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.


Savvy Employers in Action: Neroli Postures on Education and Employee Trust

Susan Haise, Owner of Neroli Salon & Spa and the Institute of Beauty and Wellness, leads with her heart and mind in symphony. While many business leaders find dangerous conflict of interest by mixing the two, Susan’s natural talents define a magnificent culture of trust, supported by a relentless commitment to education. Her passion and pursuit of excellence are compelling. 

The keys to success for any employer are to create an aligned brand that delivers upon expectations and supports both mission and operations. Neroli and IBW are each positioned on quality, experience and education. Susan delivers to her team members exactly what she wants delivered to her clients and students. She “pays it forward” with astute understanding that environment, culture and experience are equally important to quality service and top level education. 

Neroli’s mission… “To renew the spirits and awaken the minds of all whom we have the opportunity to touch.”  Neroli’s culture… “We believe personal and organizational balance is the key to sustainable success. We believe in treating ourselves, each other, and the planet with care and respect.”   

When the Affordable Care Act began peaking with questions, twists and heated controversy, Haise quickly called to action an open invite educational campaign for Neroli team members and IBW students. While most employers avoided dialog (except that mandated by the ACA itself), Haise deployed HRS to deliver an uncensored and unbiased third party expert forum, fielding team member questions on any ACA topic and promoting complete transparency into all sides of legislative and individual consumer impact. Both supporters and naysayers of the act attended. Grace in education and open minded inquiry were accomplished. Now two years since educational campaign commenced, Susan reports that every day navigation of the ACA has been easier for all.

Susan embodies the educational commitment of HRS, and we submit Neroli/IBW’s case study as a prolific example of education done right. True education depends upon discovery of opposing viewpoints with open minds. While we typically advocate against shining a light on a problem, in this case confusion and fear were the problem, and the employer shined a light on the solution: education and transparency. The program delivered exactly what team members needed to know and addressed questions they likely otherwise would not have known to ask…all while strategically supporting the organizational mission with custom curriculum. Ongoing resources were then available for updated information throughout the ACA’s journey to date. HRS further certified the educational campaign and ongoing commitment as employer “reasonable care” in compliance, facilitating additional written communications to the team. Haise comments…”We have successfully navigated the waters, and our team is comfortable today understanding their ACA rights and responsibilities specifically because of our educational campaign with HRS. They are aware and informed. They know information is accessible.” Where employers shut down information and behave "cloak and dagger," they lose employee trust. Once again, Haise optimized trust among team members. Trust is motivating, leading to top shelf employee engagement.

Employment law influences and often dictates workplace practice. As a precursor to the educational campaign, HRS facilitated the custom crafting of Neroli/IBW's employee handbook by consulting directly with Haise and her executive team to recommend policies which not only align with but also accentuate the brand. Follow up implementation training and on call consultancy were next steps. 

While case and statutory law shape our recommendations, we typically recommend the handbook language educates employees as to how policies are deployed to uphold law and to protect workplace fairness and consistency. Inasmuch as we see some competitor legalese actually planting seed for complaint and disgruntlement, we advocate language which yields positive outcome instead. An opportunity exists to leverage compliance as a workplace benefit. Susan Haise adopted recommendations which are both comprehensively lawful but also precisely supportive of education and culture. 

A leading businessperson who has not only mastered culture and brand but who keeps a keen eye, hour by hour, on the numbers which drive fiscal success, Susan is no stranger to the reality that financial acumen is the empowerment and sustainability of the ongoing mission. An award winning entrepreneur, Haise has created and sustained award winning businesses since 1993. Named among the “Best Places to Work” by the Milwaukee Business Journal for five consecutive years, Neroli Salon & Spa operates five popular locations, while the Institute of Beauty and Wellness remains the pre-eminent “go to” for top industry education. Both firms under Haise’s leadership have earned multiple industry innovation and business success awards and are said to have “changed the beauty industry.” And of course, as great leaders do, Haise shares the credit with her executive team.

As a trusted resource for employer case study and information, HRS reports and recommends the Neroli/IBW story as an example of “mission accomplished.” Certain this organization will not rest on its laurels, we look forward to the next chapter. HRS emphatically advocates a commitment to strategic education, adaptive to the learning styles of individuals and team demographics with custom curriculum to best support operational success and mission objectives. Handbook policies are equally important for expert custom crafting, while templates fall critically short of the goal.  Haise’s mission for Neroli/IBW capitalizes on unique competitive edge and visionary innovation. Adopting status quo practice along any criteria would derail the mission and impede the noteworthy success.



HRS serves holistic management information and operations solutions to business leaders and HR/OD professionals. Areas of focus include HR, Employment Law and Organizational Development. Headquartered in Brookfield, WI, HRS delivers international reach with a local commitment to an audience of approximately 5000 employers. The highly decorated firm celebrates a fourth decade of success.

