The latest news on Human Resources from Harry Ross.

Employee Engagement is Important- But Where do I Find the Time?


Posted by harryeross

Is There Such a Thing as an HR Time Machine? 

Being a Human Resources Leader in a small/medium business is a full-time job on its own with responsibilities such as recruiting and hiring, payroll and benefits management, employee relations and performance management. With an already full plate, how are HR Leaders supposed to administer additional programs and take all the time to solicit and act on feedback?

There is no magic bullet that will suddenly give HR Leaders another 20 hours per week to focus only on engaging and motivating employees, but there are things you can do that will end up saving you time so that you can reinvest in other engagement activities.

Assess the business “pain”.

One of the first things to do is honestly assess where the biggest gaps are in connecting engagement to the business objectives of your organization. Looking for the biggest “pain”, and putting processes in place to minimize it will automatically help with your engagement issues, and save you time.

For example, if your turnover is high, take a look at the data to determine where and why turnover is happening. If you can determine that your company has higher turnover with employees under 6 months with the company, and your exit interviews are telling you that new employees did not have a good onboarding experience, you may need to revamp the hiring and onboarding process.

Don’t assume that you have gotten to the bottom of the issue until you have asked the “what else?” question at least three times. In the example above, the “what else?” question might be “is it really just the onboarding process that needs fixed, or do we have a bigger hiring issue?” The next “what else?” question might be “what part of the onboarding process is broken?” or “is the process fine, or do we have an execution problem?”

By challenging your own assumptions, you can really get to the meat of the issue and really improve your turnover results for employees under 6 months. This will give you time back from recruiting and onboarding to keep investing in engagement activities.

Automate feedback as much as possible.

Getting feedback and suggestions from your employees is a great way to improve engagement IF you have the time to analyze it, determine recommendations, and communicate those changes back to employees. There are many choices out there to help you collect and organize employee feedback from frequent pulse surveys to more in depth surveys.

The advantage of pulse surveys is that they are generally simple for employees to take, they are focused on a specific question or topic, and therefore are much easier for the HR Leader to digest than an extensive annual survey with follow up meeting after meeting!

The other advantage of pulse surveys is that the feedback is in real-time, so you are hearing about the issues that are important to your people in the present tense not the past tense. This allows you to deal with issues before they fester and become time thieves!

The key to making surveys work for you is how you communicate the results, and any changes you make as a result of the surveys.

Many of the pulse surveys out there have a mechanism to let employees know the results, and even a mechanism where you can inform your employees of any changes that occur because of their feedback. To even take this to a higher level, develop a communications process to give employees feedback in person (all-hands meetings), vis a newsletter, or through video conferencing.

The sooner you are able to figure out the issues that your employees care about, the faster you can deal with them, and save yourself time in the long run because issues won’t escalate.

Know your influencers.  

In every organization there are “influencers”- employees at every level, no matter what their job title, that seem to have a strong pulse on what’s going on in the organization. By developing a trusted relationship with those players, you can use them to gather information, bounce ideas off of, and maybe get to the root of any issues or problems faster.

This can be as simple as informal one-on-one coffee-chats or focus group discussions, depending on the information you are seeking. However, for them to trust you, you must keep what they share with you confidential. The last thing you want to do is sell them out, especially in front of their peers.

This group can also be helpful about providing suggestions and ideas for improving employee engagement. For example, they might be a good source of information about what kinds of rewards or celebrations that would resonate with their team.

You know you really have a trusted partner when they bring you information on their own, without you asking any questions. That type of information can be very valuable in nipping potential issues in the bud before they become big issues that take a lot of time to fix.

We all wish we had a time machine that could add a few extra hours to our day. We’re sure with those extra hours, we will be able to stay on top of our “regular” jobs, and have time to build that amazing culture we all want. The reality is that no such machine exists, so if we want to build a great culture, with engaged, aligned and motivated employees, we have to start by getting ahead of issues that end up taking more time to deal with down the road.

4 Things Senior Managers can do TODAY to improve Employee Engagement


Posted by harryeross

Improving employee engagement doesn’t have to be about big sweeping programs. It improves mostly because of all the little gestures Senior Managers do. Here are 4 things you can do TODAY that will improve your culture, and get your employees more aligned and engaged.

