Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.


C-Suite Edge: Keeping HR Eye-Level, Evaluating Partners and Rewarding Top Talent for Optimum ROI

No matter the organizational headcount, C-suite executives must focus due diligence upon talent management, workforce ROI and legal compliance. For any labor intensive organization, the keys to success rely upon increased workforce productivity, astute risk management and surgically cut talent dollars. In doing so, idle time, legal costs, under-utilization and any such wasteful spending must be avoided. Expert solutions exist and are catching on quickly. Those not paying attention will be left behind.

Employment law is ever-changing and requires daily research. Beyond pure legal advice, legal compliance experts need to deploy business acumen, organizational psychology and aligned mission commitment to deliver best decision tools and implementations. Top executives are earning spectacular ROI and competitive edge by finding their own perfect internal-external partnership balance. Some are outsourcing it all, but better options exist.

The options promoted here do not involve the outsourcing of the employment relationship. For many, outsourcing employees can be counterproductive to ROI. Employees want to feel part of a team, and in today’s world of “pay without play” where some label work a “choice,” employees often deliver commitment only with reciprocity and incentive. In many environments, outsourcing employees can be an expedient method of deteriorating engagement and productivity. Keeping workforce on the payroll and outsourcing certain or all HR management, however, can be a collaborative win for the entire organization. 

Third party expert operations have long been enjoyed by employers of all sizes and cultures. Employers under 200 are eligible to partner for all HR operations. Employers of limitless size find third party partnership extremely beneficial for talent assessment, education, compliance certification and change leadership. Most employers will attain betterment through a stable, highly competent and dedicated HR team, rather than revolving part-time talent with limited versatility. Employers who embrace external experts enjoy competitive edge and visionary foresight. Top quality is accessed with keen cost control, unbiased expertise, widespread case study and flexible utilization.

As we re-evaluate the HR team, workforce headcount only matters so much. For the average employer, the optimal team is comprised of functional management plus specialists and support under the direction of a Chief HR Operating Officer (CHRO), a right hand to the CEO. CHROs can be internal or external partners. An established CHRO already succeeding is always to be treasured and protected, as premier talent is undoubtedly rare and worthy of appreciation.

When selecting a professional consultant as CHRO, employers should seek quick adaptability, C-suite proven excellence, vast third party expertise and, of course, flexible utilization for cost control.  HR practitioners for top partner firms never stop learning, growing, embracing and delivering new value. Among many other deliverables, they bridge gaps and engage workforce into the company’s mission. CHROs should facilitate a highly effective and well-aligned supporting team.

Delivering fiscal due diligence, the average cost of third party partnership is less than the average cost of internalized operations. Done well, spectacular ROI is expected year one and builds substantially in consecutive years.  Through selection of the right partner organization, the HR team stays in place, benefiting from learning curve balanced with constantly emerging fresh ideas and case studies. Access to dedicated expert talent on demand without idle time is a steadfast cost reduction and quality optimization technique. Impartial third party experts avoid bias and deliver information with enhanced credibility. Everyone wins.

In some organizations, CHRO and CFO responsibilities are merged. This yields mixed results. Merging CHRO and CFO roles can produce conflict of interest or limited perspective; however, both CHRO and CFO need a clear grasp of fiscal prudence, organizational psychology and legal compliance. Ideally, each of these practitioners is ready to deploy as needed but never underutilized. Neither role should be subservient to the other.

Some fabulous internal HR leaders exist in today’s companies, and many of them are existing or future HRS clients. They call upon preferred partners for compliance, talent assessment, education, decision tools, case studies, affirmative defense and third party expertise. Astute business leaders recognize these top performers and keep them engaged with incentive and growth. Partner organizations deliver the tools and opportunities for such growth. 

Cookie cutter solutions are abused, overused and rarely appropriate in HR. Every employer is unique across widespread criteria, including but not limited to company brand, culture, history, demographics, business model and keys to success. Accredited consultants deliver the ability to assess and tailor programs which plug into these unique paradigms. Those who devote only to a single employer at a time and/or “job hop” do not necessarily deliver the third party expertise necessary to capture success opportunities.

While the essentials are somewhat universal, today’s business leaders enjoy a healthy range of HR options. Whether enjoying premier internal talent, premier external talent or a custom blend of the two, HR is never a remedial function. The HR function should be in the hands of those who deliver extraordinary legal knowledge, fiscal due diligence, talent management, lifelong learning for leaders, policy establishment, organizational communications, conflict reduction, operational efficiency and forward thinking, to name a few. HR is an executive function which, done poorly, can decimate an organization… and when done well, delivers impactful ROI, business sustainability and critical risk management. Today’s top executives keep it eye-level and empower extraordinary partners.

 

Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Chief Empowerment Officer. Summary Bio. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, May 05, 2014

 





Can Employee Engagement Techniques Conceal Intrinsic Demotivation?

For any labor intensive employer, the study and practice of employee engagement is critical to business success, and as engagement success is relative to alignment of individual motivators, employee engagement must begin with the selection process. Without such commitment and proper toolsets, even the best engagement practices will erode, and demotivation shall ensue. Many instances of employee demotivation are entirely avoidable.

