Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What to focus on for a better workplace

The Jackson Organization, a group of independent market researchers (which has since been purchased) conducted a 221,061 person study crossing industries, job types, and backgrounds.

At the end of the survey participants were asked:

"Other than salaries, staffing, or benefits, if you were your company president, what two things would you do to make your workplace better for your employees?"

1.) Better teamwork and more communication

2.) More recognition and appreciation

3.) Improve the workplace/facility

4.) Better, more visible management

Communication keeps topping the charts as something to focus on......... Does your company prioritize this?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nap time!

Haven't you heard napping during the day increases productivity? About 8 hours after waking many folks get drowsy, and research shows that you can make yourself more alert, reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning with a nap.

Did you even know March 1~8 was national sleep awareness week! It seemed like no one acknowledged it! Gosh. Why don't we take naps at work? Well, most of us don't take naps at work that is. I have a friend who crawls under his desk on many days - I thought he was lazy, but maybe he just cares about productivity?

Now we know how Google rose to be Wall Street's (well everyone's) sweetheart. Naps. Napping chambers are among the well known benefits at the Googleplex.

Google must know sleep deprivation cost US businesses as much as $150 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity. The Better Sleep Council says poor sleep affects accuracy and attitude on the job. Survey respondents reported sleep deprivation impaired their quality and accuracy of work (31 percent), clear thinking or judgment (31 percent) and memory of important details (30 percent).

There, it is settled. ZzzZzzzzzz. Welcome the Future of Work Productivity - the nap pod. Ah, man - I have to add this to this list of things we need to add to our office.

In all honesty, I've never been at a place where napping is encouraged and I'm not ready to push it now. I am not against productivity - it's just a big leap. It's not an easy transition. And it's hard to take baby steps to get there - I can't think of a way to incrementally phase in naps. Most of all, the productivity gain is hard to measure, and it would likely end up looking just like another one of those HR costs. Not to intentionally open a can of worms, but it reminds me of ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment) - there are situations where it makes lots of sense, but it isn't easy to implement. Otherwise everyone would be napping and ROWEing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ask your employees

When we hire someone, I try to get as large of a cross section of our folks to meet with the candidate as possible. If the person is hired, this range of current employees was part of the decision, they are invested in helping the person to be successful, and they feel that their opinion matters.

Whether it's new hires, a change in business direction, taking on new clients, using new software, or whatever - make employees part of the decision making process, even if just a little bit. It's a reward to them, it helps you make the most informed decisions, it makes implementation smoother, it builds stronger teams.

Why does including employees happen so (relatively) little? I know it takes time ..... there may be too much other facts to put in context ..... you might have to admit you don't know everything. But those aren't good enough. While this INC article (dated 5 days into the future :-) focuses more on team building and becoming more respected, it reminded me of the importance of including employees.

In times like these, according to NYU Stern's professor Steve Blader, it's more important than ever for organizations to focus on team building. In two recent studies, he found employees who feel they are part of the company's social fabric are more likely to be productive, satisfied workers. That requires bosses to listen, treat employees with respect, and include them in decision-making.

"Get everyone focused on being part of a group; when employees are team members, differences recede," he said.

Both Blader and Spencer suggested opening lines of communication and inviting more employee involvement.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

She Hates HR

I saw a CNNMoney article by Jeanne Sahadi from a couple years back. The article describes tidbits from Cynthia Shapiro's book "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know."

Right there in the HR is never your friend section, I read this:

"HR is not there to help employees anymore. HR is there to support management," Shapiro said.

Nice! ... this woman hates HR. It's perfect for my blog, I thought.

It did notice Shapiro say HR is not there 'anymore'. That's a good sign at least - perhaps HR used to be there to help? From her website, I see Shapiro has 18 years of HR experience, but now calls herself an International Best Selling Author - Speaker - Business and Career Strategist. I wonder if there is a link from this professional shift and to when HR stopped being there to help?

Here's more from the HR is never your friend section:

Always go to your boss first with any concerns or conflicts. Going to HR makes you look weak – which isn't a plus when it comes to getting promoted.

"Only go to HR after you've tried and documented several attempts to speak with your boss about a serious issue," she writes. By serious, she means an issue that, if not resolved, would cause you to leave the company.

And definitely don't shoot the breeze with HR about your medical concerns, family stresses or that drunken night in Vegas.

Anything you say can and will be used against you if need be -- no matter how sympathetic and helpful the person you talk to may seem.

There seems to be some sort of strange irony here. These could be read as warnings that you don't have the right HR staff, instead of proof HR isn't your friend. They seem like a page from a playbook from an HR department that no longer delivers value - a Top 10 of items heard when your HR function has left the building. We should add a couple, like "don't tell HR you've become a new employee - they will just have meaningless forms to complete and give you a list of pointless duties" or "don't ask HR for a list of Company Holidays - they'll trick you into thinking National Ice Cream Day is off and then will fire you when you don't show up."