1. Get out of your office/cubicle and walk around. Say “hello” to people and ask how their week is going. If you haven’t done in the past, people may look at you with some suspicion. But if you keep it up, you will build trust and rapport with your team.

Why is this important? The more casual interactions you have, the more you will learn about your team, both as people and as employees. You will better understand what motivates them, and what doesn’t. They will begin to share their frustrations and issues with you, instead of holding it in and getting frustrated.

2. Send someone a celebratory email. Find something someone has done well, and surprise them by recognizing it. The key is authenticity. What you are recognizing needs to be worthy, and your praise should show the right level of excitement at what they accomplished. Try to do one email a day.

The worst thing you can do is add the dreaded “but” to your congratulations. “Great sale yesterday, but I think you might have left some money on the table. Next time, remember to add on a warranty sale!”

3. Ask for advice from the team. As you are problem-solving, it’s easy to sit in your office, brainstorming all by yourself about the solutions. The next thing you know, your genius has come up with answers, and you can’t wait to let your team know how smart you are! And you wonder why they look at you and roll their eyes.

This ties into suggestion #1, because you have to get out of your office, and start asking questions. There are three things you are trying to find out- what is the real problem? Do we know root cause? What are their ideas for solutions?

4. Cancel an unnecessary meeting. Want to be an instant hero? Cancel a meeting outright, or let people who are not critical to the meeting leave. Call it the “gift of time”, and let them have an hour or more back on their day.

The next step is to look at meetings you control, and honestly evaluate if they are necessary, could you hold them less frequently, and who really needs to attend. Oh, and as you are doing this evaluation, go back to suggestion #3- ask advice from the team.

Employee engagement can seem like a huge mountain to climb, but in reality, it improves with every step you take. Open and authentic communication will bring life to your “open door policy”, and the more consistent you are, the more trust your team will have in you.

I would love to hear other quick tips that managers have used to improve employee engagement and alignment. Please share this article and add your ideas! 

5 Steps to Effectively Manage Employee Opinion Survey Feedback


Posted by harryeross

Taking the survey is the easy part- what you do with the results is the key.

It doesn’t matter if your opinion survey is a complex, annual survey with dozens of questions, or a weekly, single question “pulse”, what you do with the information is what will improve your employee engagement.

According to Karen Paul, PHD, in an article for SHRM, ” While many vendors are focusing on differences in measurement approaches (pulse surveys, one-item daily surveys, shorter surveys, more action-based items) to enhance engagement, little attention has been paid to the execution side of the equation.”

In reviewing the results of your survey, be as open as possible. If your employees feel that you are not sharing all the information, or trying to talk them into something they don’t feel is true, you will lose credibility and buy-in.

Which leads directly to a loss of trust. Your employees need to feel that you are genuinely committed to improving the culture and the work environment. If they sense that you are just giving “lip-service” to making necessary changes, it is almost worse than not asking them their opinion at all!

Here are 5 steps that will help you manage any surveys that your organization uses:

Step 1: Analyze the data. Look for clues in the data provided by the survey. Are certain work groups rating the company higher or lower than the average? Is participation lower in certain work groups. Obviously, more detailed surveys provide more data to analyze, and the down side is that you can get stuck in “analysis paralysis”. Look for the top three highs and lows of survey questions and focus there.

Step 2: The comments are where the “meat” is. Look for issues that come up frequently, and don’t get stuck in the one-off comments. Look for themes and trends that come up over and over. Don’t rely too much on word clouds on electronic surveys. There are probably dozens of words that describe pay issues (compensation, bonus, commission, salary etc), so you have to read the comments to understand the commonalities.

Step 3: Get more feedback from employees. Sometimes you still need more information.For example, if you have a low score on a question like “I have the tools and equipment I need to do my job”, you may need to ask employees what they think that refers to.

Different groups of workers will have different needs, so it’s important to get as much information as you can from the employees.

Step 4: Action Planning. There are generally two types of issues that you want to deal with- low hanging fruit and more complex issues and concerns.

The low hanging fruit is easy. Just. Do. It. And then, tell your people that you listened to their feedback, and took care of a problem or issue.

For more complex issues that will take time to resolve, create meaningful action plans, and don’t overextend what you think you can accomplish. Make sure you communicate to your employees that you heard them, and you are working to resolve and issue. Make an update part of all-hands meetings so they know an issue has not disappeared into space.

