9 Ways to Lead the Return To “Normal”

Things are starting to stabilize. Things appear to be getting better. The curve, for now, appears to be flattening.

But make no mistake: The anxiety people have is manifest 24/7. They’re worried about their families, their health, their jobs, their livelihoods (and that of their partners), managing kids, elderly parents, etc.

It’s not like people can go to work and get away from home problems. And they can’t go home and get away from their work problems, either.

As we all recover, our role as leaders is to provide employees with realistic reassurance, with empathy, honesty and emotional intelligence.

Here are 9 techniques for leading the Return to Normal:

1. Keep Your Foot on the Overcommunication Gas Pedal

Having an employee tell you “Hey, enough with the communication. I don’t need this much” is infinitely preferable to not giving them enough information. (Although in my entire career, I’ve never heard of an employee asking leadership to back off on the communication).

If the employee is working remotely, here’s a complimentary tool to help you conduct an effective conversation.

And remember, when you ask someone how they are, it tells them you care.

2. We’re Going to Be in The Unknown For Quite Some Time

This crisis, to quote an unknown author, is a case study in uncertainty – even as we’re coming out of this.

Many of us are asked, ‘when is it going back to normal? First, it will never be back to normal again. It’s OK. Remember, the world changed after 9/11, and we adapted.

We’re never really going to be back to “normal”. It won’t be “the way it always was”. It‘s up to leaders to make this new normal a comfortable place to be. It won’t be the same. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good.

3. Emotional Intelligence/Know Your Audience/One Size Fits One

Some people are incredibly anxious right now. Some people aren’t. Everyone has different stressors and all of us have been traumatized. Effective leadership starts with Emotional Intelligence, which can be summed up by “know who you’re talking with, and adapt accordingly”.

(Note, there’s a lot more to Emotional Intelligence than that, but it’s a start).

4. Make a plan but make plans to change the plan

We’re learning so much new information each day. I was reviewing some articles I wrote a month ago, and they’re already obsolescent. It’s great to prepare and make plans, but don’t be so wedded to the plan that you can’t change.

Because your plans ARE going to change.

5. Gratitude for your clients/end-users and employees

Gratitude helps take us back to the known. It reminds us of things we’re proud of (in a time where we tend to focus much of our energy on what’s scary). It’s always a lot easier to focus on the negative than remember the positive.

As an extra bonus: what you do now will pay off in the future.

6. Don’t pretend to be the expert

Leaders are being called on to do a lot these days, but remember, you’re not the expert in everything.

Find out the experts and rely on them – from safety issues to mental health, there’s a trove of information available. Don’t guess. Don’t pretend you’re the expert. It will bite you on the way back.

7. Calm & Prepared

As a leader, you’re always on stage. People are watching not only what you do, but how you do it.

Temperament is one of the most essential qualities a leader can have. An effective crisis strategy begins by separating charged emotions from facts and data.

8. Just because it’s not logical doesn’t mean it’s not real

Despite every precaution you might be taking, some people are going to be fearful of coming back to work. You might not think that’s logical, but it doesn’t matter: it’s real to them.

Your perception is their reality. Understand their fears and you’ll begin the breakthrough.

9. Put the “Humanity” Back in Human Resources

One of my great frustrations with many HR professionals is that they buy into every possible rumor and make it fact.

Case in point: they’ll tell you not to ask about an employee’s personal life or their home situation. (“You can’t intrude on someone’s personal life – we’ll get sued.”)

To which I say – show me the case law.

At a time like this, when work and life have morphed into some unrecognizable blur, now is exactly the time to ask how their family is; what they’re fearful of and what personal and professional concerns they have. It’s called being human.

We’ll get through this. But how we get through this and break through to the other side will determine our success as leaders.

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.

Nine Tips For Recruiting on LinkedIn

Many small and mid-sized businesses are struggling with trying to find and hire employees. Moreover, those same businesses don’t have the staff to properly develop and manage their company LinkedIn page.

At Symmetry, we aren’t primarily a headhunting firm; we’re an HR Outsourcing company and we occasionally help our clients with search and selection. We’re always amazed to see common mistakes on the most important online website for employers – LinkedIn.

The first thing a candidate researches is your website and then your LI page. if they don’t like what they see, they’re not going to bother applying.

LinkedIn is an essential component in recruiting and hiring employees. Fixing common mistakes is fairly easy and definitely inexpensive. You just need to know what to look for.

Here are the most common mistakes or omissions we see when helping clients develop a more robust employer brand through LinkedIn:

1. The company profile page. Make sure it has the right business name and logo. You’d be surprised how many businesses don’t. If you have a common name (ABC Company) it’s likely there are a number of people who consider themselves your “employees” from throughout North America and Europe. Make sure you have a cool and relevant cover photo as well.

2. Get every employee on the proper company LI page. There are always a number of employees who aren’t connected properly. You can always tell: Go to an employee profile page. To the left of the job title and company should be the proper logo (like mine below).

