Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Talent Management and the Bottom Line

For years enlightened business leaders have recognized the obvious: Hire great people, treat them well, and your business will flourish. For those leaders who haven’t recognized this yet, there may be a new motivation to get on the bandwagon.

Moody’s Corporation, the bond rating service, has started recognizing “a direct connection between financial performance and success in recruiting and retention.” Knowing this, they are now starting to use talent management as a factor in the process of rating companies. In addition, Watson Wyatt has developed a “human capital index” and has found that good people practices can increase a company’s value by as much as 30%.

What does this mean to you? Picture the CEO of a publicly traded company explaining what he plans to do to improve the retention of employees at a shareholder meeting, right after he explains his plans to grow revenue. Suddenly those employee relations activities that are often delegated to the lowest levels of the organization are now in the limelight.

This doesn’t mean that my humorous attempt to improve employee morale by including a wet bar, hot tub, and masseuse in my department budget proposal years ago is any more likely to get approved now than it was then. However, there should be more scrutiny of those items that truly do impact the selection and retention of a company’s most valuable asset.

HRM Innovations, LLC is available to help with any questions you may have on HR or Management related topics and can be contacted at: Kevin@HRMInnovationsllc.com or 269-615-4821.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Going Gaga for Human Resources

Many of my clients like to tell me about their “rock stars” - those employees who have fresh ideas and the high energy levels required to implement them. Yet, when I visit HR departments and look at their antiquated processes, I’m always amazed by the number of times I’m told “but this is the way it’s always been done.” It’s sort of like classical music; it has been performed in much the same way for centuries. That’s not a bad thing for music, but it doesn’t work in business.

The most successful musicians aren’t performing the same music the same way as in years past, they’re really rocking the boat, pushing the limits and trying new things. Have you seen Lady Gaga? Successful professionals are constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves and the work that they do.

Years ago, I worked with a management consultant who told me that no matter how well organized our company was, we would never sound like a symphony. But, he did say that if we hired great talent, provided them with a common vision, and allowed them to improvise that we could have some really cool jazz. Give your “rock stars” the latitude to experiment with their work. Whether you like jazz or rock ’n roll, it’s time to innovate and experiment.

When was the last time you tried something new, inventive, or off the wall? I’m not suggesting that HR folks start wearing clothes made out of meat to work, but I do think that it may be time to rock the boat a bit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How Do You Get Good Employees to Stay?

In a completely scientific non-random sampling, 2 of my 3 sisters have gotten new jobs in the past two weeks. In both cases, they were frustrated with their roles at their employers and were able to move on to jobs/environments that were a better fit.

Many organizations had to cut back during the recession leaving employees with more work and fewer resources. That makes the timing ripe for turnover in those organizations now that the economy is improving.

Some turnover is inevitable and there are times when good people leave an organization for reasons beyond your control. Those are the times to break out the cake and balloons and wish them well with a nice send off. But what about that star employee that you should have been able to keep? Wouldn’t you rather know what he or she has to say about the organization and what you could do to keep him around?

There’s a not so new concept called a “stay interview” that is a great tool to use. The idea is simple; you interview your good employees and ask what it would take to get them to stay, before they give their notice. This is also a great time to let them know they are appreciated and that you value the work that they do.

As our economy continues to pick back up, we’ll have more opportunities for our organizations to grow, but that also means more opportunities for our employees to leave. That’s why this is an ideal time to ask them how they view their future with us.

Curious about my third sister? She was recently promoted. I didn’t ask if her boss did a “stay interview”, but it’s entirely possible. In any case, she’s going to stay.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How do You Handle Election Times?

This is the season for elections and this year there’s more excitement than ever. There’s the potential for a power shift in Congress, a new party in town keeping things stirred up, and healthcare reform in the middle of the fray. Is it fun to talk about? You betcha!

While we’re certainly interested and are watching what happens, the question HR people and business owners should be asking is: “How is this election impacting our employees and our work environment?”

Regardless of whether you support the donkeys, elephants, tea drinkers, or the green people in the elections this year, here are some things that you should do to minimize the impact of politics on your workforce:

• Keep campaign materials and signs out of the workplace. Want to put out a sign? That’s why you have a front yard.

• Discourage political debates. As a leader, you can (and should) re-direct political conversations that occur when you are around.

• Keep your political views to yourself. Chances are your staff already knows what you think. Why make them any more uncomfortable if they don’t share your views?

