Employees are the heart of every business, and your biggest asset. They’re the people who make sure things get done when and how they’re supposed to, managing your processes, interacting with customers and clients, and showing up day after day. While of course their main motivation is the paycheck at the end of the day, today’s employees are also looking for a satisfying work place in which they feel they play an integral part. Doing all you can to keep company morale high means securing happy employees, and satisfied employees make loyal ones. Keeping your employees feeling content and satisfied in the work place means making sure they’re comfortable, and one aspect that often takes the backseat is office design. Want workers who are proud to come in every day? Make sure their work space is conducive to that feeling with these office design tips.

Take Temperature into Consideration Continue reading

One of the most popular posts I’ve written all year was dedicated to the HR certification decision facing today’s HR pros. I decided to take it a step further and reach out to some people to discuss the behind-the-scenes pieces of the HR certification world. Today’s interview is with Amy Dufrane, CEO of the Human Resources Certification Institute. I hope you enjoy!

Ben: First of all, I want to thank you for “walking the talk,” because I see that you have your SPHR certification. That’s a great example for the HR professionals out there to see and follow. Tell me a bit about your background and what led you to your current role as the CEO of HRCI. 

Amy Dufrane: I joined HR Certification Institute in 2011 as Chief Operating Officer and was named CEO in December 2012. Before joining HRCI, I spent more than two decades in human resources leadership roles at  organizations such as the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, where I served as Chief Human Resources and Administrative Officer; The Optical Society, where I headed up major talent retention and employee satisfaction initiatives and served as an advisor to the CEO and senior team; and Marymount University, where managed day to day HR office operations; and on the corporate side in HR at Bloomingdales. Continue reading

Leading volunteers is not always an easy job. Unlike employees, they are hard to fire and they may or may not be motivated enough to give their best efforts. But sometimes the magic happens, and you get the best people with the best skills supporting you in a volunteer capacity. That’s what happened last week, and I want to share some of the lessons for the rest of you.

Nikki (left) has been my co-director since the original event in 2013

Nikki (left) has been my co-director since the original event in 2013

Last weekend I participated in an event that has been going for four years now. The Light Up the Night 5k race was held Friday night at 11:59pm to benefit the Carpenter’s Cabinet, a local food pantry supporting those in need. I started the race four years ago with my co-director as a way to get people more active and to partner with a local charity as part of a local outreach effort at church. It is always a great event supporting a worthy cause, and every year the planning team and I pick up new ideas, tips, and strategies to make the race better. This year was no different. Looking back, I actually see some crucial leadership lessons that are worth sharing. Oh, and in case you are wondering, these can work with your employees, too!

Lesson One: Align Strengths to Tasks

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In every company, there comes a time when someone makes an offer to a candidate to come and work for them. What is interesting is the wide variety of advice in the marketplace that advises candidates on how to handle that critical negotiation.

Years ago I got my start in blogging by sharing career advice with job seekers looking for an edge in the hiring process. My peers constantly told people that for the strongest negotiating position, they should hold out as long as possible. In other words, it followed the old adage “the first one to speak in the negotiation loses.”

But that’s not necessarily true.

salary negotiationWhen I was recruiting, I wanted to find out from the candidate early on, whether through a job application question or through an informal conversation, what sort of salary range they were looking for. If it wasn’t offered, I would share the range of the opening early in the process. Was I showing my cards? Yes. But I was also attempting to conserve a valuable resource: time. Continue reading

I was talking with some HR professionals last week, and the conversation of transparency came up. What happens if managers care so much about their employees that they help or prepare them to leave the company to pursue the next step in their careers? Is that a good thing, because you’ve successfully grown someone to the level that they are prepared for that? Or is it a problem, since you’re turning over otherwise solid workers that could be contributing to your bottom line? To frame the discussion, I shared the story below that I received from Allied Talent in one of their marketing emails.

Recruiting, engaging, and retaining entrepreneurial employees depends in large part on a manager’s ability to discuss and facilitate career development. However, recruiters, managers, and executives are often poorly-equipped to lead these conversations. Toby Murdock, the founder and CEO of Boulder-based content marketing company Kapost, set out to fix that. His goal: to make his company the best place in Colorado to launch and accelerate a career in high tech… Thanks to a compelling employee value proposition around career transformation, Toby has successfully recruited entrepreneurial employees into the company who might have otherwise been out of reach.

Once at your company, those entrepreneurial employees require high-trust 1:1 conversations with their manager. A paradox of The Alliance is that, as a manager, acknowledging that an employee might move to another company someday is a display of honesty that’s necessary in career conversations. It’ll also help you truly understand your employee’s values and aspirations. Building trust through honesty, and having a better handle on what your employee really wants, are key ingredients to improving employee retention — lengthening job tenures.

