions so the candidate will recount real-life experiences. 

Making the Hiring Decision, Step 4:

Now that you have a technical profile and a behavioral assessment on each candidate, you have the information you need to determine the best candidate for your role and your company.  Once the interview team has discussed the candidate pool and identified the chosen candidate, do check the candidate's references.  Once the candidate accepts the job offer in writing, leave the other candidates with a positive impression by contacting them and letting them know that they were not the chosen candidate.  If they ask for feedback, you can provide it, but keep the comments job-specific and brief.

Create a cohesive and successful company by hiring great employees.  Effort on the front end will pay dividends for your company.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Help Your New Hires Become Productive Quickly - The Importance of Onboarding

It is with excitement, and a degree of trepidation, that your new employee walks in the front door of your office building on their first official day of work.  Those employees who have experience may have in mind a course of action they hope to follow on their first day.  The new college hire will likely be wondering what is in store for them in the new business world they are entering. 

It is worthwhile for a contingent of company representatives to embrace onboarding to ensure the new hire is off to a productive start.  Who is responsible for a successful onboarding experience?  Company leadership, human resources, peers, the newly hired employee and most importantly, the direct manager of the new hire.  It is undoubtedly a team effort, but someone needs to lead the team and no one is more invested in and responsible for the success of the new hire than the manager.  Study after study shows that the most important factors in an employee's success and loyalty to an employer are the level of engagement and commitment by the employee's manager.  Let's review an onboarding plan that will equip the employee for success:

Day 1:  Ideally, the direct manager should be available to greet the employee within minutes of walking in the door.  Yes, some companies leave the initial welcome to human resources.  This isn't bad, but it is not optimal.  The manager should be the one to welcome the new hire and show him/her to their work area.  After allowing a few minutes to put down belongings, the manager should then take the new hire around to meet employees that sit nearby as well as to meet peers the employee will be working with regularly. 

If your company procedures includes meeting with human resources to complete new hire paperwork, that should be the next stop on the tour.  Human resources may also share a basic onboarding overview which describes the company history and philosophy as well as instructions on how to navigate the corporate infrastructure - how to access the intranet, how to use the phone system, how to get into the building during off-hours, how to set up computer access, etc.  Ideally, there will be an employee handbook that will be shared with the employee so he/she can read about company expectations and policies.  Best practice suggests having the employee sign an acknowledgement after reading this important document.

Ensure that you do not leave the employee alone for lunch on the first day!  If the manager cannot spend lunchtime with the employee, the manager should ensure that other lunch arrangements are made so the employee is welcomed appropriately on the first day.

The balance of the day may be left for the employee to work through set-up procedures and to read new hire documents.  At the close of the day, the manager should ask the employee how the first day was and close the day on a welcoming note.

Day 2:  Time for the new employee to get down to business?  Well, yes.  Arrange to have the new employee attend a meeting or two with either yourself of a peer.  Nothing helps an employee feel more integrated than being integrated.  With that in mind, what other steps lead to integration?  We all know that half the battle isn't what you know, but who you know.  The single most effective tool that can be used to help with this vital step is the Assimilation Plan Meeting Schedule.

The Assimilation Plan Meeting Schedule is created by the employee's manager with the help of human resources.  The manager and HR determine the work associates the employee should meet with who will provide vital information to allow the new hire to execute their job and/or any work associate that the employee should build a relationship with to ensure success.  Each work associate identified will be assigned a priority one, two or three status.  Priority one associates are those employees who are vital day-to-day support for the employee.  Priority three associates may include those employees that the new hire should know, but are not pivotal for success.  Scheduling one or two meetings per day is sufficient as the new hire needs time to digest information learned at each meeting.  The entire plan should be scheduled to complete within 60-90 days.  As each meeting is scheduled and then occurs, it should be updated on the master Assimilation Plan Meeting Schedule so that a running digest is maintained to track progress and ensure completion.

First Week:  A secondary tool that is also powerful to equip the new hire for success is the 90 Day Success Plan.  One of the goals listed should be completion of the Assimilation Plan Meeting Schedule.  Work goals for the first 90 days should be included as well.

