Culture – What is it Good for?

Whether consciously planned or not, your organization has a culture.

In several HR seminars I’ve done for Alexandria’s SBDC, a common comment was surprise at the importance of culture to their organization’s future. Many attendees said they simply had not thought about their culture or its impact on hiring or productivity.

What creates the culture in an organization?

  • First is the vision since many people join (or buy from) because of what they understand the business or organization to be about.
  • Next is what we say about our organization – our story, our values.
  • Third is how we implement our vision and our values.

While other issues of culture may be included, these three give you the basics of the culture in your organization. How are you actively manifesting them?

When I do organizational assessments, I often find a difference between what founders/CxOs say they want as a culture and what their practices actually are. For example, you may have been in a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ work arena – and that is one critical strike against a positive, productive culture.

Aligning your culture, your policies, and your actual practices is critical for success. Sometimes, the culture originally developed is not what you now need. Or worse, the culture you thought you had created is not what you actually have.

As you prepare for future success, take a look at your existing culture.

  • Is it what your organization needs?
  • What you want?
  • How is the desired culture expressed in basic practices and policies?
  • Will the existing culture support your strategic and business plans?
  • If so, great! If not, what are you going to do? How? When?

One of my clients was an ethical, terrific founder who knew his business and had great ideas. He was quite successful at first. But over time, his dislike of and avoidance of conflict led to a culture where all disagreement was avoided. People were retained when they should have been fired, and critical decisions were delayed or left unresolved. And it cost him his business. While extreme, this is not an unusual failure – it happens too often in organizations where the culture has become a hindrance to success. 

You can create a culture that helps your organization succeed.   But it takes attention and thought to do so.  And to maintain its best aspects, you need to keep your culture in mind  as needs change, as you grow, as your environment changes — all those may require tweaks to your culture.

Should I Hire an Employee?

The decision on whether to hire a person is especially critical whether you are just beginning to grow or need specialists you are not sure you can afford.How do you decide whether or not to hire employees?ASK YOURSELF:  1. Is this work which must be done over a long term?

If the work is on-going and critical to your organization’s success, consider hiring or leasing an employee.  If it is not, consider other options.

Work can be done by independent contractors who specialize in the area, by temporary staffing services, by consultants for a project or a specific need, by an interim executive, by a paid intern, or by sub-contracting.  Would one of these options work better for you?

Too often, small organizations add a non-core position because of short-term or part-time needs and then realize that work has expanded to fill the time, not because of actual necessity.  So a real 10-20 hour a week need has become a full-time employee.

2. Can I afford to hire a regular employee?

Hiring employees who support your revenue or mission growth is smart.  But once you hire, you cannot skip pay periods, tax or legal obligations.  Costs
include the person’s pay and also:
* mandated benefits including: OASDI (‘Social security’ and Medicare), unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance
* costs for space and equipment for the employee
* pay processing and accounts establishment costs
* legal compliance and risk management costs

Check out your state’s small business services or your local economic development agency – these provide detailed guidance on any local laws you need to comply with.

OK, I want an Employee

Think: What type of work and level do I really need?

Classically, small employers want folks to wear multiple hats.  But the work combinations must make sense and be right for your organization’s needs.

There may be a terrific sales person who is happy to be doing administrative work half of the time but it is unlikely!   Two part-timers or outsourcing one part makes far more sense where the work needs are very different.

The other classic is to want a senior-level person to show you are growing and to get some strategic advice, but want that person to also do basic level work.  A CTO is not going to do programming.  And hiring a CxO of any sort usually results in hiring several more layers as well.  So, you had a Manager of Accounting and one accounting clerk before and now have a CFO and 5 staff, but no more revenues.

Not sure how to structure a position?

Take a good look at similar job ads from larger organizations: what set of skills and requirements do they combine?  Many put fairly detailed descriptions on their website employment section.  Check to see if your trade association offers sample job descriptions you could tailor to your needs.  Ask other business owners.  Ask your vendors in that area for ideas.

