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.

The 7+ Disciplines of HR and How to Address Them All at Once

Employment Law, Organizational Development, C-Suite Planning, Talent Management, Engagement, Documentation and Compensation are the 7 minimum HR disciplines requiring dedicated focus in any single unique organization. Larger or more talent-centric employers will require additional disciplines of focus. The keys to success in each of these 7 critical disciplines can be quite distinctive, meaning a high-function team approach will likely produce best HR outcomes. While generalists should either be “big picture” oriented or adept at the most routine of company HR functions, the talent pool has simply not yet produced enough great generalists to go around. If you find one, hold on tightly and deliver resources. Today’s most savvy employers are partnering internal and external professionals to best address holistic organizational opportunities.  Smaller employers enjoy cost control via flexible access to full-time caliber steady talent. All employers, including major market size, enjoy the benefits of third-party offerings.

The following drill-down sets forth today’s best practices in addressing the 7 disciplines independently and simultaneously.

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Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 12, 2016


What Doesn't HR Need to be in 2016?

HR has spent years in the “HR needs to provide business value” debate with the rest of the organization. At numerous points over the past 30 years, the field of HR has been challenged to prove that what they were doing held value and contributed to all facets of operations. This has been a hot issue over the past year, with numerous bloggers and consultants posting their view of how HR needs to be defined heading into 2016. SHRM even stated that the modern CHRO needs to be, essentially, a superhero. With all of this going on, you’ve probably read a majority of these viewpoints and are now contemplating which definition stands the truest. Your answer? In short, all of these definitions stand true. If someone out there believes that HR needs to be something, then there has to be at least some demand and truth behind that definition.

HR needs to perform a multitude of different roles for an organization. While it is certainly difficult to excel at everything that’s called for, we do have the ability to simplify all of these different calls to action into a simple, catch-all 5-point definition.

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Matthew Bare - Thursday, May 12, 2016


Workforce Preparedness: 5 Key Skills That Can & Should Be Developed by Employers

As we address the skills gap and the need to change how we educate, the skills most lacking are those related to problem solving, work ethic, leadership, time management and organizational communications. Unless and until we can rely upon pre-employment training to develop these toolsets in our team members, employers need to absorb the burden of this development, thereby enjoying the incredible ROI on the initiative. Many are still failing to capture this incredible upside opportunity. 

As corporate educator, guest academic professor and consulting CHRO to both academic institutions and a wealth of employers realizing the outcomes of pre-employment education, I draw upon 360-degree visibility, impact and passion. 

These 5 key skills represent the most critically lacking employment skills, as well as, the most efficient means of employer resolution. These also represent the most popular and successful HRS workshops across widespread talent functions, hierarchy and lifecycle stages. 

1. Problem Solving:

There is nothing less common than sense, and few academic institutions are properly developing critical thinking. With the crazed-wave deployment of unlawful personality profiles and meaningless instruments, we’re strongly recommending talent assessment such as the SR2, pinpointing problem solving, trainability and critical thinking beyond job knowledge. Critical thinking can be taught, and many unique problem-solving styles can succeed in the workplace. Critical thinking is not necessarily a pass-fail proposition. Via proper assessment and delivery, educational bullets such as problem solving, data interpretation, metrics, cost-benefit analysis, and the Six Hats of Thinking are highly effective at identifying individual trouble spots and capturing opportunity for development.

2. Work Ethic:

While the U.S. continues to lag global competitors in average work week and appropriate recharge use of break time, productivity will equally lag. Employers have a responsibility and an opportunity in setting forth culture and expectations of the work hours, commitment and focus needed for individual and corporate success. The less committed employees are demotivating the more committed. Window-dressing engagement is not enough. As third party expert educators, we’ve realized the upside, and we need to get this message out! If work ethic factors are extrinsic, corporate education can mitigate, if not eliminate, the problem.

3. Leadership:

“Cash is King” only to the point that life’s needs can be afforded. Thereafter, employee retention, employer brand, risk management and workforce productivity all rely more heavily on proper leadership. Old-school methods of promoting the best “doers” are rightfully replaced with promoting more interested and trainable leaders, and then developing them with lifelong leader learning. Poorly trained leaders decimate success in a labor-intensive organization. Furthermore, as long as employees are willing to forego 15% compensation for a better boss, employers find a less costly and more productive win in properly selecting and developing leaders. For proper role modeling and culture, leaders must be seen embracing learning, while balancing their immediate credibility. Leader learning is best deployed as a partnership between internal and external expert trainers.

4. Time Management:

While the first component of time management might be gaining worker commitment to expand the workday, actual time management and efficiency-based routines are currently under-taught.  While lean thinking and efficient use of technology are often properly attended, time management in work flow planning, appropriate multi-tasking, prioritization, communication tactics, team meeting protocol and compartmentalization are critical to education initiatives. By teaching holistic time management, we additionally reduce energy shift and optimize quality. 

5. Organizational Communications:

Beyond the time management principles involved in crafting communications, fabulous upside is gained through proper teaching of communication mode selection, non-verbal cues, body language, time, place, audience and tone. While anti-harassment is lawfully essential to employer reasonable care, teaching acceptance of dissimilarity also delivers competitive edge, better invention and enhanced problem solving. Exceptional curriculum includes the benefits of diverse thinking, as well as, the protocol most effective with each of the 16 personality types. Today’s most popular topics also include Internal customer service and building organizational bridges. 

When teaching these 5 skills, 3 key rules are critical to learning, yet still under-attended by those employers missing the mark. These 3 simple rules include: 

1. Address unique audience learning style and aptitude, 

2. Deploy simultaneous assessment toward curriculum development and success benchmarking, and 

3. Remove fear of reprisal. 

More specifically, participative learning remains preferred by most, while auditory learning remains least effective. Pacing too fast, too slow and/or audience adaptation failures remain common pitfalls. Training from, or in the presence of, supervisors creates fear of reprisal and fear of presenting the “stupid question.” (I always remind here the only stupid question is the one not asked.) 