So, as you can see, there are pros and cons to this decision. On one hand, you need managers that aren’t afraid of losing people. I have worked for managers in the past that were so concerned about keeping me that they didn’t actually have my best interests in mind, which ended up driving me away instead of making me feel appreciated. Continue reading

Wellness as an employee benefit has expanded in the last year or two to include more than just the physical aspect–it now wraps in financial, emotional, and other types of wellness as well. That’s a good thing, because 68% of workers rely on their workplace coverage for their families’ financial security, according to the Guardian Workplace Benefits Study

One topic that we don’t often think about, yet impacts our employees heavily, is personal finance.

According to this article from the Washington Post, approximately one-third of your employees are living paycheck-to-paycheck. In other words, without this week’s paycheck coming in, the employee and their family would be in an immediate financial crisis.

The first response for many leaders is, “Yeah, so what?” However, this can be an opportunity to impact the productivity and engagement of your staff, so there’s value in learning more about this issue.

Cost of Living Impacts

In retirement, Americans fear the rising cost of living. In fact, nearly half of Americans (47%) report being either “very concerned” (36%) or “terrified” (11%) that the rising cost of living will affect their retirement plans. This is according to a new study on Americans’ perceptions about inflation from Allianz Life. Furthermore, respondents claim they are either “very worried” (36%) or even “panicked” (11%) that they won’t be able to afford the lifestyle they want in retirement due to rising costs. Continue reading

Among all of the opportunities that HR leaders have, I believe that one of the most valuable is puncturing the CEO bubble by acting in a strategic advisor capacity. As I wrote some time ago, 76% of CEOs value their relationship with HR. This is because we exist outside the normal flow of business to some extent. This role as a trusted advisor is one that can, and should, be highly strategic.

HR’s History

Does this list sound familiar?

  • No
  • We can’t do that
  • That would be risky
  • What if we get sued
  • We’ve never done it that way
  • I don’t think that will work

hr ceo advisor strategicThat is my perception of HR as it has historically been carried out. For a wide variety of reasons, the HR population has become the “no” police, preventing virtually any opportunity for creativity and innovation.

Instead of focusing on excuses or reasons you can’t make something happen, keep searching for ways to do it. Look for opportunities, not limitations. There are already enough people in the world who are ready and willing to tell you how something can’t be accomplished. Let’s work on cultivating more people that look for ways you can be successful.

We often see opportunities as binary, yes/no decisions. As an example: we can either change to a new insurance provider or we can stop providing insurance to our employees and let them all die of horrible diseases before the week is over with.

The point is the person offering these options knows that offering one really great option and one really poor option is going to force the manager to choose. However, the good manager will turn it back on the employee with a response of “none of the above.”

If you want to do it right, here’s the game plan: instead of settling for two less-than-ideal options, ask for more. Push the person to give you three, four, or five options; ask for at least one more viable idea to level the playing field. Ask why they settled on offering just two. Don’t let them get away with trying to push their own agenda if there is a better option still available.

Again, this illustration is centered around asking your staff to do more than the bare minimum. Don’t let them assume something can’t be done. Don’t let them get away with listing reasons/excuses for why something isn’t possible. Ask them to go further and look at “how we can” options, even if they are a bit far-fetched. You never know when one of those ideas could fit perfectly.

If you want to be seen as a trusted advisor, a connector, and a positive force for change, this is how you do it. You don’t accomplish that by saying “No” to everything that is proposed. There are good options that don’t involve the sudden demise of your entire company–you just need to tune your risk meter and get better at predicting the future.

Remember: look for answers to how we can, not why we can’t.

CEO Influence in Action

In one of my previous roles, I reported directly to the CEO of the organization. This was a two-way street in terms of value. I received up-to-date information on business pursuits and opportunities on the horizon, and I was able to offer insights, input, and advice around how to approach those areas.

There were times that my advice was received, processed, and not followed. That is painful for some to cope with, but it’s the nature of the game. That’s why the other person is the CEO–they get to call the shots.

However, there were plenty of times that the advice was heeded, and the business and people benefited from it. At least I knew I had an open ear and could get my side of the story heard.

Another company I worked in was not quite so… positive. The CEO was unplugged from the organization emotionally and mentally. The entire staff knew it, and it didn’t exactly lead to a culture that I would be proud of. I was a layer removed from the CEO but my boss was not of the strategic mindset. We were seen as a group of HR paper-pushers with a rubber stamp ready for any idea or innovation to arise so we could put a big, fat “NO” on it. The company was eventually acquired and the entire staff laid off, and all of the talent problems that the leadership had been ignoring became someone else’s problem.