Before you add a position, make a clear list of exactly what business necessity creates the need, all specific responsibilities that need to be fulfilled, and what increased revenue will result.

OK I’ll outsource    I don’t need an employee, but the work needs to be done.

Make a list of potential options.  As with an employee, structure the work clearly.  Ask your advisors and network for recommendations.  Current vendors are a great resource; e.g., CPAs often know other services providers, such as IT support, and can recommend people to meet your needs.

Grow Smart!

Hiring people who can contribute to your organization’s growth and success is an important step.  A little thought and effort first to ensure you only add costs you can afford and you spend your money on the best possible solution for your needs will repay you handsomely.  Unfortunately, too often the opposite is true – and having a staff becomes a nightmare of added work, added costs, and negative results.

Ask questions, seek advice, consider alternatives – do all the things that you would do before offering any new product or service to your customers or clients.  You will grow much more successfully with less hassle if you do!

Make Every Day Earth Day

Make Every Day Earth Day at the Office
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Has this become the mantra of the first two decades of the 21st century? To a dedicated few perhaps, but so far most behavior change has focused on recycling , rather than reducing or reusing the products we use in everyday life.
To see if I am making a correct assumption here, ask yourself if your habits have changed significantly in the last few years regarding conservation, energy efficiency, and a lifestyle with less physical waste. For example, do you turn off the lights more frequently, use water saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs and (Energy Star) appliances, and turn off computers and other “idle” media when they are not in use?
At work, have you switched to lights that turn themselves off when there is lack of movement in the space (as at the Alexandria SBDC offices)? Have you stopped the bottled water habit and switched to water filtered at the faucet instead? Do you use ceramic coffee cups and plates and individual reusable water bottles instead of the use once and throw away variety? Instead of answering “paper” or “plastic” at the supermarket, many shoppers, although still usually a minority, now bring their own multi-use non-woven or other grocery shopping bags. They are sometimes rewarded with five cents off at checkout. Some municipalities such as San Francisco have gone as far as banning stores from providing plastic bags and business seems to be thriving in spite of this minor inconvenience.
Surprisingly, changing behaviors can be good not only for the environment, but also for a business’ bottom line. There are plenty of ways to make a small environmental contribution and save the business unnecessary expenditure at the same time. Builders can construct energy-efficient buildings that are attractive to prospective tenants, and they do not have to become LEED-certified to do this. You, as a business owner, can reduce and reuse, as well as recycle, within your office or workspace and set an example for employees, customers and the community. If you develop a reputation as an environmentally-friendly business, that might help to attract new customers or solidify relationships with your existing client base.

Three Simple Steps

  1. Paper – certainly something that can be reduced, reused AND recycled. While not easy to go paperless, reducing paper output, and using both sides of the paper are easy steps in the right direction. It will also decrease the ink cartridge bill, which can be significant in itself.
  2. Mail – cutting down on snail mail will have an immediate impact. Fax, email and social media have reduced the need for using the post office, UPS or FedEx.
  3. Lunch room – providing a refrigerator and microwave oven for employees will be popular with staff, and will encourage them to bring food and beverages for lunch. Provide a way to filter water from the faucet to discourage the throwaway plastic water bottle habit and encourage staff to bring their own reusable water bottles. Plastic plates, utensils and cups are not necessities. Paper napkins may be harder to relinquish.
If you have the budget and opportunity to do some branding and be environmentally-friendly at the same time, there is an increasing choice of products made from recycled materials (e.g. pens or t-shirts made from plastic water bottles), reusable bags, including lunch bags, water bottles, and many other everyday items used in a typical workspace.
So, although there is only one official Earth Day, and it falls on Sunday, April 22, 2012, every day can be an opportunity to make a difference in our own consumption patterns. If we remember to “reduce, reuse and recycle” we can continue to make an individual and collective impact on conserving our scarce resources and the environment we are fortunate to live and work in, here in Northern Virginia.
The author, Judith Harley, owns and operates Oxford Communications, in Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications provides branding for businesses, associations and non-profits through the use of custom-imprinted promotional items, corporate apparel and business gifts. Oxford Communications is known for providing creative environmentally-friendly options for clients.