While employers cannot rely solely upon external expert educators, both internal and external trainers must partner for optimum learning. Roundtable workshops, facilitated by topic experts deploying Gestalt Protocol, are the fastest and most meaningful method of speed-track knowledge transfer and useful application. Live case studies are highly engaging for even those not prone to academia, and these similarly avoid distracting perception of internal bias. In our corporate education series, our own case studies are revealed in full protection of employer confidentiality and intellectual property, of course.  

We invite you to stay tuned for continuing information on this topic including steadfast findings and ever-emerging trends. Keep training!


Jessica Ollenburg - Friday, April 15, 2016


Gen Z Isn't Planning On Going to College... Can You Support It?

Only 15% of Generation Z have stated that they have definite plans to pursue their four-year degree. The plan of the other 85% is to enter the workforce at age 18 and look to have their career, and their employers, dictate the necessary education they should pursue. This finding comes from a global study conducted by Universum, whom surveyed approximately 50,000 members of Generation Z in an effort to identify what the young generation values. Our society is looking at a big shift in thinking here, but it’s a shift that can be embraced. As long as this shift is done right, we’re looking at a resulting increase in trade school enrollment, individual financial standing and general workforce preparedness (i.e., a decline in the skills gap). 

Who is Generation Z? 

I know what you must be thinking right now – “We’ve barely begun to understand the Millennials…now we have a whole new generation to worry about?!” 

I get your hesitation. Please know, however, that this article will prove to be much more about looking at our future actions as employers rather than about defining a generation. 

Generation Z consists of any individual born 1995 or later. In non-mathematical terms, that means that the oldest are currently out at the bar buying their first beer (well, maybe not RIGHT now). They are that close to beginning their careers. The majority, however, are currently middle- and high-school aged and are the ones that we can focus on under this thesis. At first glance, they might seem similar to Generation Y, however this generation is growing up with a much greater sense that nothing can be taken for granted. In essence, they recognize that they need to make their own future. One way that Gen Z is looking to accomplish this is by learning from some of the professional and financial pitfalls of prior generations. 

The biggest perceived pitfall that’s been identified so far? “Unnecessary College.” Generation Z is seeing two (negative) things result from Generations X and Y: crippling debt and a lack of preparedness to enter the work force – both of which have logical ties to attending the wrong form of college. What’s meant here? The idea is that too many citizens are being forced into the wrong education: Bachelor's degree attainment when what they really need is trade school certification and/or professional on-the-job education. The reality is that certain individuals are putting up to hundreds of thousands of dollars into their education and it’s not giving them proportionate professional or financial advantage. For example, did you know that Gen Y professionals who went to college are not able to afford a home as quickly as their non-bachelor-degree-holding counterparts? (Yahoo article). For more support on this thinking, you can also read my prior article here

How This is Different than Gen Y…and Where that Thinking Came From

If you’re Generation Y, then societal pressure essentially dictated that you had to get your Bachelor’s degree. In fact, the following line was drawn: 

No Bachelor’s degree? Unemployable. 

And Gen Y listened. Gen Y is on pace to be the highest educated generation EVER…. all while being the most criticized generation for not having the skills required by their employers. Therefore, the question has to be asked (and has been by several, including myself, already): 

Is it the individual or the education that’s truly lacking? 

(This is the part which will make this article more editorialized than I would typically like to be, but I want you to follow my logic.) 

Long story short, this line of thinking has led us to the over-attendance of Bachelor’s degrees. Getting your Bachelor’s degree is now no different than what having your high school diploma was 30 years ago. Is this progress? It should be, but it has also come with a form of decline that no one saw coming. 

Now, you can get a degree from anywhere, and colleges know that you need that degree in order to work…so up goes the price of tuition (and the student debt) since demand has become essentially inelastic. Consider this: tuition has increased 3.4% per year above inflation between 2005 and 2015, whereas average income has seen an overall decrease between those same years. In broader terms, we’ve seen an overall 26% increase in the cost of tuition vs. a 4% decline in income over these ten years. (Visit College Board and The Department of Numbers for a further look at some of these statistics). 

Why This Is Good for Our Workforce 

Looking at everything presented above, one thing becomes clear: we need to stop overvaluing Bachelor’s degrees because of what’s happened. Let’s correct. Let’s take matters into our own hands, employers. You have an entire generation of students who is completely willing to be sculpted by you and who is willing to learn whatever it is you tell them to learn. Take that opportunity. If you believe in the skills gap…this is how you fix it. 

According to a recent Fast Company article, only 23% of surveyed employers agreed with their incoming college graduates that these young professionals learned the necessary skills needed to excel in their job during their time at college. 

I repeat: 23%. This means that, on some level, 3 out of 4 of us already know that college is not always teaching our youth what they need to know in order to succeed. Couple this with our country’s consistently dropping education rankings (28th overall globally, 2nd to last in high-income nations – CNBC article) and you have a recipe for disaster: we’re forcing our youth to attend colleges that are poorly rated, force way too much debt and financial pressure, and don’t always prepare you adequately for the workforce. 

Employers, I implore you, start your search for Gen Z employees on the early side. Don't require them to immediately attend a 4-year school. Your training costs will not increase over that which you currently have, and will be much lighter on the back end. Chances are, you’re already putting your employees through this exact corporate education course load that we’re referencing here. Plus, now you know that your employees will have the skills that you want…because you instilled them onto a blank slate. 

