Archive | December, 2011

Cocky or Confident? The Difference Matters.

23 Dec

While pride and confidence in one’s work is important, indeed necessary, it’s very easy for success to breed unwarranted egotism. This is particularly applicable to entrepreneurs, who are, almost by definition, self-motivated and individualistic.

So how can managers work to cut off arrogance where it breeds, yet also encourage confidence and self-esteem? More importantly, how can they recognize excessive pride in themselves?

Unlike other character traits such as wit, emotionality, sociability and logic, arrogance is much more difficult to recognize in one’s self. Psychologists at Cornell University conducted a study to analyze how individuals performed on a given task versus how they perceived their performance.

Researcher and psychologist David Dunning told Inc. magazine that the individuals who did the worst were more likely to think they had outperformed everyone else.

Some savvy executives recognize the danger of hubris. Southwest Airlines chairman Herb Kelleher has even warned employees in a company-wide email that the brand’s No. 1 threat it themselves, citing “complacency, cockiness, greediness, laziness, indifference, preoccupation with non-essentials, bureaucracy, hierarchy and quarrelsomeness” as unfortunate consequences of success.

However, it’s one thing to recognize arrogance – it’s something entirely different to actually combat it. First it helps to diagnose the case at hand. If an employee or a manager is observed to be particularly conceited, it may be that their confidence belies a deep-seated insecurity. Are their an workers in your company known to make jealous-laden comments about other employees? Have you ever made such comments?

You should strive to recognize the difference between confidence and outright smugness. Confidence is healthy – indeed no entrepreneur has had success without some kind of ego. But allowing it to balloon is where procedures can be disrupted, quality ideas rejected, and work environment rendered toxic.

No matter how confidence you are in your ability, remember that you are a member of a company. How members within that company interact with each other affects how the organization performs. By quelling egos to a point that permits the free flow of ideas, the company can operate on a healthy degree of confidence that is devoid of excessive pride.

How does your organization combat excessive egotism?

Quit Waiting For Perfection, Just Train Them!

21 Dec

Learning New TasksEarlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the addition of 120,000 new jobs in November, enough to scale back the unemployment rate from 9 percent to 8.6 percent. While most economists greeted the report with optimism, it highlighted a few stubborn hurdles for the economy, the crux of which is a nationwide skills gap.

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed there are currently about 13 million unemployed Americans. While such a figure is daunting, given economic realities, it states the more than 3.3 million jobs that are currently unfilled. Coupled, these two figures underline the real economic culprit: an unqualified workforce.

This situation has sparked a debate among business leaders. While employers argue that educational initiatives are needed to increase the availability of highly skilled laborers, other analysts claim organizations merely need to develop employees themselves. Instead of relying on outsourcing or long-term trends in education, they argue, employers need to train workers in-house and develop their own skills.

Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that companies cannot keep blaming the skills gap on the education system. They need to scrap the quixotic search for perfect candidates and instead look for people who, with a bit of training, can do the job.

The reality is that the economy is shifting, a process that is forcing changes in the labor market. Demand for high-tech skills reflects the complex network systems and technological needs of today’s businesses. Owners may complain that human resources software and training programs are too expensive or ineffectual. But operating with unfilled positions only leads to lower revenue and slower growth.

Thankfully, the same technology trends that have spearheaded a shift in labor demands have also provided employers with comprehensive training strategies, online learning programs and human resources management software. These innovations can augment an employee development program and, eventually, address talent shortages.

Unfortunately, though, workplace training is still not where it needs to be to address the country’s employment dilemma. Most experts agree that such a trend will only take off in collusion with educational initiatives, meaning wider access to college funding, vocational training and high school-level programs designed to improve a graduate’s candidacy in the 21st century workforce.

Is your company waiting for the perfect candidate or training new hires, why?

TGIM: Does It Pay To Open The Books?

19 Dec

Open Book ManagementIt’s Monday and we’re back with another installment of 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.

Open-book management, which refers to the idea of opening the books to employees so they can grasp the financial situation of their company, is a fairly divisive subject. While some progressive human resource professionals argue that such policies help breed trust and broaden the stakes to include lower-tier employees, critics argue that it forces contempt and jealousy over profit allocations and merely adds more voices to the fray of corporate strategy.

While both arguments are true in their own right, the extent to which they are – and the efficacy of such policies – really depends on the company at hand. For that matter, businesses need to weigh the ups and downs of an open-book policy and decide whether or not it is right for them.