The study and acceptance of employee engagement practice is longstanding. Motivation remains an inherent component, if not synonym, to engagement.  Motivation drives behavior in all workplace aspects including invention, performance, time-to-learning, collaboration, litigious behavior and attrition. Where employers successfully optimize motivation, organizational success is simultaneously optimized.

Maslow’s popular “Theory of Human Motivation” emerged in 1943. ERG and other theories quickly followed in support and expansion of common principle.  Behavior modification experts continue to study motivation and demotivation as keys to engagement.

As we study engagement, the essential differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation must be keenly understood. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and represents a belief system shaped over lifelong experiences and culture. Extrinsic motivation is shaped and manipulated within a specific situation, such as the employer workplace. Extrinsic motivation is that which we focus upon in workplace engagement practices.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators each significantly impact workplace performance and retention. Research validates that manipulation of extrinsic motivation creates only temporary impact when intrinsic motivation is unaligned. So, what then occurs when we apply extrinsic motivation bandages to intrinsic motivation damages? We create only a temporary cure and a smokescreen unless we quickly change the employee’s core beliefs.

Whereas short term motivation is better than no motivation, a false sense of security can lead to disaster. Disaster is averted by better understanding intrinsic motivation of employees at the onset. Once we have concealed without addressing the problem cause, problem recurrence is likely.

In best talent management models, an employer’s pre-hire behavioral assessment exercises will archetype intrinsic motivators. Where we hire people who are already intrinsically motivated to succeed in our environment, we mitigate loss of motivation along the way. We then deploy our best employee engagement practices to earn a win. To succeed, engagement techniques must be supported by credibility of promise and sustainability of cause and effect.  

Employee engagement cannot be successful without a well-aligned employee selection model. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, ERG and later studies each discuss “needs” as motivators and the reversion principle to explain demotivation. According to these well-accepted findings, motivation is defined by stages of needs fulfillment. As needs are fulfilled, new goals are pursued. Motivation regresses when a need suddenly becomes unfulfilled.  Employers can safeguard against such threats only by both assessing and addressing engagement needs. Failure to do so forsakes substantial business opportunity.

Behavioral assessment is a talent acquisition tool that can identify intrinsic motivation pre-hire. Specifically, by investigating the unique intrinsic motivators of pre-hire candidates and then ensuring new hires properly align with company mission and future vision, we ensure the sustainable effectiveness of our engagement practices.  By deploying lifecycle talent assessments, employers are empowered to optimize engagement by hiring appropriately intrinsically motivated people. Employers are then further empowered to benchmark motivation throughout the journey, reliably measuring success of engagement practices and adeptly predicting outcomes with sufficient advance time to insert behavioral modification toward optimized success. HRS highly recommends assessment tools which deliver lawfully compliant, valid and actionable data. Assessment tools must earn employee buy-in to successfully kick off the employee engagement journey.

Please contact HRS for validation studies and discussion of specific models. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, January 30, 2014

 





HRS Addresses the ACA: New Cures for the Lingering Headache

Update: Shortly after this article's publication, the US Federal Government announced a one-year delay of certain ACA mandates including the "pay or play" component.  Visit our January 2014 update. As of February 2014, the component has been pushed back again.  Stay tuned for more info. 

 

As employers sift through immediate and forward moving impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, PPACA or “ObamaCare”), we consulted with nationwide ACA experts to provide a quick blueprint of action items, FAQs and debunked myths. In respect to our expert unbiased objectivity, HRS employer clients have been asking us for credible and clear answers on this topic.

Preparation & Timeline

While some employers still believe they have until 2014 to make decisions, a more practical deadline is October 1, 2013, when health exchange notices need distribution to employees. Once these notices hit, employee questions will abound, and the risk of providing inaccurate or unsavory answers will impact employee retention, engagement, productivity and legal compliance. With employee access to health exchange, employer programs will find heightened scrutiny and explanations must be ready. In addition to impact upon talent resources, employer failure to meet ACA guidelines will result in substantial fine. While employers initially pledged to “pay” are shifting to “play,” due diligence is essential to “play.”

With minimum coverage covenants higher than ever before, minimum premiums are expected to increase as well. Employers are encouraged to anticipate this perception gap and to strategically educate employees as to the comparison between employer-sponsored and health exchange coverage. Summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs) will not be enough to address this topic.

Matthew Weimer, Director of Employee Benefits Operations for Diversified Insurance Solutions, advises employers to prepare for employee surprise once the exchange opens. Weimer advises that many individuals are expecting exchange premiums to be lower than they actually will be, and an opportunity for an employer “win” is present. 