Matthew Bare - Friday, April 15, 2016


How to Handle March Madness: It's a Big Deal

Starting tomorrow, your company might become part of an annual epidemic that costs the U.S. economy over $1 billion an hour. March Madness, the NCAA postseason basketball tournament, is a national phenomenon, and it has been giving employers headaches for years. Each year, employees gather around their electronics every March to stream games and check scores to keep up with their bracket, and this time away from work leads to unbelievable amounts of lost productive hours. This year’s total economic impact may even top the $4 billion total within the first week alone (To view the math and stats behind this, you can click here for findings from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, whom perennially compile a report).

March Madness cannot be ignored if you’re an employer.

First, let’s take a look at what you need to be aware of when it comes to March Madness, and then we’ll explore options on what you should do for your company. These options aren’t about whether or not you should create an office bracket pool (gambling laws aside)…it’s about something much more pressing: what do you do during the actual times of the games? You see, it’s not just about workers stepping away from regular tasks and being less productive, it’s also about the stress that all this video streaming will put on your IT.

Times You Need To Watch: March Madness starts on March 17th this year, and this will be the single date that causes the most stress on your infrastructure. In terms of realistic expectations, this should be the primary day that you are concerned with. Beyond this day, you only need to truly be concerned with game times of the local favorite teams. If you concern yourself with these two details, then you can reasonably label all other tournament activities during work hours as excessive, and you don’t need to concern yourself with them. For example, any worker that completely checks out frequently during the entire month-long schedule of the tournament likely isn’t a very dedicated employee and can be dealt with accordingly.

Now, what do you do with these times? What do you do on March 17th, and then when your local team is squaring off in a “win-or-go-home” game that defines their season? You have two options: shut it down or embrace it.

Option 0 – Laissez-Faire: The easiest option, which we’ll address first, is to simply acknowledge that your employees who want to watch the games at these times will do so, and just let them stream it on their individual devices. Make these two timeframes open for streaming, and make it open season for them. This option is easy, and requires no forethought on your part, but is not without flaws. We don’t recommend simply blocking sites as there are way too many illegitimate streaming sites to track. You won’t be able to block them all, and the ones that you don’t block will be far more harmful to IT than

Option 1 – Shut It Down: There are multiple reasons for why you may want to go this route, and they all primarily center on the notion that there are deadlines and customer needs that simply cannot be moved, and your operations just cannot take the hit. This is reasonable, and it’s your prerogative as an employer. For those of you who are looking to prohibit activities and completely shut down employee access, you need to completely remove the temptation that individuals might have to want to check scores. Get them away from their computers! Schedule important meetings during these times, as an example. It is possible that certain employees may be distracted and preoccupied during such meetings, but your truly valued and invested employees will absolutely buy in to the meeting if it’s important enough, and you can always explain that the work takes precedence. Your best employees will understand.

Option 2 – Completely Embrace It: Provide an employee appreciation event surrounding the tournament. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. If you have a budget for these types of activities, there is no better day of the year to spend it on than the first Thursday of the tournament. You will easily get the best ROI and value on your dollar. Pick a conference room to gather everyone (or let them come and go) and stream the games on a big screen. Or, why not find a restaurant or other establishment that will host you? Tip: have the employees bring their laptops/tablets with them to the room so that they can still monitor any activity during game time. Chances are, though, that roughly half of your clientele is likely checked-out watching the games, as well, and won’t send you anything. Still, it’s a nice, friendly reminder to your team that the customer always comes first, but still keeps everyone in a very positive, very grateful mindset. If you’re booking elsewhere, make sure that they have Wi-Fi capability so everyone can log in. Obviously, it’s a public network so there may be security issues, but the establishment won’t mind because they expect this strain on their network at these times…and it’s worth it for them because of the revenue they’re bringing in. Note: if employees don’t respond positively and gratefully, and take it for granted, than you may want to shut this down.

Option 2B – Bring Your Customers In, Too: Are you considering doing an employee appreciation event? Why not go all out and expand it into a customer appreciation event? Invite clients out to your office or to your reserved space to join in on the festivities. Make it a networking/appreciation event for them. Chances are, people who like the games (and those who don’t) will consider attending if you’re giving your beloved customers a chance to talk with you (about business or not) in a more relaxed setting. Invest in those relationships!

Tip: Even if you’re not doing an event yourself…Do you believe that your customer is going to be heavily invested into a game at a certain time? Maybe hold off on correspondence to them during that time! It’s small, but they may appreciate it.

Matthew Bare - Wednesday, March 16, 2016


The Secrets of Payroll/HRIS Systems

It’s 2016, and the industry of Payroll/HRIS systems is exploding. New systems are constantly being introduced, and each one is claiming to be the one and only “expert” in the HR field. With all of this going on, the question arises:

How exactly do you make sure that you are using the best system that’s available?
With the ever-flowing current of new systems and information coming your way, numerous businesses are finding the value in a third party administrator who has experience and comfort with a given system to assist with administration and payroll entry. Today’s payroll specialist requires knowledge in employment law, tax, compensation, benefits, HRIS, and general HR subfields. Yes – it’s getting more and more complicated out there, just as the rest of the HR world is.
We at HRS have been assisting our clients with payroll design and operations for years. While we’re seeing more and more companies looking to outsource this process, payroll is still a function that a number of individuals prefer to keep in-house. So, let’s ask the question: How exactly do you make sure that you are using the best system that’s available?

The first thing you need to know about the HRIS industry is that no system is perfect.
This is critical. Each system has its pros, cons, and inconsistencies, and we have yet to find a provider that truly excels at customer service – an ever-elusive tool in the technology-driven business world. In general, what you want to look for in a system is a provider which positions itself as “HRIS-first”, not “expert-status-first”. Why? It’s all because of a key instrument you need as an HR professional: data. Data is the buzzword of choice for our business society, and CEOs are going into 2016 looking for data and data-driven recommendations out of HR. Because of that, you really should be looking for a system which provides you with the data you need first and foremost. You can always analyze the data yourself, or find another third party who can help you analyze the data and provide you with recommendations. If your Payroll/HRIS system does not do an excellent job at providing you with the data you need, even if they do a good job at being “experts”, then you’re genuinely going to find yourself behind. It’s going to be hard and time consuming for you to come up with the information you need without a proper electronic aid.