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Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, July 23, 2015

 





Old School Meets New School With “Social HR”

The new big thing in HR technology merges social platforms together with cutting edge information systems, especially via mobile and interactive apps for HR deliveries. Many call it “social HR.” A natural evolution of the steadily emerging HR portals, social HR grants employees interactive communications related to learning, assessment, performance management, payroll, benefits, policy handbooks, employer news, record keeping and so much more. This trend is actually the re-emergence of old school success, postured on new school innovation. For years we’ve been dehumanizing Human Resources for the sake of compliance. Social HR re-socializes, without compromising compliance.


Where Social HR Will Succeed
To the same extent corporate websites have turned to interactive rather than search engine based filtering, employee portals enjoy similar advances, delivering a more “social” attentive feel. Every employer whose brand is attached to progressive technology is keeping a keen eye on these emerging trends. Workplace pride, motivation, productivity, cultural acceptance and comprehensive efficiency are impacted by employer choices. Too little, too much or poor posturing will affect outcomes. Cost is a factor; however, proper methodology and timing will yield return on investment. 

Having reported on social HR for three years, a recent Forbes article discusses nuances, examples and impact for 2015. Forbes Article. Highlighting the training features, today’s mobile apps and gamification allow kinesthetic learning, which is not only the most effective, but also the most preferred, of the learning styles. By deploying a variety of training media, we incur a high probability of meeting unique individual learning styles. Done well, platforms will tailor learning to individual styles. In applause to employers who deliver hands on and facilitated round table training, social HR is the next best option. While only certain training needs can be effectively satisfied via technology, platforms can deliver options, decision tools and event scheduling. 

To qualify as “social HR,” the platform must truly consider the precise audience, demographics and communications culture. As data collateral to audience knowledge, more than 3000 responded to an HRS learning style survey, validating that kinesthetic learning remains most effective, preferred 2:1 over auditory learning. 3 different primary learning styles exist, and each learning style, relevant to demographics, needs to be attended. Learning Styles Survey. While social learning cannot entirely replicate the effectiveness of more precise hands-on learning and/or face-to-face interactive learning, the social HR apps discussed promise far greater effectiveness as an everyday tool than applications currently in use.

Much of the prior de-socialization of HR is due to the critical need for written documentation. Verbal discussions alone have become nearly worthless in the schemata of HR, as compliance documentation is not addressed by oral communication. Done well, social HR could create critical documentation while simultaneously serving a more personal interaction.


Where Social HR Can Fail
Employers that fail to tailor precisely to their own teams will likely achieve poor results. Platforms need to serve content creators and content recipients. The quality of content is critical. An already emerging downfall is the use of cookie-cutter information, rather than the unique toolsets critical for unique employers and unique employer brands. The key to success will be the creation and deployment of custom resources and policies. Those that focus only on the technology and under-attend quality of content and adaptation will fail. 

While each organization has its own subcompanies and subcultures of varying peoples with varying tech savvy and learning preferences, HR deliveries of the future will need to keep up with simultaneously serving each employee. We're already seeing certain HR departments boasting the best “bells and whistles” without proper consideration to the utilization needs of each individual employee. While entertainment is known to heighten engagement, our learning survey respondents chose quality of content over entertainment 2 to 1.

Recent studies have shown that more people own iPhones than any other phone on the planet, so many HR teams will want to address mobile apps for the popular phone of the day. However, technology can't be a foreign language to employees. It must tailor to the specific audience, and it must simplify content updates. Additionally, varying media updates must align. The hard print binder in the corner needs to be updated at the very moment of the smart phone update. 


What Does This Mean to Employers
Social HR is not a fad; it's the way of the future. This natural evolution promises to deliver great outcomes. Employers need to begin research now, assess tech comfort of employees and proceed in specific alignment with unique demographic characteristics and company resources. This progression is a movement of gradual change, to be followed and reassessed no less than annually. Not all employers should dive in head first, but missed opportunities will result for those who don't at least dip a toe in the water and keep an eye on the tide.
 

Recognized by the U.S. Patent Office, HRS has been bringing HR technology inventions every decade since the 1980s. We pledge more pioneering and ongoing topic research. As your company continues in its unique technological journey, keep us in the loop as a worthy partner. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, January 31, 2015

 





Is Balance Between Gen Y and Baby Boomers Key to Skills Gap Solution?

We have rightfully spent the last decade debriefing Baby Boomers regarding the unique work habits, motivators and keys to success for Gen Y team members.  Amidst these adaptation challenges it is equally essential to debrief Gen Y workers the same about Baby Boomers. Is it possible to mitigate the skills gap by properly addressing this issue?

The skills gap was once defined by the shortfall of available skilled labor in today’s workforce. Experts have since expanded the skills gap to include deficits in critical thinking and communication. Some say the lack of latter skills is twice as prevalent as the lack of technical skills.  http://www.cnbc.com/id/101012437  Can we better empower Gen Y and Gen Z by better tapping the Baby Boom?

As a 30-year professional who spent the first 20 years of her career being perceived as “too young,” I’m watching people my own age suffer age discrimination. We, the “50 and fabulous” younger Boomers went quickly from being too young to being too old. This alone tells us that age does not matter. Competency, contribution and adaptability do matter, and ageism is a barrier to success. Beyond the missed opportunities of ageism, we continue to warn against discrimination. The best way to be litigation-proof is to make decisions which are both actually and perceived to be legally compliant.

