Sustaining The Idea

(Or, as my partner calls it, “Making It Sticky”)

Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from the Managing Partner at one of our clients, a mid-size law firm in Arizona.  You can tell he was a bit frustrated by “the millennial” issue:

The Problem Isn’t with Millennials, It’s with Old People in the Workplace

These kids want, are offered and get more money, more PTO but fail to stay anyway.  They move on and want to see what else is in store for them. Maybe it is our failing but I am at a loss to see how you can make a relationship “sticky”.  I can’t believe we are that bad but if we keep throwing more things like flex schedules, philanthropy, training, recognition and they still leave because THAT IS WHAT THEY DO we have two choices. 

Change the entire way we do business and never give them institutional knowledge that will walk out in two years and will be costly to replace or just settle on making less money.  These kids will then find that they have no companies to go to because they will all lose money and fade away.

I want to try to understand but I will not concede that I work for them!

Here’s my response (both his e-mail and my response received his permission to be published).

First off, no one is suggesting that owners work for employees.  You don’t need to make that concession!  Your employees are keenly aware they work for you.  You may not see that respect and fear every day, but I do.  It’s the reason many employees – including partners – choose not to publicly disagree with decisions made at your firm; it’s not worth the fight and – in the end – they know who the boss is.

Secondly, I’d dispute your second paragraph; I think there’s middle ground between changing your entire company or settle on making less money.  That middle ground is elusive, but critical.  I would think identifying that middle ground is the single most important thing to taking your firm to “the next level”.  And it all has to do with leadership and paying more attention to the way you manage and lead your workforce.  Over the past 30+ years, you’ve taken your firm to where it is; the challenge is getting to the next step.

Hiring the “Right” person

It all starts with sourcing, interviewing and hiring the “right” person for you.  In my humble opinion, this is the area where you need the biggest improvement.

We’ve seen all the stats, and last year we came up with a figure that it costs you about $25,000 each time an employee leaves your firm.  The single biggest differentiator of your firm and everyone else is your employees.  Think about the number of employees who have left in the past few years that we decided “it was just as well they left”.   According to my records, for every employee you were sad to see leave, there are twice as many that you were happy to see go!

A rough estimate of your turnover costs this year is about $600,000. (11 people lost @ $25,000 each; plus my estimates for recruiting fees for two associates, and recruiting fees for their replacement; and a buyout of a partner.

Mel Kleiman is one of the gurus of recruiting, interviewing and hiring in the United States.  Here’s a couple from his list of “How To Hire The Wrong Person Every Time”.  How many of these apply to you?

  • You only recruit when have an immediate need, so you don’t have a list of pre-screened candidates to call. Now you’re in “desperation hiring mode” – pressured to hire the first warm body that walks in the door.
  • You haven’t identified the particular Capacities (mental and physical), Attitudes, Personality traits, and Skills (also known as CAPS) needed to be successful on the job at each level. (You can’t hit the target unless you know what it looks like.)
  • You don’t ask your employees, vendors, business networks, family, and friends if they know of anyone who would be a good fit for the job. (Referrals are the No. 1 best source of new employees.)
  • During interviews, you rely on gut instinct so, naturally, if you “like” an applicant, you look for reasons to hire them and, if you don’t “like” them, you look for reasons not to hire them. This way you get to be right (but you also often hire the wrong person for the job.)
  • You don’t plan for the interview. You just wing it and the inevitable result is that you hire the person with the best presentation skills rather than the person who is the best fit for the job.
  • You don’t check references because you just assume that none of these people will tell you anything useful.

So with the cost of turnover negatively impacting your firm, the inconsistency of hiring and its probable impact on your customers, who’s in charge of the hiring process?  Two managers who have virtually no leadership experience and, until last year, had never interviewed a job candidate before.

You hiring only for ability – or trying to – and hoping the other attributes – attitude, aptitude, agility, alignment – will come along organically.  I encourage employers to hire for the last four first – then train for skills.  Recognizing that some positions require detailed and unique skills – I would still submit the question: How much would it cost to train a really promising employee to do the highly technical stuff?  And would that be less expensive than the revolving door in the that particular office?

I want to be clear: this is not just you, this challenge is everywhere.  In business today, there are new demands for productivity, innovation and talent.  This complexity demands solutions.