The second reason not to put too much focus on a payroll system provider’s HR knowledge base is that most of these providers truly fall short of “expert” status. 
Payroll providers don’t always give the right recommendations and, furthermore, most of them are not court-recognized experts. Consider this: should you be given bad advice from a payroll company, you really can’t point the finger back at them. All of the legal blame would rest with you. Additionally, quality service personnel across the industry are very elusive and are not something that can truly be counted on (no offense to any individuals personally). We’ll take a deeper dive into service quality later in the article, but the point remains that this is another reason to focus on system and data quality first.

So, now that we’ve identified the main criteria, let’s ask the question again: How exactly do you make sure that you are using the best system that’s available? It might actually be the system you already have. Since no system is perfect, you may have already found a system with which you are comfortable and gives you enough efficiency. After all, risking change and taking the time to learn a new system always offers the risk of lost efficiency. However, I will tell you that it is highly probable that there is a system out there which can be more efficient and affordable than the system you already have, and the transition does not have to be painful. Think of it this way: if you think you’re paying too much for a service or spending too much time performing certain tasks, trust your instincts and know that you’re probably right.

Here are the top four features you want to look for in a Payroll/HRIS system:
1. Grid system for payroll entry: Let’s start with an easy one. If your system doesn’t have this for payroll entry, then you’re really missing out on efficiency. The Grid in any payroll system allows for quick and easy entry of similar line items amongst candidates. Certain systems only offer you the ability to enter pay items on a per-employee basis, and there’s going to be at least some times when that’s not the most efficient means. In fact, the ideal system offers you both Grid and per-employee detail system views. Both methods have their place, and both systems should be in your arsenal. If your provider only gives you one – trust us, you can do better.

2. Reporting Functions: If you feel that your reporting system is too complicated, cumbersome, or takes too long to get you the data you need, then it’s probably exactly that. In today’s high-tech world, there is no reason your system shouldn’t give you push-button feedback. There are systems out there which give you quick and accurate information, and I’ll present one to you at the bottom of this article. Look for a system where you know exactly where, and how, to get the information you’re looking for. You’re busy, and your time should be spent analyzing data rather than searching for it.

3. ACA: Similarly, you will want a system which focuses on high quality features that run accurate and timely ACA reports. This is nothing to take for granted – we’re in 2016, and we’re seeing a number of systems fall short in this capacity. What’s important is that you find a system which generates all of the information you need for ACA reporting and asks very little of you. We’ve seen some systems which take your money and still have you complete a substantial portion of the data entry yourself. That’s pointless. If all they’re doing is filing for you – please know that is the easy part. If needed, you can always find an ACA expert out there. Make sure that your technology is working for you and giving you the information you need.

4. Individual Reps: This one should be self-explanatory. There are enough providers out there that assign dedicated CSRs to your company; you don’t need to settle for less. The important thing to look for with your reps is that they are knowledgeable in their own system – they know how to fix the system’s problems and provide you with information on the best way to accomplish a certain task. This can’t be taken for granted, as individual reps within a provider will often disagree on the best methods for handling issues. As a further example, their legal compliance knowledge (if they have it) won’t seem quite as helpful if they’re setting up your earnings and deductions codes in the wrong way. Again – no one is perfect here, but there are some that are better than others. 

There are other features which will be more or less beneficial on an individual basis, but these are the four that everyone needs to look at.

Now that we’ve done that, here is a comparative analysis of the three most popular systems we see our clients using (in alphabetical order):
1. ADP: My least favorite, in all honesty. A lot of people have used ADP, and a lot of people are starting to jump ship. In fact, it’s so much that ADP has hired Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study to figure out how to prevent the loss of clientele and improve their system. ADP offers all the basics, but their customer service model is ancient. Most of the other systems give you a dedicated rep, and don’t cost any more money…so why exactly would you put up with their outdated call center model? Outside of that, ADP offers most of the essentials that you’d look for. However, it can be slow and clunky at times and really doesn’t offer anything that sets it apart, other than being a big company, and, frankly, that means nothing in today’s world. Modern business has been preaching for years already that adaptability and quality outweigh, and reversely correlate to, size. Lastly, ADP only provides you with live check preview as an add-on service, which is a very helpful feature and comes standard in most other systems.

2. Paychex: This may be surprising because most industry professionals I’ve talked to have proclaimed Paychex as “the aging dinosaur” you need to move away from. Truth be told, ADP fits this description far more than Paychex does. In fact, Paychex is still a fairly reliable system, and you can do much, much worse. Paychex does offer you a dedicated rep, but they have also silo’ed their company into numerous divisions that can make customer service frustrating at times. Sometimes, you’ll get the “I’m sorry, you’ll need to talk to so-and-so to fix that problem, call them” and you’ll be stuck calling 3 different individuals. Although, in their defense, they are actual dedicated reps so you’re not stuck calling hotlines most of the time. Paychex customer service is a wild card – some of the best reps we’ve ever worked with have come from Paychex, and they will truly do everything that they can to be helpful and be very knowledgeable in fixing seemingly any problem. These individuals, however, don’t always stick around and are typically targeted for promotion sooner rather than later – leaving you with a new rep who might be just as good, completely unhelpful, or anywhere in between. Looking at operations, Paychex’s actual payroll software is easy to use and reliable, but we’ve seen some monstrous errors happen once you start to venture into some of the benefits and ACA services – be forewarned.