On the reverse side, if you are unable to solve an issue, tell your people that, and explain why it can’t be done now. This is often related to issues that might be too big, too complex, or too expensive to take on.

Step 5: Follow up with your employees. The worst thing you can do is take an opinion survey and then fail to communicate the results and the actions your leadership team plans to take as a result.

Here are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that apply to all opinion surveys:


  1. Do respond to your employees on the survey results.
  2. Do ask them to clarify any vague or ambiguous answers or comments.
  3. Do be honest, and don’t sugarcoat any issues.
  4. Do involve employees in the search for solutions.
  5. Do own the fixes you put in place- “You asked, we listened”.
  6. Do celebrate the positives.



  1. Don’t dismiss ideas and suggestions that employees have about improving the culture.
  2. Don’t assume that you know the underlying reasons for low scores or ratings
  3. Don’t take retribution on an employee that you suspect rated the company poorly, or try to reveal the anonymous aspects of the survey.
  4. Don’t try to fix too much at once.
  5. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t immediately improve. Keep at it!

By using these 5 steps and following the do’s and don’ts, you can make the most of opinion survey results and improve your culture.

Performance Feedback Cycle


Posted by harryeross

This is the sixth article on my experience coming into a small company as their first Human Resources leader. 

It’s that time of the year when many companies put together end of year performance reviews and feedback sessions, and there is constant debate about what kind of conversations should be taking place, if these conversations should be tied to salary increases, and what kind of format should be used.

In our company, we use the following cycle for formal employee feedback: January is goal setting time after financial projections are locked in. We do a Mid-Year Touch Base to review progress on annual goals, discuss what road blocks are getting in the way, and what the plan is to meet their goals by year end. In December, we have an End of Year Review, and talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we need to do differently in the coming year.

January starts the cycle over.

Setting Initial Goals for the Year.

The financial goals that are set by the end of the year determine where we are going to invest or cut back. If we see opportunity in a certain segment of our business to deliver higher sales results, then our investments of people, and resources will reflect that. So should the goals that each person establishes for themselves. We call them Accountabilities.

The number of goals can vary, but 3-5 is optimal. Keep them simple. Each goal should be S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound), and sometimes it takes several tries to get them right.

Once everyone has agreed to their Accountabilities, we publish all of them on the public drive to increase visability and transparency. We all should know what each other is focused on.

Mid Year Touch Base

In July and August, we do a sit down to review progress on Accountabilities. If there are roadblocks or resources needed to move them forward, we strategize and re-align on tactics. Sometimes Accountabilities are changed or updated if business needs have shifted.

In this update, we also spend time on the career plans of each person. Where they want to go and what we can do as organization to support them. As we retain employees, the conversations are not so much about discovery, but about checking in to see if their direction and goals have changed.

End of Year Review

As we get into December, we sit down with each employee and have them update where they are on their Accountabilities. We do a post-mortem on the results, and discuss the reasons why they were met or not. We also ask people what they accomplished outside of their Accountabilities that we should recognize, and continue the career discussions. We also ask what they need from their boss to be successful.

Salary Review

You will notice at no point have we tied any of the performance reviews to salary. Our philosophy here is to formally review salaries in January and July for adjustments. We usually promote people at that point as well. We have found that separating performance discussions from salary appraisals helps keep everyone more honest, less defensive and much more open to talk about what did or did not work over the past year.

I also want to stress that these are not the only conversations that take place about performance. Those happen all the time in a more casual manner. The three times we meet formally insures that we never go too long without having one-on-one conversations with each member of our team.

Performance reviews do not have to be complicated and painful, as they often are. Make them simple, but meaningful and talk about them often. The more transparent you are with this process, the less room there is for surprises when it comes time to deliver feedback.

*if you like this article, please share it with your network! 

Human Resources and High Tech – What I learned at the GeekWire Summit


Posted by harryeross

Does employee engagement really matter in the world of high tech? I got the chance to attend the GeekWire Summit in Seattle this week with the hopes of finding that out.

When I was offered the chance to attend the Summit, my first thought was “what can I learn from this that will help make me a better Human Resources leader? Won’t it be all Nerd-speak on topics that I won’t understand?”