The new hire now has a 90 Day Success Plan and an Assimilation Plan.  What else do they need to become successful integrated?  Regular one-on-one meetings with the direct manager are vital to ensure that the employee has the support and direction to achieve both plans.  The new hire will have a question or two that arises from meetings with associates.  During regular one-on-ones, the manager can answer questions and expand on information that the new hire learns from others. 

By following this onboarding protocol, the new hire will feel that the manager and the company have invested time and effort towards the employee's individual success.  The employee will become productive quickly.  I always tell managers, hiring exceptional talent can only make you look better and help you achieve your goals.  Employee onboarding is an investment that will provide abundant returns.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Performance Management Debate - What's Right?

It seems like every other day I am reading a new article about the 'right' way to establish a performance evaluation process for your company.  I have re-tweeted articles on the topic as there are certainly widely divergent opinions on the subject.  Some believe that the whole protocol of conducting annual performance reviews should be abolished in favor of more frequent feedback sessions throughout the year.  While I certainly don't claim to have 'the' panacea for this debate, I do have a philosophy on the matter that is built on years of experience as a people manager, HR business partner and believer of the principles of positive psychology. 

Do I think the formal annual performance review and meeting should be eliminated?  No, I do not.  I do think that if the performance appraisal document is crafted properly and the meeting is conducted effectively, it is an opportunity for the manager and employee to end one year and start the next on the same page regarding past performance, expectations and future goals. 

How does one craft an effective performance appraisal document?  There are many styles of documents.  I believe the most advantageous combination includes an essay appraisal section where significant projects or responsibilities are discussed, a section that contains a rating scale where employees are assessed on performance/dimension factors such as initiative, influence and problem solving ability and lastly a forward-looking section that discusses professional development goals for the next review period.  Regarding the rating scale section, prevalent job roles in an organization should be identified and managers of these positions should come together and agree on the key performance factors for success for each role.  All employees who have a given role should be rated on the same key attributes.  This is not difficult to do; I have done it.  It requires pulling together managers into a meeting, distributing copies of the job description and together building consensus on key success factors.  The key attributes or competencies should then be communicated to the employees.  Everyone is then operating on the same frequency. 

I will state in no uncertain terms that managers as a group greatly dislike writing reviews.  It is time consuming to do a good job and there are always other priorities that need to be pushed aside.  With that said, I think managers also know that it serves a greater purpose than those other priorities and therefore needs to earn the time commitment it deserves.  I have been at companies that have employees do self-appraisals first (I like this as it serves to create dialogue during the meeting) and have seen managers just regurgitate that self-appraisal with barely any addition or adjustment.  Managers, do not do this.  Some employees do write great self-appraisals, but the manager should always build on the self-appraisal as a foundation and add their own insight and feedback.  In order to do a great job on the write-up, the manager should keep a digest of each employee's work throughout the year.  This will allow you to write a comprehensive appraisal and allow you to provide vital coaching to your employee.

About coaching:  Some of the recent dialogue regarding performance appraisals is that they should be replaced with regular meetings between managers and employees where feedback is continually provided.  I absolutely agree that these regular meetings should take place.  Regular one-on-one meetings between manager and employee allow the manager to coach the employee on an on-going basis regarding the execution of job responsibilities as well as how the employee is doing.   Nothing that is in a performance appraisal should be a surprise to the employee.  I mentioned earlier that I am a fan of positive psychology.  Have you heard of the Losada Ratio as researched and asserted by psychologist Marcial Losada?  According to the Losada Ratio, on an ongoing basis team members should hear three positive comments, expressions or experiences for every one negative comment.  If you want to hit peak workplace performance, you should strive for a ratio of six to one.  This is not to say that you should not provide constructive criticism when warranted, but this philosophy will reap you and the employee benefits.  The very best managers I have had in my career have been the ones that are most transparent about how I was doing and the steps I needed to do to move to the next level.  The loyalty I felt for those managers was unparalleled.

