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.


Building a Rock-Star Employer Brand with Glimmering Engagement Tactics

As the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest not only presents rock stars, but also presents a rock-star employer brand worthy of spotlight and emulation. While the widget shop next door might not enjoy intrinsic stardom, the same techniques that reinforce and sustain Summerfest’s brand are those that can make any employer shine. Successful talent management aligns with successful employer branding. 

We spoke with Eric Heinritz, Director of Food & Beverage Operations for Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. (MWF), parent organization to Summerfest. Heinritz offered us some of his leadership team’s most successful talent engagement tools, and these keys to success are accessible by every employer. Too many employers, however, continue to miss these opportunities.

As Dallas-based strategy, marketing and brand expert Dar Hackbarth describes it, “You have a brand whether you want one or not. Your brand, simply put, is not your logo or your advertising tagline; it is instead how people perceive you.” Brand management relies upon daily leadership commitment and so much more. Hackbarth continues, “The good news is that you don’t have to book Prince, Foo Fighters or Tim McGraw to create a rock-star perception about your workplace.”

Milwaukee Word Festival hires a few thousand quality seasonal employees each year and gets it done successfully. The organization's empowerment of the year-round team creates a magnetic culture. "It can be difficult to find organizations that are willing to loosen the reins and truly empower their employees.  Empowerment is often laid out as lip service or what I like to call the 'faux empowerment tactic'," offers Heinritz. "The employee should be integral to a decision making process that affects his or her actual job, not simply put on a committee that plans the annual holiday party or organizes the company softball team. If an employee does not feel a true sense of ownership, they are not truly empowered and are not as likely to be fully invested in the job."


Align with the External Brand.

Hackbarth reinforces that a company’s workforce is key to a strong, believable external brand. “People are the most powerful brand touchpoint you have. They are likely the most frequent and in-depth medium via which you interact with customers. You can try to change your brand through different graphics or words, advertising or social media, but if your people are saying and doing one thing while your words and graphics are saying another, you lose.” He observed that Summerfest does a good job of interweaving its longtime smiley-face logo within the smiling, happy demeanor of its employees. “Summerfest markets itself as a happy place to be, and they do a nice job of educating their employees to be living embodiment of that smiling brand.” He continues, “Neither good external messaging nor educated people come first; neither is more important than the other. Rather, it is the ‘chicken and the egg together’ that make a branding strategy successful.”


Listen to Employees.

"Listening sessions are another great tool. Not only are you going to discover the common issues that the team struggles with, you will also likely gain some fresh ideas," delivers Heinritz.  "The best listening sessions are those that are not run by a team's direct supervisors.  The team is most likely to open up and freely share concerns and ideas when that intimidation is removed.  It may be necessary to utilize an experienced moderator who will be able to keep the group focused on practical criticism and foster those fresh ideas." 

To Eric's point, third party facilitated learning sessions continue to emerge in popularity. With an unbiased expert deployed, the meeting has structure and contribution without fear of reprisal. HRS regularly substitutes roundtables in lieu of seminars. The participation not only elicits important team ideas but also delivers empowerment and augments learning. Further supporting participation, most people are not auditory learners but rather kinesthetic learners. Heinritz adds, "Most importantly, these listening sessions will require follow through by management." Leadership response and positive energy are the building blocks to successful consecutive sessions.  

Listening can also be in written form, and employee surveys have been widely used by countless employers over many, many decades. Heinritz discusses his company's survey success. "The addition of an employee survey last year proved to be one of the most powerful and impactful tools we have implemented in years.”  Well-crafted surveys can evaluate processes, leadership protocol and team effectiveness. Surveys can be voluntary and better present themselves as an employee benefit where voluntary. However, those reluctant to volunteer can be just as or more important to contribute.  Heinritz tells us the MWF survey was voluntary and offered protected anonymity, along with an option for further discussion with management. When crafting a survey, be certain to add only those questions employees are qualified to answer and management is willing to address. We caution against questions calling forth evaluation of practices outside respondents' knowledge base. However, well-crafted questions that anticipate response can assess impact upon employee engagement, and well-crafted questions manage expectations of potential outcomes.  Similar to 360 reviews, language and anonymity must be carefully considered.


Build your Brand into your Employees’ DNA.

Taking the idea of employees as brand missionaries further, Hackbarth added that “the best companies bake their external brand into their core employee values,” He cited Harley-Davidson as an example of a company that does this well. “Most people intuitively get the Harley brand. What they likely don’t know is that the brand has its roots within five core company values: tell the truth, be fair, keep your promises, respect the individual, and encourage intellectual curiosity. These operating values are ingrained internally, they emanate outward from employees, they interweave into marketing efforts, and the world then sees them as the encouragement of freedom and straightforward American values, values we’ve come to associate with Hogs and denim.”

Hackbarth also cited an aviation company he worked with to help rebuild their external brand “from the employee out.” The company developed several ongoing education sessions to emphasize the ideas of brand selling, brand service, and daily brand behavior. These sessions were mandatory for new and long-time employees alike. The company reinforced the training by creating a quarterly recognition program in which rank-and-file employees nominated each other for specific acts of exemplifying the brand. “Sales and customer satisfaction numbers increased measurably as a result,” he said. “There are significant bottom-line benefits to having a workforce that all walks the talk.”


Employer Brand Management Delivers ROI.

Employers like Summerfest understand that getting their employees involved creates success for all. Techniques like the ones mentioned above are universal keys to success and have been studied and validated for more than half a century.

