Archive | November, 2011

The Basics of Remote Management

30 Nov

Remote ManagementIt’s one thing to hire a few remote workers, it’s something else to manage an entirely decentralized staff. However, this is a new reality of the professional landscape. As mobile and cloud technologies continue to proliferate, the ability to work full-time for a company on the other side of the country is possible.

In this new environment, business owners will bear witness to a new trend: remote management. This refers to the prospect of inspiring and driving employee productivity almost entirely through the cloud. Such a prospect may seem outlandish, but it’s real.

In preparing for this style of business, managers should recognize the role of trust in a remote workforce. Of course, trust is a vital component of any business relationship, but when you can’t even see your employees the idea changes somewhat.

Even simple miscommunication can erode trust in a remote environment. Worse yet, a conflict can be even more challenging to confront – let alone understand – when the arbiters are merely words on a screen.

Accordingly, managers should actively engage team members early on and follow up to ensure appropriate conflict resolution. When this happens, lengthy energy-draining confrontations can be avoided.  This is true of any work environment but is an essential component of leadership in a remote workforce.

It’s also incumbent upon employees to take the initiative as to their own position within the company. They need to be organized, efficient and trustworthy. Managers should encourage these traits by sharing calendars, schedules and assignments with them, while also being careful not to give too much.

Force your workers to take the initiative on something – be it communication with a client or simply filling in the blanks. When they’ve accomplished something on their own – something that may not be within the confines of their job description – confidence will build, and so will trust.

It’s true that telecommuting can boost morale and employee satisfaction, but it’s your job as the manager to maintain those sentiments, as any professional can become inured to their environment and end up taking it for granted. Remind workers of their unique circumstances, and keep things interesting.

How do you manage remote employees?

TGIM: Rewards vs. Awards

28 Nov

Trophy - A Form of AwardToday we’re back with our TGIM series, or Thank Goodness It’s Monday.  Each Monday our posts will focus on employee engagement and we hope to hear your thoughts on Twitter using the #TGIM hashtag or with a reply to us @SageHRMS.  

Engaging employees is a constant challenge for managers. Factors ranging from the state of the job market to the natural lethargy of a Monday morning have the power to plague energy if not handled properly. Accordingly, managers often equip non-monetary incentives to keep workers confident, productive, and loyal.  It’s the type of incentives they employ though that impacts overall engagement levels. Usually, they boil down to this: rewards and awards. But what’s the difference?

Employee Awards

Employee awards are a fitting topic of discussion given the approach of the year’s end. While the enthusiasm for year-end awards tends to fluctuate from company to company, many organizations rely on them to inject some excitement into company culture. The end of the year is the perfect time to publicly acknowledge the specific accomplishments of individual employees. Organizations may want to create a host of categories and nominate several workers for each.

Some critics of these programs, however, argue that they isolate certain workers and may even breed resentment as a result. Proponents hold that they nurture healthy competition and engage workers by offering recognition. Even employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs may enjoy a spark of enthusiasm if granted an award. Another added benefit, that many of these awards are low to no cost to employers.

If you plan to initiate an awards program, you need to be careful about how it’s implemented. What kinds of traits do you want to address? There are a range of categories, such as most-improved, best salesperson, best attitude, top idea, most productive department, etc. Employers can also take a less serious approach, and offer awards in categories such as “funniest sales mistake” or “coolest office.”

Employee Rewards

Rewards programs are different in that they are ongoing and based on more measurable performance criteria, such as sales figures and growth projections. They are similar to awards programs in that they aim to motivate employees, but they differ in their fundamental strategy.

Rewards may be monetary – such as year-end bonuses and pay raises – or procedural – such as vacation days and scheduling benefits. They also vary in terms of their managerial strategy. Some rewards programs may be aimed at retaining or attracting talent, while others are focused on driving sales figures.

Like awards, rewards programs are usually based on individual performance and recognition. However, rewards tend to be less public, as they are focused on driving the motivation of an individual team member.