Politics make for fascinating discussions and some exciting debates. They can even be fun in the right venue, but at the end of the day, you will want your employees to be able to work together after Election Day. Help make that a reality.

HRM Innovations, LLC is available to help with any questions you may have on HR or Management related topics and can be contacted at: Kevin@HRMInnovationsllc.com or 269-615-4821.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are You a Visionary Leader?

Recently a client asked me to prepare a presentation on visionary leadership. Hopefully by now my regular readers will know that I strongly advocate that leaders work with their employees to create a vision and set challenging expectations for each individual in support of that vision.

Now, I do admit to being a little spoiled here. Between reporting to a series of presidents who spoke limited English, to owning my own firm; I haven’t had close supervision in a very long time. And, I will admit that there are times (like when training someone new) when close supervision is a really good thing. But after that, if people know what you expect and are bought into your vision, micromanagement will only serve to encourage them to limit taking ownership of their work.

At one end of the spectrum, Netflix has established themselves as the master of a no policy workforce. Being in a creative industry where the opportunity for damage due to the quality of their products is limited, they have taken visionary leadership to a new level. Netflix does not have a policy for vacation time. Their entertainment and business travel expense policy is simple: ”Act in Netflix’s best interest.” But my favorite is this comment on their dress code:

“There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately.”

We’ve all heard the horror stories of the leaders that slow progress and frustrate their employees by reviewing every minor decision. Does this sound like you? If you are a control freak who needs to be involved, then identify the key things that are most important to your business, like product innovation, service quality, or quantity produced. Get your employees excited about your vision for those areas and leave the rest up to them. There’s a good chance that they will come up with suggestions for doing things better, faster, and will have more fun along the way. Process improvements can be a really great thing – and they rarely come from the top down, but rather the bottom up.

Visionary leaders focus on the big picture and the end results. They trust their staffs to handle the details. If you are a leader who can’t trust your staff to come to work wearing clothes, then you don’t have the right staff.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

- Antonie De Saint-Exupery

Monday, August 16, 2010

Anniversary Week

This week is a landmark for HRM Innovations, LLC. It was one year ago that I officially and publicly launched HRM Innovations by standing up in a KHRMA meeting to say “I’m going to do this!”

The year has gone quickly and I have been fortunate to have some great projects and many terrific customers. Last week, I placed an order for more business cards. What looked like a huge box of 500 cards a year ago is now an empty testament to the many people that I have met.

My clients have welcomed me into their organizations, trusted me with their systems and their employees. I thank them for their confidence and support.

I also want to thank the many people who volunteered to help with the activities required to start a business, including: proofreading my business plan, critiquing my marketing materials, providing coaching advice and moral support, offering me conference rooms and office space, introducing me to network contacts, serving as references, giving legal advice, and providing feedback on presentations. A couple of you even followed my blog!

Finally, I’d like to give a special thank you to my wife Tami, for giving me great support. Your confidence has meant a lot to me.

Year one was such a great experience that I can’t wait to see what happens in year two!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What’s the Biggest Issue Facing HR Today?

In my efforts to keep up with the latest, I was reading some online articles. One article in particular caught my eye. In it, the author challenged the results of a recent survey by ComPsych (www.ComPsych.com) that states HR Managers are more concerned about morale than any other issue, even healthcare reform.

Here’s the survey breakdown of what HR Managers are most concerned about according to the ComPsych survey.:

31% - Maintaining employee productivity and morale
26% - Dealing with healthcare costs and new legislation
16% - Finding qualified candidates
14% - Handling organizational change
13% - Retaining top performers

In talking with my clients, I believe the survey is correct. Here’s why: Last year, people feared for their jobs, unemployment was high, and companies were downsizing. Throughout 2009, we saw fewer employee relations concerns, lower turnover, and a general decrease in “boat rocking.”

Last fall, a recruiter friend of mine predicted companies that didn’t treat their employees well during the recession would experience significant turnover at the end of it. I’m sure she was right. Now, the job market is opening back up. Companies are hiring, but on a limited basis. Workloads are higher than ever. As a result, turnover is creeping back up. Regardless of what happened during the past year, there are some things you can do now to reduce the risk of losing your best performers. Try these steps:

▪ Provide recognition for your top performers and for anyone who has gone above and beyond during this period. Let them know you appreciate their efforts.

▪ Make certain that their current workloads are manageable. People will work extended hours for short periods of time, but it’s not sustainable unless there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

▪ Open up those lines of communications. People want to feel in on the things that matter. Even if you can’t give them what they need now, let them know you’re aware of their needs and are planning for the future.