At first I thought the other sections in the article (other than the HR is never your friend section) might have less of a stench to them - especially from what I've seen at larger corporations. Larger more formal places can be slow, heavy with process, and often don't have a face. But the more I looked, the more I just couldn't buy it - the examples seem incomplete and the comparisons unfair.

Midnight-oil burners get promoted and work-life balancers are the first to get canned - gosh I could see that happening, I thought.

Parents especially are at risk of being perceived as distracted. "From nine-to-five your work life has to at least appear to come first, even if it doesn't," Shapiro writes.

Hmmm wait a minute .... I suppose it's true, parents could be at risk if they don't 'appear' to put work first between nine-to-five. But, isn't anyone at risk if they don't even appear to put work first from nine-to-five? Isn't it possible the midnight-oil burners are producing more and performing better?

You are at risk of layoff if you filed a complaint against the company or your boss - or if you are overly negative about the company.

I know retaliation can happen and certainly don't endorse it, but isn't there a possibility overly negative employees are often unproductive? They don't perform as well as someone who is motivated and likes being at work.

The 'sneak-peek' into corporate tactics is a shallow, incomplete, and dark picture. I agree with Shapiro here - HR does exist to support management, and serve the company. Everyone is supposed to be supporting the company. HR can do this by being a friend to employees. Perhaps giving insight or helping to resolve possible conflict before it comes a 'serious' issue, or making sure midnight-oil burners don't fizzle out and quit, and helping work-life-balancers know what is expected from them.

I doubt I'll be able to stop thinking about this article for awhile (although I'm not so interested in getting the book).
It sadly makes me question and think about how HR does suck for many people, and really how work itself sucks for so many. Aren't there nice people that care about the people they work with? Aren't there bosses and employees that just do the right thing? Aren't there people that care about performing well (whether at home or burning the midnight oil)? I know there is a lot more to these issues and they are complex, but from a wide angle it seems 'hating' gets attention, it can be profitable, and is just pessimistic fun for its own sake.

I like this approach: HR is there to help employees. HR is there to support management. What's your corporate tactic and strategy?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Try a Town Hall

I am lucky to work in a small, flexible company. While not perfect, we make efforts to share information, acknowledge accomplishments, and address concerns. And have fun.

On Friday, we shut down early and did our own version of a Town Hall meeting. Our CEO gave us the latest run down of our business direction, money in the bank, our production schedule, and that type of stuff (actually using the most recent Board presentation as an outline).

We got to ask lots of questions, and voice concerns. Employees have tremendous insight and are closer to the product and problems than anyone else - engaging them as often as possible is a good strategy. We also rang our Gong (which marks milestones and major achievements) and noted all the hard work that went into the newest software release and website upgrade.

To wrap things up, we had some wine and tried our hand at trivia - based on company and employee fun facts. None of us knew Matt, our Product Manager, has eaten 40 McNuggets in a sitting or that our third most common customer service call was about the EDU discount. Good to know.

I then managed to hurt myself playing Rock Band. But it was worth it - it was great to get to know those we spend so much time with a bit better, and to just enjoy their company.

If you don't do something like this regularly, you should be.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I need to add this to the office

Ok - it may sound a bit silly or over the top, but at some point I'd like to implement #1) an office slide and #2) a conference bike.

(Thanks positivesharing.com for these ideas!

We had a wall of bikes (floor to ceiling) installed here at Bug Labs. It doesn't seem as fun as a slide or a conference bike, but we had a functional need. And it gets loads of positive attention from visitors, reporters, and our Board - well worth it!

Thinking and building creative environments should be more of a priority. Ambiance (soothing paints and lights), alternative work spaces (like lofts and rugs), and office pets all seem very doable. I need to stay focused!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Does employee satisfaction = financial returns?

Oh, I love it. There seems to be brewing interest in the CFO Rising conference. Has that phrase ever been uttered before? Who cares? That's like saying the SHRM conference closing act was the best music concert you've seen in years?

Apparently, Rutgers University's Richard Beatty (an HR professor) told a crowd of 300 top financial leaders (at least those attending the CFO Rising conference), "HR people try to perpetuate the idea that job satisfaction is critical," Beatty continued "but there is no evidence that engaging employees impacts financial returns."

I love it, because it hits a nerve and I am guessing my CEO and many of you might agree with Beatty. It's one of the hard to measure, intangible parts of HR. Actually, I can't think of a better way to get attention from a boss you suspect might not trust HR. Put on your thick skin and show them the HR pro's "Memo to CFOs: Don't Trust HR." When you have their attention, you can say "wtf are we doing - should we stop all attempts to keep employees happy? What do we really believe, what are we doing and what is our commitment? Well, maybe that is a bad idea...

In either case, I think now is a good time be armed with sources pointing to the contrary; engaging employees does impact financial return.