Some believe that the beauty of open-book management is that it helps companies compete in an erratic marketplace by getting everybody on the payroll thinking and acting like a businessperson, an owner or an investor – rather than like a traditional hired hand.

This involvement with the direct finances of the organization can also lead to improved retention rates and return on employee investment. When employees are given access to the books, they can observe how the business is succeeding or failing. Ideally, if the company is flourishing, it will offer an incentive for workers to stay, as they may be driven toward achieving equity or some higher compensation package.

The more employees understand about their business and, more importantly, about the consequences of their actions, the more likely they are to align their decisions with the interests of the company.

So what are the downsides?

For one, the dissemination of critical company information can be leveraged for devious purposes by unscrupulous ex-employees. Of course, not every worker leaves in a huff of smoke, but an open-book policy can have a detrimental impact on other aspects of running a business. For instance, at large organizations, lower-tier employees might grow resentful of payroll disparity and end up asking for raises in droves.

Accordingly, open-book policies are often reserved for small companies with less than 20 employees. This way, there is already a performance incentive in the alignment of company success and personal financial well-being.

What are some other ways an open-book policy can benefit or harm an organization?

Let us know what you think on Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #TGIM, or reply to us @SageHRMS.

Forget the Classroom: Turn to the Web for Innovative Learning Techniques

16 Dec

Turning To The Web For Innovative Learning TechniquesToday’s business landscape is rife with technology that has facilitated everything from interpersonal communication and workplace commutes to shopping and information gathering. These trends – and the technologies that have promoted them – have come to define the course of events in recent years.

Now, as a new generation begins to take the reins, many of these technologies – social media, cloud computing, mobile media, eCommerce – will come to rely on education to impart their wisdom to aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs.

One example of this trend is the increasing popularity of online courses and educational software. Consumers and business leaders alike are turning to the web to gather critical knowledge and insight about their industries and fields of expertise.

Web-based educational tools are becoming the norm, and entrepreneurs are beginning to note their enormous potential. Jen Schnidman, creator of web software Drop the Chalk, offers a poignant example.

Drop the Chalk monitors student performance on certain skills and highlights which of those have been mastered and which need some work, Entrepreneur magazine reports. It’s also intuitive and caters to the standards, culture and curriculum of the schools that employ it. Such specialization makes for a unique student data management system for each customer.

Schnidman told the magazine that she developed the idea while working for Teach for America in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She said despite the region’s enthusiasm for a restructured and innovative education system, teachers lacked a comprehensive method for gauging student progress.

Drop the Chalk is just one example of how innovators are equipping today’s technologies to push the boundaries of possibility, especially when it comes to education. The tablet computer is another example of a device that may help the next generation of students learn and gather experience in new, perhaps more efficient ways.

Recently, technology giant Apple moved to stress the role its iPad tablet computer can play in augmenting the educational experience. The company unveiled a new ad pointing to the benefits of the iPad, citing the visual approach to topics including astronomy, anatomy and calligraphy.

Already, a number of universities, high schools and other educational institutions have purchased iPads to help in the learning process, particularly for more personal, one-on-one exchanges.      

Now the tools available for virtual and online training delivery are plenty. Just last year at Sage University we started using Skytap, a cloud automation tool that allows our instructors to setup individual virtual personal computers for each student. On the cloud pcs, each student has training software ready for hands-on practice, and the instructor has the ability to monitor their progress and jump in to help when needed. Virtual classroom training has become a popular favorite amongst a variety of students, as it also allows for varying training schedules. Students say goodbye to sitting in a classroom for three days straight while their work piles up on their desks, and hello to four hour college-style training sessions over several weeks, right from their desks.

The traditional purpose of technology has been to take a problem and make it less troublesome through the utilization of innovative ideas, engineering and mass production. As education continues to be a challenge amid a growing population and ailing economy, technology is seen as a vessel to strengthen the system. More importantly, technology will, in certain ways, shed light on possibilities for new ones, creating an interactive network for innovators, entrepreneurs and educators alike.

What innovative learning techniques are being used at your organization?