▪ Don’t subscribe to the “Employees should be thankful for a job” management theory. That’s a sure recipe for the need to recruit replacement employees.

What about Healthcare reform? I predict that the biggest healthcare challenges for HR professionals are 9-12 months away. That’s when our employees will be looking at neighboring companies and asking: “Why didn’t we handle the healthcare reform implementation like they did?” Of course, if we don’t take steps to retain our best employees now, we won’t need to worry about providing medical benefits later.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Good HR Could Have Saved Shirley Sherrod’s Job

You may have seen the news about the USDA employee, Shirley Sherrod, who was asked to resign on Monday. In a nutshell, a video of a presentation she gave was edited to appear that she denied aid to white farmers based on their race. In a matter of hours after the firestorm started on Monday, she was suspended. She was then told to resign and, before the day was out, was told to leave immediately and to return her government car. On Tuesday, they found out that she hadn’t actually done anything wrong…

This is where good HR practices come in. Firing people is a highly emotional business, but it never has to be immediate. When training leaders I always advocate taking the time to thoroughly investigate a situation. After all, what’s the rush?

There’s a simple tool, called a “suspension pending investigation,” that leaders should always use prior to rule violation terminations. The USDA started there. Unfortunately, they rushed past the investigation process on their way to the firing line.

Temporarily removing the person from the organization gives you time to do a thorough investigation. It should include: interviewing the person, their co-workers, the supervisor, and reviewing your policy on the violation. It also provides time to allow cooler heads to prevail.

As of this morning, the USDA has offered Shirley a new position. The verdict is out on whether she will accept; unfortunately the damage has already been done. Firing is a last resort action for employees that can’t or won’t positively contribute to an organization. Before you fire someone, make certain that you get ready, take aim, and then fire.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Are you ready for September?

It’s been a little while since we’ve talked about healthcare reform, but that doesn’t mean that the changes are coming any slower. In fact, there’s a lot happening in September. Here’s a list of changes effective September 23rd, 2010 for all new plan years starting on or after that date. I picked the topics that I believe will impact business owners the most, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

• Young adults that are covered by your plan as dependents must be offered coverage until they reach age 26 (unless covered by an employer of their own).
• Plans must include preventive care services such as mammograms and colonoscopies for free. Co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance are not allowed.
• Insurance companies cannot rescind coverage for someone who is ill due to a technicality or application error.
• There is a new external review process for individuals to appeal insurance company decisions.
• Lifetime benefit maximums have been eliminated
• Annual limits on essential services have been eliminated
• Pre-existing condition clauses have been eliminated for all children under the age of 19.

Those are the key changes for September and there are some additional changes that will take effect on January 1st, 2011. Those changes include:

• Large employer plans will be eligible for rebates if medical claim costs are less than 85% of the insurance costs.
• Small employer and individual plans are eligible for rebates if medical claim costs are less than 80% of the insurance costs.

The rebates are designed to limit the profit and administrative expense amounts available to insurance companies.

If you have not yet reviewed your plan for changes, I would strongly encourage you to do so soon. Additional information is available on the web at: www.healthcare.gov

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Michigan's New Law: To Text or Not to Text?

First, a confession: I’m addicted to my phone. I’ll be the first to tell you that I travel a fair amount in my work and my phone is a key part of my ability to stay connected to my customers. I do use a hands free one while driving, but I am definitely guilty of checking my email at traffic lights.

Effective, July 1st, Michigan made it illegal to text while driving. While I’m not crazy about the idea of having laws that cover every aspect of our lives, I honestly don’t feel safe passing someone on the highway that is looking down at a phone, texting with both hands and steering with his knees. I remember getting hit from behind by a teenager who was talking on his cell phone a few years back. That experience didn’t exactly leave me with a warm safe feeling.

In a related development back in April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of City of Ontario v Quon. The case involves Quon, a SWAT team member in California, who was sending and receiving sexually explicit text messages using his city owned and provided pager. While the court has yet to issue a decision in the case, it’s safe to say that the case is where it is because the city did not have a policy that covered this scenario. They did have a general policy regarding email and the use of company equipment, but not texting, and their actions did not always conform to the policy. So what do we need to do?

First, make certain your policy is clear and specific: Explain that no employee should have any expectation of privacy while using company equipment at any time. Then, specifically define what equipment is covered by this and update your policy on a regular basis as technology changes.

