This is the second article on my experience coming into a small company as their first Human Resources leader.
When I joined my current company, my goal was to add value and help improve the business results by improving employee engagement and job satisfaction. In a small company with limited resources, I had to prove my worth quickly so that I was seen as an asset, not a neutral or worse yet, a liability. I started out by gathering information. Asking people what they thought I should know about our company, and really listening to their responses. Not just the words, but the tone, tenor and even the body language they used as we talked.
By doing that over the first 6 weeks, I was able to see how satisfied and engaged they were. I made some recommendations to the Senior Leadership Team to help deal with high stress levels, improve recognition, and increase the back and forth communication between staff and management.
The most important step we took was to go back to the team and tell them what was going to be different as a result of all this feedback. We called it “You asked, we delivered!” The topics on this list varied from very tactical items (“Can the company pay for full transportation passes?”) to concerns about stress, recognition and communication. The critical thing was that we got back to them and helped build confidence that their opinion matters. Next up was critically looking at the team.
Right people, in the right seat on the bus.
We have all heard this phrase, right? What I found in a small company is that if one or two people are out of whack, the impact is much greater than in a big company. The bus can seriously go off the road.
This became the second most important action that I needed to help figure out. As I continued to ask questions and listen several things became clear- the company had not clearly defined job descriptions, job titles, or career progressions for every employee, nor did they have a clear salary structure. Employees have a lot more confidence and trust in their employer if there is a structure in place that makes sense, is fair and logical.
Within the first six months, we were able to rewrite job descriptions, change job titles (that was not my most popular moment!) and sign up for a service that helped us understand what employees were paid for jobs in our market. As we hired new people we knew what level they should be at, what the salary range was, and where they fit in our structure. We had an Org Chart that made sense!
As we got more clarity about the structure of the organization, our CEO and I had very open dialogue about each employee’s strengths, weaknesses and who was going to be able to change and who probably wasn’t. We looked not at the next few months, but the next few years in thinking about what positions and talent we were going to need. This helped me prioritize my recruiting efforts onto the positions that would give us the highest return over time.
In my first year, we had some surprises: employees who found other opportunities because they did not have confidence that things were going to get better quick enough, and employees that resigned sooner than we had planned for. Despite some very challenging periods, we made sure the remaining team members were still living our values. If you could not show up with energy and enthusiasm (passion), if you were not curious, honest and open (be genuine and humble), and if you were not getting the results we needed, maybe this was not the place for you to be working.
In addition to improving our job satisfaction scores, we have been reduced voluntary turnover to a trickle. That kind of stability will pay dividends for months and years to come.