What are some other ways managers can engage employees through rewards? Let us know what you think on Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #TGIM, or reply to us @SageHRMS.

The “Other” HR Data Repository

23 Nov

Lines of CodeWhen an organization looks to optimize its handling of human resource data, the focus of attention is invariably on the HR application itself – what information it stores, how it stores it, and a staff’s ability to act on it. And yet there is another source of HR data that is too often overlooked, or is pointedly ignored. And that source is incoming email.

Human resource departments receive a heck of a lot of email – most of it from potential hires and personnel agencies, but also email messages from HR service providers, payroll processors, health care providers, and the like. Some forward-thinking HR organizations provide internal HR-specific email addresses (e.g.,, so that employees have an easy way to submit HR-related questions and requests.

But where do those emails go – and even more importantly, whose job is it to keep an eye out for them  and just how quickly do they respond to them?

All too often, generic email accounts like are places where email messages go to die. And it’s not a quick death either; it’s a slow, withering death where the originator of the email gradually realizes that no one is going to get back to them – and they resolve never to rely on that email address again. And that’s too bad, because in this time of fiscal belt-tightening and staff reductions, an organization needs to use all the available tools at hand to do more with less and to automate HR processes are currently done manually.

And monitoring incoming email in is the ideal candidate for such automation.

Even if an organization doesn’t use generic email accounts, chances are good that they have a website with forms that allow a visitor to “contact HR”, send in their resume, or otherwise communicate with a company’s HR department.

And those web forms create emails.

Human resource information that comes in to your organization via email – whether from prospective hires, external service providers, or internal staff – is every bit as important as the information that you store within your HR application. You can’t ignore the mail, and yet making it an “oh – by the way . . . “ task assigned to an HR employee whose plate is already full is not only unfair, it’s doomed to failure.

Most importantly, the handling of incoming email can be turned from a negative into a positive. By adopting a system that automatically monitors incoming email, an HR organization can:

  • Identify incoming job applications & resumes and automatically trigger a “thank you” email back to the sender.
  • Use web forms to capture specific types of HR-related requests and auto-route those requests to the appropriate person(s) within your HR organization.
  • Take the content from incoming messages and have it automatically update the corresponding information in your HR application.

And as useful as the above can be, a system of automated email monitoring can yield far more benefit than merely automating tasks that were previously done manually. An “email response system” (ERS) enables you to expand – and optimize – the services that your HR organization provides to your organization’s staff. For example:

  • An employee who wants to know their eligible vacation-time could automatically receive this by just sending an email to the ERS system.
  • A manager who has an employee coming up for review could simply email the ERS system and automatically receive the appropriate review forms and employee-specific documents.
  • A staff member whose certifications are about to expire could fill out an intranet-based web form to request a status report of all their certifications, along with instructions on how to renew them.

So – instead of dreading the arrival of HR-related email, use that business process as the initiative to implement a system of automated email monitoring and response. And in response to the question “Exactly what HR data do you monitor?”, you can honestly answer “All of it.”

TGIM: Leave It To Your Employees

21 Nov

Stylish and Creative OfficeToday we’re back with our TGIM series, or Thank Goodness It’s Monday.  Each Monday our posts will focus on employee engagement and we hope to hear your thoughts on Twitter using the #TGIM hashtag or with a reply to us @SageHRMS.

The atmosphere of a company can indirectly influence almost every corner of the operational landscape. Workplace traditions, employee interactions, management structures and the sense of creative and intellectual freedom all impact company culture and drive both motivation and productivity.

So look around your office and ask yourself: Does this place have a unique “culture” to it? What is fun or unique about your environs? Most importantly, how can you, as a manager, influence this culture?

The truth is you can only do so much – it’s an unfortunate byproduct of your managerial position. You can’t just tell people to do something unique or creative. However, you can develop an environment conducive to such an end. Implement a more “horizontal” management structure, for example. Allow workers to take the initiative on new tasks and incorporate a more democratic administrative process.