Since 2003, HRS has been called upon by nationwide academia, media, professional associations and employers of choice to deliver findings and solutions related to the generation shift. We commenced this campaign by forecasting the breakdown of trust and 5 global impacts to millennial motivators. We were absolutely correct, much attention has ensued, and we now transition our change agency by posing new questions and delivering new study. Many experts continue to deliver works on generational differences in attempt to reach those still too stubborn to respond to the original messages. We return to addressing those who are open to learning… those seeking more in depth action planning. In collaboration with several experts, we are creating an updated blueprint for decision planning.

Gen Y Brings Great Promise

The Gen Y professionals with whom I am proud to collaborate push back against today’s stereotypes. They pride themselves on accomplishment and resilience. They pride themselves in individuality and knowledge that each Gen Y peer has handled the impact of their generation uniquely. They bring the same “save the world” commitment I saw in my peers at that age and still today. These emerging leaders are willing and anxious to learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. If handled correctly, Boomers have an open door for collaboration, if not mentorship.

Although every unique household enforced its own set of beliefs, outcomes and motivation principles, Boomers were not exposed to widespread media of de-motivators to include the dot-com bust, housing bubble burst and, of course, the twin towers collapsing in their living rooms.  While we coddle and apologize to Gen Y, are we missing the point that Gen Y is the very generation that witnessed 9/11 as children, both witnessing and proving resilience at early age?  This generation has also been listening to our well-founded observations, and many have taken heed to resist the stereotype. Each generation has been stereotyped, and as always, stereotypes and generalizations pose danger.  Matthew Bare, HRS AVP, is at the top of his generational class and openly questions “Are we ‘feeding the beast’ in over-attending Gen Y needs? Are we convincing some they are delicate flowers? Were participation trophies a bad idea?”  Admittedly, I was one of those little league coaches who ensured my team received the same participation ribbons as the other teams, but the trophies were always a noticeable step above the ribbons. There was always motivation to excel. Gen Y and Gen Z represent current and future leaders, and the best of them offer some astounding deliverables.

Matthew Bare continues, “Our parents strived to give us a better world than they had, especially in light of the tragedies that occurred during our upbringing. For most of us, this resulted in positive praise, almost at an excessive level. We were told that we could accomplish anything, and we believed it. All of the focus on positive praise and putting an end to bullying led us to one thing - loads of self-esteem. If there is one, consistent fact about our generation, it's that Gen Y might be the cockiest generation to ever walk this planet. Each and every one of us believes that we can accomplish whatever we want. Work ethic doesn't even become an issue for some. We were rewarded for our efforts no matter what the outcome (trophies, ribbons, etc.). You combine that self-esteem with the world events that we had to witness… and the world has created an entire army of individuals who are cocky, self-obsessed, and resilient. Why do some people my age not work? Because they don't feel the need to. Either they feel that they can accomplish what they desire without working hard, or, thanks to the economic depression, they don't see the benefits of working hard. This is no one's fault, while also being everyone's at the same time.”

Gen Y is questioning everything that did not work for the prior generations and is incorporating new age thinking into new decisions. Is this different than what high-achieving Boomers did in their 20’s? Isn’t change a component of progress? Some perceive Gen Y as owning a lesser work ethic. Is this really a generational trait, or is it just a symptom of age… time for kids to be kids? We begin to see a shift as Gen Y ages. Most Gen Y are no longer kids… enter Gen Z and a forthcoming set of studies.

Gen Y is showing substantial signs of resilience, learning and fiscal prudence. Fidelity Investments’  “Five Years Later” study reports that Gen Y has “learned more and (has) taken the most positive action post-crisis of any generational cohort.”

Boomers Adapt & Continue to Deliver

At this recession’s start, many Boomers presented unreasonable demands and found themselves out of work. Demanding future pay based upon past performance was rarely effective in an economy of belt-tightening and youth-oriented technology. Seasoned egos were replaced with equally competent and more developable talent for less money… specifically Gen X and Gen Y. Most employers have been pummeled with employment solicitation from unemployed Boomers. As a single employer, since 2008, HRS alone has received more than 12,000 resumes from seasoned professionals seeking to join our consulting team. Flattered as we were, sadly we were unable to provide any meaningful response to candidates not accepted for excess jobs we could not offer. This is true of many employers, and Boomers have adapted.  Those who just five years ago presented unreasonable demands have either learned, have exited the job market, or to this day…“stick out like a sore thumb.”  It is time for employers to circle back and re-tap this valuable resource. While promotion from within remains productive methodology, we need mentors. Enter Boomers.