Karen McLeese, JD, Vice President of Employee Benefit Regulatory Affairs for CBIZ Employee Services, Inc., advises employers of all sizes to “work with insurers, TPAs, benefit consultants, brokers and other advisors to ensure compliance with all ACA market reforms.” McLeese further advises to be prepared to deliver notices to all employees, not just those covered by the health plan, by October 1, 2013; to be familiar with single source market place applications; to ensure summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs) are properly distributed; and to properly classify and count workers. HRS, Diversified and CBIZ are addressing these mandates by providing guidance as to crafting exchange notices, counting employees, educating team members and selecting plans to meet affordability standards.

Criticism, Fact Versus Fiction & Recent Developments

The relentless politicizing and profit taking on this topic have created mistrust and frustration among employers, so HRS has stepped in. We have no vested interest in insurance program sales. Our interest and reputation are tied only to accurate top shelf information and legal compliance standards. We have additionally invited adjacent field experts who have responded with transparency and integrity to our news campaign.
 
While arguments abound, opponents of the Act assert that the “Patient Protection” provisions can be mutually exclusive to the “Affordable” provisions, and employers need to address this concern.  Some employees will undoubtedly be forced to buy more coverage than perceived necessary. Whereas the counter-argument is that these forced coverage levels will ultimately decrease overall health care costs, we cannot ignore and must address the initial sticker shock. Along that same line of thinking, Weimer addresses that many of his insured clients are already electively providing coverage levels that exceed ACA standards, and therefore, when employee premiums exceed health exchange premiums, the gap must be addressed to safeguard employee trust and engagement. Under affordability standards the employer must absorb the majority of premium costs, and therefore, while employees may pay higher premiums through the employer, it is imperative that they fully understand the value received and that the employer is absorbing the majority of excess benefits costs.
   
Employers were justifiably concerned by the initial ACA language which required employer review of “household income” in determining affordability. Not only did this pose an infeasible burden of costly administration but also a grave concern over privacy rights and employee discomfort. Affordability measurements have been thankfully addressed by updated calculation methods to include the W-2, rate of pay and federal poverty line (FPL) methods. These investigations are simpler, less invasive and consider only employee income rather than household income. As the federal ACA regulations shift substantial administrative burden to individual states, HRS urges employers to research state regulations and not just the federal. As the federal regulations do not protect spousal coverage, look to states for spouse and domestic partner rights. 
 

Strategies & Caveats

Employers will choose plans based upon overall compensation scheme, labor intensity and workforce demographics. Benefits should be tailored to unique team attributes and perceived needs. Several HRS clients are employing primarily young, entry level, and therefore typically healthier teams who prioritize basic health but would rather receive other forms of compensation over benefits plan upgrades. For these employers we suggest consideration of a Minimum Value (MV) plan offering optional buy-ups. By deploying this strategy, the employees see premiums competitive to the exchange but also see their employers willing to absorb costs toward employee-elected upgrades. Employers who determine to trade plans down without proper employee education will likely find disaster rather than reward by this practice. “Design your health plan in such a way as to facilitate attracting and retaining your employees.  Design the program to maximize personal engagement.” advises McLeese.

Some of the most common pitfalls will likely be linked to employer size, affordability and minimum value coverage. Small businesses (less than 25 FTEs) are offered conditional tax credits but not for business owners. Large businesses (50+ FTEs) will be fined for offering inadequate coverage. Minimum Value (MV) and Actuarial Value (AV) are impractical to calculate for most employers, and therefore working with insurance brokers and carriers you trust becomes more important than ever before. Safe harbor rules allow employers a small margin of error. Weimer advises employers to look to carriers for proper disclosure of MV and AV data. He tells us Diversified is overseeing these calculations for insured clients. McLeese adds that employers should properly classify employees as a new hire routine and to “work closely with a payroll provider who can assist in these recordkeeping requirements.”
 
Matt Weimer, Karen McLeese and HRS are all addressing proper FTE calculation methods. Weimer and Diversified have released a webinar rich with affordability calculators and employee counting rules. McLeese adds to these metrics a few cautions, including proper classification of employees versus independent contractors. HRS advises that improper 1099 classification is suffering more scrutiny and penalty than ever before, and not just with regard to ACA guidelines but also overall taxation and FLSA compliance impact. McLeese summarizes “Determine which employees are full-time, part-time, variable or seasonal. Decide whether to take advantage of a look-back (measurement) and stability period, and if you're not using a measurement/stability period, analyze status each month.” “Know your shared responsibility risk.  How many full-time employees are offered minimum essential coverage? Is it affordable? To avoid a penalty risk, offer adequate coverage at an affordable rate. It is the offer, not the take-up rate, that matters,” continues McLeese.

McLeese recommends to “Establish a wellness program that promotes health and well-being; and ensure it is compliant with new ACA rules.  If a wellness program currently exists, review it to ensure compliance with new ACA rules.” The ACA addresses wellness programs, and Weimer adds that wellness, HRA and HSA programs are under current review for their rightful position in coverage ratio calculations.

ACA guidelines will continue to address access and will require annual open enrollment for employer-sponsored plans. Employees will need to be offered health exchange notice within 14 days of new hire following group notification by October 1, 2013. Many employees will not be eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange but must be advised by employers as to availability for application.