Second, think safety: Do your employees drive as a part of their jobs? Do they send text messages to their kids as they navigate their way through a forklift aisle on their way to the cafeteria for breaks? Cover this in your policy as well.

Finally, enforce your policy: If your policy says one thing, but you do another (even for your executives), your policy won’t help you defend any disciplinary action that you may end up taking.

While it may be impossible to cover every potential possibility in a policy, this is one area where you really should carefully consider your operation, expectations, and potential pitfalls. Get a team together to brainstorm scenarios – and include your IT person (and your favorite consultant). Setting clear expectations now may just save you a lot of frustration later.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Creating Caring Communities

Recently, the son of a neighbor was diagnosed with cancer and our neighborhood support network immediately sprang into action. Family support was coordinated, communication channels were set up, and trees throughout the neighborhood were decorated with ribbons.

Surprised? We weren’t. This is standard fare for our neighborhood. It’s just that kind of place. But can employers create these types of caring communities in the workplace? Absolutely they can, and here’s how great leaders do it:

1. Know your employees: Make it a priority to know your employees, by name, and to know something about them personally. If yours is a small organization, this part is easier, but the need doesn’t go away for larger groups. Maybe you can’t know everyone, but you should certainly make the effort to try. Set aside time every week to go talk with them.

2. Be human: While they don’t want you to share every detail, people will feel closer to you if you open up to them about your personal life. Sharing key milestones and proud moments helps to create a bond and build trust.

3. Lead by example: If you want your employees to care about each other, start by caring about them. Provide support for them when they are in a difficult situation. Attending the funerals of employee’s loved ones and celebrating their milestones will send a strong message about your concern for them.

4. Don’t start a committee: Having a person to coordinate support in a crisis is a good thing, having a committee that provides flowers for every special occasion is generic and half hearted. Keep it genuine, keep it unique. Does this mean everyone will get the same treatment? Probably not, but what two situations are the same?

5. Focus on the positive: Look for the good things that happen everyday and your employees will start doing the same. If they feel good about the work they are doing and aren’t afraid of being punished for mistakes, they will be more likely to apply energy to helping others.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Looking with Fresh Eyes

In another week, my oldest son will graduate from high school. There’s a lot of excitement and we have been busy getting ready for all of the activities including the prerequisite graduation open house. Recently I was looking at the door that leads to the deck and realized that it had never been painted. In fact, it looked pretty bad. I mentioned it to my wife who said: “it’s looked like that for years, I’ve just gotten used to it.”

My Japanese colleagues have a saying that sometimes you need to look at things through “fresh eyes.” That can mean using a different perspective, like “Is my house ready for a party?” It can also mean having someone else look at your house, organization, or presentation for you and telling you what they see. Chances are they will see things - like an unpainted door - that you miss because when you see them every day they become the norm.

Here is the challenge that I want to throw out to you. Take the holiday weekend off. Enjoy yourself and have some fun. When you come back on Tuesday, try to come in with a new perspective and ask: What does your lobby look like? Is it visitor ready? What does it say about your company? How about your employees? Are they productive? Are they happy to be there? Now think about your policies and processes, are they effective? Do they match the vision that you have for your company?

This is a perfect time to take a fresh look and to make changes.

In the meantime, be certain to do something fun this weekend. I’ll be busy painting a door.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can Facebook Damage Your Company?

Unless you’ve been under a rock lately, you know that there have been several high profile examples of large companies whose reputations have taken a significant hit. They have seen their reputations and customer goodwill plunge.

What about small to medium sized companies? Aren’t they immune from the attention of the national press because they are below the radar? What if I told you that a small firm in Kalamazoo, Michigan; T & J Towing, now has an international reputation as a disreputable company because of Facebook?

College student Justin Kurtz reports that he had a permit and his car was properly parked at his apartment complex when T & J Towing took it. He insists that they scraped off his permit when they impounded his car. After T & J refused to refund his impound fees, Kurtz set up the Facebook page: Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing

As of this morning, Kurtz’s Facebook page had over 10,000 members. Forget about who’s right or wrong in this story, the lawsuits (also viewable on Facebook) should resolve that question. You need to know how to keep this from happening to your business. Here are some thoughts:

1. Resolve customer complaints as soon as possible - one angry customer will tell more people about your business than 10 happy ones.