Doug Franklin, President of FLHRPS and Principal of Epic Business Strategies, has spent a great deal of time researching and addressing this very topic. “I believe many of we Boomers have had long great careers, but due to a number of factors, many of the Boomers will find they need to continue their careers well past the dates they had targeted.” Reasons for the extended careers are well documented. We concede the economic impact to retirement funds, asset value and household income. On the positive side, Boomers are enjoying longer career-life expectancy than generation predecessors.  Some Boomer business owners will stay involved due to the “brain drain” and the challenge to replace themselves. Franklin continues, “Most senior-managers have now turned their thoughts towards extending their careers and not retiring as early as they had thought or maybe hoped.  I regularly speak to Boomers who are in their mid-sixties who are continuing to work and have their eye on 3-5 more years of very strong career path.  For some I think this is economically driven. I think for others it is because they enjoy working and are open to taking on a lower level position which they may feel is fun and less stressful.  I think many Boomers now are thinking of working full time until they are closer to 70 than 65.” Whereas Boomers are known as the generation of hypertension, many are responding with wellness routines and stress management, efforts which keep them productive in the workplace.

An August 2013 SHRM article “Invest in Older Workers” discusses the stereotypical characteristics of Boomers. Low absenteeism, low turnover, high problem solving and customer service patience are among the positives. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Managerial, Administrative Assistant and Driver positions among the most popularly held by age 55+. Other popular roles include retail sales, teaching, health care, accounting and law.

A Gen Y start-up business owner recently declared...

“I understand patience is key to my business success.”

Boomer entrepreneurs cringe and shrug in response. As one of those left scratching my head and struggling for response, I embrace this... if I had been patient for even one day, HRS would not be here. In fact, if I hadn’t pushed back or walked away every time someone deployed a work avoidance technique, HRS would not be enjoying 30 years, and you would not be reading this article. Except for happenstance, working smart and working hard are the keys to business success. Is this a Gen Y problem for Boomers to solve?  Is it an inherent Gen Y trait to redirect after experiencing resistance… is this a learned trait, an individual trait? Is there an opportunity for Boomers to assess and contribute? Are some Boomers just plain crazy, needing to wind down by talking with a calm, patient Gen Y?

The Solution

Whereas some professionals will continue to shout at those still ignoring the basic concept of demographic adaptation, and while some employers will extinct themselves like dinosaurs, we understand those reading this article are already among the select few who are well-researched and will use this information to succeed. It is time for us to now focus upon reassessment and blueprint of balance.

“Most of my Client companies do not seem to be directly addressing head on the large future loss of the Boomer ‘Resource’ that they now rely on and cherish.  However, some are putting serious resources into a variety of programs to try to keep up with the large loss of Boomer talent they expect to lose in the coming years,” advises Doug Franklin. “Some of these programs include strong succession planning...and even more aggressive internal training programs coupled with remote learning initiatives by progressive major universities to train younger generations.”

Boomers offer attributes, experience and knowledge in need of transfer to the incoming generations. The communications gap and electronics age challenge us to relay information more easily handed down in prior generational transitions. Gen Y’ers who step up to meet Boomer communication styles will find competitive edge in collecting the data. Boomers willing to meet Gen Y halfway may find equal reward.

The mobile and virtual workforce model at HRS provides a valuable prototype for employers eligible to reduce brick and mortar. Working families are accommodated while businesses grow with reduced costs. Today’s Gen Y offers more alignment with longstanding ethics than typically recognized.  Adaptation always has and always will be an essential. Our Gen Y team has always appreciated and contributed to our invention.  HRS work life pioneering to include the initially scoffed at “Casual Friday,” wellness programs, corporate charitable initiatives, as well as, the in-house day care center we dared to attempt in the 80’s are everyday happenings today. It is the Boomers who led Gen Y to this place in time. Boomers can continue to augment future success, as long as Boomers practice what they’ve preached, showing respect, active listening and collaboration.

We at HRS are recommending a balance of collaboration between the generations. If you want a better approach to solving a problem, ask someone likely to disagree with you. As with all team collaboration, negotiation and management skills, know your audience’s motivators and anticipate objections. Franklin comments further on keys to success for achieving generational balance. “Companies have added onsite recreation and gyms, coffee bars in-house… and provide wireless internet access as just a few ways to attract the younger generations.  Companies are also catering to Boomers to encourage them to stay working longer by offering flexible work weeks, virtual positions, and even company provided financial planning services. This team effort helps to train younger generations… and allows X and Y generations to have opportunities to step up and fill Boomer positions at times in a trial period.  However, it remains to be seen as to the overall impact on companies as Boomers finally phase out permanently.  Gen X and Y workers have different life expectations and work thoughts.”


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

Doug Franklin is Principal of Epic Business Strategies and President of FLHRPS, Florida's affiliate of the national HRPS, dedicated to HR executives. Franklin held industrial executive leadership positions during the first 30 years of his career with companies such as Honeywell, Ferguson Enterprises, SPS Technologies, and Pacific Scientific. A former HRS client, Doug now serves as a partner consultant to HRS, contributing knowledge-based resources.

Matthew Bare is Associate Vice President of HRS. Matt works with key HRS clients locally, nationally and abroad to understand pressing concerns and deliver timely solutions. He pursues an extraordinary knowledge base in legal compliance, relationship development, employee motivation and best practices for efficiency. Summary bio.