HRS is addressing the Affordable Care Act with three new dedicated initiatives: 1) PPACA News Campaign, 2) Individualized Employer Workshops, and 3) Employee Education Tools. We remind that much of law is based upon case precedents rather than statutory language. Look for PPACA to be taking shape for years to come. Please consider us a resource, and stay tuned for more information.

 

Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Senior Executive Consultant & CEO. Summary bio

Matthew Weimer is Director of Employee Benefits Operations for Diversified Insurance Solutions. Matt’s extensive insurance industry knowledge and leadership helps to keep the entire benefits department abreast of legislation. He is Diversified’s Health Care Reform onsite expert and sits on the Board of Directors for the Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (IIAW) along with several other industry and legislative committees. Matt has served on a number of advisory councils for the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and still meets regularly to discuss state and federal insurance regulations. Matt holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Carthage College. 

Karen R. McLeese, J.D., is Vice President of Employee Benefit Regulatory Affairs for CBIZ Employee Services, Inc., a division of CBIZ, Inc. McLeese serves as in-house counsel with particular emphasis on monitoring and interpreting state and federal employee benefits law. She follows and analyzes trends and provides information and technical support in response to technical questions regarding employee benefits.  McLeese is a member of the Employee Benefits Committee for both the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and the Missouri Bar Association. She is also a member of the Health Law Forum and the Labor and Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association. She has spoken professionally on wide variety of topics related to employee benefits, including HIPAA, COBRA, Welfare, Medicare, FMLA benefits. McLeese serves as an editorial board member for the publication Benefits Law Journal and is a graduate of Notre Dame and Duke Universities.


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, June 26, 2013

 





Mobile Workforce Solutions Are In Flight, On the Road and In the Home!

Whereas it took decades to carefully pioneer and wait for technology to catch up, HRS became a fully mobile business in 2009 with new triumphs in 2013, and we are likely not going back! We enjoy a blend of fixed and flex offices, and we travel by appointment in between sites. We enjoy entirely web-hosted work tools. As we began pioneering this new wave of organizational development thirty years ago, we have managed the risks and replaced challenge with reward. We endured the pitfalls so that our clients need not follow. We now have a turnkey solution and blueprint for client use. We could not be more pleased with our success.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, advises “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done, and get to spend more time with their families. They waste less time commuting and get a better work/life balance. To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking.”

To be truly mobile, work from home is somewhat inevitable, and HRS offers consulting to employers seeking this transformation. We have endured the work from home challenges, and we have conquered.  We have learned that we (at HRS) really never stop working anyway, so boundaries are impractical. That being said, we at HRS do take “power breaks” to recharge for the next great thing, and we strongly promote wellness routines. We advocate certain “home hygiene” when establishing in home offices.

Not all businesses can break down the brick and mortar, but as we are in the information business, we can. Our manufacturing and distribution clients are learning the efficiencies of mobile solutions where possible.

Our greatest challenge in creating a mobile workforce has been employee supervision. We have developed a number of custom and proprietary trade secrets which have addressed this concern. Mostly, we have changed how we hire, whom we hire, and how we measure work. We at HRS are entirely pleased with outcomes, and we have adapted our business model to capture these new opportunities.

Hidden benefits include improved documentation and better communication habits. Work from home policies must achieve balance between personal privacy and company risk management. Accepting in person visits only by appointment allows improved focus upon the customer and spontaneous client needs. Our clients deserve our immediate attention and top priority. A mobile workforce allows us improved client access. We offer more satellites with nationwide and global reach, and we can be where the clients want us as needed through flex offices.


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 23, 2013

 





Gamechangers: New Rules in Employee Motivation

Culture of entitlement, questions regarding capitalism, redefining “success” and Gen Y characteristics are some of the many gamechangers affecting today’s organizational outcomes. While we do not advocate creating a leadership culture that entertains repetitive and burdensome employee questions, we do advocate an employer-driven commitment to education which enhances engagement and motivation toward shared employee-employer success. This article discusses considerations and blueprints toward that success.

Today’s Gen Y career entrant speaks in terms of “I feel,” phraseology we Baby Boomers were taught to be unacceptable. America’s leadership postures for votes by touting principles of entitlement, birth right, refusal to work and socialized benefits.  These characteristics feed a de-motivation to work harder or smarter than the next person. In an era where state government leaders can organize an initiative to refuse work which arguably outweighs their initiatives to demonstrate work, how can we expect impressionable youth to grasp real work ethic? When we are willing to question our constitution, why shouldn’t employees question workplace rules?

Collective bargaining was created in an era where employees worked hard and employers often lacked principle and know-how to properly keep checks and balances toward mutual economic success.  Today we find employers committed to lifelong learning while many employees cannot construct a meaningful sentence. Checks and balances are once again off while the best workers in America are held back by concepts of seniority and union dues, at least until employers have as much power as self-serving, dues collecting unions who are among the biggest businesses of all… next to government.  Nonetheless, we recommend employers do not entangle with the NLRB unless willing to wage a costly war.  Except for some successful adjustments by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, employers need to recognize that unions have more “solicitation” leverage than that allowed of employers.  The general population continues to listen to the loudest voice in the room.