In the American workforce – in all industries – there is a significant lack of qualified talent.  Everyone – including your competitors – is out to get them.  We need to start systemically developing an acquisition process from recruiting to onboarding – led by a “Hiring Partner”.

We always talk about game changers needed at your firm.  How many game changers have you hired in the past 5 years?

Why should great employees come to work (or stay) with your law firm?

Who do you want to be?  What characteristics are important to you?  My first attribute, based on 5 years of working with you, is “Our culture is one of true collaboration.  If you’re a top-to-bottom team player, you can play on our team.”

When things work well at your firm, I see collaboration and communication.  People who are true team players tend to get recognition and promotion at your firm.  There may be more talented people, but at your core, you value collaboration.  Sometimes it’s not always intentional, but it’s always there.

On the other hand, there have been several talented people who did not succeed at the firm because – legitimately or not – they were perceived as not being team players and only out for themselves, or a narrow interest.  In my business, people like this are called “Talented Terrors” or “Brilliant Jerks”.  These people are quickly excised from the best companies.  Some companies tolerate them; for the great companies – the cost to teamwork is too high.

What is your goal when giving raises, bonuses, perks?

You can taste the frustration in your writing when you say: “…if we keep throwing more things like flex schedules, philanthropy, training, recognition and they still leave because THAT IS WHAT THEY DO…”

Then why do you do it?  What is your goal?  Is it to increase retention, hire better employees, increase productivity or teamwork?  Is it to get better billable hours?  Why are you doing this?  Are we that scared of people leaving?

I’ve said this before to the partners and I’ll say it again: You cannot give anybody anything without asking for something in return.  You give adequate compensation, generous bonuses, good perks, AND YOU DON’T ASK FOR ANYTHING IN RETURN!!!

Your firm – and I believe this to be a leadership issue from the partners on down – need to raise the bar.  You have higher expectations and you’re willing to generously reward people who meet or exceed those expectations.  But instead, we’re giving bonuses and perks to mediocre employees.  We’re not demanding excellence.

I also think this is a culture issue and a needed culture/leadership change at the firm.  Who are your non-partner stars?  They’re the ones that need to be recognized and compensated.

Those high potential employees are the ones you should be singling out!  What keeps them here?  What would cause them to go?  Let’s act on that!  Some things we can do that might keep them; others would be out of our hands.  But that needs to be a partner focus.

I’d be remiss if I omitted some people who are not high-potential employees but nonetheless highly valuable to your organization.  They don’t seek or get a lot of love, but day in and out, they show up every day, work hard, and contribute to the maximum of their ability with a minimum of fuss.  I’d give a lot to have a team full of people like that.

So my strategic suggestion for how to make it “sticky”? Raise your expectations, HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE, live and execute your values and culture (once you’ve identified your values and culture).  Create a culture where you both expect and reward excellence.

Secondly, let’s take a look at the ‘big picture’ when it comes to perks.  There’s a responsibility and obligation required of those who get these perks, and we need to be clear on the reason they are afforded to high performing people.

There’s a big difference between considering occasional work-from-home key people who are high performers; have young families whom they are deeply attached; and essential to the success of your firm), and a mediocre employee who just doesn’t want to drive to work one day.

The reason you’d want to offer this perk is to retain great employees.  Secondly, you’d be telling everyone else a powerful message: If you demonstrate consistent high performance and take responsibility, you will get advantages/perks.

Don’t worry about complaints about treating some people unfairly; you’re setting a standard by which any professional staffer can attain, should they wish.

In “The Real World” today, people get promotions, raises, and perks not just through high performance, but a combination of performance, circumstances and – yes – luck.  If you got a new, huge client which needed a skill that only a certain employee has, then it’s likely that employee will see a more rapid promotional and compensatory climb than his peers).

A frequent complaint I hear among many partners of staff is “there are no consequences for [mediocre performance/lack of rainmaking/not caring/fill-in-the-blank].”  That’s true.  And the reason there are no consequences is that we’ve not made any.  We haven’t asked for a higher level of performance nor developed consequences for mediocre performance, either.