3. Paylocity: The up-and-comer in the industry. Paylocity has shot out of a cannon and is growing at about 30-40% per year – an astronomical number. Such growth, as with any company, can lead to quality control problems, and sometimes their customer service training can lag behind their growth rate. Our experience with Paylocity customer service has been similar to that of most other systems, including Paychex – it can be good, bad, or anywhere in between. The system itself, however, really is unsurpassed. A lot of industry professionals criticize Paylocity of two things: 1. Their “low-ball” approach to win customers and 2. Their “Frankenstein” approach. Firstly – the “low-ball” approach in pricing. In this particular instance, that doesn’t affect you as a consumer. Here’s why: given that no perfect system exists, why should you pay more for a system that merely pledges it’s better than any other? The added value likely won’t be there. Secondly - the “Frankenstein” approach comes down to how Paylocity outsources their HR expertise, benefits consulting, and other services of the like to true experts in those fields. It may be convenient to have a company like ADP or Paychex that can provide you any form of HR consulting known to man, but what often happens is that these companies succumb to a “jack of all trades, master of none” phenomenon, and you’re much better off finding a dedicated HR consultant who delivers good information and can work alongside your HRIS system. It may appear to be less convenient, but will almost always get you better assistance and is, at least, no more expensive of an option (and, believe it or not, can be cheaper). Paylocity understands what their role is in HRIS, and they have it where it counts. In particular, their reporting format is one of my favorite features of any system out there. You can run any form of report, and even run report-like searches from the standard search bar, and it comes to you instantaneously. We have seen one client who had issues with reporting; however, it went more to a service/set-up issue as opposed to a system issue. Paylocity might very well offer the best technology at getting you the data you need as an HR professional, which is ultimately what we’re looking for under this thesis.

Do you agree? Is there a system that you’d like to know my thoughts on that I didn’t address here? Do you have a system that you swear by that you feel I’ve discounted? Contact me and let me know! I’d be happy to talk.

Find more about our Payroll services here:

Matthew Bare - Tuesday, February 09, 2016


CEO Must-Knows About Employing People in 2016

For those who create jobs, a new year creates new opportunities and new threats. While we at HRS highly recommend each CEO to empower a fully functional HR initiative, we simultaneously advocate these 10 areas for highest executive support and visibility before giving up the reins. CEO to CEO… here is the drill-down!

Invest Only into Programs Supported by Data-Driven Metrics
While HR earned its seat in the boardroom by producing undeniable results on the Income Statements and Balance Sheets, avoid the assumption that all HR professionals grasp fiscal responsibility and know-how. Dubbed “The Pioneers of HR” in a 2015 Fortune Magazine spread, HRS knows exactly how thin the landscape was in prior decades, and we promise that more are boasting accolade than actually proven.  While it’s possible to find a statistic to support any thesis you choose, be certain the statistic is valid and supports a meaningful takeaway for optimum outcome. Statistics can be developed internally or externally at the start, but should be benchmarked internally upon program commencement. 

Ensure a C-Level Eye on Key Employment Law Changes
CEO’s must have a high level knowledge of these laws before properly delegating implementation and due diligence in 2016. Especially if a Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) is not in place, the items which cannot disappear from C-level are: handbook policies, ERISA Section 510, HIPAA, anti-harassment, trade secrets, ACA, FLSA, social media, independent contractors and joint-employer relationships, at a minimum. Top tier execs must ask the right questions and provide adequate support and empowerment to the right leaders of these critical initiatives. 

Bring Salary and Hourly Practices into Alignment
With Department of Labor (DOL) proposed overtime changes still embattled until late 2016, a major hike in minimum salary threshold may create unlawful “ivory tower” practices where they previously didn’t exist. Become more mindful of benefits, payroll handling and policy discrepancies between exempt and non-exempt team members. Be proactive.

Engage Without Coddling
Attracting and engaging the right talent cannot be accomplished without employer branding and a precise amount of ethical bribery, in view of forecasted 2016 shifts. That being said, some novices out there are “over-coddling” and making a pure mess of things. Let’s not forget Maslow’s Hierarchy, ERG motivation theories and that truly happy workers have no reason to work at any stage other than self-indulging self-actualization. Give your employees a reason and the resources to attain corporate goals. 

Keep HR and Accounting Completely Distinctive Functions at Lateral Vision
The keys to success in HR are absolutely neither a subset nor acquired along the accounting career path. These two critical functions each earn a boardroom seat, with critical communication between, and neither gets more leverage. While the HR effort cannot succeed without fiduciary vision and ability to assess proper fiduciary talent, the accounting effort can be tremendously successful with only limited communication from HR.  In fact, too much information in the hands of the accounting team yields EEOC and HIPAA penalty risks.

Personality Tests Belong in the 1970’s, with Mood Rings
Beaten down as unlawful 40 years ago, personality tests are somehow re-emerging for those who didn’t previously see the lightbulb. Throw in ADA protected mood disorders and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and personality tests tee up some real risk. Hiring without proper assessment poses even greater risk. Behavioral assessment delivers far more lawful, meaningful and reliable findings; keeping it job-related, predictive and risk free. Best options are still Simulation Scenarios and In-Baskets. 

Create a Politics-Free Zone
Wherever you sit, divisionary tactics and heated arguments are likely to be found. The workplace is ripe for passionate political arguments that threaten. Other countries already classify politics as protected. Arguing the Bill of Rights from every angle, the U.S. has begun protecting employees against harassment and discrimination due to political affiliation. While the political forum is likely to emerge downright uncivilized for some, an opportunity exists to actually capitalize on the problem by aligning your brand as a safe haven for those who work smart, work hard and respect others. DeBono’s Six Hats of Thinking, after all, requires perspective from all sides. 

Train, Train, Train! Talent May be Easier to Develop than Find
As a guest professor serving 6+ top-ranked institutions, I promise that even the best are concerned with proper education for today’s workplace. The employer who delivers appropriate development tools gains the competitive edge and exponential return on investment. Success is contingent upon corporate training in not only operations, but also workplace behaviors, leadership, organizational communications, problem solving and legal compliance. Avoid “canned curriculum” and deploy a topic expert to deliver on-point discussion and applied Q&A. Not only is it nearly impossible to “pick the right employee off a shelf,” but employees meeting life’s basic costs are willing to give up 15% of immediate pay for development opportunity. While cash can still be king and broken promises crush credibility, consider a well-balanced approach as investment into both employee and employer.