Financial success is being undermined, capitalism and its complexities are in question, and profiteers take advantage of conflict, sensationalizing every issue. Employees are more uncertain than ever before as to their own goals and how to attain them. 

Amidst this chaos we have worked hard to simplify the steps for employer response. The blueprint for workplace best practices is a 6-step program:
1) Problem Recognition:  Accept and understand the larger de-motivation of the community at large.  Accept reasons behind de-motivation where it exists.
2) Apply Appreciative Inquiry:  Assess and create focus upon what the organization does best.  
3) Evaluate Unique Organizational Demographics & Motivation Trends: Assess the motivation culture of your company’s own workforce and evaluate trends. Consider the power of workplace outcomes and how they are affecting the overall mindset of employees. Each organization is unique and is affected uniquely by the impact of the community at large. Local success can overpower widespread deficiencies. If it is not broken, do not attempt to fix it.
4) Tap Into 3rd Party Solutions: Reach out to field experts as means to deploy proven toolsets, to optimize credibility and to avoid appearance of bias. Refuse to experiment in this risky area offering noteworthy ROI for success. Consider HRS as an expert resource here.
5) De-Politicize the Company Stance and Comply with NLRA Regulations: Work ethic, wealth and big business versus small business topics all evoke personal politics. Today’s politics are quite polarized. Avoid biases and stick with the facts. Discussion of unions and collective bargaining risks NLRB repercussions or heightened collective bargaining activity. Stress merit-based outcomes without indicting union methodology. Derive merit-based incentives that work well and are easily communicated. 
6) Be Consistent, Build Trust and Deliver on Promises: False promises will create long term damage, but failure to inspire will cause such short term damage that the long term becomes jeopardized.  Apply practices consistently and within policy. Create and troubleshoot an action plan before broaching this highly essential topic.

Democracy is complicated, and motivation remains fragile. HRS recommends a keen eye on changes and a quick and accurate response to keep engagement on track.  Case studies and specific solutions are available upon request. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, February 11, 2013

 





Social Media: Back to the Future to Improve Your Business?

Social media. It’s different and unique. We’ve never seen anything like it. We’re fascinated by it, yet we’re not sure how it can help most businesses, especially ours. A totally new, modern paradigm, right? Maybe not. 

In the mid-1990s, nearly every business leader had some degree of fascination with the “Worldwide Web.” They suspected it was important to have a “page” on the “Information Superhighway.”  But for what? Well, most weren’t sure, but everyone was doing it and the Internet seemed to have mysterious potential, so everyone jumped in. Thousands and sometimes millions of dollars were spent, often times with very little ROI or alignment to business goals. And some got burned. Yet we learned and the Web proved to be an integral part of the way we do business.
 
Fast forward to today. For many, the feeling about social media is similar. A vague, uneasy, queasy feeling. “Social media might be good,” you say, “but what if it’s too early for my business to embrace it?” Or “What, if anything, can it do for a business like mine?” Or “I want to do something with social media, but I don’t want to look stupid or waste money!”
 
It’s a brave new world, so it’s understandable that the business benefits from social media might seem nebulous. Sure, consumer goods companies and entertainment entities have been embracing social media for several years, but the rest of the B2B and B2C herds are still trying to figure out how to use it, and many are even avoiding it altogether. Sure, you might have personal accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Pinterest, and you might even use blogs or mixed content strategies at work, but that doesn’t translate into having a clue about how social media can work for your business, right?
 
Of course, you might delay or hide, but you know social media, like the Internet, is not going away. In fact, depending on your business goals it might already be a necessity for your business—regardless of what your business is or whether it’s B2B or B2C—in the same way the Internet became a necessity in the late 1990s. Don’t believe it? According to an industry survey done in early 2012, 93 percent of B2B companies and over 95 percent of B2C companies use social media to market their businesses. Moreover, over 56 percent of B2B marketers and 45 percent of B2C marketers acquired new business partnerships via social media.
 
While the methods and tools might vary depending on your business, you should at the very least be seriously considering how social media can be an effective part of your strategy. Here are a few tips to help you get up to speed and make your social media efforts successful:
 
Social media will be an evolution for you, but you should already be using it. Social media itself is evolving daily. It will also be an evolutionary tool for your business, just as the Internet was “back in the day.” That said, it is imperative you take it seriously now, else you’ll be well behind your competitors who are already learning and growing with it. And they are learning and growing with it, right now!

Social media will be a continuum for you. Perhaps you are already using Facebook and Twitter as simple announcement forums to post press releases, product or event announcements, or even job openings? Not good enough. Social media is not a PR megaphone—it is first and foremost a listening post! Even if you are savvy enough to post questions in an attempt to elicit a response—“Hey, what do you think of our new product?” —your audience smells when they are being told rather than being asked. You’ll see that in the few responses you get. Once customers are doing the talking, then you should evolve that into using strategy. Strategy then leads to the ultimate goal: client and community engagement. Depending where you are on the listening/strategy/engagement continuum, you will have different social media needs.