A big challenge at your firm – if not the biggest challenge – is recognizing that talent acquisition and development is a major issue.  It’s critical to increase revenue and the client base, but in this era of increased consumer expectations and sophistication – the way we did things last year will not be the way things are done 3 years from now.  These changes are not cyclical – they are structural.  In order to become a firm of choice – for both talent and clients – this needs to be understood.

Meaningful Work

What do these people want?

I know that continues to be the integral question when it comes to your talent.

Sure, it’s great to get fresh fruit in the kitchen, and no one is going to turn down a free massage, but what truly gets you great employees?

Today, it’s one size fits one, not one size fits all. I’ve heard many asks from employees, and it’s different for every employee, and can be generational in nature but not exclusively so.  What is important to one person [work from home] isn’t to someone else.

A great workplace is not espresso, lush benefits, sushi lunches, grand parties, or nice offices.  You can do some of these things, but only if they are efficient at attracting and retaining great employees.

What IS important to younger employees – and in my experience overrules every other so-called ‘perk’ a business provides – is meaningful work.  The vast majority of people today need to work on something that is impactful to them.  They need to feel they’re making a difference.

One of the most transformational conversations I’ve had in the past five years was with [your youngest partner]. At the time (about 4 years ago), she was a manager and everyone knew she was going to be made a partner sooner rather than later.  We were talking about her collegiate experience and her career choice right out of college.  I professed surprise that she didn’t go with one of the major law firms but instead chose to work at a smaller firm.

She didn’t hesitate.  “I wanted to go where I could make an impact and not be a widget.”  Meaningful and impactful work was more important to her than the (probable) higher salary and better benefits of a large firm.  That’s generational; when I was just out of college everyone wanted to work for that big company and get a chance at moving up the large corporate ladder.

Responsible Leadership

Finally, it’s time to establish a higher level of expectations from the partners and management team.  There has been a lack of attention on talent at your firm, and I’d challenge the management team to come up with ways immediately to improve performance and communication.  Remember what the four most important attributes in leadership are to firm employees:

  • Actions & Behaviors Are Consistent With Words
  • Communicates Openly & Honestly
  • Helps Me Develop & Grow
  • Keeps the Focus on Fixing The Problem Rather Than Finding Someone to Blame

Most of the partner/management team aren’t terrific at any of these, but it doesn’t mean it can’t quickly be fixed.  Everyone on the team is very smart – it’s a matter of paying attention and intention.

I’m in the Relationship Business

Last year, we held a small party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my company, RSJ/Swenson.  I invited clients; my business partners; numerous people we refer our clients to (and get referrals from) as well as my employees.  In addition, my wife, mother and sister were in attendance as well.

p4One thing my wife and mother repeatedly mentioned in the days after the party was their surprise that most of the people in attendance – from clients to associates – came up and hugged me (or perhaps vice versa).  That’s definitely not the way they do it in Japan (where my wife is from), nor in the era when my Mom worked.

It got me to thinking that the best business relationships are those that are personal relationships.  This was born out a few months ago when I was having lunch with a client, Ross.  I met Ross at a party several years ago; he remembered me when his company needed HR and organizational development help a few years later.  Now we’ve become friends, and it’s equal parts social with our wives as it is business.  At lunch, I mentioned that I no longer know how to introduce him to other people.  Do I say, “this is my client, Ross?”  Or, “this is my friend, Ross”?  Are you a friend or a client?

He thought about it and said, “I’m your frient!” (We’re pronouncing it fry-ent).

When a business relationship becomes more personal, it becomes more honest.  The trust that is established is a deeper trust.  As a strategic advisor, there’s the understanding that I’m looking for the best interests of my client; that we’re all in this together.

One of my business partners, Greg Snyder (Greg’s a CPA – his firm owns half of my company, hence the RSJ in RSJ/Swenson) was pitching a potential client.  The prospect said, “Why should I choose you and your firm?”

Greg’s response was brilliant.  “Given time, I’ll care about your business as much as you do.”

There are multiple layers in that sentence, but the key to me is caring.  When people ask me who are my best clients, my response is “the best clients are those where the CEO or owner cares about doing the right thing”.  If HR is taking your medicine, then the relationship will never be there.  It will be transactional only.  Those clients will eventually leave us, whether because of price or some other minor issue.