Celebrate Earth Day by Recycling Your E-Waste!(ourtakeongreen.com)

 

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Hiring the Right Professional

Wow! I'll Buy One! cartoon by Clay Butler

 

Delegation is a skill that when done properly, saves you time, creates a circle of support, and enables you to achieve much more than you could on your own.

Hiring the wrong person wastes huge amounts of money invested in people not capable of delivering what you need them to do. It also steals massive quantities of time you did not budget. Women have particular difficulty delegating–as they often don’t want to burden others who may have full plates, are afraid to ask for what they need, and are hesitant to be too probing when interviewing.

My client, Emily, came to me with a history of poor delegation experiences. Whether hiring a handyman, housekeeper, assistant, or architect, she always ended up shocked and disappointed at the work they produced, feeling like all the dollars (and hours) she and her late husband had invested went swooshing down the drain.

The latest: she’d hired a fitness coach to put together an exercise and nutrition plan for her. Her assumption was she would get a complete program – a month’s worth of workouts and a month’s worth of menus. She expected instruction on the workouts and recipes to go along with the variety of menus. After paying a small fortune, you can imagine her shock, when all the fitness coach sent was an exercise book describing different types of exercises she could do, shopping guidelines, a handful of meal suggestions, and links to online websites with recipes. In analyzing the history of their communication, we discovered where Emily had gone wrong–she’d been very unclear about what she’d hired the fitness coach to do. I suggested Emily reach back out to the man, explain the mistake, and ask what it would take to get what she wanted.

Here’s what she learned:

It took me a while to work up the nerve to call Bill. I had a really hard time getting in touch with him, too. I finally heard from him after a few phone calls. Seems he has a different approach to fitness coaching – I was looking for a structured, detailed plan. I would show up, he would tell me what to do, and I would head home and follow his recipes. Bill’s approach is based on giving me the tools to make improvements. He doesn’t coach his clients through the workouts, and he doesn’t have the “bank” of recipes in his database I’d assumed he did. He believes in cooking based on ingredients I enjoy eating the most. Ah, well. Looks like she was never the right match.

Based on my experience in looking for the right assistant, I provided Emily with an organized process for improving her batting average with future hiring of the right professional.

  • Define your expectations. Sit down with pen and paper and ask yourself the following: How will I measure success for the money I am investing in this person? What do I expect they will bring to the project or task that I can’t do myself? List the time, skills, and talent you imagine this person needs to do this job (i.e. creativity, flexibility, speed, integrity, etc.), and devise questions that will probe at their skills in each area. Being crystal clear on what you want makes it easier to recognize the right resource when you find it.
  • Interview based on historic performance, not future vision. When interviewing, we often ask questions in hypothetical terms–e.g. “How WOULD you do something…”which only produces answers based on what the candidate thinks you want to hear. History (or behavior) based interviewing stems from the belief that the greatest indicator of future success is past behavior. Try asking for examples from past job experiences, using questions that begin- “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of a moment that…” You’ll be amazed at what you hear. By listening to each candidate’s detailed stories of what they have ACTUALLY done, you are in a FAR BETTER position to evaluate if they are a good match for your needs, and have the experience to deliver on your goals.
  • Comparison Shop (at least three candidates). Emily had hired this fitness coach without doing her homework. It was on a whim, after hearing about the experience of a friend of hers who had recently moved to a retirement community in Florida. Emily was so enamored with the experience her friend had received, and she assumed all fitness coaches operated in a similar fashion. Always interview at least three candidates, so you have options to compare and contrast. Shopping allows you to pick the person who is the best match for your specific needs, and often helps you learn what is reasonable to expect.

Taking the time to be clear and methodical when hiring, may take longer up front, but it could surely help save you beaucoup dollars (and precious time) in the end.