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, September 12, 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

 





Unsubscribe Me!!! Too Many Newsletters? A Quiet Separation Beats a Kick to the Curb!

Getting pummeled with newsletters?  Of course you are. We all are.  While many senders are deploying shotgun approach with rapid fire muck and will never notice your unsubscription, many will receive a bold type alert of your action and will be instantly insulted.  
 
Today’s social media and technology often allows the filter of incoming information with discretion and ease, so why send a deliberate insult?  Those who prefer the insult are alive and well and they shall stop reading here. Those seeking diplomacy will continue reading. 

As both example and shameless plug, HRS e-News boasts less than 1% unsubscription rate and a 10% rising subscription rate annually. We accomplish this by distributing only 2-4 newsletters annually, and we use headlines, organization, provocative editorial and concise relevant content to get the reader in and out quickly with appreciated value. Nevertheless, a few will unsubscribe. When approached regarding the unsubscription, the most common answer has postured upon too many newsletters and too little time. Many newsletters are never read. 

As in many organizations, every unsubscription is noticed and monitored by our key team. Some of these unsubscribing geniuses sell to us, enjoy our donations or have subscribed us to their newsletters without our consent. In most mass mailings the link to unsubscribe is typically present only in sender avoidance of the internet “blacklist.” Our team has learned that unsubscribers may lack knowledge of outcomes; however, many recipients of the controversial unsubscription are insulted by the act or consider it buffoonery. Please think it through. 
 
A better time-saving and relationship-saving fix exists. Rather than taking time to open the newsletter and navigating the quagmire of unsubscription clicks which may very well get you negatively noticed, use technologies to vanish the unwanted more quickly.  If you are receiving infrequent correspondence from a sender, the best use of your time is probably to ignore or delete.  If frequent, please be aware that your unsubscription may be ineffective, and deploy your inbox filter rules to reroute the sender to another folder, a clearly labeled folder which distances itself from your normal viewing panes. You may offload the correspondence for future viewing opportunity, or perhaps you may send it to Siberia.  Should you find yourself annoyed by this onslaught of the uninvited, consider your filtering as the letter wrote but never sent.  Take comfort that a well-executed filter will absolutely clean up your inbox and ease your busy workday.

Facebook and other social media platforms can be even easier. Sans a business policy to do so and mutual understanding beforehand, to unfriend someone is quite the middle finger. Facebook allows us 10 levels of unsubscription which the other party may never notice, so why not use them?  There are no “take backs” on the blatant unsubscription or unfriend, so ponder the outcomes of your next move. 

HRS delivers organizational communications with expert guidance in social media practices, conflict management, technology use and internal/external information flow. 

Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, September 21, 2012

 





2011’s Most Important Organizational Communication Lessons

2011 finds employers in eclectic places, damaged by recent economic impact, confused by new legal mandates, often acclimating to corporate restructure, balancing technology’s influence and typically cautiously optimistic in a mode of strategic change… some finding great new opportunity as the dust settles. Organizational communication, both internal and external, is substantially impacted by these adjustments. The keys to success are keen skill sets in organizational communications, companywide, often at employer burden of training. The following are the 5 most commonly missed opportunities to succeed and a brief resolution theory.

1. Compliant Communications:

Anti-Harassment, HIPAA, social media and intellectual property are just a few critical learning topics of employer responsibility.  While it is true employers are not always responsible to actually control human behavior, reasonable care in training, policy establishment and enforcement are essential to company success, affirmative defense and risk management.
 

2. Cost-Benefit Analysis:

Employers are found over-communicating and under-communicating change to the point that the cost of communication is disproportionate, upward or downward, to the actual benefit of the change.  Consider the costs of employee communication including preparation, costs of miscommunication and time away from work when developing the communication rollout plan.  Calculate the anticipated benefits, and weigh accordingly for your blueprint.
 

3. Lopsided Sales Cycles:

In the effort to find the best price point or value, employers are demanding staunch sales cycles from prospective providers.  More than ever we see 3+ proposals sought for a 3 or small 4 figure acquisition…too much.  If you want to find the best value, treat your “vendors” as “partners,” keeping in mind their costs become your costs.   Find ways to help your providers keep their costs down.  Don’t sloppily force information repeats, listen carefully, streamline correspondence and be creative.  Prices are prices. Bullying is not negotiating. Together you can build collaborative strength.
 

4. E-mail Versus Traditional Communication:

Rules exist for communication media choice.  Know them and train them.  E-mail is the least invasive, most easily queued at convenient times and facilitates immediate documentation. Live discussion with or without body language, however, can be more efficient for transactional type exchange. Videoconference is a growing option.  Without proper training as to when each should be deployed, debates emerge as to the media choice, further contaminating topic discussion.
  

5. Blameshifting:

With fear of job security alive and well, elaborate schemes are being plotted and deployed to “save one’s skin.” Sadly, the individual who best plots and conceals usually wins, and here the company loses.  The blameshifting target was usually too busy actually working and owning workplace integrity to have won this nasty unproductive game.  When a team member “blames” a vendor or another employee, please investigate and monitor.  Your team members should be rewarded to help company stakeholders do a better job.  Those willing to throw another “under a bus” are far less valuable to you than those working toward greater good.
 