Taking Advantage of the Situation

One of the hardest things about the close nature of this relationship is the eventual requirement to compete with your own interests. There are times that you will have to put forth ideas and concepts that are counter to your own needs. Being able to distance yourself as an objective party and provide inputs without becoming entangled in the emotional red tape is difficult, but necessary.

This is also where you can forge some of the strongest bonds with your company’s leadership. If everything is going fine, nobody is surprised when you have your stuff together. But when things are hard and times are lean or challenges arise, that is when you have the best opportunity to demonstrate your competency and level-headed approach. When everyone else is flailing about, you have to be the rock that others can cling to. Not physically–that would be weird. But you get the picture.

Litmus Test for Your CEO’s HR Outlook

I have a quick test you can use to determine your CEO’s outlook on the value of HR. Does he/she see you as an administrative burden or a necessary evil, or are you seen as a value-added strategic partner that is indispensable?

This isn’t foolproof, but I have seen it play out many times and it is fairly accurate. Do a quick calculation for me: look at your ratio of employees to HR pros. This tells you how valuable your leaders think HR is. Consider these two examples:

  • A friend recently contacted me and we were discussing her company’s HR structure. They budget for one HR pro per thousand employees. She spends all day doing paperwork and has not planned for future growth needs in more than two years.
  • Another friend caught me up on her company’s strategy in the midst of explosive growth. The company had a ratio of 1:40. The firm is doing better than ever and the HR team is continuously implementing new programs and targeting strategic opportunities for improving talent acquisition, leadership development, and more.

There isn’t a hard number, but hopefully these examples give you a better idea of where you stand. HR can be strategic or tactical, but strategy is where the true business value comes in.

While Very Personal, the Relationship is also Strategic

Some of the ways I have seen this HR advisory relationship/role play out beyond simple business transactions:

  • Informal coach: In terms of feedback, HR takes on the role of informal executive coach to the CEO. They will provide input on things that might not be at the forefront of the CEO’s thoughts and help them to get their message across in a way that is “comfortable” for the parties involved.
  • “Safe” performance improvement feedback: In cases where critical feedback might be necessary, the HR person might have to provide “safe” performance feedback to the executive. In this context, “safe” means direct, private, and confidential. The advice is provided directly to the CEO, it’s in a private location, and the feedback is confidential and will not be repeated.
  • Personal touch: The one that I’ve seen more of is what my friend likes to call “the office spouse.” I liken it to my relationship with my wife in that when we go somewhere, I look at her helplessly and say, “Who is that guy’s wife again?” and “What did you say happened to their son?” She has those minor details all memorized. Same relationship at work: the CEO expects the HR professional to have the staff information on a personal level close at hand, among other things. In addition, HR acts as a representative of the staff. The CEO can also ask (this ties back in with the two points above) how staff will receive/comprehend an announcement about upcoming changes, whether good or bad.

Not Just Problems: Offer Solutions, Too

“I don’t like going to HR meetings. They are always about problems, not solutions.”

I heard that comment at a SHRM conference once, and it’s stuck with me ever since. There is nothing quite like having to sit in front of your CEO and tell them about some problem that is coming at you like a freight train. There are two parts to doing this the right way that will help diminish the perception above.

#1-Offer solutions, too

It may sound simple, but when you come to the meeting with a problem, bring two or more solutions with you as well. Don’t feel helpless or powerless. You are the person with the most in-depth information about the issue so far, and it’s your responsibility to take that information and turn it into a potential resolution.

That saying we explored above? It’s a saying that I always repeat whenever I’m faced with a tough decision:

Tell me how we can, not why we can’t.

#2-Be proactive

So you’re sitting there thinking, “Huh, he must be talking to someone else. I don’t have any big problems that I have to share with our leadership at this point.”

No, I’m talking to you, too! You just have a different action. It’s time to be proactive. Start looking for ways you can cut costs, streamline your functions, save time for managers, etc. Look for some solutions to age-old problems, not just new ones. Not sure where to start? Ask some of your managers what their biggest pain points are with regard to the HR or recruiting processes. Ask your senior leaders what their biggest concerns are at a corporate level. Then take that information and use it.

Want to know the fastest, easiest way to prove the value of the HR department? Solve a problem that plagues the management team. Yes, it seems simple, but it is often overlooked because HR tends to exist in its own little “bubble” and never takes the time to actually find out what the business needs are from the HR function.

Then take the time to communicate what you’ve found in the way of solutions to current problems.

Pretty soon your managers will be saying, “I am looking forward to the next HR meeting to see what they have come up with this time.” Then ask for a raise. You deserve it. :-)

What are your thoughts on this relationship? Is it valued at your company? What has been your experience?