How Smart Companies Streamline Their HR

For the past twenty years, we’ve helped more than 250 businesses and organizations with Human Resources. We’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

Regardless of company size, what they all have in common is that the HR function can be more streamlined. We’re not talking about cutting staff. It’s about maximizing available “resources” so you can maximize this critical business function.

Here are 4 steps we recommend to make your workforce more productive, engaged and aligned. (Hint: it’s not as hard as you might think!)

1. Maximize HR Technology

Most small and mid-sized businesses don’t have a HR Management System (HRMS). That’s amazing to us. Almost all the major payroll companies offer this program at low prices. There is not one thing you can do to better streamline HR than this.

In 2020, we helped four businesses install an HRMS. Within three months, the average HR administrator saved 45 hours per month! (Company size averaged 60 employees)

Venture capitalists invested $7 billion in HR technology companies in the past two years. It’s only going to get bigger and better for every business.

2. Who Does What (aka the right person for the right job)?

If you have a full-time HR person, ask them, “what do you spend your typical day doing?” If it’s administrative, then the HRMS in #1 will reduce their workload by about 25-40%. So NOW what do they do all day?

An accredited HR professional probably works with you on employee performance issues. They also explore ways to increase employee engagement and return-to-office issues. Most also support the talent acquisition process. But in a small business, how many hours a week does that really take?

Is your “HR person” an “HR person”, or is that a side gig for the office manager or bookkeeper who doesn’t have an HR background? If you have a General Counsel, do they have an employment law background?

In 2003, the ratio of HR professionals to employees was 1:40. Today, it’s about 1:150.

Companies are discovering technology and targeted outsourcing can replace a full-time HR person. At the same time, the employees doing that work can return to their true area of expertise.

Do a gap analysis (or have an expert do one for you). Find out what you have and what you’re missing. You should find a cost-effective HR program which increases capabilities and decreases worries.

3. Get Experts and Let Them Make the Decisions

Everyone thinks they know something about HR. And most of them don’t, plain and simple.

If you have a Board, don’t get them involved in reviewing Job Descriptions (this happened to us last week).

Titles mean nothing today. We saw an applicant earlier this year who was a “Director of Human Resources”. Upon review, the company she worked for had eleven employees. And her “HR function” was collecting applications and processing payroll. It’s not about the title, it’s about the expertise. You don’t want someone like that making decisions that impact your business.

When it comes to HR, consolidate decision making processes to one or two people. The more people you talk to, the more different opinions you’re going to get. Meaning decisions will never get made. Last year, a non-profit client had six executives approve their employee handbook. It took them (and us) 23 drafts and six months to deliver a document. A document that was already legally reviewed and ready-to-go.

Know who the experts are and use them. You don’t have to hire full-time people to get this level of expertise.

4. Strategically Use Your Employment Attorney

In smaller companies, the de facto HR answer machine is often the employment attorney. (When in doubt, let’s call…). But that can be  expensive, as most employment attorneys charge between $500-$1,000 per hour.

Certified HR consultants, however, charge less than half that and can provide answers to 80-90% of questions.

Save the employment attorney for lawsuits and questions which are legal in nature.

In fairness, we love employment attorneys. They do things we cannot do, and we do things they generally don’t want to do. Most employment attorneys want to be defending you in court. They don’t want to answer questions such as “how long do I have to keep this employment application on file?”

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Keep Your Best Employees By Asking These Questions

A very wise man once said if you ask enough “stay interviews”, you’ll be doing a lot less “exit interviews”.

I have seen very few businesses that can’t benefit from more frequent and quality interactions between managers and their employees.  The problem is, most managers don’t know what questions to ask.  As a result, communication is garbled or non-existent, and a very good employee often shocks their boss when they “suddenly” leave. This problem is exacerbated when managing remote employees.

Anyone can ask good questions; it’s just a matter of being intentional about doing so.

Many years ago I was running a division of about 300 salespeople.  10 managers reported to me.  One of those managers was actually someone I reported to a few years previously (that’s another article right there).  I really loved and respected Chris when he was my boss, and tried hard to treat him the same way when I became his boss.  The trouble was my boss – Edward – intensely disliked Chris, and wanted me to fire him.

So I put together a day-long meeting where each of my managers presented a “state of the staff” to both me and Edward.  Each manager had 45 minutes to review staff, discuss challenges and successes.  The managers were competent, and reviewed each employee in terms of productivity, customer service ratings, etc.  I saved Chris for last.  Instead of reviewing numbers, he reviewed each of his direct reports as individuals.

“Keith had a tough year last year, as he was going through a divorce.  The divorce is now final and he’s totally been re-focused”.

“Jennifer and her husband just bought a new house so she’s twice as motivated to bring in new sales”.

And so on.  He knew each of his employees in detail – where they lived, names of their spouses or significant others, what their issues were and what their goals were.  At the end of the day, Edward grudgingly said he understood Chris a lot better.

So get your managers to get to know their employees better.  It’s not a big ordeal – just 10-15 minutes a month of conversation.  And managers need to do a lot better than simply “How’s it going?”

Last year, we worked with an organization on their culture and incorporated much of the culture into some stay interview questions.  Here are some of them:

  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most?
  • If you were the CEO for a day, what would be the one thing you would change about this department?
  • What makes for a great day?
  • What can we do to make your job more satisfying?
  • What can we do to support your career goals?
  • Do you get enough recognition?
  • What will keep you here?  What might entice you away?
  • What do you want to learn this year?  How might you learn it?