I’ve been practicing relationship in my business for a long time without realizing it.  When asked by potential clients to talk about my business, I reply that I can’t really separate my business from my life, so I tell them (briefly) the story of my life and how it intertwines with my business.  It helps root me to my story.

When speaking professionally, I illustrate my themes with stories about me, or my wife.  It makes it me more relatable, and people remember stories far more than they remember facts and figures. (My wife did not believe I was telling stories about her. Then finally, in 2014, she went with me to Hawaii where I gave a talk to a bunch of banking CEO’s.  She sat in the front row where I told a couple of stories about her corporate career.  She approached me afterwards and repeated her surprise that I actually did talk about her.  And then she asked for a commission.)

Another way I practice relationship in business is through a quirk.  100% of our business are referrals.  We don’t advertise and, until recently, I was the sole business development manager.  When I talk and provide a proposal to a prospect, I tell them straight out that I won’t be following up, constantly asking for a decision or a date when the decision will be made.  For many years, I’ve felt that I cannot be Eric, the trusted advisor if in the clients mind, I’m Eric, the hard-core sales guy.  It’s one, or the other.

It’s not just one way, either.  A relationship means that I know who my client is, where they live, the name of their significant other.  The more I know, the more I can use a holistic approach to advice – advice becomes not only business related, but that will benefit that person personally as well.

So I’ve come to realize, I’m not in the workforce strategy business, or the trusted advisor business.  What I’m really in is the relationship business.  Now that I know it, I can be more intentional about further developing those relationships – to the benefit of both my “frients” and myself.



6 Brilliant Ideas To Make Your Next Hire Your Best Hire

Recently, a long-time client (a CEO of a non-profit organization) was having problems hiring a new assistant.

Actually, he wasn’t having problems hiring someone; the problem was they weren’t working out.  Over a year, he had 5 assistants – everyone either quit or was fired.  And the CEO is a very good person; not a monster that you might think.

I started thinking about what advice I could give him to improve his chances – not just at hiring, but at hiring successfully.  It became the basis for a tool we use at Tanzanite Leadership Development – “The Ideal Employee BuilderTM”.

Here’s what I wrote him.

Image result for Job Interview

  1. As you contemplate you next hire, write down a few words and phrases that accurately describe yourself at work. Your personality at work.  (You might get some trusted employees to do that for you as well).
  2. Use that information to develop words and phrases that would accurately identify someone who works closely with you. For example, if you’re frenetic, always moving, multi-tasking, that leads into exactly what you’re looking for in an assistant – someone to constantly tie together all the loose ends, and someone who enjoys doing working with a personality like yours (and not someone who’d be exasperated by that).  It won’t take much time but it will give you great information on how to work best with the final candidates.
  3. Have team members who know you well interview the candidates, regardless if the candidate will interact with your team member or not. That person knows better than  anyone what it’s like to work for you and will bring a different, independent perspective for you on the hire.
  4. Use LinkedIn for one of your posting choices. Trust me.  Then, as soon as it’s posted, “share” it with your network.  Your network is comprised of people who know you and might know of someone who’d be perfect for you.  It’s worth the price.
  5. Does your company pay referral fees for employee referrals? If you do, double it.  Statistics show that candidates hired through employee referrals are more successful and stay longer than any other source.  What about your former employees, or your network?  What would a referral fee do to incent them to help?  Somebody might know someone crazy enough to work for their boss, right?
  6. Take your time. If you hire the first person you see, it won’t be a successful hire.  Seriously, you should phone/skype screen at least 15 candidates (10 minutes max each), and interview at least 8 candidates in person.  You’ll thank me for it when you make the hire.  Panic hires never succeed.

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I’m Becoming Less Religious But More Spiritual

My father died last month.


Now, please understand that it’s OK.  I am sad, but not devastated.  He died three months short of his 89th birthday, at home, surrounded by his family.  He suffered from dementia for the past four years and was really suffering the past few months.  Over those four years, we had the time to tell him how much we loved him, what a great father and husband he was.  I took him to lunch almost every Monday.  (He objected to that last sentence.  “You’re driving me to lunch; I’m the one paying for it – so I’m the one taking YOU to lunch!”).

So, I don’t feel cheated and devastated.  If he had died suddenly at the 55 – like his father and grandfather did – then I would feel entirely different.