Workshop Recap: From One to Many — Smart, Effective Hiring – Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources

Attendees of Small Business Hiring Workshop at the Alexandria Virginia SBDC

Alexandria SBDC hosted their monthly Brown Bag Workshop yesterday and it was a packed house! Patricia (Patra) Frame of Strategies for Human Resources provided a higher-level prospective with some well-conceived, practical lessons for hiring practices for Small Business entrepreneurs new and growing. If you haven’t yet, you should check out Patra’s blog post, Hiring the Talent You Need to Succeed, that was published last week here on AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com. Here’s our Twitter transcript and summary video, and I’m sure the slidedeck will go live on the Alexandria SBDC website soon. We hope you can join us at future Brown Bag workshops or via our live Twitter conversations!

TWITTER TRANSCRIPT

David Martin of Gold Works Custom Jewelry Design and Repair discusses his hiring needs
David Martin of Gold Works Custom Jewelry Design and Repair discusses his hiring needs

We launched our first foray into live-tweeting on Twitter at this workshop with the hopes of engaging Small Business entrepreneurs in Alexandria that cannot make it to the event but would like to participate and learn with us anyway. While live tweets will never outweigh the benefits of attending in person (think of the free, one-to-one networking opportunity!), being with us via Twitter is a great way to market your business, generate Twitter buzz around content for your target audience, and to learn and share virtually with your fellow local businesses.

Click the link to the right for the transcript: Tweetchat for alexvasbdc hrsmarts 2012-04-03

SUMMARY VIDEO

Hiring the Talent You Need to Succeed

Human Resources - Hiring Smart for Small BusinessYour organization’s future depends on hiving the right people to achieve your plans and grow successfully.  Hiring effectively is step one.
How well prepared are you to hire the right people?  Hiring is hard work and takes preparation and knowledge.  You need to know how to attract the best people, to convert potential candidates into actual applicants, and to assess whether a person can do the job successfully in your organization.
Have you had any training or spent the time to study hiring extensively?  Or do you fall prey to every blog post and business article on the most recent ‘do this’ trick?  We often think ‘I hired people in my old company and so I know how’.  But your process needs to support your mission, goals, and culture.  You need to understand more about the hiring process than you ever did in another company so that you have an effective process.  And then you need to ensure everyone involved in hiring understands how to interview and evaluate candidates.
So many job postings I see are boring lists of requirements.  Yet we wonder why we do not get good candidates.  Are yours the exception?   Then, too often we rely on ‘big-name’ sources to post our job ads, without knowing which sources are best for our needs.
If you have an application process in place, have you tried using it to apply for a job at your company from an outside computer?  How does it work?  What does your process say about your organization?  Does it encourage those you want or discourage them?
Do you, and anyone else involved in interviewing, know how to do that well so you can assess each person?  And, are you good at checking references?  Selecting the best match for your needs?
Learning to hire effectively and putting good processes in place can be done easily and pays big dividends.  Whether you rely on direct learning, hire a consultant to assist, or add trained recruiting staff, a little effort will significantly enhance your organization’s future.

Patricia “Patra” Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker and author on human capital issues at Strategies for Human Resources.  Patra will be presenting “Hiring Smart” on April 3, 2012 at Alexandria SBDC; register here and come to this must-attend presentation for all small businesses and nonprofits who have limited Human Resources staffing.

Healthy Employees are Productive Employees

Healthy Employees Walking TogetherAs business owners, we worry often about the health of our business, but how frequently do we worry about having healthy employees? Sure, it gets attention when an employer contributes to health care insurance. If employees are absent because of sickness or a condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome that limits their productivity that affects the bottom line, and the prosperity of the business. However, even if employees show up for work, they may be suffering from health conditions which reduce their ability to do their best.

How can a business owner help maintain the wellness and health of employees, so that everyone benefits from a healthier business, both financially and otherwise? Prevention is clearly key. This is why employee washrooms in restaurants always have the sign “All Employees Must Wash Their Hands before Returning to Work.” Maintaining a healthy workplace and encouraging employees to adopt and maintain healthy habits go a long way. Leading by example is very effective. If the boss is seen smoking — and known not to exercise — then employees may read the hidden message that it is okay for them to do the same. On the other hand, if the boss brings a gym bag to work (as she stops off at the gym either before or after work), then this sends a completely different message. If the boss discusses engaging in sports activities (and not just watching sports on the television) whether as an individual, or in family activities, then this becomes a conversation topic among coworkers.