By understanding employees better, your managers will be better able to help employees stay.  Or, prepare for an impending departure.  In either instance, asking stay questions becomes an essential part of your overall performance management strategy.  After all, the whole purpose of management is to manage performance.

Top 17 Tips for Managing Remote Employees

1. Do everything you’re supposed to do with on-site employees, but do it on steroids.

2. Overcommunicate. Until they complain about too much communication, keep overcommunicating. (Note: I’ve never heard of an employee complaining about management over communicating)

3. Redesign onboarding to reflect remote employee (and company) needs, and bring remotes into the office for – at least – the first week or two of their employment.

4. Encourage all remote and on-site employees to communicate with each other. It can’t all be on the manager.

5. If you have birthday or lifecycle celebrations for on-site employees, have them for remote employees as well. They must feel included.

6. Encourage remote employees to have occasional, casual colleague discussions (coffee, wine, lunch, etc.)

7. Company-branded “googies” or “swag”. If you have these items, make sure the remotes get them too.

8. When conducting one-on-ones, make sure to include information on the company – who’s doing what; goal achievements, etc.

9. If an employee is working in a different state or municipality that your home office, make sure you’re up-to-date on any state- or municipal-specific labor laws.

10. If an employee is working in a different state, they still need labor posters, but they don’t have to have them posted in their living room! Order the poster to yourself. Take a digital photo and e-mail that to the employee, making sure they acknowledge they’ve received it.

11. When communicating, use Emotional Intelligence. Observe them. Focus on whether he/she/they are engaged, connected, happy (or not).

12. When conducting a team meeting, keep an eye out for those who are not talking, and make sure to get them participating. Don’t let the frequent talkers talk too frequently at the expense of quiet employees.

13. Set clear expectations for performance and hours of work/communication. The moment those expectations aren’t met, make a phone call.

14. You trusted them enough to hire them. Focus on results, not their process.

15. Not every conversation needs to be on Zoom.

16. Focus on what I call “The Proximity Challenge”. Most managers tend to delegate plum assignments to those who are nearby. Avoid this trap.

17. Tell them how you prefer to be communicated with – what medium, when times and how. Ask them the same thing.

7 Ways to Tell If You Have the Right Leaders on Your Team

Before I design a leadership development program for a client, I meet with the CEO or business owner. I ask them questions to discover if the management team is capable and competent – as leaders. 

In any business, success is almost entirely predicated upon great (or at a minimum, good) leaders of people. Weak management teams are easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. And they’re present in every organization. Managers have that title for many reasons. They may have been the hardest worker, kissed the most ass, or been the best salesperson. But none of those attributes mean anything when it comes to leadership. That’s why leadership development exists.

A major reason businesses aren’t successful is due to ineffective line managers. With rare exceptions, most businesses have what I call an “Uneven Leadership Team”. Meaning some managers are more effective than others. This is the rule, not the exception.

So after nearly 30 years in leadership, how do I know if you have the right leaders on your team?

1. You’re Not in the Weeds. The number of C-level execs I speak with who spend time on minutiae is amazing. Think about the primary role of line leaders. It’s to eliminate the day-to-day responsibilities of the business owner or executive. Do you spend your time on issues like customer complaints or employee relations problems? If so, you likely don’t have the right leaders in place.

2. Your various departments and/or locations run consistently. When a branch office or a specific department isn’t performing well, it’s usually a management issue. Uneven management is more common than you might think. It causes friction, creates jealousy among employees, and generates headaches for you.

3. Employee Turnover is Low. I don’t define good/bad turnover in terms of percentages; there are too many variables. Retail and restaurants tend to have high turnover, for example. And the state of the economy can cause turnover to raise and fall everywhere. So simply stated: is your turnover acceptable to you? Or are you losing valuable employees every year?

4. You’re Never Wondering: “Did it Get Done?” When you delegate or assign tasks, do you find yourself asking, “Did that ever got done?” Or are you confident and assured that things get done without you having to check in all the time? The mark of a good leader is they handle problems before they escalate, and they get things done.

5. Things Run Smoothly When You’re Not There. One of my favorite leadership stories is when I learned how to delegate. I was a line manager, and every Friday seemed to be Complaint Day. Frustrated, my boss’ solution was to have me take a Friday and go to the beach. On Monday, I was dreading the inevitable pile of complaints but to my surprise, there were none. My team had handled them all.

How long are you comfortable being completely out of touch with your office? (Is it a week, a day, or a couple of hours?) The quality of your leadership team predicts your answer. As my Coach Dan Sullivan says, the mark of a great executive (you) is the ability to have a Self-Managing Company.

6. You’re Spending Your Time Doing What You Love. My definition of professional success is the ability to do what I want to do, not what I have to do. How about you? How much time at work do you spend doing the things you enjoy doing? The more time you spend in this area, the more competent your leadership team is. I guarantee it.

7. Employee complaints are low and enthusiasm genuine. There are certain things a manager can’t control. But they control a lot in a business, and a major symptom of good managers is happy employees. Happy employees tend to be positive. They don’t file lawsuits; workers’ compensation claims or grumble about minor issues. They’re not looking for another job. They’re happy and feel well compensated in their job and the company they work for.

Beware, though: when you’re a leader, people tell you what you think you want to hear. So when I ask a CEO, “Are your employees happy?” and they reply, “Yes.” My follow up is always, “How do you know?”

It’s always a good time to re-evaluate your management team. What are you missing? What could be better? Is it a training issue, or is it time to make changes? Nothing is permanent. The performance of managers and leaders must be judged not only on what they do, but how well they lead.