The actual performance meeting discussion:  Give the employee the written appraisal 24 hours in advance of the meeting.  Let them have the opportunity to digest it and be ready for a robust discussion.  When the meeting starts, devote your full attention to the employee.  Do not check email or take calls during the meeting.  Do not start with small talk.  You do want the meeting to be a comfortable, but by staying on topic, you are giving it the merit it deserves.  Ask open-ended questions such as "You have had an opportunity to read the performance appraisal, did my feedback agree with your perception of how things have been going?"  Explain how the employee's job contributes to the overall goals of your group and the larger organization.  Use a little of the Losada principle, as appropriate, to drive discussion.  Then walk through the document and ensure you discuss developmental steps for the employee.  The discussion should be a two-way conversation with the employee doing at least as much talking as you.  Use active listening skills and reflect back what you are hearing.  As you end the meeting, ask the employee for any last thoughts. 

As a people manager, you can only look better if your employees are stellar performers.  Providing on-going coaching and formal performance feedback annually is one of the most prudent uses of your time.  Keep commitments you make to your employees regarding their professional development.  And don't sugar coat it when things are not going well.  Address any performance that is not up to standard when it occurs (and document it as appropriate).  Above all else, strive for the Losada six to one ratio in order to create a positive and motivating workplace for your employees.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Health Care Reform - What does it mean for the small Massachusetts employer?

There is a lot of information floating around about health care reform.  If you are like most business owners, the plethora of information is confusing and may leave you feeling like you don't know what to do or where to turn.  I'll attempt to add some clarity by providing seven facts relevant for Massachusetts small employers. 

#1:  First of all, what is it called?  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  That is the formal name, but it frequently goes by the ACA or ObamaCare.

#2:  MA is ahead of the pack.  Massachusetts Health Care Reform went into effect in 2006.  According to the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority and Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Massachusetts now has a 98% health coverage rate, the best in the nation.  Some of the federal mandates, such as coverage being offered to children to age 26, have been in effect in Massachusetts due to our state law. 

#3:  Summary of Benefits & Coverage (SBC's) must be available on the first day of open enrollment periods starting September 23, 2012.  For the employer with an insured plan, work closely with your carrier or your insurance broker to ensure that SBC's are distributed to your employees.  In many cases, SBC's will be provided to you and you will be responsible to distribute them to your employees.  SBC's include features such as definitions, coverage descriptions, exceptions, continuation of coverage and renewability provisions and coverage examples.

#4:  The Small Business Health Insurance Tax Credit may apply to your business.  Qualification criteria for this incentive include:
  • Must have less than 25 FTE's
  • Must pay an average wage of less than $50,000/year (excluding owners)
  • Must pay at least 50% of health insurance premiums for your employees
If those conditions apply, you may be eligible for a tax credit up to 35% of your employee health insurance costs (25% for non-profit businesses) in 2013.  The tax credit increases up to as high as 50% (35% for non-profit businesses) in 2014.

#5:  Under ACA, as of January 1, 2014, all states must create a health exchange where employees can compare benefits, costs and the quality of services.  In Massachusetts, our exchange is called The Connector.  If a given state does not create their own, they will elect to participate in a federally run exchange.  For those states with federally run exchanges, the effective date will move to January 1, 2015.

#6:  For those employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees, they are considered an 'applicable large employer' subject to the federal "Employer Mandate" effective January 1, 2014.  This mandate requires shared responsibility for employee health care coverage.  If certain conditions are not met, an assessment may be imposed on the business.