Executives have to decide what decision-making method is going to work best and acknowledge that they themselves don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, by virtue of individual hobbies or extracurricular interests, an accountant may have a good idea for human resources, or vice versa. Encourage cross-department cooperation and engagement.

Google, for example, has maintained a flat management structure across its more than 24,000 employees. This strategy has virtually eliminated hierarchy and created a company culture where no task is too small or outside one’s purview. Google’s chief culture officer has even established “culture clubs,” wherein employees get together to talk about issues within their country, community or office and explore ways to improve things, Inc. reports.

Everyone has a weakness, even CEOs. It’s important for HR managers to recognize this if they want to influence a strong company culture. Instead of getting bogged down with individual shortcomings, focus on core strengths and allow flaws to improve themselves over time.

Of course, you can’t talk about a company’s cultural atmosphere without talking about its actual physical environment. Think: What’s better for creative and intellectual thought – a giant soundless room with rows upon rows of bland little cubicles, or a colorful loft with comfortable seating and open interiors?

A workspace’s physical character has a tremendous, albeit subtle, impact on the mood of employees. While not every company needs to adopt the Silicon Valley approach of placing a pool table in the middle of the office, it’s important to consider the conditions in which people are toiling away at a given project – be it creative brainstorming or number crunching.

How else can managers encourage a unique and charasmatic company? Let us know what you think on Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #TGIM, or reply to us @SageHRMS.

HR Management As Corporate Strategy

18 Nov

Human Resources Becoming Corporate StrategyRecent troubles in the labor force may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to excluding human resources from overall corporate strategy. In regards to company culture, the HR team is fundamental. Their hiring practices, management policies and motivational kicks help drive organizations and provide a personnel basis to growth and maintenance.

In recent years, as the economy tanked and sent unemployment skyrocketing, HR managers have been relied upon to sustain and boost engagement levels, despite the hardships of meeting demands for pay raises or benefits.

More importantly, many companies are beginning to include HR within their overall corporate strategy, even employing HR executives as part of the C-suite.

HR will come to be viewed as a genuine strategies partner in coming years, able to lead and drive growth the creation of a desired company culture.

HR managers will also lead in defining a culture that is focused on employee happiness. However, HR management will also emphasize performance, productivity, reliability and accountability.

Does your human resources department have a seat at the board room table yet?

You Know What Happens When We Assume

16 Nov

Man Frustrated With VisionAs a business leader, it’s likely you have some sort of vision or direction for your organization – it’s the reason why you climbed to that position in the first place, whether through a promotion or entrepreneurship.

However, rising to the top of the heap comes at a cost, as your vision, which is unique to you, is not clearly shared among your employees. It’s your job to communicate it as effectively as possible and to incite belief in you and your decisions.

In that sense, it’s about building trust. Trust encourages employees to follow you even when they don’t quite understand your aims or methods.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders have the vision and energy, and they work diligently to achieve their ends. However, it’s often the case that they assume too much. They expect mere enthusiasm to be sufficient, but it rarely is.

As an effective and trustworthy leader you need to bring people into your world and communicate abundantly.

Do you find yourself assuming that your vision is communicated to your employees?

TGIM: Provide Them a Reason

14 Nov

Social Media Has Similarities to Business ManagementToday we’re debuting a new series here on the Employer Solutions blog, the TGIM series, or Thank Goodness It’s Monday.  Each Monday our posts will focus on employee engagement and we hope to hear your thoughts on Twitter using the #TGIM hashtag or with a reply to us @SageHRMS.

As a manager or a business owner, you have to employ your unique skills and experience to affect a sense of leadership among your workers. You have to inspire people, and inspiration sprouts from authenticity – people need to know you are genuine. Indeed, they have to know you are human.

In many ways, social media acts as a parable to business management. It’s one thing to interact with people, but it’s more important to engage them.

Think: How do you engage customers through the social web? You provide them with unique and engaging content – material that will incite them to respond. Social users interact with brands when they feel it provides them with relevant material – whether it’s a funny cat video, a thought-provoking question or an article about proper gardening techniques.