My business partner and friend, Tony Rose, recently wrote a book with his daughter about lessons they learned from the sudden death of his son a few years ago, Beautiful Grief, (which will be available on January 30).   I’ve known Tony for over 30 years, and he knew my father for almost 50 years.  The grief I feel cannot compare to the grief that Tony and his family have felt and will feel.

But spiritually, something has changed within me.

It started a day or two before Dad’s death.  He was at home, unconscious, under hospice care.  One of the hospice care nurses – who had seen many people die – was telling us stories about what happens when people are about to pass away.  Their eyes open, they move – sometimes for the first time in years – they see for the last time.

One of my biggest fears over the past few years was that I wouldn’t be there when Dad died.  I travel a lot for business, and I worried I wouldn’t be there.  We live on the west side of Los Angeles; and with all that traffic, and your parents living on the other side of town, you might as well be on the other side of the world.

On the day he died, we were aware the end was near, but not how close it actually was.  We were all at the house.  I got sent to pick up lunch for everyone.  As I was walking out of the restaurant, I got a call from my sister: “Get back here as fast as you can.”  I broke several speed and traffic laws and got to his bedside as fast as I could.  His eyes were open.  He saw each of his – his wife, daughter and son – and died three minutes later.

The hospice nurse immediately turned to me and said, “He waited for you.”

Of course he waited for me.  He was that sort of human being.

But if you told me a year ago that was possible – that my father, in a coma, would wait for me to arrive before dying – I would have laughed at you.  I don’t laugh at it any more.  I was there.  I don’t just believe that happened, I know it happened.  That is spirituality.

That Saturday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  The sky was blue, the mountains clear as day.  It was his favorite type of day.  My wife looked outside and said, “See?  It’s a perfect day.  He waited for this day to go to heaven.”

That observation wasn’t about religion, it was about spirituality.

I run an HR outsourcing and workforce development business, which I started from scratch 15 years ago.  Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize the best business relationships are those where the relationship evolves from client to friend.  People take advice better when it comes from a trusted friend perspective than merely a paid vendor perspective.

(I have a client, who has also become a friend.  Last year, I said to him: “I don’t know how to introduce you to people.  Are you my friend, or are you my client?”  Ross thought about it for a moment and said, “I’m your fri-ent!”.)

Thus, some of the most meaningful expressions of empathy came from – of all places – my clients, and people I do business with.  I told the hospice story to the President of a company I’ve worked with for 10 years.  She not only understood, she told me her mother had been a hospice nurse for years and saw the same thing numerous times.  I never knew that.  I learned a lot about a lot of people.

Donations and flowers came from businesses that I hadn’t worked with in years.

Then there is Stephen Wise Temple in Bel-Air.  Stephen Wise is a large reform Jewish congregation, with multiple schools.  I’ve worked closely with them for about six years.  They are one of a handful of clients that I consider ‘transformational’, meaning they have changed me as much as I’ve hopefully changed them.  What I knew about Judaism before I met them was next to nothing.  But working with and coaching the clergy – the rabbis and cantors – have been revelatory to me. I’ve learned more than I’ve given; they have been a blessing to me.

I confided in the Temple’s Executive Director that my father was at home and in hospice.  Unbeknownst to me, she shared that information with the clergy and senior leadership team.  (It may have been shared without my knowledge, but as I was to find out, certainly with my blessing).  I was overwhelmed with the connections as the clergy reached out.  One Rabbi called me three times. The senior Rabbi, who happened to be in Europe, texted me repeatedly.  (I just got a follow up note from him yesterday).  I received numerous notes and e-mails.  You might say that’s nice – but that’s what they do for a living.  But I’d argue that’s what they do for their congregants.  But I’m just a vendor to them, or so I thought.

A couple of days before Dad died, I was talking to one of the Rabbis.  (I take the liberty of calling them “my rabbis”).  He just found out about dad and reached out to call me. He asked my permission to give a prayer for dad and all our family. He said, “no matter what happens it’s always hard, because we want our parents to be healthy and live forever.”  I thanked him and said, we need to schedule our annual lunch.  His response: “I would love that. And then you can tell me all about your Dad.”

From not knowing anything about Judaism a few years ago to that conversation a few weeks ago was incredibly meaningful to me.