I am pleased to say that many of the speakers talked about how creating a positive culture, and engaging their employees were the keys to creating and sustaining successful tech-companies.

I knew it was going to be good when the first panel was hosted by David Streitfeld, who co-wrote the New York Times article that described the lack of work-life balance at Amazon. He interviewed three former Amazon employees that are currently running their own start up companies.

Living in Seattle, Amazon is certainly known as a tough employer who asks a lot of their people and none of the three panelists disagreed with that. The insight that they offered that was new to me was that the challenge to work on projects that really do change the world is a big motivator and is extremely rewarding to many Amazon employees. They also felt that the company’s focus on the customer experience was a very clear and focused mission that employees could believe in.

Some of the other speakers included Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, and Robert Hohman, CEO of Glassdoor.

Three points that Spencer from Zillow made that stuck with me were about always hiring the best, and “great cultures get great people that get great results”. When asked to describe the culture at Zillow, he used the words ” team-orientated, transparent, nimble and respect”.

Phil from Xbox talked about the lessons he had learned to drive a successful business- “keep the customer at the center of your universe”, and “design products around what the customers want, not what you want.” He also talked about how to keep his focus as the leader of an organization came down to “control what you can control”.

Bob from Glassdoor was asked what were the common threads that makes a CEO successful. He said the leader must provide a clear vision and relentlessly communicate with all levels of the organization. He also said that “people need to feel that they are a part of something bigger”, and that “people want to work for a leader that cares about them”.

Perhaps what brought it all together for me was a talk by the President of Dice, Shravan Goli, a high-tech recruiting firm. He explained that in the competition for talent, you have to do two things- explain why your job would be better than their current job, and you have to effectively sell the company as a great place to work.

My conclusion is that it’s very hard to retain current talent, and recruit new talent if the company is NOT a great place to work. Developing a good culture and engaging employees are critical to every company, even fast growing high-tech companies.

5 Steps to Reengage Your Company Culture


Posted by harryeross

How HR can help get Employee Engagement back on track

 What happens when you either join a company or a department where the employees are not engaged and there is not a great culture in place? As the Human Resources leader, there are steps you can take that will reestablish trust in the company and build engagement.

Before you even take the first step, you need to establish a partnership with the business leader or CEO to ensure that they will support you in your actions, and ensure that what you are doing supports the business goals of the company or department. Once you are in alignment, here are five steps you can take to build or rebuild the culture.

1. Cover the Basics. In a small to medium company, this might mean more tactical issues like payroll and benefits. Get them paid on time and correctly. Make sure they know how to use their benefits and can access them. Address concerns about safety or environment, when possible. Think  of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and make sure you are taking care of the most basic needs of your team.

In a bigger organization, the basics might mean making sure people have the resources needed to do their job, or making sure the work environment is safe and free from harassment. Either way, you want to be seen as someone who makes sure people have what they need to be successful.

2. Ask and Listen.  Find time to have a one-on-one with every person on the team. Ask them the following question- ” I’m new here. What’s the most important thing you think I should know about our company or department?”. Then keep quiet and let them speak. Take notes so you do not forget. Review the feedback with the business leader of your group, and call out the top common issues that came up in your conversations.

Pick the low hanging fruit that you can respond to, and take care of that. If they need new trash cans, see if you can get those purchased and distributed. If the internet connection is slow, see if you can work with your IT person to get it faster.

Then, most importantly- tell people what you have done to address their needs and concerns. “You asked, we listened”.

Don’t be concerned if people do not trust you on the first round of conversations Trust will build, and people will become more open as times goes by.

3. Follow up. Nothing will erode the trust people have in you, at all levels of the company, if you do not have effective follow through and follow up. If you say you are going to do something, do it, and get back to the people you promised.

If you are struggling with time-management, rethink how you prioritize what you need to do. There are plenty of great books out there that can help you organize your time and allow you to improve your follow through.

4. Learn the business. It doesn’t matter if you are with a small company or a big company, the sooner you learn how the business operates and what the business goals are, the more effective you will be.

How does this drive a more engaged culture? One of the biggest ways you can drive is to get the right people in the right place. That is very difficult to assess if you don’t understand how the business operates and the strategies that are in place to achieve the business goals.

5. Surprise and Delight. It used to be that Human Resources was thought of the “party-planner”, and we do not want to go back to those days. But, the reality is that the HR Leader in a small company or department can become the heart and soul of your work group.