Take HIPAA and Anti-Harassment to New Levels 
2015’s Q4 reveals new privacy crackdowns, and government fines are being wielded about. Privacy lockdowns are a “bottom-up” approach. Meaning, if you’re a CEO… be sure to know very little about employee personal and medical lives, and be certain your leaders are trained to refuse all such information except on a “need to know” basis. Knowing the wrong things about your employees can backfire just as much as knowing too little. For lawful compliance, even an HR department may need 5-7 separate files per employee depending upon the structure, and many items should never leave HR’s gatekeeping. Department managers, accountants, IT and company-wide team members need updated HIPAA training and enforced compliance -- pronto.  Hand-in-hand with HIPAA, and with interplay between, Anti-Harassment due diligence needs another escalation. With newly protected classes, increased tension and steeper penalties, the courts are busy, and the courts are expensive! 3rd party experts can provide “affirmative defense” certifications not available through internal or video-based training. 

Choose Carefully Your Automation Levels and External Partners
A well-implemented HR automation system can exceed 300% ROI through vastly improved efficiencies and turnkey statistical decision tools. While this opportunity cannot be overlooked, some are going too far and reversing the benefit. Before we dehumanize human resources, 1) safeguard ability for audience adaptation and case-by-case judgment, 2) recognize that more keystrokes do not improve efficiency, and 3) lock down intellectual property where law allows. Inasmuch as HRS is recognized by the USPTO for world-deployed HRIS automation invention, even we know the boundaries. Don’t let your payroll and HRIS companies sell you the functions at which they fail. And finally, when choosing external partners, look for those who bring track record of success and extraordinary knowledge base, rather than just shiny new things that will become yesterday’s forgotten toys. 

As experts in Organizational Development, Employment Law and HR since 1983, HRS empowers business owners and C-suite leaders with fiscally savvy performance management solutions, custom to each unique employer. HRS is available to deliver extraordinary assistance with each action item recommended herein. Representing a wealth of industries, HRS clients range 25-100,000+ employees, start-up and emerging to Fortune-ranked. Headquartered in Brookfield WI, HRS offers locations in Washington DC and Scottsdale AZ plus national satellites. For more information, contact us

This article was produced for the IBAW magazine, January 2015 edition. Link to magazine

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, January 04, 2016


The Annual Performance Review: Post Mortem?

Each day, more employers abolish their annual review system. Why? Because feedback delayed an entire year is arguably worthless, accomplishes negative value, creates fear of feedback and decimates corporate resources. For the annual review to succeed, feedback must be ongoing throughout the year, and the annual review cannot produce surprises. Any employer who over-attends annual feedback and under-attends daily feedback is in critical need of realignment. As showcase employers such as Adobe, GE, Microsoft, Accenture and Deloitte have recently rejected the annual review in favor or regular conversation, they understand that performance appraisal done right is the catapult to success! 

Jack Welch’s 1980’s described “rank and yank” methodology at GE has merit, if and only if, the 10% being guillotined after one year of poor performance are 1) provided the tools to succeed along the way, and 2) damage controlled short of a full year’s underperformance. Frequent feedback by education-empowered leaders is most certainly inherent to the success blueprint. Leaders must effectively lead daily, not just annually.
Does Your Company’s Annual Review Deserve a Kick to the Curb?
Are leaders often late in preparing and/or delivering the annual review?
Are employees shocked by ratings and feedback?
Has your company encountered legal argument or unemployment defense because of instrument content or omission?
Is the benchmark employee flat-lining between or after reviews?
Is compensation becoming more tied to timing than merit, serving more as a COLA than a performance accolade?

Annualized reviews have become default policy due to conformity with once widespread practice and a desire to delay cumbersome, often cookie cutter, legalese documentation. HR information systems, while offering efficiency to the tech savvy, are often exacerbating the practice through irrelevant templates, impossible to align. There’s a much, much better way. Consistent with young employees’ reliance upon push-button and command control feedback through technology, a revamp of the system absolutely improves engagement and productivity for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. Let’s keep up with the changes!

What Should the Annual Review Look Like?
A “no surprise” recap of the year’s challenges, improvements, progress against prior goals and goals/resources for the future,
A meaningful, customized instrument to facilitate progress rather than to impede progress,
Benchmark plan of forward-moving feedback, rich with self-evaluation tools made quick, accurate and easy through metrics, 
Deployment of criteria which in no way provokes and in fact reduces legal argument,
Consistent, applicable, weighted metrics which align job description, goals and compensation, 
Where collective bargaining is applicable, alignment with said agreements.

Not an exhaustive list, these are the critical starting points. Opportunities exist to deploy several evaluation formats within a single employer, as long as lawful and fair consistency exists at a department and/or job function level. 

Is a Great Performance Appraisal System Enough?
Yes, as long as we clarify that a great appraisal “system” cannot exist without the following:
Getting the right people in the right company seats,
Selecting, developing and continuing lifelong learning for the right leaders,
Properly deploying magnets and motivators,
Adapting to unique employee learning styles,
Understanding and appropriately addressing the unique talent intensity and interrelatedness of each company role,
Dedicating laser focus to legal, fiscal and brand risk management. 

Legislation in Employment Law Necessitates Valuable Rewrite of the Review
The earlier weight on personal attributes now produces a 6+ figure risk for employers who miss the cues for rewrite. Given the many attributes stemming from culture, religion, genetic and medical protection, we can no longer consider personality, attitude, mood, and/or any characteristic which may attach to a protected class. While many employers are still missing the point, the more savvy, such as HRS clients, are finding not only risk management but also improved productivity outcome by swapping workplace behavior ratings for personal characteristic ratings. Actionable ratings without insult and risk better pave the way to success. 