An employee who volunteers to weigh in on his or her own departmental tasks should certainly be heard; that employee repetitively performs a task first-hand and is therefore integral to decision tools in process design. Not only is that information valuable to process evaluation, but the employee will also feel substantially valued.

HRS has been “rocking” employee involvement training for more than 30 years, starting with Quality Circles in the early 1980's. We continue to deliver programs such as these herein, and we've had the good fortune of educational collaborations with many top employers including Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Hackbarth summarizes, “If you create ways to align your external brand with your employer brand, and nurture employees who become a living embodiment of your external brand, you’ll amplify everyone’s perception of you and turn the volume up on your bottom line.” Hackbarth has guided countless employers in turning their brands “up to 11.”


For more information regarding our feature experts, please visit summary bios for each...

Eric Heinritz

Dar Hackbarth

Jessica Ollenburg


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, March 05, 2014

 





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

 





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

 





Org Comm 101: How to Avoid "I Forgot"

While not biologically correct, "the mind is a muscle" offers some merit, and it is true... "when you don't use it, you lose it." Think tank studies overwhelm us with evidence that memory is contingent upon attention and interest. To a certain extent we can, in fact, hold others accountable for the ability to remember. 

On the flip side, however, the best of us can overwhelm, over-absorb, spread too thinly and/or burn out. 

"I forgot" is not a legitimate excuse.  To that end here is a quick organizational trick to ensuring top efficiency in daily priorities and task handling... 

Use technology wisely.  Use task reminders and event invitations.  Require email correspondence as a paper trail to avoid confusion.  

Create email folders and filters. Use subject lines, keywords and especially senders to automatically sort incoming and outgoing correspondence for quicker future reference. Use technology to automatically attach correspondence to contact records. Consider privacy protection for items of public sensitivity.

Use flags, priority codes and subject line keywords to set expectations of deadlines and urgency. 

If you do not have someone on your team to help you with this, make it a priority to acquire someone, internally or externally to set this up. Give that priority a big red flag on your desktop of "to do's."  For those who do not work at a desk, mobile desktops and PDAs are available. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, May 29, 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

 





Writing Job Descriptions for Legal Compliance and Organizational Development Results

Templates exist for best practices job descriptions.  Some templates hit the mark and others fall short.  Our article outlines the minimum goals to be attained by job description creation as well as some helpful guidelines to writing a custom description.  Rarely can an organization pull a job description "off the shelf" from another organization and apply it without essential modification.  Consider a job description model only a starting point and invest the effort into customizing the instrument to your organization and your unique job.  The exercise of doing so offers value in itself. 

For starters, let us explore the goals.  A strong job description will...

  • Serve as an effective tool for employee selection and orientation to specific position duties and evaluation criteria.
  • Establish a training checklist for new hires or incumbent job changes.
  • Provide a point-by-point quality of work itemization for performance appraisals and ongoing performance management.
  • Document position goals and performance standards.
  • Protect the firm from legal risks through written documentation of position requirements.  Establish ADA, FLSA and EEOC compliance.
  • Benchmark the position for accurate compensation scale review.
  • Facilitate a merit-based compensation system by clearly identifying distinguishing characteristics between positions and position levels.
  • Communicate recruitment parameters to safeguard the hiring process.
  • Effectively distribute workload among team members to ensure organizational “right sizing.”
  • Manage legal risks in employment law by comprehensively documenting the position requirements and performance requirements.
  • Allow team members to measure their own performances between formal performance appraisals.
  • Establish individual accountability.
  • Internally market the position to each relevant team member through controlled terminology and quick communication of the “keys to success” in the position.
  • Enhance training and thereby minimize relevant turnover.
  • Validate the need for pre-employment testing/screening toward legal risk management.
  • Protect team members not selected for promotion from failure to understand selection decisions.  Protect the company from challenged decisions.
  • Assist supervisors with the performance appraisal system by providing written reminders of the goals and expectations actually communicated to the team members.

 

Job Analysis should involve both incumbent employees and their supervisors.  Not only should the tasks and position goals be documented, but in crafting and weighting such considerations, the keys to success and risks of failure should also be considered.  The consideration and the documentation of facts are two different things.  The final product will be edited and filtered for content and purpose. As an example, we document what an employee is responsible to do to avert problems, but we do not necessarily document the potential problems themselves.

Typical categories of information include Job Title, Immediate Supervisor, FLSA Status, Mission/Summary, Essential Tasks & Responsibilities, Supervisory Responsibility, Job Requirements, Working Conditions, Physical Demands, Skills & Learning Goals, and Disclaimer of Management Ability to Modify.  Some descriptions may include Department, Pay Grade, Work Hours, Location/Site Travel and more.

When crafting language, measurable benchmarks must be present to ensure the standards are meaningful and reliable.  Legally compliant language is essential to ensure compliance and perception of compliance at every stage of employment.  Desirable behaviors should be documented in detailed description.  While some label behaviors as"soft skills," successful leadership recognizes that behaviors drive results often more than skills do.  Behaviors need to be measured both on the job and at pre-employment assessment.  The HRS Assessment Center supports just that! Owning a characteristic is not as important at appropriately deploying that characteristic when it counts.  In order to pay a bill, one needs not only to have the money but also to write the check.

Job analysis questionnaires, sample job descriptions, outsource assistance and more information are available from HRS.  We wish you great success with your project!

 

  

 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, September 26, 2011