HRA Blog

Job Descriptions – The New Year Resolution Worth Keeping

Written by Mary Lake on .

The first two weeks of January, 2016 are behind us. Many resolutions have been made, both personal and professional, in the hopes of making our lives healthier, happier and more organized. As you set off to tackle these resolutions, I would suggest an additional one that will have the same impact on your employees and organization – update the job descriptions for all of your employees.

Job descriptions play an integral role within an organization. They set expectations, goals and objectives, are crucial as recruiting tools and help potential candidates and all employees to clearly understand the responsibilities for their position within the organization. However, what I’ve discovered over the years is that too often job descriptions are only updated when a vacancy needs to be filled or there are compliance issues.

In today’s hectic and ever changing business environment, roles and responsibilities are constantly changing. New technology, organizational processes and procedures, and increases and decreases in staffing, all have an impact on a job function and expectation. It is essential that job descriptions are reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that both employee and employer understand the exact parameters of each position and how it impacts the overall organization.

During 2015, HR Advisors Group assisted several clients with their review of organizational job descriptions and career paths in several different capacities. During these engagements, we offer three paths to our clients to update their job descriptions by taking into account the number of employees, the size of the HR staff and the resources available to the individual organization.

  1. Have supervisors and employees update job descriptions during employee reviews
  2. Charge HR with the responsibility to review and update all current job descriptions
  3. Outsource the responsibility for job description review and updating to a consultant

Let’s take a quick look at each option and examine the benefits and shortcomings inherent to each.

Have supervisors and employees update job descriptions during employee reviews – This is an excellent opportunity to go directly to the source. The employee has the chance to review and discuss in detail all responsibilities associated with the position and identify any changes that have occurred in the last year. The supervisor can examine these responsibilities and make appropriate changes. The disadvantage to this approach is that often reviews can be a delicate conversation and there isn’t enough time to discuss job descriptions as they have to address immediate concerns with an employee’s performance.

Charge HR with the responsibility to review and update all current job descriptions – Today’s HR professionals are familiar with creating comprehensive job descriptions and career paths. Their involvement ensures that they contain language that meets all legal requirements. This option does require HR to connect with employees and supervisors to confirm any adjustments to the job description due to organizational changes in processes and technology. This option can require significant resources dependent on the size of the organization. In addition, the timeliness of completing the initiative will be dependent on the other responsibilities competing for the HR representative’s time.  A solution would be to make this a “goal” for the individual HR representative or HR Department.

Outsource the responsibility for job description review and update to a consultant – When the size of the organization and the time requirements for a thorough review of job descriptions require more time and resources than is available internally, working with an outside consultant is often a fiscally sound option for reviewing job descriptions. A competent, outside HR consultant will have deep experience with writing job descriptions that contain the legal language necessary for a comprehensive description. The consultant will be able to review current organizational processes and procedures and identify positions where they will need to be updated. After an initial review of the job descriptions, the HR consultant can meet with employees to confirm any changes or additions to the job requirements. Upon completion of the updated job descriptions, the HR consultant can review the changes with a member of the HR Department for accuracy.

Regardless of which option is chosen, it is vital for any organization to go through a periodic review of job descriptions. This exercise will ensure that all job descriptions are accurate and that the current and future needs of the organization are met.

Unwrapping the True Meaning of Respect in the Workplace

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

I’ve spent the last several months facilitating respect in the workplace training to various organizations, discussing strategies to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination. I’ve extracted some incredibly rich lessons from the employees and managers who participated in these trainings which I believe are useful guidance for HR professionals moving into the New Year.

Every training was kicked off by asking a simple question, “What does respect mean to you?” The majority of time I was met with silence and blank stares. While occasionally someone would break the ice by launching into Aretha Franklin’s Respect, most of the time the participants would look uncomfortably at one another unsure how to answer.

At first blush, it seems like a simple response, but I completely understand the hesitancy of the participants or the perceived variance in responses. However, once the conversation started, there was one simple definition that we could all agree on – treat others as you wish to be treated.