Develop a creative process for recognizing work anniversaries. Recognizing the longevity of your employees reinforces that they have value, and helps retention.  Come up with a fun way to recognize little and big accomplishments. Arrange for fruit or candy deliveries. These may be small things on their own, but the little things add up.

Employees want to feel like they are part of something they can support  and believe in. They have to feel there is a two way street between the company and them, and that they are not just a cog in the machine. HR can be the catalyst that makes that happen.

Talent Management in a Small Company


Posted by harryeross

This is the fifth article on my experience coming into a small company as their first Human Resources leader. 

Talent Management in a Small Company

At a recent conference about employee engagement, a speaker from Fuel 50 said that “employees who were very satisfied with their career development opportunities were more likely to plan to remain with their current employer.” Makes sense, right? But what happens in a small company where there are not limitless levels for growth?

This was one of the challenges we faced in my new company as we were trying to stabilize our workforce, and develop career paths that would help us retain Millennials and keep every employee engaged and challenged. Like any small company , we have a mix of entry-level positions, mid-level management positions, and Senior level positions. Just not a lot of any of them.

Taking a step back, one of the first things we did when I joined the company, was create a clear hierarchy of responsibilities.   We updated all the job descriptions, and job titles. We identified the right job levels for the employee’s skills and experience, and then made sure their salaries were in line.

Once we had a working Org Chart that was clear and organized, we could talk to people about what short and long term career paths were available to them. You might come in at a Coordinator level, then get promoted to a Specialist, then Senior Specialist, then Manager. We also talked to them about where they wouldlike to be, and where their passion was taking them.

Our goal with any member of the team is to grow you and develop you as much as we can. If you hit the ceiling here, then we want to help you get to the next position that furthers your growth. Even if that means you go to work for another company!

Our goal is that every employee bring passion every day, be genuine and humble, and deliver results. (Our values.) We also want every employee to know that if that is not true- if they aren’t excited to jump out of bed most days to get into work- then we want them to be honest with us, and tell us that. We will do our best to get them back to that place, even if it means they are not working for us.

We had an employee that started as a Customer Service/Clerical employee, and had worked her way up to Marketing Specialist. She had been with the company about three years, when she came to us and told us that she had lost her passion for the position she was in, and did not see a future with us. She  asked for our help in getting her next position, and in return, she would still give 110% until she left.

We all took turns mentoring her, introducing her to our networks, and advising her on potential jobs. She was true to her side of the bargain, and gave us her all until she eventually found a great new job. We all won, and all the other team members saw that we were true to our word.

By keeping the goals of the company AND the goals of the employees in mind, we have been able to support career growth with our team. We meet at least twice a year to formally discuss their long-term goals and how they are evolving. We want them to grow professionally and stay with us as long as it works- for both the company and them.

“Fun” as a Business Strategy


Posted by harryeross

This is the fourth article on my experience coming into a small company as their first Human Resources leader. 

Work should be a happy place, right? Not necessarily a laugh-a-minute, but one where you genuinely enjoy your co-workers and people  are in a positive mood, most of time. Maybe even a joke now and then.

When I came into my current company as it’s first HR leader, it was not an unhappy place. People genuinely liked each other and liked working with each other, and  there were activities in place, like Thursday “Happy Hour” where everyone could pause and spend some social time together.

But, it was not a lighthearted place, and many people were not satisfied in their jobs. As I talked about in earlier articles, the culture needed a tune-up if we were going to attract and retain talent, and drive our business results. We needed a workplace that people looked forward to coming into each day, and employees that were engaged and satisfied. We needed real “fun”.

Fun happens when people like and trust each other, at all levels of the company. Fun happens when  business trends are great, and the team can see the results of their hard work. Fun can happen in the middle of a quiet day when someone finds something for the group to laugh at. And fun can happen at a great meeting or off-site.

In a small company, HR can help be the “soul” of the organization that helps bring all of those things to life. In earlier articles, I talked about how establishing consistent and meaningful two-way communication, making sure everyone has the right resources to do their job, and making sure you have the right structure and people in place are the building blocks to creating a positive culture.

The next step was putting in place an effective recognition process, and pulling together meaningful team-building activities.