How is the full-time equivalent calculation made?  It is based on your 2013 employee census looking at full-time employees, including seasonal employees, for each month in the previous year divided by 12, PLUS total number of full-time equivalent employees, including seasonal employees, for each month in the previous year divided by 12. 
  • All employees who work 30 or more hours per week are considered full-time. 
  • The calculation of full-time equivalents (FTE's) must be based on 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month.
  • If you have seasonal employees and your monthly average employee count exceeds 50, you may be eligible for a seasonal exception if your calculated full-time workforce exceeds 50 for four or fewer calendar months (does not need to be consecutive months).
What conditions must be met to avoid an assessment?  The employer must provide health benefits with "minimum value" and it must be "affordable"
  • Minimum Value:  Employers must cover at least 60% of the total allowed costs of benefits provided
  • Affordable:  The employee cost must not exceed 9.5% of their income
#7:  Massachusetts employers have a separate state mandated condition.  It requires employers of 11+ full-time equivalent employees in Massachusetts to make a fair and reasonable contribution toward coverage for full-time employees, or pay a Fair Share Assessment, and to offer both full-time and part-time employees a pre-tax, payroll deduction plan (a section 125 plan) for their own health insurance premium payments.  The FTE calculation is based on 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year.  The Fair Share Assessment calculation methodology can be found at https://fsc.detma.org.

As of July 1, 2013
  • The Massachusetts FTE threshold increases to 21.
  • The Fair Share Assessment calculation changes to exclude those employees with acceptable and documented alternative health coverage (i.e. covered under a spouse's plan).

While I tried to add clarity, it is readily apparent that health care reform regulations are anything but clear.  Additionally, this article did not cover every provision and the laws are continuing to evolve at the state and federal level for health care reform.  Seek out the assistance of your employee benefits provider or an experienced HR professional to ensure that your business addresses the health care requirements in a cost-effective way and to ensure that your business is fully compliant.

Thank you to Telamon Human Capital Resource Group and Sheehan, Phinney, Bass & Green for inviting me to their Health Care Reform Update 2013.  Their presentation was a source for this blog. Additional information for this blog was found at http://www.mahealthconnector.org.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Being 'Political' in the Workplace

Welcome to my first blog post!  I welcome you to read what will be the first in a series of regularly published posts sharing my insights on people, finance and management topics.  I invite you to comment back and share your viewpoints regarding my posts. 

I was chatting with a friend last week about how her husband was doing at his place of work.  We were discussing that the work environment at his company is steeped with corporate politics.  My friend made a strong assertion that her husband does not get involved in the politics.  At all.  Period.

I've worked at a number of companies, both large and small.  There is a level of 'politics' at every company, without regard to the company size.  In my career, I have experimented with different levels of participation in the informal power and politics structure of companies.  Without reservation, I believe that you have to master the political 'game' in order to be successful.  This is akin to the adage, "it's not what you know, it's who you know."  If you can't master the balance of participation in the political web of your company while producing great work product, you simply are not going to move to the upper echelons of the company.  I'm not suggesting you have to be up to your neck in politics; in fact, I think that getting that deep can be fraught with difficulty.  However, not wading in means that you are not in the pool with the fish that matter.  Here are my guiding principles for successful corporate political participation:

1.  Wade in, but don't go to the deep end.  A level of participation in the informal structure at your company is essential, but you don't want to be known as the political machine that is trying to make your name solely based on your proficiency in the political arena.  Your work counts.

2.  Be political with those who matter.  Sure, we all have water cooler chats with our co-workers and peers.  This is really important because you want to hear the informal chat of what is going on and to build vital rapport with your peers and office mates.  Otherwise, be strategic in who you build a political relationship with at the workplace.  Who will be able to influence others regarding your work?  Who do you want to get to know so they know YOU as well as your work product?  Who can have an impact on your career?  Be prudent.  Don't be 'that employee' who chases someone you think would be good to align with and the party in question really isn't interested in reciprocating.  In the beginning, you have to build the relationship and there can be some following during this very early stage.  However, if it doesn't progress, let it go. 

3.  Be positive whenever possible.  No one dislikes anyone more than a backstabber.  Do not earn this reputation.  If you are politically savvy and produce great work, you don't need to step on anyone else.  If those you are political with are of this nature, tread the line carefully.  While it depends on your relationship with the individual, I strongly urge that you try to avoid outright agreeing with negativity regarding others.

Bottom line, follow your moral compass.  Feel positive about your political interactions.  Strive to master the appropriate level of participation in the extremely powerful and important informal interpersonal structure of your workplace.  Couple your participation with exemplary work.  In the end, it's really "what you know and who you know."