HRA Blog

The Importance of Families During the Holidays

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

The holidays to me are always a time of family. We surround ourselves with those we love, people that bring us joy and happiness, with whom we create new memories while reminiscing about days of past. It’s a special time that I look forward to every year.

I reflect often about family during the holidays. I think about how for many of us, our coworkers are family as well. These are people that we see day in and day out, with whom we create and share memories, laugh and cry, celebrate new experiences, and participate in life journeys. Many of my coworkers over the years have become lifelong friends.

The same goes for clients, partners, customers and other individuals in your professional life. I sometimes think that if we looked at the entire business landscape through the lens of family, that we’d be a more productive, cooperative and successful society.

Obviously as HR professionals we often see the other side of the coin. The disputes, in-fighting, unprofessional behavior, etc., but I’d say for the most part those experiences are few and far between.

With the year drawing to a close and where it seems every time we turn on the TV, radio or look around us we see so much hate, distrust and condemnation, I’d like to offer up a holiday wish for everyone.  I hope for all of you, nothing but the best within your families both at home and in the workplace. I hope the New Year brings joy, happiness, cooperation, new experiences and success. From all of us here at HR Advisors Group, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Riding Off Into the Sunset in Style – Ensuring Smooth Knowledge Transfer and Retention for Retiring Employees

Written by Barbara Irwin on .


My husband recently retired and his firm held a lovely party to send him off. It was a wonderful event and he was deeply touched for the recognition that they showed him for his years of service to the company.

As we were driving home, I began reflecting that many friends and colleagues will be attending these parties over the next few years as the Baby Boomers finally decide to retire.

As an HR professional, I’ve been involved in reviewing, writing and implementing various retirement and recognition policies over the years. Many firms have rewarded their employees’ long-term service both when they leave and while they’re still employed. Some firms give extra vacation time with year milestones (5,10,15, etc.), allow them select from a gift registry and some even have explicit policies for retirement gatherings and send-offs. It’s important to have robust programs and policies to ensure your employees are recognized for their commitment to your organization.

However, while festivities and recognition are very important to ensure that your retiring employees feel the ‘love and commitment’ for their service, for the company and the employee, the transition meeting is probably the most important part of an employee retiring. This is the meeting that formally ends the employment relationship. At this meeting, it’s critical for the organization to work with the retiring employee to make sure that the employee understands and has all questions answered regarding 401(k) plans, pensions, health insurance and other items that are considered retirement benefits.  A well-organized transition meeting gives employees the peace of mind on important factors that will have an impact on the next chapter in their life.

One of the areas that has become more of a hot topic today around employee retirement is knowledge transfer. Many organizations are starting to recognize that as employees exit the workforce, the knowledge they have obtained throughout their career goes with them.  Thus, it’s absolutely critical for organizations to take a long and hard look at their current knowledge retention and transfer programs, succession plans and their overall transition retirement plans to ensure that they are creating effective programs and capturing the relevant information that is critical to the future success of the organization.

While knowledge transfer is an important part of the retirement transition session, this is something that ideally is done well before an employee’s departure.  Not only does knowledge transfer provide a strong foundation for future employees to continue to learn and be mentored by these retiring employees, it’s also a gesture that signals to retiring employees that the organization values their insights, knowledge and expertise.

Retirement can be a difficult decision for a lot of employees. Ensuring that your retiring employees have a smooth transition out of the organization is one step to mitigate some of the added stress with such an important life decision. It’s also absolutely critical that your organization ensures that these retiring employees’ expertise and knowledge stays with the firm and can be leveraged for continued organizational success.  It’s a win-win for the employee and the organization if both are handled with professional care and importance.

A Moment of Thankfulness

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are here again. It seems with every passing year, the season creeps up on me faster than the year before. and faster. Heck, I’m expecting my children to walk through the door at any moment from college for their Thanksgiving holiday.

This is the time of the year where businesses often focus on “giving back” and it’s a popular time for food and gift drives, community service and other activities to make a corporate impact. These are all terrific activities, and I absolutely believe that businesses do have social responsibility. However, I was reflecting the other day on how these activities shouldn’t always necessarily be around the holidays.