Employee management works in a very similar way. If you want to motivate an otherwise downtrodden or lethargic workforce, you need to provide them with incentives. However, this is where it gets complicated, as the method through which you incentivize is critical. Will you leverage a rewards program? Introduce a bonus system? Other managers rely entirely on their own personality and amiability to engage their workers.

Whatever one’s method, managers and social marketers alike need to remember that content is king. Don’t just say “do your job” or “follow us on Twitter.” Provide a reason for them to do so.

Also, like social marketing, it’s important to impart your own individuality or company culture when engaging workers and customers. What’s unique about you or your organization that will pique peoples’ interest?

You can’t control the people around you or even many of the circumstances you find yourself in. However, you can control how you will react to them. More importantly, that example you set will drive the culture your wish to forge.

The same goes for the social web – brand criticism and negative reviews should be expected, not rejected. Learn how to respond in a civil way that asserts your knowledge and expertise. Ultimately, both employees and customers will appreciate your candor.

Do you provide a reason or an incentive (not necessarily monetary) for your employees to do their job? Let us know what you think on Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #TGIM, or reply to us @SageHRMS.

Where Is Your Spark?

11 Nov

Spark of CreativityIn any organization, there has to be a team or individual to whom others look for new ideas and direction. This role is separate from leadership, which is not necessarily creative. Rather, the idea people are those who replenish an organization’s energy. Whether in human resources, marketing or the executive suite, the innovators drive the company forward.

However, you must be able to distinguish between an environment and its people. The failure or death of ideas is not necessarily the fault of individuals – it may be the environment in which ideas are meant to be generated.

Ask yourself: How are your idea people working? Are they collaborating? Do they have a location to collect their thoughts? You want to make sure the workspace is conducive to creative minds, no matter how capricious they may be.

Managers need to look at the process of idea creation before any are pitched. Instead of hastily vetting ideas before they reach senior officials, develop strategies to bring executives into the environment. If they are able to witness or even contribute, expectations will be managed and blame can be spared.

Is your work environment conducive to creativity and innovation?

Shoot For The Bull!

9 Nov

Be Precise - Shoot For The BullseyeIt’s common to hear a few groans when a manager starts a meeting by telling attendees that they’re going to establish goals. Goal-setting, as important as it is for meeting growth and profit projections, can be stressful to employees if not handled properly.

Some managers assume that by establishing a general goal they’ll have greater engagement among employees, as they don’t feel as pressured or stressed to meet the objective. However, precise goals are more measurable and, therefore attainable. A specific number of month-end statistics can tell workers exactly what they need to do to get there and even allow them to create a schedule to do so.

Of course, these objectives should also be realistic and timely. If employees are handed a task that is simply impossible – even if the manager is merely trying to inspire them – they will shrug it off and refrain from putting that extra bit of effort.

Inc. magazine contributor Nancy Mobley argues that connecting goals to a Performance Management Process, whereby managers can assess an employee’s attainment on a scheduled basis, will further enforce such objectives and help an organization achieve wider goals.

How precise are you when you set goals?  Do you shoot for the bullseye or are OK with just hitting the target?

You Don’t Know Everything

7 Nov

Question MarkExecutives and HR managers don’t know everything. In fact, many find themselves utterly baffled as to why a certain incentive program or motivational technique isn’t working. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry; It’s not you. You just need to approach from a different angle.

The natural divide that exists between management and employees creates for a sort of empathy barrier. Sometimes it’s difficult for higher-ups, who are so enthused and energetic about the company, to put themselves in the shoes of their workers, who are paid less, and have less equity.

Embrace the fact that you simply don’t know or don’t understand. Employees will appreciate your pragmatism and possibly offer a hand in improving the situation for everyone. Invite them to discuss their concerns and perspectives in an open-ended meeting or, if preferable, in a one-on-one dialogue.

Managers should catalyze problem solving, suggests the Harvard Business Review, and be willing to admit that they don’t know what the answer is to every problem.

As a manager, do you ever admit that you don’t know the answer to a problem?