Meet Dave Ryan! Director of HR, Avid Blogger, and Sage Customer

14 Dec

Meet Dave Ryan, Director of HR for Mel-O-Cream Donuts International, Inc.  He is an avid blogger and board member of the Illinois State Council of SHRM.  Dave’s blog, HR Official, is a play on his love of HR and refereeing hockey. Dave, or commonly known as @DavetheHRCzar, has been a longtime user and advocate of Sage.  Recently, I had the chance to interview him for the Employer Solutions Blog and learn a little more about hockey, donuts, and human resources, a great mix!

Joseph Baird: So you are the Director of HR for Mel-O-Cream Donuts International. Can you tell us a little about your company and perhaps share an interesting HR story?

Dave Ryan: Sure can. Our core business at Mel-O-Cream is manufacturing bakery products primarily for the wholesale distribution to supermarket and bakery operations.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret, you know those bakeries in grocery stores with big ovens and 60 year old ladies wearing hair nets?  Well, some of those bakeries aren’t real, they are just for show and most of the products in the cases come from companies like Mel-O-Cream! 

I’ve got a funny story that comes to mind, not about me at Mel-O-Cream, but about HR in general that was told to me from Mike Van Derhort of The Human Race Horses Blog.  Mike got the name of his blog from when he was a regional HR manager in the Midwest.  Every so often he would have to call a business unit of his in Kentucky and a sweet lady from HR would answer.  In her drawn out Southern accent she’d say, “Hello, this is the human race-horses department.”  She was saying resources but with that accent of hers it was hard to tell!

JB: Speaking of blogging, you’re very active in social media as well.  What other HR blogs or bloggers do you follow?

DR: In addition to Mike’s blog, there are many others like Charlie Judy of HR Fishbowl, Ben Eubanks of UpstartHR, Tim Sackett of The Tim Sacket Project and Fistful of Talent, Trish McFarland of HR Ringleader, and Jay Kuhns of No Excuses HR.  That’s just a short list too, I love reading everyone’s thoughts and ideas.

JB: What advice about recommended first steps would you give to an HR professional looking to get more involved in social media?

DR: I would say start with LinkedIn; if you’re not on there, first start with your personal profile and then make sure your company has a profile.  The next step would be to create a Facebook account and then when you feel comfortable move to Twitter.  Many people keep Facebook and Twitter for their personal network and LinkedIn for their professional network.  I have adopted the philosophy that I am who I am, and it’s all the same.  If you’re generally a good positive person, you should also have a positive image in social media too, no matter what network you’re on.

JB: Do you ever use some of your hockey refereeing skills to handle HR issues? Have you ever blogged about similarities between hockey and HR?

DR: Absolutely!  That is the whole concept behind my blog because being a referee is dealing with people in a heated moment of passion and hockey sure is passionate.  When you diffuse a situation where kids want to fight each other, it’s no different from working with employees in a shouting match.

I’ve got a funny story about passion that I wrote about in a post last winter called War Stories from the Ice Rink.  At the start of each game, as a ref, you usually introduce yourself to the coaches because they have to sign the score sheet.  I typically shake hands with them, wish them good luck and check their roster.  At one game, when I was shaking the hand of a coach, he was pressing a pre-positioned object in my hand.  As I let go, he said “It’s to make you sweeter.” As I looked down, I noticed a Tootsie Roll in my hand.  I laughed and told him that was a good one. A little humor can go a long way; that’s sometimes true with managing people too.

JB: Does Mel-O-Cream use social media for recruiting?

DR: Yes, we have a Facebook page with over 1,700 fans.  Here we post jobs and we have used LinkedIn and Twitter.  A great piece of advice that I’ve implemented that I learned from Jennifer McClure is about LinkedIn.  In our case, we have regional sales reps and sometimes it’s difficult to find sales people in other areas.  What I’ve done was find the biggest group on LinkedIn in that region that was dedicated to sales professionals and posted links to jobs there. We don’t even have the recruiter package on LinkedIn but just by doing that, for free, I can expand the communication of the job to many other qualified candidates.

JB: In additional to social media, you’re active in SHRM with your local Illinois chapter and attend HR conferences each year. Do you have a conference you attend that is your favorite? Do you have a favorite speaker or presentation that you’ve heard lately?

I try to make it every year to the national SHRM leadership conference as well as IL SHRM.  I’ve also had a great time the past few years at HR Revolution which is put on by a great group of HR professionals, I really like the “unconference” format.  I will say, it is almost as social as it is informative and there are some really bright people leading the way. It is mentally stimulating to hang out with that crowd.  A specific speaker I enjoy is Ryan Estis.  He was the keynote at IL SHRM last year, he is a very talented and passionate young man.