I think that as organizational leaders the holidays offer a perfect opportunity to examine our corporate social responsibility policies and make sure that we’re pushing our organizations to be in a perpetual state of giving. Do you have policies in place that allow employees to regularly participate in community service? Does your business donate to nonprofits and charities? Do you encourage employees to participate in social and civic groups and pay for membership fees and other dues?

Why is this important? Besides being good corporate citizens, countless studies have shown that millennials who continue to take up a greater share of the workforce, seek out employers who have robust corporate social responsibility programs. They value these opportunities and often weigh these factors when making employment decisions.

I’d be remiss also to mention that we must as HR leaders ensure we’re also taking the time to adequately give thanks to those who matter most to our business – our employees.

Either way, whether you do it for the community recognition or recruitment value, in today’s world of seemingly increased cynicism and hate, being thankful and giving back is just good practice, both for the community and our employees.

I for one am so thankful for my team members, partners, clients and colleagues. You all make every moment of my business life richer and push me to be a better steward of the HR profession. Thank you.

From all of us here at HR Advisors Group, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, we hope it’s full of merriment and thankfulness and that the holiday season shines bright upon you and your organizations.


Agile Goal Setting

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

I have a colleague that works in the tech industry. The other day, he and I were chatting about the intersection of technology and HR and he asked me if I ever heard of agile software development. I had not, and frankly, when he first started explaining it to me, I was completely at a loss. However, as he started to explain it in layman terms, I realized he had some interesting and relevant points as it relates to HR.

So what is agile development? I’m not a techie, so forgive the somewhat rudimentary explanation. When developers are creating a software application or a website, they have sets of functionality, needs and design elements that they want to incorporate into the product. Up until a few years ago, these developers simply rolled out the final product and presented it to users. The perfect of example of this “old” way of development was the original website that the government rolled out with much fanfare, only to discover that it was broken and offered a frustrating user experience.

With agile development, instead of just delivering a final product, developers work in short two week sprints and have a clear set of deliverables to achieve over this period of time. Instead of developing the entire product, they develop a portion of the product and present it to users for feedback. This allows them to understand what works, what doesn’t, and make adjustments along the way.  In the end when the product is finished, it’s as close to perfect as possible and meets the original set of goals set out from the beginning. Make sense? If not, there’s a few websites here, here and here that probably do a better job at explaining this process.

If I haven’t lost you yet, you’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with HR? In our recent newsletter, I compared the Fantasy Football craze with the need to consistently and constantly evaluate your teams. This is much in the same light. When it comes to goal setting for your employees, most employees set goals during their performance reviews and only revisit them 12 months later at the next review. More often that not, those goals have not been met, or only partially met.

I really don’t think that this is either an employee or manager’s fault. Goal setting and performance reviews for so many people are a necessary evil. I’ve been in HR long enough to know for many, reviews are something that people view has to be done once a year because of an HR and/or company. For many employees they meet with their managers and then get back to their busy lives and their massive to-do lists. For many when the review period comes around they’ve looked at their goals that they set a year prior and went “oh yeah, I really wanted to do XYZ this year” but didn’t actually accomplish those goals.

I think it’s really intriguing to apply the same principles of agile software development do your organization’s performance review and workforce development processes. I understand that touching base with your employees every two weeks to see if they’re tracking towards their goals might not be realistic, but having an informal quarterly touch base with team members to see how they’re tracking is certainly doable. This ensures is that employees can keep their goals on the top of mind, identify if they’re tracking towards them, recognize if they need to pivot from, update, or create new goals, and perhaps more importantly, have the confidence to know that they’re on the right track.

In fact, in conversations with clients and colleagues, I’ve heard much of the same feedback. Their employees in this world of constant communications indeed want this regular, if not immediate, feedback from management. This goes a long way of ensuring that their individual contributions are aligned with the organization’s short and long-term goals.

So don’t wait around 12 months to see if your employees met their goals, be agile, be adaptive and help them succeed and achieve all their goals that they’ve set out to accomplish. If your entire workforce is consistently meeting their professional goals, just imagine the possibilities. I also think this agile process can be applied in other areas of HR outside of goal setting, but we’ll save that for another blog in the future.

Open the Door to Change

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

Change has a funny way of catching up to you at times. My children recently started their first years of college and high school respectively.  Summer gave way to fall and the elections are just around the corner. I know I’m not alone in  thinking that sometimes we just want to hit the pause button and slow things down.