Communication is the means of knowledge transfer and collaboration toward unified goal.   When it is compromised, so are profit, growth, risk management and sustainability. Further detailed analysis and solutions on any topic herein are available through HRS.


Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

 





Sensitivity Creates Results In Business… Don’t Misinterpret It

Old school culture teaches us to toughen up, be impersonal and stay objective.  All of these behaviors remain critical to business success provided we do not overlook the value of passion, deep analysis, empathy and unwillingness to fail.  These are characteristics of sensitivity.

The team member who overanalyzes, scrutinizes intention, predicts behavior and takes it personally can be the team member who serves as a predictive bloodhound for business problems and who goes the extra mile to get results.  Lack of sensitivity often leads to lack of creativity, mediocre effort and lack of foresight. Resilience is key to sustainability.  The hypersensitive can be extraordinarily resilient. Coping with sensitivity requires enormous strength. 

In the popular de Bono Six Hats Thinking model, four of our six problem solving hats require sensitivity, “gut” reaction and emotional posture.  Understanding perspective of others is recognized as a key concept to negotiation, leadership, motivation, customer service, sales and comprehensive business communications.  Your company’s performance feedback system needs to appropriately value these organizational toolsets.

The next time a member of your team misinterprets sensitivity as a business weakness, set them straight.  Success is a longshot without it.


Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, February 27, 2011

 





Employers & Employees Agree to be Rightfully Cautious of Holiday Expenditures

Employees continue to be skeptical of lavish employer holiday parties, and employers find opportunity in containing holiday costs.  With the economic damage of the past several years, cutting back and cautious spending is greatly appreciated by all.  Employees who have suffered economically do not wish to see their rewards sacrificed for a holiday blowout.

75% of employees tell us they’d rather see bonus or investment into their advancement/security.  80% of employers tell us they are holding to the same cost-wise practices with no more than modest increase over the past few years’ practices.  Some are even cutting back further after learning past years’ efforts were not as appreciated as hoped.

The days of the “boss” calling employees onto the carpet to “kiss the ring” are over, and employers of choice recognize that employees want holiday celebrations that actually provide reward and appreciation.  Mandatory participation can be a deterrent from perceived value.  Allowing employees to plan their own rewards is the most appreciated choice.  To facilitate good sense outcomes, guidelines and budgets need to be set for employee committees.  The employer needs final control to ensure risk management and organizational goal attainment.  Structured properly, employers earn great ROI and everyone prospers.

Lavish expenditures are often resented by employees who suffered pay cut or layoff.  A sensible demonstration of company pride, forward movement, optimism and team appreciation is, however, a wise investment.  Safety and liquor liabilities remain primary concerns.  Depending upon team demographics, popular substitutes to parties include bonus, gift certificate or “your choice” menu items. The latter two offer repeat value.  For many, cash disappears as it hits the pocket, creating only single impact of reward.  Certificates can have more lasting and/or multiple impacts of reward.  The reward comes not only in the receipt but also in the use.  If the use is a lasting experience, the employee enjoys a more lasting reward. 

One year ago this month we commented our findings as the expert source to The Business Journal.  The topic was so well received and the findings so valuable, that the article was quickly globally syndicated with a cover bullet.  The popularity of this topic has not wavered, so we have accordingly provided this annual update.


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, December 06, 2010

 





Social Media Etiquette & Tips

For most, social media is no more complex than any social or communications event.  Many find it easier.  All rules of kindness, diplomacy, message, audience and delivery apply.  Used properly, social media can teach, make you laugh, improve social skills, reconnect with long lost friends, find a job, grow a business, explore new cultures, build relationships, enhance wellness, save time and save money.  It is not only a “real life” but can also enrich your life and enhance productivity. As with everything in this world, not everyone “gets it.”  It is a complete myth that you don’t have time for social media.  Used well, social media creates more time in your busy day.  Used improperly, the same facets to life can be adversely impacted. 

We recently addressed this topic at Loyola University, and it has become popular at our own newly emerging facebook page. The following guidelines are offered to ensure getting the best outcomes from the social media experience.  These are relevant to both users and to employer training in proper etiquette. 

5 Rules to Getting the Best Out of Social Media…

Rule #1 – Be discrete and filter your comments.  Remember it is the world wide web, and privacy controls are not 100% effective.
Rule #2 – Learn and use the privacy controls.  They help substantially.  Understand privacy limitations and the licensing you authorize by using a certain site.  It’s very easy to protect your privacy but only if you invest the 5-10 minutes necessary to research and apply knowledge.
Rule #3 – Research the topics, guidelines, options and expectations to a certain site before you participate.  These are available at each site and differ from one site to the next.  Knowing helps you select the right forum and keeps your experience on track.
Rule #4 – Understand that each social media site or application is a business in itself, creating jobs with need for compensation and need for sustainability, job security and hopefully job growth.  It is easy to anticipate what will happen next if you understand the objectives.   
Rule #5 - Apply the “golden rule” at all times.  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Kindness and courtesy are expected.  Respect others’ privacy.  Stick to the site’s guidelines and respect how others’ use the site if within guidelines.  Avoid or be careful with controversial subjects including but not limited to politics, religion and sexual innuendo.