It’s not about the number of followers you have. The number of followers you have is merely an outcome of your efforts. What you’re ultimately looking for is highly-engaged customers who actively embrace your social media efforts, help you improve your business, and increase the bottom line, so quality trumps quantity. Social media allows you to engage with your customers at moments when they’re not normally thinking about you. Moreover, the viral nature of social media is the equivalent to an old-school concept every businessperson understands: referrals. Each time a visitor shares your Facebook post, re-tweets a link you posted on Twitter, or re-pins an infographic you posted to a Pinterest board, they are creating new relationships for you.

Your social media messaging needs to align and integrate with your other brand messaging. A business-to-business software company I know, one whose audience is mostly male and over 40, recently posted a link to a positive quarterly earnings announcement. Innocuous enough, except below it they also posted a meme, a picture of a puppy with the caption “Who’s awesome?!” Not so good. Social media can indeed provide a unique way to humanize and personalize your brand, and can give it a softer, friendlier tone. But any humanization must be in sync with your other messaging. Unless you’re targeting a youthful consumer audience, avoid being too cute. In your effort to appear personable and likeable, you erode respect for your business and credibility for your brand. 

Don’t believe the smoke and mirrors. There are many firms that claim to be social media experts. Because the genre is evolving so quickly, few are. They are just trying to capitalize on a new service that businesspeople are only now embracing. Find a communications firm that talks first about your business, then about the methods to reach your goals. The firm should talk about aligning your social media efforts to your business goals and desired results. If a firm uses daunting language you don’t understand, they are not the right firm for you. You don’t need a specialty firm or Madison Avenue agency that tries to dazzle you with social media gobbledygook and expertise—you need one that takes a “business-first” approach to your marketing. Social media is a marketing tool, and it needs to work well with all the other tools in your toolbox. Use a firm that understands your overall communications needs and has experience integrating social media as part of your larger goals.

Social media for use in everyday marketing communications is still new and evolving, but it needn’t be scary, and you needn’t have perfect knowledge to use it effectively today. Just make certain to focus on your business goals, define the long-term business results you’re looking for—Building brand or product awareness? Stronger lead generation? Better prospect conversion rate? Being seen as a thought leader?—and use people who are holistically focused on your business and brand rather than just the social part of social media. Because as the Internet era taught us, it’s all about the business.

- By Dar Hackbarth


Dar Hackbarth serves the HRS Education Council as Senior Brand Strategist. Summary Bio
 


The Team At HRS - Thursday, November 15, 2012

 





Sequencing Medical and Disability Leave

FMLA, ADA, Disability and PTO (Paid Time Off) leaves require proper sequencing in avoidance of fiscal waste, unlawful activity and costly confusion.  While there are certain acceptable conditions under which paid leave can be substituted for FMLA, HRS recommends sequencing leave with clear consistent policies.  As it is unlawful to penalize an employee in any way based upon his or her proper execution of legal rights or benefits, keep it clean and risk free. Beyond PTO and where permitted by law, leave concurrency should be clearly stated and practiced with consistency.

In terms of medical and disability leave, employers are strictly accountable to FMLA and ADA according to company size, location and unique definition of “undue hardship.”  Employers must create a distinctive policy whereby employee receipt of disability benefits does not necessarily constitute approved disability leave.  Consider the elective disability policies available.  While these may be a smart purchase for employees, employers must be consistent with available leave and need not recognize these private purchases as employer mandates. A few sentences in the employee handbook and a consistent practice accomplish these goals quite nicely.  Workers’ compensation lost time is treated in accordance with FMLA, ADA, DOL, EEOC and company leave policies. 
 
Customize a PTO policy which addresses your company’s unique needs. Consider benefits for using PTO during company preferred times such as periods of less activity. Contemplate blackouts for PTO during bottleneck activities. Take into account the minimum and maximum length of absence preferable, and structure a written policy in advance accordingly. Having created a custom policy that appropriately addresses unique company wishes, many employers will find value in requesting use of PTO prior to any unpaid leaves. Remember that legally entitled leaves require certification. That is, when you have a finite amount of leave certified, this needs not extend the total leave amount, and everyone wins. Most employers will find the following sequence most beneficial: PTO >> FMLA >> ADA Extension (if applicable) >> Company Elected Medical or Disability Leave (if any).  ADA extensions are still being shaped by case precedents, whereby 30 days beyond FMLA was recently determined a maximum.

Any company elected leave not legally mandated should be titled as such, creating clear distinction as to what is legally mandated and monitored and what is not. It is most definitely a lost opportunity to create company elective leave without proudly announcing this generosity of this benefit to treasured team members.  This announcement can optimize engagement and employer brand equity.
 
The legal compliance professionals at HRS are on call for policy establishment and implementation guidance.  Please consider us a valuable resource to any of the topics mentioned herein.  