As small business owners, we may not be able to pay for gym memberships, but we can provide incentives for employees to lead a healthy lifestyle in other ways. Large companies can organize weight loss, smoking cessation or healthy eating workshops, and encourage employees to attend, and sometimes provide incentives for doing so. Small companies can create some challenges to employees and provide some tools to get started, such as a notebook for tracking exercise routines, food intake or other measurable criteria. An inexpensive pedometer can go a long way to help track distance walked or jogged during a lunch break or outside office hours. A business owner can reward an employee who participates in a wellness workshop in their free time, or achieves individual fitness and health goals. The key is to provide motivation that appeals to the employee.

We all want to stay healthy, both on and off the job. Having healthy and productive employees is surely an indicator of a successful business. Motivating employees to maintain their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, or whatever the individual goal might be, will send a sure signal that they are valued beyond their work performance. Hiring and training new employees is much more expensive than retaining existing staff, and so wellness encouragement reduces overhead and management time spent on these issues. A few hours or a few dollars dedicated to focusing on employee wellness now can pay dividends in the future.

For suggestions on incentives or rewards for an employee wellness program, please visit our website at www.oxfordpromos.com or call Oxford Communications at 703-922-4193.

 

Photo courtesy of USACE Europe District

Non-Competition Agreements for Small Business: Not Too Broad or Too Narrow, But Just Right

The Supreme Court of Virginia Building, adjace...

Non-competition agreements, or non-solicitation agreements, are generally clauses within employment agreements which limit employees’ ability to enter into employment or to start a business which competes with a former employer.  Under Virginia law, non-competes (sometimes called or written plainly “noncompetes”), though viewed as a restraint of trade, are enforceable if the three prongs of the non-compete–time, geography and function–are properly limited.  The non-compete terms should be broad enough to protect the employer’s business interests, but not so broad as to prevent the employee from earning a living and should not violate public policy.

 

Many times the focus on non-compete agreement terms fall on the time and geography prong.  In November, the Virginia Supreme Court squarely refocused the discussion on the function prong of the non-compete.  In Home Paramount Pest Control v. Shaffer, the Court reviewed a non-compete agreement that it had approved 22 years ago in Paramount Termite Control v. Rector.  This time the Court declared that the function provision, which the company had not changed in the ensuing time, as overly broad and the entire agreement as unenforceable.

 

The Court held that the language which stated that the former employee could not engage “directly or indirectly. . . in any manner whatsoever in the carrying on or conducting the business of exterminating, pest control, termite control and/or fumigation services as an owner, agent, servant, representative, or employee, and/or as a member of a partnership and/or as an officer, director or stockholder or any corporation or in any manner whatsoever . . .” was not reasonable because the clause effectively prohibited the employee from holding any type of job in the industry.  The reasonableness of the time and geography prongs were insufficient to save the agreement.  Under the Home Paramount, if a business wants to preclude an employee from performing any work for a competitor, then it must be ready, willing and able to prove a “legitimate business interest” to do so. That’s not necessarily an easy task.

 

So, to ease the process for small businesses, now is the time to review any non-compete clauses used in your business.  Be wary of non-competition agreement forms or templates.  What terms are permissible in a non-compete clause in Virginia may not work at all in California – and vice versa. Terms permissible 20 years ago or even 6 months ago  in Virginia are no longer workable.  Court decisions over time can and do change the law.  The laws of individual states evolve over time and the laws of each state differ.

 

All three prongs of the non-compete must be appropriately limited, reasonable and related to the position in question.  The function prong cannot be so broad that it effectively precludes the employee from performing any job in the industry from CEO to janitor or even from owning stock passively in a multinational, publicly held corporation.

 

 

Law Office of Paula Potoczak

218 N. Lee St., 3rd Floor

Alexandria, VA 22314

703-519-3733