Do Not Insult or Attack

When you befriend or connect with someone, you imply a social contract of mutual respect and courtesy.  Negative energy is now out of bounds.  Insulting and attacking your friends in social media not only results in the insult/attack itself, but it catches them with guard down and in a highly public forum.  Re-read your comments to ensure they are not misinterpreted.  Trust shall be difficult if not impossible to recover.  Delete, recant or apologize if something gets by that you regret or did not intend.  Understand that de-friending can be an insult.  Should you de-friend someone due to corporate policy, tell them why to avoid insult.

Control Privacy for Yourself and Others

Remind yourself constantly that it is the Internet, as we all forget from time to time in the comfort of it all.  If you don’t want everyone to know, don’t post it.  Without full use of privacy controls, social media posts are likely to land at or around the #1 ranked page for you or others on the Internet.  Search engines can then link to employer, family, schools, charitable causes, other people and organizations.  Guide yourself accordingly. Privacy controls are extremely but not entirely effective.  Every individual has a right to privacy… controlling the perspective of his or her employer, family, neighbor, banker, pastor and any other stakeholder who can form a bias or purport action based upon social media. 
You are legally responsible for any damages incurred by others due to your actions… on line, in person and through any form of media.  Without specific permission, any information, name reference or pictures/videos of others are both illegal and unethical.  This concept is by no means limited to social media… but social media can have immediate widespread distribution.  While a site will protect itself through disclaimer, you are still responsible and can be sued for damages when tagging or posting photos, videos or content.  Create notifiers or prohibit altogether others’ ability to post/tag photos of you. 
Don’t be intimidated by these potential problems, but don’t take unnecessary risk either.   We don’t stop crossing the street because there is traffic, but we learn to look both ways beforehand and we learn to not push others into a vehicle’s path.

Observe Topic Boundaries and Avoid Frequent Complaint

While you cannot create change without stirring the pot at least a little, constant complaining and negativity will hurt your relationships and ability to succeed with audience and credibility.  Additionally, respect how others use the social media site.  Embrace differences.  Keep politics, religion, negativity and all controversy off of sites not specifically targeting to those topics.  Keep business on business sites, personal on personal sites; stick to specific topics and/or causes in their respective forums.   Avoid crossing boundaries.  Universal charitable causes are typically welcome in any general forum … just don’t wear out their welcome. 

Follow the Money for Answers

Nothing in this world is completely “free,” and this is no exception.  Each of these sites is costly to develop and operate.  Advertisers, membership fees and specific application/gaming fees are popular revenue sources.  Ownership of content, development, features control and level of advertising is dictated, of course, by the sponsors of these platforms.  Arguments are emerging regarding free vs. paid membership.  You may wish to entirely avoid sites pretending to be entirely free, as you are likely to expose yourself to spammers, malware and/or sale of your personal info.  We’d rather know who is getting paid while safeguarding our systems and privacy. 

Choosing a Social Media Forum

The primary consideration to site choice is the intended use.  The first choice is “business” or “personal.”  It is easiest and safest to draw a line between the two, although great advantage can be realized by those who learn to successfully mix the two.  It is essential to know and adhere to topic boundaries at each site.  Blindsiding others with topics they don’t want will create failure.  With appropriate judgment deployed, random and creative banter can be the most interesting, desirable and memorable content you deliver.  A little consideration goes a long way. 
We use each of the following for different reasons, audience and with different approach/expectations.  The writers herein have no affiliation with any social media site or vendor.  While this white paper is complimentary, our business interest is ongoing education and consultation with companies.  One of many hot topics right now surrounds social media.  Our firm encourages employers to address social media, creating policies and encouraging practices which protect everyone’s interest, company-wide.  

facebook
Originally targeted to college students, then high school students, facebook is intended to reconnect or maintain connections otherwise difficult to manage in a busy world.  No longer strictly by invitation, features have been changed, removed and added over time.  Not originally part of the fabric, businesses are now present, primarily as advertisers to consumers.  This site is used for personal relationship building, socialization, reconnecting, reciprocity, a sense of community and meeting new people through gaming, common interest and mutual friends.    Age range is unlimited and multi-generational.  Social sites such as facebook can provide a forum for busy productive people to enjoy positive energy, wellness and socialization without abandoning a productive life.  As with everything, abuse is of course alive and well.

LinkedIn
Used entirely with a professional business focus, LinkedIn also began building by invitation only.  LinkedIn is designed for business promotion, professional networking, job search, discussion forum and to use business “connections” as a toolset.  Specific connections are visible or invisible to others as a matter of individual strategy and privacy setting.  Currently both paid and unpaid memberships exist.  The extent to which you post on LinkedIn is directly proportionate and related to your professional position.  Additionally offering opportunity to showcase company websites, blogs, publications and twitter accounts, LinkedIn currently holds more than 60 million registered users in more than 200 countries.