3. Every key employee should have an updated profile AND an updated picture on their profile. And for goodness’ sakes, when you post a job on LI (or anywhere), make sure all your employees “share” that information with their network. With LI, it’s not really posting the job that will get you lots of candidates; it’s how your employees and network share that with their networks. That’s viral, and that’s important.

4. The “About” section. I’m always amazed when a company’s “about” section contains copy that’s completely outdated. So update it. Start by having this internal discussion: What is a compelling reason a great employee would want to work for you?

5. Post news, promotions, employee anniversaries to increase your visibility. Invite candidates who apply to follow your LI page.

6. Follow your clients, vendors, friends, and network. Get them to follow you back. It’s a lonely feeling when people see you only have 3 followers.

And when you do post for a position on LinkedIn, remember these tips:

7. Write your job post and headline as if you were a marketer. Don’t fall into the HR trap of writing it to comply with some imaginary law. Your primary aim is to get people to read and apply for the position! Make it inviting but realistic. The job title is probably the only thing a candidate will review.

8. Include the salary. There is a myth among many ignorant executives and HR folks that posting a salary causes all sorts of issues among current employees. Well, the opposite is true for candidates. No one is going to take the time to apply if they don’t know what the salary range is up front. (By the way, your employees should know exactly what the range is for every position at your company – it’s called transparency).

9. Add a video, interviewing current employees who have the job or had the job. What’s it like? What do you do? What is the culture? That’s information a candidate wants and needs – especially from people who aren’t the hiring manager.

The message is the medium. Reset your expectations. There is not a lot of talent out there right now. And those employees that are great are being well-paid and are happy in their job. They’re not going to risk a stable good thing right now unless there’s a MAJOR incentive for them to do so. Give that potential candidate the compelling reason.

Letter to Leaders – September 30, 2020

Tomorrow, the final quarter of the year begins. For lots of people, the year’s end can’t some soon enough. For others, it’s more of “what else can this year throw at us?”

It still seems surreal to me. I mean, it doesn’t feel the same:

  • I’m working, but it doesn’t feel the same.
  • I’m watching sports on TV, but it’s not the same.
  • We’re starting to do more things outside the home, but it doesn’t feel the same.

I guess that’s the point of a post-COVID world. It won’t feel the same, but eventually it will feel more….normal. This epidemic has tested and re-defined resilience like nothing else ever has.

I spoke yesterday to a friend who happens to be a client. His call on a Friday in early March (“I have to lay off all my staff on Monday”) jolted me into the COVID reality. His company revenue dropped 90% from March to July. Now he and his team have developed a plan (with complete buy-in) that expects to double their 2019 revenue in 2021. Now that’s resilience.

What if I told you last year that within six months, the vast majority of businesses would have more employees working from home than in the office? You’d think me crazy, right? Or that we’d all be wearing masks?

Someone I admire, Peter Shankman, says that “there are no more rules.” As a result, there’s never been a better time to try a new idea, move to a new location, or develop a new skill. Or maybe just do what we do better than ever before. It might require a new mindset or a re-focus. But when there are no more norms, opportunities are endless.

So get focused, stay safe, and I’ll see you around.

“It’s Never Going To Be The Same” – No Kidding.

I’m getting tired of hearing “it’s never going to be the same” as if the status quo and the way we’ve always done things has never changed in our lifetimes. It’s changed constantly. It would’ve changed significantly even if there had not been a pandemic.

People fear change because it moves us from the known to the unknown. But change has happened consistently since time began, and guess what: it’s gonna change again.

Remember flying before 9/11? The check-in and security process changed after that, didn’t it. We got used to it, and now it’s normalized.

Remember television prior to streaming? Prior to cable? When there were only 13 channels? Or maybe you remember (like I do) when there was black-and-white only and no remote control?

Are you doing the same work you did 5 years ago? Using the same tools, communication devices? What about the people who work with you? Any of them leave in the past 5 or 10 years?

Point is, nothing is ever going to be the same again because nothing is now the same as it was before. What makes the human species (and much of nature) unique is that we adopt to change. Doesn’t mean we have to particularly like it, but we adopt.

So if you’re scared of the fact that it’s never going to be the same, get over yourself. Your success in life or school or your chosen profession is not based on whether or not there is change, but how you adopt to it. How well you adopt, how easy it is for you adopt, and what your attitude about the new world is.

The great Dan Sullivan, “You have no responsibility for what’s happening in the outside world, but you have 100% responsibility for how you respond to it.”

It’s OK to look to the past and remember what was, but don’t live there. There is only now, and what will be.

The Best Performance Review I’ve Ever Seen

Ditch the old way you’ve been doing things and get back to basics.  Performance metrics should set your standard, so people will do the things you actually want them to do.


Boy, have I seen a lot of performance reviews.  They’re basically the same things over and over.  And we get an inordinate number of questions from clients asking for “a sample performance review template” they can emulate in their own business.  Many executives have always managed and evaluated this way, to say nothing of how we pay and promote.