Soon after my father’s Memorial Service, my wife and I went to Japan, on our annual trip to visit her family at New Year’s.  On my last day in Tokyo, we decided to pray for my father.  So we walked over to the Buddhist temple near her home.  I have prayed at Temples before and have been impressed by the elegance, simplicity and symbolism that are essential to Buddhism.

On that cold, clear day, we rinsed our hands and walked up the stairs towards the shrine.  We walked up to a table in front of the shrine where incense was softly smoking.  We put our hands together, bowed, and took a pinch of incense and added it to the smoking pile.  Then closed our eyes and thought about my father and prayed for him and all our family.  I cannot say I saw him, but I can say he was clearly and deeply in my mind.  The moment was incredibly profound.

I think about the eulogy I gave for my father.  It was at the Episcopalian church my sister and I grew up in.  It’s where I sang in the choir and was an altar boy in the 1970’s.  Even though much had physically changed in 40 years, there was still a comfort in being there.  We didn’t know well the minister who counseled us and led the memorial service, but she was amazing with my Mother and sister, and exceptionally comforting and compassionate to my family.

I think back to these events and try to tie them all together.   The friends, business colleagues, hospice care nurses and reaching out and genuine connections to three entirely different religions and I wonder: is it all about religion?  Or is religion just a beautiful avenue to spirituality?

Maybe it doesn’t matter.  But I feel connected to everything that has happened in the past month and then realized the common bond that all these events and connections and relationship have, which is found in the definition of spirituality:

“The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul.”

Maybe I was spiritual before all of this happened.  But I have now become more spiritual.

This article is, in some small way, my way of thanking everyone who reached out, who cared, and who caused me to think about spirituality in such a meaningful way.

On Dress Codes and Pornography


dress code, 3D rendering, street signs

Strange bedfellows, huh?  Dress Code and pornography?  The title of this post should make for some interesting Google searches.  But bear me out – it has a relevance for every business.

I’m sorry to report to those curious that most of this article is about corporate dress codes and not pornography.  (Read until the end – you’ll get there eventually).

What’s going on with dress codes these days?  If you read some experts, you’ll see that businesses are trending to a more formal dress code.  Other experts believe that a more casual dress code is here to stay.

What I’d say is, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and focus on what your culture is and what you aspire it to be, and make sure your dress code matches that culture.  Develop and enforce a policy that makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense is a 10 page list of what is or isn’t permissible.  And what else doesn’t make sense is not adapting to reality, cultural trends and what employees want to wear (remember, there are way more many jobs available than qualified employees: they can somewhat dictate to us what they want).

For three years, I worked for a large, publicly traded company that mandated suits on men – not just a shirt and tie, not just a coat-and-tie, but suits at all times – even when travelling on weekends.  That restriction provided me an impetus to start my own business in 2003; the first thing I did was put a sign in my new office: “There is no *&%$#@! dress code.”  (It was part of a whole anti-corporate theme that I’d developed; I was tired of being told what and how to do things all the time).

Intellectually, the suit dress code made some sense.  The company is east-coast based, where there’s more formality expected than in California, where I was working.  But one day, marching through a dusty field to meet with the owner of a construction company in a dark blue suit, I felt completely out of place.  And the owner – in his jeans and mackinaw, looked at me like I’d stepped off the moon lander.  That’s when a dress code makes zero sense.

Today, I work closely with a CPA firm, and in every employee survey there are plaintive requests to loosen the dress code to include denim.  (The firm has what I’d call a modified business casual policy – no denim, but no ties, either.)  Employees – who work long hours during tax seasons – would appreciate the comfort of a more relaxed dress code.  The firm’s partners are concerned about what that dress code would look like to their clients who visit the office.  The clients skew conservative.  Currently, the modification is “Denim Fridays”.

One of my favorite clients has about 55 employees in West Hollywood, California.  It’s not exactly a start-up – it’s 7 years old.  But they have a start-up mentality, and most of the employees are in shorts and flip-flops every day.  (Hey, it’s California).  They keep aligned with a youthful casual culture, and that dress code encourages younger employees to work and stay at the company.  I once took a client, a bank president, to that office.  I thought he was going to have a coronary.

It’s not what everyone else does – it’s what works for you.