As the conversation transitioned to diversity and its impact in a workplace, we discussed different work styles, educations, family or cultural upbringing, and personal and professional goals. It got me thinking…should we really be treating others exactly as we wish to be treated?

Aside from the shared interest in the organization we work for, most of our coworkers are very different and don’t actually want or need the same things out of their professional careers. For example, consider the colleague who is dedicated and hard-working, but is also quiet and somewhat introverted in the office.  Would she want to be publicly praised during a staff meeting and asked to speak in front of the group spontaneously?  Probably not.  On the other hand, you may have colleagues who thrive in the spotlight and are motivated by public recognition.

As managers and employees, we must take a hard look and evaluate what motivates our staff and colleagues. Consider everyone’s differences and how can we build strengths from these differences.

Through all of the extensive discussions on this topic, I have learned that respect is really about being aware and sensitive of each other’s differences. It doesn’t mean we should completely disregard the “Golden Rule,” but rather challenge each other to think beyond and treat everyone as unique individuals. Sometimes, this means treating others a little differently than how we would prefer to be treated

As we close out 2016, consider making a New Year’s resolution of treating everyone with individual kindness and respect. This “twist” on the Golden Rule can help you build stronger relationships in the workplace and, in turn, keep your colleagues, managers, and peers motivated, happy, and energized throughout the year and serve as a foundation for a truly respectful workplace.

Your Organizational Culture – Naughty or Nice?

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

This fall I attended the MBTI Users Conference and the Influence Factor where Josh Bersin, a principal at Deloitte, spoke about the company’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends Survey.  I left his presentation thinking about many issues that HR stakeholders should be contemplating as they begin planning for next year, most importantly, organizational culture.

Earlier this year, Bersin wrote an article where he shared that “culture” was the most popular word in 2014. This year, it continued to grow in popularity in leadership circles and boardrooms.  This actually didn’t surprise me because when created, sustained and communicated properly, the culture of an organization actually drives employee engagement.  What did strike me was that if culture is confusing, miscommunicated, or even toxic, it can prevent organizations from hiring and keeping the best talent.

In today’s professional world, nothing is secret. You can find all you need to know about an organization’s culture and leadership strengths at the tip of your fingers with a Glassdoor search. You can determine how employees feel about the organization, whether or not they would recommend employment to a friend, if it offers something unique and/or if you would be happy working there.

This transparency into an organization’s culture can either be used as a competitive advantage, or a competitive hindrance. So, with it being such an important thing to an organization, who creates the culture, where does the responsibility lie?

In my opinion, cultural identity must start at the top. The way your leaders conduct business, acknowledge and communicate with employees, and reward success helps to define organizational culture.  Last month, I attended the Northern Virginia Family Services 23rd annual Care Awards where thirteen companies received recognition for taking a stand and offering programs that help to positively shape their organizational cultures. Programs and best practices that were recognized included:

  • Unlimited PTO for sales employees who met their numbers
  • Encouraging employees to telecommute one day per week
  • Free healthy snacks at the office, but employees have to pay for soft drinks and candy
  • A “Kudos Bulletin” sent out by the CEO highlighting successes and client feedback or specific employees
  • Managers who are empowered to show their thanks in ways like Starbucks drinks, a free afternoon off, or lunch for the entire team.

Decisions to offer programs like these happen at the top, and smart managers know how to carry them out. Some of these programs don’t cost money, some are small investments, but all of these programs are taking positive steps toward creating a special bond within the workforce which solicits employee engagement and commitment. Because of their cultures, employees at these organizations want to work there.

So the question should be, as HR professionals, what can we do to help our organization’s leaders to develop and promote a culture to attract and retain top performers?   Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your culture successfully used to promote your organization?
  • How is your culture being used to develop future leaders and support the success of employees?
  • Are you promoting your culture to prospective talent?
  • Are you hiring employees that match the culture?
  • Are new employees properly educated on the organizational history and culture?
  • Are you introducing HR practices, ideas and programs to senior leadership that support and enhance the organizational culture?