Twitter
Used for both personal and business purposes, Twitter ignores relationship building and succeeds or fails based entirely on the quality and keywords of information.  “Tweets” are text-based posts of up to 140 characters delivered to “followers.”  Account holders can “lock” their timeline for privacy to only followers with some but not entire privacy.  Without such lock, a “tweet” can immediately find itself the #1 ranked item by search engine for the author.  Re-tweet exposure can be substantial.  Twitter offers both facebook and LinkedIn interfaces.
Blogs (Weblogs), Discussion Boards, Forums and More
Endless and constantly emerging/disappearing, the Internet is full of opportunity to comment, blog, post, vote, upload and express yourself.  Each individual site is likely to offer description of topic, questions controlled by the site or existing discussion threads to follow.  Choose accordingly and stick to the format for the site.  Each will likely offer legal disclaimer and instructions.  Read them and comply. 

What You Should Post/Not Post

Ask 10 people and you shall receive 10 different answers.  This is a draw for most social media users and an advantage to the concept. The differences between the posts of one and another users is a matter of among others… personality and timing.  Witty banter that insults no one is always welcome.  Do not expect to interest everyone with a post and do not expect to be interested with every post you see.  Attempt to avoid repetition.  What would you say at a party?  Who is your audience?  Same considerations apply.   Be yourself at your best whenever you can.  Sites will typically provide discussion forums, content, games and/or applications that are good points of exchange.   Most social media is not about the conversation but rather a more brief exchange of ideas.   Chime in only as you wish.  Sound judgment will help you.  If people are interested, they will typically let you know.  If not, find something else to say or a new room/time to say it.

Boundaries:  Business vs. Personal

Actively mixing business and personal relationships is always a risk and warrants consideration and boundaries.  Social media is no exception.  The ability to successfully mix the two, however,  can be your greatest advantage. What if your boss, client or investor befriends you on a social site?  This problem is largely solved by rule #1.  If you are concerned about its visibility, do not post it on the world wide web.  While it is extremely beneficial to use privacy controls and selection rules, again these are not entirely effective.

Preparing for and Handling Abuse or Disagreement

The rules for social media are the same as for any communication, in person, written, electronic, or telephone.  One great thing about social media is that you can more easily avoid, delay or rehearse your response.  Use these opportunities to ensure your message is exactly how you want it before it is out there.  When you build quality relationships through social media, you have also likely improved or practiced certain aspects to in-person social skills as well. Be nice, don’t attack or insult.  On the Internet as in all phases of life, communicate with the assumption there are no bad people, just bad acts.  Social media should not be anti-social.  It will work best for you if you stick with positive energy.  Be careful approaching controversy.  It is controversial because people disagree passionately.  You will undoubtedly insult and aggravate at least some of your friends… so be prepared for the fallout.  People disagree on how to “keep it light” and as always, “teasing” and thoughtless communications are inconsequential to some, the “end of the world” for others, and somewhere in between for everyone else.  Controversial communication creates conflict including disagreement on severity, how to interpret and how to handle.  Be nice and remove the point of conflict. 

Social Gaming Etiquette

Gamers provide a great deal of revenue to social sites, and their contributions to subsidizing everyone’s use should be respected.  At current time, facebook gaming posts are extremely easy to hide if you do not wish to see them.  A simple hover and click on the hide button (currently immediately to the right of the post) will hide every post to an entire application.  Therefore, etiquette between gamers is more essential for discussion. 

Gamers - please consider that your gaming friends have little or no opportunity to hide your individual posts without hiding you or the game altogether.  Peppering the feed with low value posts impedes another’s ability to find the posts actually necessary to gameplay.  Additionally, monopolizing the feed with items of little or no value/interest to others creates the same social impact as monopolizing a conversation.  Often, less is more… and quality here typically outweighs quantity.   

Game developers – remove the temptation to destroy gaming experience by removing the options to do so.  Consider controls on frequency and volume of such posts per user. We know you need to promote your game, but you probably wish to keep gamers playing, too, right?

Social Applications, Groups, Polls and Gifts

These items can be great “ice breakers” and turnkey socialization tools.  With these items you can reach out to someone without other consideration as to what to say.  What users rarely consider is the extent to which profile information is accessed and shared with undisclosed recipients.  Consideration should also be given to system performance when these applications are allowed, as they may be running in the background while not visibly in use.   It is typically quite easy to de-authorize these applications when no longer desired.   It is important to read the disclaimers before using these applications, and it is important to courteously understand why someone may not accept your gift or invitation.  This decline is not an indictment of friendship gesture but rather a de-selection of the system performance impact invited by the application.   Choose applications carefully, enjoy those you choose, respect others’ rights to choose for themselves, and remember… nothing is free.
 
Please visit AskHRS.com or contact HRS for employer tips in creating social media policies to include anti-harassment and intellectual property risk management.  

 

 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, November 22, 2010