HRA Blog

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.

Gender Pay Equality – Are We There Yet?

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Last week, Hilary Clinton became the first woman to claim the status of presumptive nominee for a major American political party.  This week, top female influencers in business, politics, entertainment, and the arts met in Washington, D.C. as part of the White House United State of Women Summit.  The summit was designed to celebrate what women have achieved to date and how they are going to take action moving forward.  On the same day as the summit, President Obama announced that the historic Sewall-Belmont house on Capitol Hill will be a national monument in tribute to all those who have fought for women’s equality.  Sounds like exciting times for women.  Are you aware that April 12 was designated Equal Pay Day?  Wait, what?

Equal Pay Day is not a celebration, but rather a public awareness event to illustrate the wage gap between men and women.  This day fluctuates every year and represents how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.  Currently, women earn $0.79 for every dollar their male counterparts earn for the same job.  This gap is even wider for minority women.  In 1963, when JFK signed the Equal Pay Act to address this pressing issue, women earned $0.59 for every dollar their male colleagues earned.  Improvement has been made; however, 20 cents in over five decades is hardly significant or acceptable.  According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if this trend continues, women will not earn equal pay until 2059.

While the issue continues to garner attention in the White House and on Capitol Hill, employers can take control and ensure they aren’t contributing to the problem. Here are a few things that employers can do to ensure equity:

  1. Be transparent: Transparency in how an organization makes pay decisions is a simple and effective way to alleviate employee concerns of unfairness and inequities. Establish compensation ranges that are consistent.  Communicate the criteria to employees so they understand how salaries are determined.  Employers should perform regular analysis on salaries.  Often there are reasonable and appropriate explanations for gaps in salary; however, employers should be proactive in ensuring inadvertent pay gaps between gender aren’t being created.
  2. Encourage and be open to discussion: Employees are often reluctant to discuss salary with their managers for fear of retaliation or being seen as a complainer. Employers should encourage open, but private, discussion on compensation between managers and employees at least once per year.
  3. Allow for negotiation: There is a stereotype that women aren’t capable of effective negotiation when it comes to salary. Fast Company posted an article on this topic citing a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which found that, “women tend to be more timid when negotiating on behalf of themselves, fearing backlash, but are effective when it comes to negotiating on someone else’s behalf.”  In response to this and in order to help alleviate wage gaps across an organization, some firms have adopted a ‘no negotiation’ practice. While the practice has positive intent, it may contribute to the wage gaps. Employers should be open to negotiation and allow employees to have some control in determining their salary.
  4. Skip the salary question: One of the most frequent questions during the application and interview process is, “How much are you currently making?” While employers may find this question useful in determining the experience level of a candidate, it also may be contributing to the wage gap.  If a female employee was underpaid in her previous position and a new employer uses this salary as basis for a hiring salary, she is automatically disadvantaged in contrast to her appropriately paid male peer.
  5. Provide leave options and flexible schedules: In general, the wage gap widens as workers age. This may be attributed to the fact that many employers don’t provide adequate time off for maternity and parental purposes forcing women to step out of the work force to tend to family needs.  Consider offering more generous leave options and flexible schedules for parents to encourage women to stay in the work force and stay active in the wage game.
  6. Ensure equal distribution of work: We all have unconscious biases that may lead us to assign work the employees we relate to most.  If the best work assignments are always given to the male employees, the female counterparts are denied the opportunity to demonstrate their true worth.
  7. Educate your staff: Lastly, but most importantly, educate your staff. President Obama created the National Equal Pay Task Force to bring together the EEOC, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management to help understand the full scope of the wage gap, enforce current laws already prohibiting pay discrimination, and ensure employers and employees are educated on rights and obligations.  Keep abreast of this topic.  Train your leaders about the unconscious biases and communicate clearly about how your organization makes pay decisions.  There are many great resources on this topic.  The Society for Human Resources published a relevant article in the June 2016 HR Magazine, “9 Tips for Closing the Gender Pay Gap.”  In an effort to keep abreast of issues, employers can visit and for the most updated information.

The year 2059 is a long way off.  This isn’t a male/female issue or a company/employee issue.  It’s doing what is right for your business by doing what is right for your employees.  Compensating your employees equitability and competitively, regardless of gender (or race, or sexual orientation) will help you attract and retain a talented workforce while providing an environment where everyone feels valued.  And in an election season when there’s so much talk about winners and losers, isn’t it nice to have both sides win?

Keeping National Politics out of the Office

Written by Mary Lake on .

Over the past year, the American public has been inundated by our political process, with a large number of potential candidates and ideas vying for votes and support. Although the number of potential candidates have decreased as the national conventions draw near, the nation is increasingly drawn into debates and heated discussions about both candidates and political issues.

While the presidential election is still six months away, many employers are seeing politics brought into the work environment. The question is how to keep the differences of political opinions from becoming divisive in the office. In Susan Milligan’s article for SHRM “Political Debates in the Workplace: Where to Draw the Line” she points out that “attempting to ban political discussions is not only illegal, but also impossible to enforce from a practical perspective.” However, there are a few things that employers can do to keep personal and political feelings from intruding on the typically genial office atmosphere. The following is a list of Do’s and Don’ts that will helpfully be beneficial in reaching this goal.


  • Make sure that employees are aware of any company restrictions on bringing political paraphernalia such as buttons worn, political T-shirts, posters etc., to the office.
  • Keep your political views and beliefs private. Lead from the top and restrain from discussing your political views or your views of the candidates.
  • Ensure that voting policies are equally administered and enforced. If the company policy is to allow all employees time off to vote, make sure that any employee who wishes to vote is able to do so.


  • Allow solicitation of funds for a political candidate. Also, do not make donations for individuals in your office under the umbrella of your organization’s name.
  • Attempt to forbid the discussion of politics in the office. This is illegal and impractical.
  • Allow your company name to be associated with a political candidate.

Politics can often be a very heated topic in any organization or group of people. Sending an email by the leadership of your organization recognizing this fact and reminding employees that the general ambiance of the office can be disturbed if each individual does not self-monitor their thoughts and words in discussions with others can be very beneficial in maintaining the positive vibe of the office. The good news is that heightened political awareness typically only appears every four years. Once you’ve gotten through the political minefield of 2016 you can breathe easily until 2020!