If you’re not doing these things, you’re at risk of falling behind and of losing and/or missing out on some of the best, most talented people.

So, as you begin to decorate your office, plan your holiday parties and look forward to the coming year, take some time to reflect on how you intend to enhance and promote your organizational culture next year before you dive into the holidays!

Building the Best Teams – The Ultimate Recipe for Success

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

I’ve been extremely fortunate over the years to find great talent. I don’t mean to brag, but we have one of the best teams in the business, some of whom I’ve been working with for close to 12 years. Truthfully, I consider these individuals to be part of my family. I’m often asked by clients, partners and colleagues how we built this close family of HR professionals, and what were the traits or characteristics I looked for when building our team.

While there’s no one size fits all approach to building good teams, we’ve tried for the most part to remain consistent in finding the right talent by emphasizing client needs in tandem with personality intangibles.

I first look at our clients’ needs and evaluate what we already have in place. What skill sets do we already have? Where do we need greater experience and diversity? In addition, we often try and anticipate future client needs when evaluating candidates’ experiences. Sometimes you have to take a risk and not let the right candidate slip away who might have a skill set you’ll need down the road.

It’s also very important to evaluate the personalities of the individuals making up the team. As HR consultants, we need to know if they have the drive and passion for HR, the flexibility to be available for different types of projects, or the willingness to drop everything at the last minute when a client has an immediate need.

Maintaining this team dynamic hasn’t been easy. Over the years, we’ve had our ups and downs in the consulting business and our team’s attitude has been impacted by this economic volatility. Many organizations, ours included, had a real concern about losing talent when the economy picked back up. However, by taking great care of our team during the downturn, we lessened the risk of losing talent when the economy improved. This is an important piece of advice that we give to all of our clients. If you want to keep your talent, take care of them during downturns even if it means reduced profits for your organization.

Now granted, over the years, some of our team members have left for other opportunities, which happens to everyone. While we certainly don’t want to impede their professional opportunities, whenever we lose a team member we ask ourselves if there was anything that we could have done differently that would have possibly resulted in a different outcome. That’s a really important point, you must constantly reevaluate how you’re sourcing, hiring and retaining your talent, there’s always room for improvement.

Ultimately, these factors have allowed us to build a really wonderful team of dedicated HR professionals. I wouldn’t necessarily say that our process is unique, because many of our clients and partners have taken similar steps and assembled fantastic teams with tremendous dedication, abilities and skill sets. But although our processes work for us, ultimately you have to build a process that works for you.

For me, the truest barometer that I place when evaluating a team member is feeling confident that I know they will represent our brand well and provide our clients with the right tools to meet their HR challenges. I think that’s a pretty great formula for a fantastic team.

Fall into a Healthier Workplace

Written by Mary Lake on .

With the tress exploding with color and falling temperatures bringing the season’s first frost, I’m constantly reminded that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. While I love this time of year, I dislike the inevitable decline in my activity levels. With the holidays almost upon us, so too are the additional calories to my regular diet. Sitting behind my desk all day, I find a real lack of motivation to exercise since it’s dark and cold by the time I get home.

I know I’m not alone when it comes to this issue. So, what can organizations do to help their employees maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially around this time of year? Many companies are offering their employees wellness programs at work. Some are elaborate, while others are quite simple. My son’s employer provided their employees a Fitbit to encourage them to maintain their health and wellness. They also provide a stipend to use at gyms, tennis clubs, and yoga studios. IBM, Virgin and Google all offer extensive programs, but not all companies have the resources of these large corporations. Many of our clients are creating minor to major programs, so organizations should try to identify what they can do and what works best for their employees.

A wellness program can have many elements to it. From health education to on-site screenings, the approach to supporting employee health and wellness can vary greatly. In November of 2012, Forbes provided four great steps to implementing a corporate health and wellness program.