When crafting the review, consider ratings which align with job description and meaningful criteria to the unique job. You’re one of the rare few if a universal template actually fits the purpose. Most templates can be the culprit to your leaders dreading and delaying the evaluation process. If a leader is already evaluating the criteria on a daily basis, dropping the rating into the appraisal is simple. If a leader doesn’t find the criteria naturally relevant or described in applicable terms, the blank stare and frustration will replace and likely reverse progress. 

Deploy “Appreciative Inquiry” by driving what’s going well to such an extent that it overpowers that which is going wrong. A recent HRS survey of 3000+ validates positive feedback 4 times as powerful as negative feedback. That being said, over-attending the positive without documenting need for corrective action can provoke a legal challenge for a well-intending employer. Failure to prove an employee was cognizant of substandard behavior and chose not to succeed will posture wrongful discharge claim, even beyond the obvious blemish to fairness. Balance is critical.

The Resolution
Originating in military protocol, the annual review emerged into mainstream workplaces circa 1950’s as a metric to rank, recognize and review compensation. Due to changes in leadership case study and employment law, the annual review is now under review itself. Employers continue to prototype 360 reviews and peer-to-peer bonuses. Both have their niche, but both can backfire dramatically if wielded haphazardly without precise control.  

It remains absolutely the strongest ROI to invest up front into a custom, ongoing performance management system. Relevant tailored tools and lifelong leader development safeguard time, energy and risk at every evaluation rollout. Managers should not dread or find cumbersome the evaluation process. Evaluation should be at the very core of leadership. Of more than 60 performance appraisal formats available through HRS, we still find ourselves further customizing the instruments for improved client outcomes. Without exception, the appropriate fit minimizes waste and improves outcomes for all.  It is far too often the inappropriate use of templates which has threatened the reputation and results of the review system. 

Furthermore, because leaders are entirely disposable if they don’t create better performance in those who depend upon them, it is the performance evaluation system upon which company success relies. We at HRS advocate, design and facilitate leadership development and performance management systems that position an employer for success. We deliver and we see the results!

This thought leadership article was initially produced for IBAW and subsequently licensed by request to BizStarts

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, November 21, 2015


What I've Learned through Successful Nonprofit Leadership: A “Distinguished Service Award” Winner’s Perspective

I've been leading charitable concerns since age 10, when my dad charged me with organizing a successful MDA carnival held at our home. Once you've made a positive impact, provided you have a moral compass, you are fueled for life! I am privileged to know so many great charitable leaders and equally privileged to enjoy so many great contributors in my circle of friends, family and community. 

Through the tumultuous drama of juggling adult egos, I find daily comfort and pride in the knowledge of having helped millions and raised millions. In that vein, I suppose I self-served my own conscience. (Fade to Phoebe Buffay on “Friends.”) What I'll never how some can let self-interest override their commitment to greater good. I can't say I care 'why' someone facilitates good...just do good! 

As a volunteer leader, I've never taken a paycheck for service, but I've learned to set limits and be very selective in allocating my already overspent time and resources. I've supported hundreds, if not thousands, of causes... disease, legislative, economic, youth, community, education, ethics, professional, name it! I've earned a healthy collection of honors and awards along the way. I won't be stopping any time soon, nor will my friends and family. 

Lesson #1…
Along the way I’ve learned many valuable keys to success, which should be deployed for ongoing greater good at warp speed. That being said, I’ve also learned this country needs nonprofit reform now. It's stunning how many undeserving organizations are getting away with nonprofit tax exemption, while diverting attention and resources away from more critical deserving causes. If you feel compelled to address taxation in this country, don't lose sight of bogus nonprofits and/or tax exempt nonprofits defying their covenants. George Costanza's "Human Fund" is alive and well. What I've also learned is that the lazy and self-serving are effectively alienating our best contributors. We need to clean house in some areas and refocus the spotlight in others. 

Truly Serving a Great Cause… 
While I’ve been associated with many, many organizations, today marks 5 years since I announced retirement from Arthritis Foundation leadership. The success with a truly great cause, as earned through great effort, inspires reflection and celebration. For many reasons, I retired at the completion of Board term which coincided with regional reorganization, which I helped facilitate. I miss the AF, and I’m thankful to keep in touch with so many friends met through service! Over 11+ years time with amazing people lending powerful contribution, I was fortunate to have chaired 2 record breaking annual balls and 2 record breaking annual walks, sponsored 3 Fox televised awareness campaigns from my backyard, instigated an awareness campaign for juvenile arthritis, advocated successfully to U.S. Congress, and sponsored/served on leadership committees for 14 other successful AF events. Helping millions and raising millions, with loyal family and friends, we championed a great cause. That being said, I am humbled by the enormous impact we made, and I remain today so appreciative of the opportunity to have worked with great people. 

More Lessons Gained Through Success…
Every great cause comes with challenge. If it didn't, it wouldn't exist as a real cause. Through challenge comes lesson. Here are a few keys to success which I have learned are somehow not obvious to all:

• We must allow nonprofit employees pride for their mission without allowing them to mistake taking a paycheck from a charity as actually serving the charity. Paid employees need to take the effort at least as seriously as the donors. Above and beyond is where true service lies. 

• Volunteer leaders, whether involved or not in the selection and training of staff, need some defined management authority over employees. Carefully select, train and hold accountable the volunteer leaders. 

• Charitable events are everywhere, every day. It's a competition to gain support. Any misfires in implementation need attention as missed opportunity to serve the cause. 

• A true supporter of an ongoing mission is likely unwilling to "whistleblow" a bad act under charitable governance. A walkout, somewhat quiet, is more likely. Pay attention and investigate. As with any disengagement, find the information.