Another client I’ve worked with is a law firm in San Francisco.  There was an uproar when some of the partners wanted to eliminate polo-style golf shirts, which were permissible in the dress code.  It turns out that one associate wore golf shirts every day that looked like they’d been washed a thousand times: wrinkled, collars curled up and basically not law firm appropriate.  But, as I pointed out, another lawyer wore golf shirts every day and they looked great – creases on the sleeves, ironed crisply – perfectly fine.  So, the issue wasn’t golf shirts – it was how they looked on everyone.  We spoke to the employee with the wrinkled shirts – he bought new shirts and took much better care of them after that.

Which gives rise to the pornography connection.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many lawsuits came to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding obscenity in movies.  And all the Supreme Court Justices would trek down to the theater to watch each movie and determine whether it violated the 1st Amendment as obscene.  Finally, it became ridiculous, and Justice Potter Stewart, frustrated that he could not define pornography in a case, said: “I know it when I see it”.

That’s exactly what should happen with dress codes.

So much time is spend writing these codes and even more time is spent counseling employees and having angst whether to bring it up at all – it’s a waste of time!  I’ve seen dress codes that are pages long, itemize every conceivable thing an employee can or cannot wear.

Here’s what a better solution looks like:


During the interviewing process, you’ve had occasion to see how our employees dress and therefore what are expectations of your dress and appearance should be.  And we hired you because we believe you understand our culture (and vice-versa). Therefore we expect you to dress and appear in keeping with those expectations and our culture.  If you have any questions about whether to wear something, please feel free to check with your manager or Human Resources before coming to work.  And we have the right to send you home to change if we believe something you wear is not keeping with our desired culture.

So it’s not an itemized list of what you can and cannot do.  It’s not a formal or informal dress code.  It lays out expectations and really places those expectations on the employee – not HR or management.

Look at your dress code.  Is it really something that works for you today, or is it as outdated as the person who says, “We’ve always done it that way?”


Eric’s Rules of the Road


I currently have 8 HR professionals working for me.  I’ve been working with HR pros since 2001.  There’s a big difference with consulting (which is what we do) and being on staff.  When you work as an HR pro for a company, you can say ‘no, you can’t do that’.  Not so, when you’re a consultant.

So, after 18 years of working with HR consultants and with a nod to Jerry Perenchio, here are my Rules of the Road:

  1. Take 100% responsibility for your actions.
  2. Be relentless about your intellectual curiosity. Nothing makes you obsolete faster than refusing to learn new things.
  3. It’s all about results. I’m not interested in “how”; I’m interested in “if”.
  4. Never say “no”. Your job isn’t to tell someone they can’t do it, but how they can do it.
  5. Sometimes the answer may actually be “no”, but don’t you think it is about being sure that you understand the outcome the client wants to reach?
  6. Being late to a client meeting is unforgivable. Exception: calling the client and letting them know you’re running late.
  7. You’re the Option King or Queen. If a client has a challenge, your role is to present options and the risks therein.  There’s rarely just one way to solve a challenge.
  8. Mistakes are never a problem. That’s learning.  Making the same mistake twice is a problem.
  9. Never ignore an e-mail or voice mail. Even if your response is “let me get back to you tomorrow”.  Clients don’t like to be left hanging.  (Neither do I!)
  10. Have fun and project enthusiasm. No one wants to deal with a downer.
  11. Minimize drama. We’ll all live longer.
  12. Care as much about your client as your client does. (You can’t care about a client’s business more than your client cares about their business).

Are You Happy With Your HR Department?

HR Photo

CEO’s and business owners: are you happy with your HR department?  In small businesses, you might be happy with your HR person, but then take this short questionnaire.

What is your level of confidence – on a scale of 1-10 – in your HR Department to:

  • Keep up-to-date with state and federal labor laws?
  • Be accessible to employees and management?
  • Integrate automation/technology into the HR function?
  • Coordinate and offer the best possible benefits?
  • Effective coordinate and teach performance reviews?
  • Guide effective leadership and organizational strategy?
  • Manage employee relations issues?
  • Lead the Training & Development function?
  • Ensure Workplace Safety?
  • Manage employee compensation?
  • Lead the recruiting, interviewing & hiring process?

Now – tell me again: are you happy with your HR Department?