Yet in the past few years away, there’s been a shift away from performance reviews, which is completely understandable.

Performance reviews don’t work because we don’t ask employees what they do to advance our organizational and managerial goals.  We’re not specific enough.  So maybe I should revise that comment accordingly: Performance reviews don’t work as they’re currently devised.

The Importance of Expectations

My experience is that most e­­mployees do pretty well at hitting objectives if they know the specifics that are expected of them.

But here’s the problem: Managers and executives do a lousy job of setting expectations.

Think about it: If employees are going to be evaluated based on attendance and productivity, they deserve to understand why.  “Why do I need to be on time?  I get my work done, so why does it matter?”

Businesses do a great job of creating volumes of requirements for employees; there’s seemingly a rule for everything.  But why?  How do those requirements help us reach our individual goals?

Subjective vs Objective

The CFOs of the world tell us that performance reviews are necessary because they’re objective. When we attribute numbers to the results, we objectively give raises and bonuses and measure performances.

This ideology buys into what I call The Myth of ObjectivityTM.  Of course, everyone (especially CFOs) would love to see performances broken down into averages, medians, and charts.  But that’s not objective.

When a manager reviews an employee’s performance, what really creates the difference between a 3.5 and a 4.0?

Answer: nothing.  Therefore, the rating system isn’t objective after all.  And since it’s subjective, it basically defeats the purpose of having a performance review to begin with.

(Yes, I know that ratings can effectively motivate salespeople and workers with repetitious jobs such as manufacturing, but the latter will disappear soon, due to AI and robotics.)

The Best of the Best

The CEO of at an insurance brokerage firm in Pasadena, CA, wrote the best performance review I’ve ever seen.  I was sitting in a meeting with the CEO and his executive assistant, and we were reviewing our punch list.  I could tell the CEO was getting a bit impatient, so I made this suggestion: “Let’s take a break. My team can finish everything on our own.”

Greg brightened up after I made my suggestion, and asked his assistant, “Remember what your performance is based on?”  She nodded.

Now he’d piqued my curiosity.  “What’s your performance based on?” I asked her.

“My performance and salary increase are based on the number of times Greg gets to golf every month,” she said.  “If he plays at least eight times a month, I get a good performance review and a 10% salary increase at the end of the year.”

Then it hit me.  It was the perfect performance review!  I know many HR veterans are undoubtedly recovering from their fainting spells, but hear me out:

  • The criteria were clear.

Melissa understood exactly what was expected of her, and she was easily able to repeat her goals.

  • The goal was measurable.

Eight rounds of golf per month (or 96 per year)

  • It advanced the executive’s goals and objectives.

Greg wanted to golf. It was a personal goal, and it was important to him.  [Pro Tip: If you want people to do something, incentivize them.]

  • It allowed a talented person to innovate and work autonomously.

For Greg, it didn’t matter how Melissa got him out on the golf course, just that she made  it happen.  So her performance wasn’t tied up in minutiae; it was solely focused on the end result. In other words, she had permission to do whatever she needed to do to get him golfing.

Melissa became a more effective assistant, because every interaction she had factored into that goal.  And she was a much more effective gatekeeper.  (“Does that person really need to have a meeting with Greg, or can I handle it?”)


Rethink your 15-page form for performance reviews.  What do you truly want that person to do?  What’s the end goal?  Can’t we simplify things, and make our objectives attainable, measurable, and real?  The answer: Yes, we can.  But then the question becomes, “Are we willing to break through the mentality that We’ve always Done It This Way?”

Over the next decade, businesses who are willing and able to change are going to become winners. Your formula for success doesn’t involve being stuck in the past.

"Winning" An Employment Dispute?

Just look at the headline of this article:

“Wal-Mart Workers Win $62 Million”

What is wrong with this headline and picture?


“The Lotto Mentality” has officially infected our business culture, to the determent of business owners and to the employees who truly deserve compensation for wrong.

Employees First

Dave Berkus is an accomplished speaker, author and angel investor.  He provides common sense advice to all businesses through his blog, Berkonomics.

His recent post deals with the frustrations of business owners who perceive that government regulations always favor employees.  His advice?  Recognize the realities of the times.

He’s right!

Workplace Litigation Trends Report

This is the 7th year that Fulbright & Jaworski has surveyed senior corporate counsel regarding litigation.  I’m focusing on the responses that affect businesses – and selecting those answers.  The results are illuminating!

In which area is there the most litigation pending in the U.S.?

Contacts: 53%
Labor & Employment: 49%
Personal Injury: 27%
(participants could pick more than one type)

In which area has there been the greatest increase in multi-plaintiff cases whether they be class, collective action, or significant multiple plaintiff action?
Wage & Hour: 46%
Labor Union: 13%
Age: 11%
ERISA: 10%

[What types of cases] will see the greatest increase in 2011?
Discrimination: 39%
Wage & Hour:35%
Labor Union: 17%