The Resolution…
Through exhaustion or frustration, try to stay engaged. Keep the keys to success in your hands, “shut up and hang on,” and get it done! Push through the challenges, because the positive impact is well worth the effort. Cling to every helpful cliché you can, including “anything worth doing is difficult to do.” If everyone really did their part for even just a little while, imagine what we could accomplish together. 

For me, my longest tenure has been devoted to these organizations who surpass the bar and actually deliver to essential cause, cause for which I am passionate. I look for co-leaders who rise to the task and well-serve their responsibilities. I send deep appreciation for those who continue to persevere challenges, because great causes deserve great perseverance. My many, many volunteer leader peers agree.

As a closing thought, I am compelled to wholeheartedly thank friends, family, community and professional peers for every greater good they have championed and/or will champion in the future. I am fortunate to have worked with some great Boards, Committees and Councils as leader, member and/or reporting consultant. We need more great people to step forward, and we need it today. Grab your family and friends as you step forward. "It takes a village."

- Jessica Ollenburg, Board Chair Angel Wings, Board Chair HRS Gives Back

Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, October 17, 2015


Unlimited PTO: Friend or Foe?

In a world where virtual and remote work are more prevalent, autonomous work systems are already necessary. Employers find advantage in creating accountability metrics which properly evaluate a job well done, and allow employees to self-evaluate in alignment. Where this is achieved, quality employees are empowered to determine their own ability to take PTO without jeopardizing performance outcomes. The obvious reality, however, is that a wealth of employees, by their own standards or by lack of structure, will not rise to this task. The additional realty is that many jobs, regardless of their incumbents’ initiative, are simply not built for this protocol. Unlimited PTO (Paid Time Off) is worth consideration on its merits and applicability. 

Where classified properly according to current FLSA standards, certain exempt employees are somewhat able to modify work schedules on their own volition. The keys to this include their positions’ interdependence upon real-time communication and collaboration with other roles. Being accessible at a specific moment matters for many functions. Certain hourly employees, by nature of job description, may be highly accountable to specific work schedules. Any employer attempting to structure benefits according to FLSA status must lawfully avoid any ivory tower policies. An organizational analysis will be necessary.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported less than 2% of employers deploying unlimited PTO systems. While this practice is certainly a heated discussion point and potentially on the rise, many employers are simply not candidates for this program. At HRS we’ve experimented with similar programs since the 1990’s, and many have worked quite well. In our version, we’ve used our own “comp time” as an add-on within the PTO benefit. In doing so, we’ve been able to attach additional PTO in consideration to specific job outcomes and in balance to extraordinary bottleneck needs. What makes us great candidates are our wealth of self-evaluating exempt roles, key metrics in place, remote work practices, and an organizational size and assessment process that allows us to hire only the best. 

Where Unlimited Paid Time Off Pays Off
Alleviation of PTO tracking and need for balance sheet carryovers for accrual basis employers. 
Employees can focus on work needs and business outcomes by choosing timing without concern for PTO accruals and losses.
A survey of 2000+ adults by found that 69% will gravitate toward a job offering unlimited PTO.
Top employees are less likely to jeopardize work results when PTO can be deferred until downtime or ability to seek better self-coverage.
The employer has created a singular culture of teamwork and assimilated work ethic where abuse is unlikely and team members are responsible to other team members.
“Inbox Zero” to quality standards is a requirement and is contingent upon continued PTO.
Relaxed minds are unequivocally more productive and creative than stressed minds, (except for the short-lived adrenaline response some of us enjoy.)
Unlimited PTO shows employees you trust them, a leadership tactic that works fabulously with those who will achieve.

Where Unlimited Paid Time Off Creates Unlimited Disadvantage
An HRS survey of 3000+ adults reveals work hours 150% less important on average than job advancement. Unlimited PTO abuse for coworker employees in a team function adversely impacts the advancement of all. (Listen to: Coworkers who don’t pull their own weight.) 
Hourly nonexempt employees in many operation queue systems are needed to be timely in place for full scheduled shifts. 
FMLA tracking, especially where paid leave substitution applies, will need even more complicated and consistent lawful application. 
Attendance enforcements in academia and key community initiatives become culturally and practically challenged when not enforced on-the-job.
While the average employer saves only 52 hours per year in PTO tracking, the uncaptured opportunities may far outweigh these benefits.
Employees who lack intrinsic career motivation will likely abuse the system. This extrinsic reward fails to motivate the intrinsically de-motivated, and chaos prevails.
The work-life balance demands of the over-coddled sector of workforce newbies are not realistic. While many of today’s twenty-somethings are “setting the world on fire,” others need more structure and less participation ribbons before it’s their turn to raise the next generation and save the world. 
Constructive resignation becomes a likely burden, barely actionable in the process. 

Employers such as Evernote, GE and the Virgin Group have made headlines with their unique approaches to structuring unlimited PTO; however, rarely it is available to learn the precise structure, demographics and outcomes of their own policies. Employers today are called upon to re-evaluate their own PTO approach, keeping in mind what is and is not applicable to their own infrastructures. Once policies are in place, bear in mind the unlawfulness of penalizing an employee for using a benefit. 

Americans already rarely use all of the PTO days to which they are allotted. Similar to how the minimum wage is meant to be a benchmark upon which to add an increment, for most, the PTO schedule is meant to be a benchmark upon which to subtract an increment. For some, unlimited PTO removes the metric needed for work schedule planning and judgment purposes. Unique employers will ultimately determine the fit.       

HRS has designed, consulted on and reviewed PTO policies for thousands of employers over our 30+ year history. PTO policies need to consider internal and external equities, legal compliance, job design, organizational structure, vision and the unique culture/demographics of a specific employer. As with most HR/OD policies, one size certainly does not fit all. Please contact us for expanded information and solutions on this topic!

Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, August 31, 2015