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, July 30, 2012

 





P3 Compliance and Constructing Policies That Hold Up in Court

The Department of Labor tells us they are overwhelmed, understaffed and shifting additional burden to employers for employment law compliance. This can be a great deal for the average employer to undertake.  HRS has taken some time to prepare a quick “how to” blueprint for employers.

P3, also called “Plan/Prevent/Protect” or “P Cubed,” will require every entity covered by the FLSA, OSHA, OFCCP, and MSHA to make written plans ("Plan"), create processes ("Prevent"), and test the processes with designated compliance employees ("Protect").

The following guidelines create a simplified and sustainable P3 protocol:

 

1. Stay On Top of Changing Laws.

Review not only government postings, but also secure a 3rd party compliance expert as needed and for annual overview.  Our “overwhelmed” government states outright there is no government responsibility to educate employers.  Enforcement is their responsibility, however, and fundraising is high.  Case precedent law is just as impactful here as statutory law.  While it is necessary to be a member of the Bar to litigate or serve as “officer of the court,” it is not necessary to be a member of the Bar to be a legal compliance expert.  Full-time research commitment is essential for such expertise. 

2. Avoid Copycat or Adaptation of Other Employers’ Handbooks.

Beyond the immediate intellectual property law threats, other employers are not recognized as experts.  “Because Company X Did It” is not a reasonable defense. There are some terribly non-compliant practices circulating out there like “old wives’ tales.” Even policies that actually work for one company may not work for yours.

3. Build Legal Arguments from Day One.

Maintain records to prove either experts consulted on or approved your policies… or if self-constructed… save expert resources and statutory evidence as future “reasonable care” affirmative defense.  Use scenario planning to create and document activities which defend the company against complaint. “Willful violations” pose the greatest threat.  Negligence and lack of attention can be considered “willful” acts.

4. Protect Chain of Information.

Knowing what to keep and for how long as well as what not to keep are essential. Knowing who can have access and how to use this information without breaching privacy laws or risking discriminatory complaint are equally essential. 

5. Follow Policy Outcomes.

With the overuse of “cookie cutter” policies, many companies are unaware that better policy options exist.  Regardless of genesis for your policy, track outcomes to ensure it is working for you and not creating adverse impact or unlawful side effects.  Designate specific individuals with reasonable ongoing access, and empower them with job description authority to monitor policy success.

 

HRS offers extraordinary legal compliance expertise, P3 design services and further information on any topic herein. Consider an HR certification audit as proactive P3 compliance. ROI is exponential.


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, January 23, 2012

 





Employer Choices Concerning Concealed Carry Act… To Ban or Not to Ban

Private businesses and employers in 12 states to most recently include Wisconsin are faced with the decision to allow concealed weapons carry on company premises. The argument against banning weapons lies largely in the statistics and in the liability. The argument for banning weapons lies largely in perception of safety and in the ability to attract, retain and engage a productive workforce comprised of people unaccustomed to concealed weapons carry and its perceived threats.

Legal counsel and insurance underwriters are largely recommending employer silence on this issue. Silence allows lawful carry without interference. The US Library of Congress reports crime reduction in every state enacting Concealed Carry. Violent crimes are reduced 5-22%. The most popularly referenced FBI report utilizes a 7% reduction statistic.

As a global firm, we have had the opportunity to work with many states across the nation prior to Wisconsin’s recent Concealed Carry enactment. With a second hub in AZ and service to the Scottsdale Chamber’s Public Policy Advisory Council, we are no strangers to public weapons carry and private business rights to “Opt Out.”

Wisconsin employers are inundating us with questions, and we are pleased to provide an extraordinary knowledge base here. At the time of this report, the state of Wisconsin is not protecting employers from liability if choosing “weapon free zones.”  Specifically, if an individual is harmed because he or she was not allowed to carry weapon per lawful right, the company can be held liable. Additionally, it is argued that the posting of “no weapons” signs specifically attracts crime similar to a resident posting a sign “not monitored by security system.”

The argument for banning weapons lies largely in the perception of safety and records of specific incidents. While statistically it is argued that crime is reduced by arming law abiding citizens, the fact remains that with concealed carry acts, individuals who shouldn’t be licensed still manage to get licensed. It is also evident that individuals use poor judgment in what constitutes “self defense,” improperly trained individuals gain access to weapons and accidents happen. What stings in minds are images of Columbine, Virginia Tech, “going postal” and a wealth of related tragedies. For many these images outweigh statistical probabilities and facts. Most are not aware of this report… among 25,000 2009 murders, less than 1% were committed by concealed carry permit holders. 
 
Businesses which allow concealed carry on their property are immune from liability arising from that decision. Employers who choose to allow concealed carry without interference will adapt by removing policies and handbook language which prohibit the carry of weapons on premises.  However, we recommend substituting this language with the requirement that weapons must be lawful and licensed.