JB: You’re also a Sage HRMS user, and quite a loyal one.  Why have you stayed loyal to Sage?

DR: We’ve been using Sage HRMS since 1993, and we’ve found the product to be very robust; it stays current with our needs.  I think it is a testament to what you guys do there.  Sage HRMS isn’t rife with errors; it doesn’t crash; to a certain degree it is out of sight out of mind.  It has been durable and we’ve stayed current with upgrades. I rarely call tech support, but when I do, I get my questions answered quickly.  We’ve also coupled it with a few other Sage products so the integration really helps with other parts of the business.

JB: So we’ve had a lot of fun today, but now, the most important question; what is your favorite type of donut?

DR: Surprisingly, even working at a donut manufacturer, I don’t eat lot donuts.  I do preach moderation though, and I think my favorite donut says a lot about my personality.  I like a cake donut with white icing.  Cake donuts are made from batter, rather than dough and they’re more like a pancake than bread.  But the donut fits me; I’m just a plain vanilla type of guy.

JB: Dave, thanks so much for spending some time with us today.  I really had a lot of fun and think readers will enjoy this post!


TGIM: How Do You Drive Innovation?

12 Dec

Creative BrainstormingIt’s Monday, you know what that means! Here is another installment of 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.

Creative brainstorming is not something managers can just demand from their employees and then expect greatness. It’s much more complicated than that. For one, people work in different ways – what inspires one employee may be worthless to another. But if collective strategy sessions are the way to go, how can managers forge an environment that is conducive to innovative thought?

Inc. magazine contributor Jeff Haden argues that promoting creativity involves reconfiguring the thought process. Instead of viewing a brainstorming session as an attempt at product development or innovation, look at it as a matter of problem-solving. What is the issue at hand, and what can be done to improve it? Furthermore, don’t limit your questions to deductive reasoning. Be imaginative. Ask yourself “What if?” How would a product or market be affected by a sudden change? What if your product or service was altered in this specific way?

Use these questions as a guide in your brainstorming session. As a manager, you should allow creative individuals to drive the conversation and come up with most of the ideas. Your role is to guide the thought process through questions and comments. Remain uninvolved in the conversation, but listen carefully.

In all likelihood, your employees are very smart and very creative. But their true potential will shine only when they are free to think, Haden adds. Yet this is a difficult environment to develop, especially in a workplace with hierarchical structures and managerial responsibilities.

Managers need to encourage a variety of ideas, even bad ones, and to never, under any circumstance, let an employee regret speaking up. There are three reasons for this.

  1. He or she will be discouraged from offering up additional ideas in the future.
  2. They will be less confident in their creative capacity.
  3. Ideas that clearly don’t work may still be a source of inspiration for a better one.

In other words, what one employee offers as a solution may be the spark of true ingenuity from someone else.

Also, when employees glance at you in search for feedback, don’t say anything. Look to others for additional input, and allow the conversation to proceed without authoritative fears or inhibitions to thought.

What are some other ways managers can encourage creative thought in brainstorming sessions?

 Let us know what you think on Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #TGIM, or reply to us @SageHRMS.

Meetings: Are They Hitting The Mark?

9 Dec

Sometimes Meetings Don't Hit The MarkYou’ve heard it before, perhaps from your own employees: Meetings are boring. But do they have to be? Of course not. In fact, with some careful scrutiny, HR managers can beef up their meetings and boost engagement.

First, however, managers need to recognize what it is about their meetings that bore people. Ask yourself: Are they absolutely necessary? If so, must they be as often as they are? Are you repeating information? Would life go on without them?

HR Managers should review the purpose of their meetings – either as a whole or on an individual basis. People may show up merely because it’s on their calendar, but remind them why the meeting exists and ask if it still serves a purpose. Weigh their input and seek to improve the experience for all so that productivity is not affected.

Another good idea is to solicit agenda items in advance. That way, attendees will have the chance to bring up issues that are relevant to their needs and concerns. Remember that your employees will respect your devotion to productivity and your intolerance of wasted time.

Are your meetings a waste of time?

How to Simplify Year End Payroll Processing and Compliance

7 Dec

Calculating Year EndAs 2011 draws to an end, companies large and small are closing out their payrolls to comply with state and federal reporting requirements. In addition, all employers are faced with the challenge of getting W-2’s to their employees.  Employers must give copies B, C, and 2 of Form W-2 to each employee and they must be received or postmarked by January 31, 2012.