For the more tactical, day to day recognition, we were looking for something tangible that people could see and touch, so we came up with “Brenthaven Chips”. When you want to publically recognize someone, you write their name on the chip, and explain why you are recognizing them, and which of the values that they represent. We put all the chips in a bowl and do a drawing every Monday for a small gift card.

For company meetings, we came up a formula for our meetings that has a good balance of short, concise business updates, entertaining activities like trivia contests, and then a fun social activity. The most outrageous activity was taking trapeze classes with the group. Nothing gets your adrenaline going like flying through the air trying not to fall off the trapeze bar and face plant into the net!

The other team building events that resonated with our group were our “give-back” events. I polled the team to find out what areas they were interested in donating their time to in our community. We came up with 4 areas that the group wanted to support: Animal welfare, the environment, education, and helping the homeless.

I was able to come up with group events throughout the year that supported all of those causes, and people could pick and choose which one they wanted to support. We did yardwork at an Animal Shelter, planting in a local park, career fairs for a group that supports underprivileged high school Seniors get into and stay in college, and handed out food at a local foodbank. These events made the team proud of each other and our company. And they were fun!

We made our company goal of contributing 1% of our time back to our community, and had a great time doing it.

No one of these things can change your culture on its own. It is the combination of them all that makes a difference. In a small company, a little bit of attention can go a long way. HR can be the agent that helps bring about a culture that is rewarding, satisfying, productive, and yes, even fun.

Why HR Matters to Small Companies (#3)


Posted by harryeross

This is the third article on my experience coming into a small company as their first Human Resources leader. 

Getting the Right Talent

When I first started with my company as their first HR Leader, one of major priorities was making sure we had the right people, in the right seats on the right bus. As you can imagine, when we began that process,  everything went just as planned and we never had a hiccup recruiting and filling our open positions. Not.

We had unexpected turn, sometimes at the worst possible moment, and had to swivel and change priorities many times. In my first six months, 70% of my time was devoted to some form of hiring- researching  candidates, posting positions, phone screening, setting up interviews and on-boarding. Repeat.

My professional background did not include a lot of recruiting, so I had to start from scratch on building a network in our market that included sales, marketing, and even creative fields like Graphic Design. The first place I went to was my existing network, reaching out to people I had previously worked with for referrals.

My next step was to use LinkedIn, and searching out people that checked as many boxes off our job description as possible. I also looked for people that were outside the boxes, but had interesting backgrounds that might fit. I posted the jobs on LinkedIn, and waded through the hundreds of  resumes that followed.

Phone screening was next for candidates with potential. I talked to a lot of people, and learned something from each and every one of them. The hardest part of this process was when you found a really experienced, intelligent, funny candidate who was totally wrong for our job. Argh!

If they made it past me, the next step was a phone screen with the hiring manager. As I am not an expert in Marketing or Sales, the hiring manager would get into the detail of their skills, abilities and experience. As you can guess, more often than not, the candidate was not the right fit for our job. Back to the drawing board.

And then it would happen. The stars would align, the heavens would open up, and the right candidate with the right experience, the right personality, and the right salary expectation would appear. Hallelujah!

Our final step was an in-person interview in our offices. We operate under the philosophy that the more people that were involved in the selection process, the better. We steered away from group interviews, and set up one-on-one interviews with all of our Senior Leaders and the Hiring Manager. I was usually the wrap up interviewer so that I could get the candidate’s opinion on how things went, and really sell all the great benefits about working for a small company.

There were rules that we all agreed to as we compared notes and made recommendations: If you made a call out, either negative or positive, you had to give examples of why you thought that way. Everything had to be bounced against our values (1. Bring passion every day, 2. Be genuine and humble, 3. Deliver results). And last, if anyone had a doubt, the candidate was probably a “no”.

The one non-negotiable was if they were not seen as a culture fit, we would not hire them, even if they were qualified. And, even if we were desperate. In a small company, the wrong personality can destroy the balance. There is nowhere to hide in a small office, so we all had to fit in.

By staying true to this process, we have hired some amazing people, and our company remains a great place to work. I know we will have turnover down the road, but I feel we have a strong process in place to find the next great member of our team.

How HR adds Value


Posted by harryeross

This is the second article on my experience coming into a small company as their first Human Resources leader. 

Adding Value

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.