Step 1. Determine the need of the employee and the employer. It is important to identify the needs of the employees and what they are looking for in a wellness program. An employee survey will help you to see what needs are pressing and what employees’ thoughts are on a wellness program. It is also important to understand the organization’s goals and available resources for providing a wellness program.

Step 2. Analyze the data and create a plan. Once the needs, goals and resources have been identified, analyze the data and develop a wellness program that will meet those needs. Be realistic and accept that everything may not be implemented at once. Do you bring in health screeners first, perhaps someone to provide flu shots? Or is your priority to provide an on-site education program or fitness classes? Perhaps providing a fitness stipend is what will work best for your employees.

Step 3. Create a communication plan. Developing a wellness program is an important initiative and will require communication to your employees. Develop a communication plan that will not only inform your employees of what is being done, but will also encourage them to participate. Keep the communication going throughout the year to keep it on everyone’s mind.

Step 4. Put an incentive plan in place. We all know that breaking old habits is difficult, but is often easier when there is an incentive to do so. Put an incentive plan in place for your employees such as bonuses, reduction in insurance premiums or create team challenges. Make participation in the wellness program fun and worthwhile!

Healthier employees are happier employees. Happier employees are more productive and engaged employees. Helping employees maintain or develop healthier lifestyle choices through the cold weather will help us all to avoid some of the winter doldrums that we face as the weather turns cold and days grow shorter. It is a win-win for all!

No More Traffic Cops…in HR

Written by Barbara Irwin on .

We’ve been helping many organizations with HR Leadership searches over the past year and I have been pleasantly surprised at how all of our clients are using the words “strategic,” “big picture,” “value” and “progressive” when describing how these job functions align with HR and the overall business.

I can remember earlier in my career when the words to describe the HR profession and responsibilities were “hire and fire,” “police officers,” “compliance,” “personnel department”, etc. Fortunately, there has been a current shift towards words such as “counselors,” “human capital management,” “human potential,” “talent acquisition,” etc.

Some may say that these are simply the latest buzzwords or flavor of the month, but I don’t really think that’s the case. I think there has been a tremendous amount of progress in how organizations view and utilize their HR departments. Is this a coincidence? In today’s hypercompetitive environment, organizations are looking top to bottom on how to optimize their workforce and leverage their expertise to gain competitive advantages. HR is no different.

For example, we work with a lot of engineering and architecture firms. Engineers are paid to do engineering, architects are paid to do architecture, but historically, more often than not, these professionals would also handle HR responsibilities (and still do depending on the size of the organization).

The good news is that folks started making comments like ‘we don’t have expertise in this area,” or more bluntly, “we don’t know, what we don’t know.”

As with other areas of work, it’s important to recognize individual and professional strengths and it’s important to similarly recognize challenges and/or weaknesses. In other words, I as an HR professional, have no business providing any advice on how to design a road, build a bridge or create an annual campaign for a non-profit organization. I leave the experts in those fields to handle those projects.

With the shifting dynamics in the workplace, more universities around the country started providing degrees in HR Management from bachelors all the way to the PhD level. Giving professionals the educational backing to move into the workforce and provide that strategic HR counsel that companies were craving.

These are all good things. Organizations want HR expertise, academia is providing it and there are great programs that many organizations put into place for on the job training. However, there are still many smaller organizations that have individuals that are too close to a situation and still try to handle it all. I recommend that they move away from that model and hire either an HR consultant or full time HR expertise.

For example, a client of ours just recently hired their first HR Director. We worked with them on understanding what HR can do for their organization, including staff recruitment, development, continuous leadership and management coaching. They were able to let go of these HR areas and turn the reigns over to someone with the expertise to be the leader and strategic counsel in this area. We are excited to see their enthusiasm and understanding of how HR can be a catalyst in their organizational growth and success.

So I say, how do you view your HR department? If you still look at them as traffic cops, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re using your HR function and gain an understanding of the immense value of the profession to your organizational goals!