Yet despite the clear advantages of HR software and automated payroll systems, many employers still rely on outdated methods of delivering W-2’s  and complying with payroll taxes and standards. The old way of doing things –  printing W-2’s  forms, addressing and stuffing them in envelopes and mailing them –  is simply unsustainable in today’s fast-paced, mobile economy.

Aside from the operational burdens associated with the old method, employers are forced to pay administration staff to complete such tasks, or worse, to pay knowledgeable and experienced HR workers to handle them, thereby pulling focus from more pressing workplace duties and responsibilities.

Some companies make pressures sealed W-2’s and checks, while others make machines that allow you to seal your checks and w-2’s, saving you the time from addressing and stuffing envelopes and avoiding the almost inevitable mix up that comes with placing one person’s W-2 in an envelope addressed to someone else.

Another solution is to take full advantage of HR technology that offers users the ability to create tax forms and file documents electronically. For a nominal fee services, such as Aatrix, allow you to have all your W-2’s filed with Federal and State, mailed to your employees, and posted online for future access.  Furthermore, reports can be automatically completed, reviewed and edited on screen, then e-filed in minutes for processing. These services ensure total compliance by including guaranteed delivery methods and eliminating filing expenses associated with printing or mailing activities.

TGIM: Non-Monetary Motivation

5 Dec

Non-Monetary MotivationIt’s Monday, so that means 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 beginning of the week is naturally the most challenging time to engage and motivate employees. Fresh off their weekend freedom, most workers tend to be somewhat dejected on Monday morning. While you may not be able to curb disenchantment altogether, you can incorporate more long-term motivational strategies.

However, like with so many other human resource challenges, managers need to find ways to boost engagement and productivity without dipping into the company’s bottom line. But because so many employees are motivated by money, managers have to find a balance, with financial compensation and employee rewards on one end, and company culture and fiscal durability on the other.

For that matter, consider the ups and downs of financial benefits and motivational tactics. While a bonus may offer a boost to employee happiness, it will only mark a temporary shroud over their personal grievances and insecurities. Instead, employees need to feel like they are a part of something important, and that entails recognition of quality work and leniency in terms of scheduling and job responsibilities – not to mention a general capacity for empathy.

Everyone wants praise and it’s one of the easiest things to give. Furthermore, acknowledgement from the CEO goes a lot farther than you may think. While praise is certainly appreciated, there is something of a strategy to it. If you go around complimenting and applauding every little thing someone does, people will start to recognize the superficiality and emptiness of your praise. But if you reserve such accolades for rare or fleeting moments of exceptionalism, the compliment will go a lot further in instilling confidence.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, managers may themselves be an impediment to productivity. Although they don’t intend to evoke fear or intimidation, a manager’s presence may limit an employee’s brainstorming potential or social involvement. For that reason, it may be a good idea to remove hierarchical titles such as “project manager” or “supervisor.” When launching a project, place team members on an even plane, as this will encourage input and reduce fear of involvement.

When mistakes are made, it’s important to make them known without criticizing or publicly humiliating the culprit. Avoid criticism, play it lightly and discuss how the issue can be avoided in the future.

What are some other ways managers can motivate their employees without the use of monetary rewards?

Let us know what you think on Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #TGIM, or reply to us @SageHRMS.

Quick Fixes To Procrastination

2 Dec

Employee in Empty CubicleWe all struggle with procrastination, but usually our adrenaline kicks in at crunch time, our efficiency skyrockets and we’re able to meet our deadlines. But when your office is running low on adrenaline, here are some easy ways to instantly cut down on procrastination.

Make it a regular practice to schedule conference calls near the end of the day or right before lunch and take the chairs out of the conference room. People will be less likely deviate from the agenda or linger after a meeting if they’ve been standing the whole time or want to go home.  

Offer time management training courses. If bringing in a consultant is not within your company’s budget, ask one of the high-performing, more organized members of the staff to lead an informal session.

Next time you have a meeting with an employee whose procrastination and missed deadlines have become a problem, pull up their file on your Human Resource Management System and run a report on their productivity levels. Having a visual representation of how their output compares to everyone else may be the just what is needed to get an employee to pick up the pace.

Does your office support population of time wasters? What are some other ways to cut down on procrastination?