Employers who choose to “opt out” will create a “weapon free zone.” Employers may choose to prohibit concealed carry during work activities, and if they do so, then language must be modified and signs must be posted.   The sign must:

• Be at least 5 inches by 7 inches.
• State that concealed or open firearms are prohibited in the building or on the premises.
• Specify the area to which the prohibition applies.
• Be placed in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the part of the building to which the restriction applies or near all probable access points to the grounds or land to which the restriction applies, as applicable, where any individual entering the building, grounds, or land can be reasonably expected to see the sign. 
• Businesses should consider the universal “no” symbol of a circle around a picture of a firearm with a slash across the middle of the circle, indicating that firearms are prohibited.

 
An employer may not prohibit an employee, as a condition of employment, from carrying a concealed weapon in the employee’s own motor vehicle, even if the employee uses his or her vehicle in the course of employment or if the motor vehicle is on company grounds. Some employers are creating a policy that vehicles containing weapons on company premises must remain locked at all times.

HRS is active in helping craft and/or review employee handbook policies on this matter.  For those who wish to “opt out,” the sample “Weapons Ban” policy to follow is one of the alternatives available.  Customization may be expected. 

 

Weapons Ban Policy Sample

The company complies fully with all applicable federal, state and local laws to include the Concealed Carry Act. Weapons and firearms of any type are strictly prohibited within company premises at all times.  Company premise includes property owned, leased or controlled by the company.  Company premises also include anywhere that company business is conducted, such as customer locations, vendor/associate locations, trade shows, restaurants or any venue visited for the purpose of business. Weapons include, but are not limited to, guns, knives or swords with blades over four inches in length, explosives, and any chemical whose purpose is to cause harm to another person.
 
Regardless of whether an employee possesses a concealed weapons permit or is allowed by law to possess a weapon, weapons are prohibited on any company property or in any location in which the employee represents the company for business purposes, including those listed above.

Possession of a weapon can only be specifically authorized by a company officer to allow security personnel or a trained employee to have a weapon on company property when this possession is determined necessary to secure the safety and security of company employees. Only a company officer may authorize the carrying of or use of a weapon within company premises. Any violation of this policy or federal, state or local laws which relate to weapons shall also result in immediate discipline up to and including termination.


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, December 01, 2011

 





Can Businesses Learn From Tim Tebow?

Tim Tebow is becoming a national phenomenon. No matter which side of the argument you find yourself on, chances are you’ve either found yourself arguing whether he would be the greatest thing or the worst thing to happen to professional sports in some time. There are plenty of people who enjoy watching him succeed, and plenty of people who enjoy witnessing him complete only 2 passes during an entire game. However, there is one thing that cannot be argued: Tim Tebow wins. No matter how pretty (or ugly) his game is, he always finds a way to succeed.
 
Take last night’s game against the Jets for an example. Tim Tebow led an anemic offense through what could be considered some of the worst football you will ever watch, and it lasted for 55 minutes. However, when it became crunch time, and when it mattered the most, Tebow transformed and his Denver Broncos came away with a win. He may not have the decision making of Aaron Rodgers, or the arm strength of Ben Roethlisberger, or the pinpoint accuracy of Drew Brees, but Tim Tebow shares one thing with all of these other quarterbacks; he is winning.
 
Tim Tebow is 4-1 this year as an NFL starter. An ESPN article reported his teammates as saying, “We’ll take the win” and “Would you rather us look good and lose?”  This brings up an excellent point. As a business, would you rather have your team look ugly and win, or look good and lose?
 
“Winning in business” is something that cannot be as explicitly defined as “winning in the NFL”, however we can examine this in a different angle of achieving goals. The ultimate goal of an NFL team is to win, and more specifically to win the Super Bowl. Now think about your business. What is your ultimate goal? What is it that your company sets out to achieve day in and day out? What is it in your business that allows you to feel like a success story when you leave for the day?
 
Is Tebow actually “winning ugly?” Would it really matter to you if you were to achieve your goals through unconventional means, or would you be more proud of it? 
 
So what do these critics mean when they say “winning ugly?” “Winning ugly” in business can imply a lack of ethics. Let’s abandon that argument and define “ugly” as “unconventional” and “breaking normal rules.” Let’s define what others consider “ugly” as “thinking outside of the box.” Let’s define “ugly” as really not even being ugly at all. Entrepreneurial thinking is far from an ugly matter, but it is unconventional by design. Tebow can be defined as unconventionality at its peak. And while no one is likely to follow Tebow’s methods, the truth is that he is winning, and he is winning with what he has and what he knows how to do. We can learn from this directly as business people; you can win with what you have, no matter what you have, if you know it well enough and apply Appreciative Inquiry concepts.
 
Not all of us can have the top level of resources, so we need to win with what we have. This may directly lead to “winning ugly”. If you are a supervisor, learn about your employees, individual and team strengths, and how to maximize that potential. If you are a CFO, learn what your company has in financial assets and learn to make the most of it. If you are a Product Manager, know what makes your product unique and find the best way to allow that product to “win”. We can’t all be the Aaron Rodgers or the Tom Brady of the world, but we can beat them if we learn to succeed with what we’ve got.





Matthew Bare - Friday, November 18, 2011