HRA Blog

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!

The Joys of Fall – Pumpkin Lattes and Benefits Plan Renewals

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Summer is over and fall has arrived, for many HR professionals it’s not all apple picking and pumpkin lattes, but managing the often painful process of their organization’s benefits plan renewal and open enrollment period.  The ever-changing landscape of healthcare often leads to many questions for organizations.  Is this the right plan for our employees?  Are we getting the maximum value for the company?  Are we in compliance?  Could we be doing better?   These are all legitimate questions and can make the process stressful, particularly for small employers.

Rather than looking inward, organizations should redirect these questions to their benefits broker.  Whether you are a large firm or one of less than 100 employees, you deserve top service from your broker.  Too many employers waste money on benefits that aren’t needed or don’t make sense for their employees.  Conversely, brokers often focus primarily on renewals and don’t take the time during the year to get to know their clients.  Employers should consider spending benefits  dollars differently and invest in a quality broker who will ensure the health and wellness plans they adopt meet their organization’s needs.

The good news is that there are many great brokers in the industry.  Rather than simply focusing on renewals, many brokers offer benefits customer service support throughout the year and make an effort to build relationships with their clients.  These brokers make an effort to help resolve claims issues and assist in navigating the complicated world of coverage levels, network services, and billing.  Many offer compliance related services and file annual reports, such as the 5500, and complete non-discrimination testing.

A good broker will take the time to understand your culture, industry, values, and goals. Their priority is to help define your benefits needs that will deliver the greatest value for your organization.

When selecting or evaluating a broker, the following basic administration questions should always be asked:

  1. How is your broker compensated?  Brokers are typically paid a commission from the insurance carrier or a flat fee from the organization for which they provide services.
  2. What is your overall strategy for keeping healthcare costs controlled? The broker may have relationships that will help in controlling price increases.
  3. Do you offer access to all insurance carriers? Some brokers only work with certain providers and may limit employer’s choices in plans.
  4. Do you annually market benefits? While employers don’t want to always be changing their benefits offerings, pricing out the plans annually can save employees money.

In addition, employers should also consider asking the following questions of their benefits provider to ensure they are investing in not only a service, but a strategic partner:

  1. Do you provide ongoing benefits’ support to employees beyond open enrollment? This is a great service for smaller employers or organizations with a lean HR department. Brokers can offer benefits support and/or act as the benefits department.
  2. Do you provide any proactive, customized communication strategies to employees that goes well beyond enrollment? Again, this service is helpful to organizations that are unable to provide pro-active support because of size and resources available.
  3. What type of technology resources do you utilize to manage benefits administration? Employees like having self-service access to their benefits. Many brokers offer and manage online portals that allow employees to research their own questions and make changes to their plans saving significant internal time and resources.
  4. Does our organization have access to one person who will understand and manage our plans? Having access to one person who understands the plans personalizes the benefits experience and minimizes the risk of receiving misinformation.
  5. Do you follow legislative updates, including healthcare reform, and pass along information? Keeping abreast of healthcare legislation is complicated. Brokers can ensure that employers are compliant in all benefits related areas, to include the filings of mandatory reports.
  6. Will you challenge your organization to think outside of the box to provide solutions that meet the needs of your workforce? A broker who understands their client’s business is able to best offer creative benefits solutions that offer the maximum value for the employees.
  7. Do you offer educational programs to your staff throughout the year? Employees are interested in more than basic healthcare coverage. Many are also looking for wellness, nutritional, and fitness ideas that promote healthy lifestyles.
  8. Are you familiar with our industry? Do you support other firms of our size? Brokers who are familiar with a particular industry are best equipped to ensure that employers stay competitive in their market.
  9. How many times per year are you willing to meet with our management team to assess our current plans? Regular meetings with the broker will help minimize surprises during the renewal period and will allow employers time to plan for change, if needed.

Organizations don’t have to settle for a broker who only manages transactional needs. HR should regularly evaluate their current broker’s services and consider whether they are providing all that is needed.

More importantly, it’s a beautiful time of the year, you should be enjoying the crispness of the air and preparing for the upcoming holidays, you shouldn’t feel stressed out about benefits planning.  Leave the benefits work to the experts by looking for a trusted advisor and strategic partner.

Take Your Seat at Your Organization’s Table

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

As I look at HR trainings being offered this fall, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern emerging. Many programs being offered by my local SHRM chapter and other organizations are centered on opportunities for HR professionals to become more involved and aligned with the businesses they support.

Further promoting this concept is a series of articles I recently read in the July-August 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review under the cover title, “It’s Time to Blow Up HR.” Peter Cappelli’s article, “Why We Love to Hate HR… and What HR Can Do About It” walks through historical challenges in the U.S. that shaped the HR profession along the way.

According to Cappelli, the HR field is bombarded with criticism for focusing too much on administrative requirements, being the enforcer of rules and typically lacking organizational vision and insight.

These criticisms aren’t new. As someone who’s worked in the HR industry for the past several decades, I’ve heard complaints from managers and employees inside and outside of HR.

Cappelli’s article encourages HR professionals to rethink their approach to leading their departments. He urges them to use their human capital expertise to help their organization’s get ahead of market shifts they see coming down the road. Rather than reacting to the quickly changing marketplace, they should be proactive. Taking these steps will go a long way in aligning the HR department with the organizations’ business goals and objectives, and reset the perception as being a strategic asset. Below are a few basic yet powerful recommendations offered by Cappelli that HR leaders should consider:

Set the agenda. Many CEOs and other operating executives are not experts on workplace issues. HR leaders must show why the issues they address matter to the business and that they have a sensible way to manage them, including providing supporting evidence. It’s an opportunity for HR leaders to show these executives why they should care about these issues by articulating a point of view on every people-related topic relevant to the business (i.e., layoffs, recruiting, flexible work arrangements, performance management, etc.).

Focus on issues that matter in the here and now. HR should craft company-specific (and industry-specific) policies and initiatives that respond to today’s organizational challenges, employee interests and changing business demands. It’s important to understand “what works when and where” and that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Look more closely at the environment in which the organization operates, and continually identify new challenges and design tools to meet them.

Acquire business knowledge. Be analytical. Look at things from many perspectives. Help make sense of all the employee data in order to get the most from your human capital (i.e., predict good hires, create project teams, minimize healthcare costs, and identify top performers).

Highlight financial benefits. Many HR leaders do not calculate Return-On-Investment (ROI), which feeds into business leaders’ view of HR as a cost center.  Use the internal systems to review data on turnover, productivity, and other factors that suggest which talent development programs merit investment.

Walk away from time wasters. Do your research and spend time on efforts that HR can measure and enforce. Don’t hesitate to change the way HR business is done if it doesn’t meet your organizational business needs.

By taking many of these steps, HR can become a strategic advisor to your organization and re-imagine human capital much more broadly. I encourage you to continue to ask the questions “why,” “what,” and “how,” allowing your department to stay actively involved in your organizational business. By making evidence-based recommendations for what matters and adjust (and eliminate) practices to meet ever-changing business needs, you will ensure that you add value to your organization, and always have a place at the proverbial table!