  • Exhibit A: According to Denison Consulting, unhappy companies in their study had an average annual sales growth of 0.1% from 1996–2004. Happy companies grew their sales by 15.1% in the same period.
  • Exhibit B: According to HR expert David Maister (and Harvard Business School Professor), companies that enhance employee satisfaction by 20% can improve financial performance by 42%.
  • Exhibit C: According to Gallup, happy companies have much lower employee turnover and higher customer loyalty, sales and profit margins. (www.careerjournal.com/hrcenter/briefs/20010611-kennedy.html).
This year's Best Companies to work for were featured on the CBS Sunday Morning show last Sunday. NetApp is the #1 Best Company to work for - where "employee satisfaction is as high on the menu as commercial purpose."

Dave Hitz, NetApp cofounder, say he believes "the bottom line is helped by happy workers. When someone is motivated, when they are engaged, they'll do 5 times as much. If the they understand where the company is going, where they are trying to get to, and they feel good about it - magic happens."

Well, if you haven't already witnessed the plague of negativity and lack of productivity brought about by an unsatisfied employee, maybe you're convinced now? And Beatty, doesn't the Best company to work for outperforming the S&P count as evidence?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Employees first, customers second

Long time CEO Herb Kelleher, when asked about his secret to success said "you have to treat your employees like customers.”

Perhaps this is why when Herb retired Southwest Airline's pilots union took out a full-page ad in USA Today thanking him for all he had done. (Meanwhile, American Airlines’ pilots were picketing the Annual Meeting). I think it's also a reason SWA has been in the black for the last 33 years and paid out decent dividends for the 127th consecutive quarter.

Tom Peters discusses leaders living by this idea. The "Sole Secret (he says) of Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher is putting his people First—making them his principal customers. The likes of Dave Liniger (RE/MAX founder) and Hal Rosenbluth (superstar boss of travel giant Rosenbluth International) spout and live this same idea, using practically the same words—e.g., Hal’s book Putting the Customer Second.

It reminds of the personal finance advice to pay yourself first. Are your feeding the important base that sustains your business first? Are you as strategic about communications for your employees as customers? Are you sensitive to, and anticipate, employee needs and wants? Is your employee always right?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Perks not sooo sweet?

How can super sweet benefits be a bad thing?

I went to Google NY not too long - ohh so sweet. Among the load of perks, they had an amazing cafeteria, and kiosks around the office with nuts, chips and drinks .... just waiting for me to consume! What could be better?

But what happens if those oh so delicious peanut m&m's disappeared one day?

A friend told me he had a nice lunch at Google Headquarters in CA last week - wonderful salmon. But all his friends just complained about the recent cut backs at the cafeteria and the decreasing number of items on the menu. It reminded of the controversy when Google hiked the prices for their on-site day care. When something is taken away it's worse than if it had never existed.

My first thought: You offer on-site childcare and free delicious salmon and m&ms and it comes across as a negative thing? ouch.

I want to say that I have good advice for Google - but I don't. They give great benefits when they can and sometimes things change.

I think the message is for the rest of us. As soon as you give employees something, they feel entitled and its sad to see it go. Little things have big meaning to employees. A $12 monthly savings in bottled water might make employees think the company doesn't care about their afternoon tea - and their well-being! Worse, they may assume the company is financially melting down and it's time to look for another job.

So proceed with caution.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wet'n sloppy: handshaking fail

After spending the day at a University job fair, one thought continually entered my mind.

handshake: soggy + limp = repulsive

I've never considered using only this simple method for candidate screening. Sure, a bad shake has bothered me before but now is the time to take a stand. Do you want these people spreading their clamminess in the name of the company?

Here is a good article about what a handshake can tell you about a person.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cover Letters 101

If you don't send a cover letter or at least a little note , I assume you don't really care about the job. I actually figure you may not even remember you applied here. You spammed me.

I'm significantly more attracted to you if your cover letter demonstrates some knowledge about the company. Even better if you correctly show how your skills fit in. For god's sake at least say you looked at our website.

Give a little of your personality - some humor, a hobby, anything folks!

If your resume is not perfect for the job or if you don't meet all the requirements, tell me why I should consider you.

Use my name - look it up on the website, call the company and ask who will review resumes (spell the name right) .... whatever. Show me you are resourceful.

Follow up. Voice you enthusiasm in a creative, non nagging way, and make me look at your resume again. (For example, "Hi Matt, I recently saw an article about your company that made me even more excited and thought I'd check in"). It is often that I am overwhelmed. I may have seen and liked your resume but then got swamped.

Make it easy for me to hire you, not hard.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You did a good job Bob

Reading Gostick and Elton, NY Times bestsellers, I noticed two surveys with a simple correlation.

#1. A Wichita State University poll found only one in five workers has EVER been publicly praised at work. Less than half of employees have ever received personal thank-yous from their bosses.

#2. A Nierenberg Group survey asked working professionals what would make them reconsider staying at a job they planned to leave. Among the top three - better recognition for contributions.

Of course there are other things involved in the formula, but seems like it could pay to work recognitions into your normal routine.