In the workforce, change can equally be as powerful and impactful as in our personal lives. As HR professionals, it is our duty to help our colleagues navigate change.

There are plenty of examples that create temporary or permanent changes in an organization’s cultural environment. For example, the desire to hire new employees, assess or adjust department structures, develop leadership teams, or institute new programs can all require employees to adjust the way they work, and impacts the culture.

As HR professionals, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that any change, both large and small, is executed, well received, successful, and long lasting within your organization. A few considerations:

Assess and Determine the Organizational Culture: As HR professionals, daily interactions can provide a glimpse of the cultural dynamics within an organization.  However, it is important to proactively and more directly explore the organizational culture at all levels.  It’s helpful to conduct regular employee surveys or focus groups to identify employee concerns, values, priorities, norms and issues. Focus groups can also provide you with a venue to test new ideas or initiatives before they become formal.

Having this first hand, real time knowledge pertaining to your organizational culture provides leadership with tools and information needed to align change management approaches that specifically address employee needs, concerns and expectations.

Leadership Development:  It is critical for any organization to have an enlightened leadership team who understands the nuances that come with large or small-scale change initiatives. As HR professionals, our role is to evaluate, develop and implement leadership training programs that focus on tangible, business and management skills as well as emotional intelligence including, but not limited to, empathy, decision making, and stress management. Robust leadership education and development is critical to the success of implementing a workforce culture that embraces change, rather than runs from it.

Align HR Programs and Practices to Support a Fluid Organizational Culture:  Help hold your organizational leadership accountable for creating a culture that embraces new ideas and change. Evaluate current HR programs and practices, such as compensation and employee benefits to determine if they reinforce, support or encourage change.  If they don’t – adapt them; if they don’t exist – create them!

Self-Reflection:  Do you know how you personally react to change? This understanding is crucial for someone who is typically tasked at spearheading workforce change initiatives through your organization.  Take time to reflect on how you respond to requests and ideas.  Do you immediately rush to judgment or do you take time to evaluate and reflect on all facets of the request before you provide guidance?  Spending more time listening, asking for feedback, or taking assessment tools such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator can all be extremely useful to determine how you react to change and can make you a better facilitator of change.

While there’s nothing we can do about our kids growing up and moving on with their lives, there are so many things we can do to ensure we’re ready for organizational change.  Take control by being prepared!  Consider these steps to help you meet change head on and not be caught off guard.


Getting Over the Dog Days of Summer

Written by Mary Lake on .

The dog days of summer are upon us. The temperature is rising and employees are either on vacation or daydreaming about the ones around the corner. While taking a break from work can be crucial for employee productivity, at times, these lulls in energy can impact the office. It happens every year, so what can an organization do to overcome this? The answer – inject a bit of fun in the office space!

According to author Gary Keller, “studies over the last two decades” have revealed when workplaces make fun a factor, it creates happier employees that feel more satisfied and ultimately better at their jobs. Fun in the workplace fun has been linked to:

  • Enhanced motivation
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced stress
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Improved task performance

In addition, having fun is one way of effectively managing and improving employees’ emotions. It’s also proven to improve teamwork, build trusting relationships and increase employee retention.

However, before you get started on injecting fun into the workplace, it is important to consider some do’s and don’ts:

Fun in the workplace should be:

  • Appropriate for the workplace
  • Inclusive – the fun should be shared with as many people as possible
  • Sensitive to how people might react

Workplace fun and humor should not:

  • Be racist, sexist or vulgar
  • Offend anyone
  • Make fun of anyone
  • Be sarcastic
  • Detract from core business
  • Damage the reputation of individuals
  • Damage the reputation of the organization

Whether you have a backyard BBQ, water balloon fights, photography contests, popsicle breaks or even a good ole fashioned watermelon seed spitting competition, the sky is the limit when thinking of fun and unusual things to do in the office.

Keep in mind though that what is fun for one person is not necessarily fun for another. Recognize and value the fact that there will be a diversity of fun styles and be sure to ask for input from all levels of your workforce. What you do isn’t as important as doing something to lift the spirits of the employees during those lazy, hazy days of summer.