2. Always assume your actions will be made public – and act accordingly. In this day of video taping cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, assume that what you do will be available to the world. (this was an especially big deal for Joe Biden)

3. Don’t lie or keep secrets – nothing stays secret for very long, right Tiger?

4. Build your reputation over the long term – loyal customers will stick with you. Angry ones will join the mob on Facebook.

Companies that have spent years working to develop a good reputation can recover their customer confidence. T & J may have a bigger struggle. Rated an “F” company by the Better Business Bureau for unresolved complaints, they have a long road to hoe if they ever hope to rebuild their reputation and regain the trust of their customers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What’s in Your Email?

This morning I watched our local senator, Carl Levin, read expletive laden emails written by executives at Goldman Sachs in which they complained about their own products. Several years ago I completed a business ethics training program that included what to write (and not write) in an email. Apparently the folks at Goldman Sachs never got that training.

My question to you is: “What are your employees writing?” While emails are an outstanding method of fast and efficient communications, they are also extremely easy to forward, misunderstand, and they never really go away.

But this conversation shouldn’t stop at email. How many people do you know maintain blogs, Twitter or Facebook accounts? Since people spend the majority of their day at work, that’s what they are likely to write about. I routinely Google and do blog searches of my name, my company (and occasionally my kids) to see what is being posted. Sometimes you can find interesting stuff. One notable example was an employee at a sister location of my employer who wrote a blog about her experiences working on third shift. It wasn’t bad, but it did describe her co-workers in detail by name.

What should you do to avoid being questioned by Senator Levin about the email messages your employees send?

• Make certain that you have a clear policy that covers all methods of electronic communications and what your expectations are.
• Train your employees on the risks of electronic communications.
• Make certain that they are not typing up assumptions about product liability, business ethics, or human resources issues that could come back to haunt you.
• Clearly explain that there is to be no expectation of privacy for anything written at work or while using company equipment, like computers and cell phones, including text messages.
• Include provisions for posting comments about the company on line – when is it appropriate and when is it not?

Take a few minutes this afternoon and try the Google test yourself. You may also want to read through that policy one more time…If you need help, let us know.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Public Speaking like a Rock Star

At the beginning of this month, I gave a presentation to a large group of fellow HR professionals. I regularly present to smaller groups, but this presentation was quite a bit larger, in a lecture hall format, and one in which I really wanted to make a positive impact. Prior to my presentation, I read as many articles as I could on public speaking and even used pizza and beer to bribe a group of friends to let me practice the presentation on them. Through it all, I learned a lot and ultimately the presentation went well.

This past week I went to a performance of our local American Idol hero Matt Giraud. He’s a talented musician and singer and the concert was excellent. As we were leaving, it occurred to me that he knowingly or unknowingly incorporated the key elements of successful public speaking into his performance. What did he do? Consider this:

He chose a topic that he is passionate about, his music. He told us about his past and even performed a song that told his story, making a personal connection with us.

He made the audience feel special by repeatedly thanking us for coming, but not in the usual “We love you (fill in city name here) kind of way.” He used specific examples of what we had done to help him when he provided his praise and gave humorous examples to make his point. He said he wanted to call each McDonalds that posted “Vote for Matt G.” on their sign and say “I’m going to come buy a McFlurry from you!”

He raved about the musical talents of the other performers on his team and demonstrated his own technical competence by playing the drums, singing and most impressively, improvising on the piano while simultaneously talking to the audience.

By the end of the evening Matt had successfully befriended an audience of 1,500 people. At a meeting the next morning, the coffee pot discussion was all about his performance the night before – I obviously wasn’t the only one he impressed.

So the next time you have a big presentation to make, pick a topic that you love and are passionate about, do your homework so you know the subject matter inside and out, personalize your message for the audience, and engage them by sharing personal examples. You too can do public speaking like a rock star.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Michigan’s Healthcare Reform Surprise

While at a local coffee shop this morning I came across a newspaper article on healthcare in Michigan that made me almost fall out of my chair. Believe it or not, one of our current state senators, and Republican gubernatorial candidate, has introduced legislation for healthcare reform in Michigan (SB 1242.1245). Senator Tom George M.D., from Texas Township states:

“It is no secret Michigan is struggling and health care in the United States is broken. These issues have been ongoing for years. This was an issue last year and it was an issue two weeks ago. Especially in light of recently passed federal legislation, Michigan needs to address our problems sooner rather than later.”

In a statement on his website and in a recent speech at CMU he explains that 30% of Michigan’s current budget is spent on Medicare and that it isn’t sustainable without change. He also says that we can’t wait until 2014 when many of the provisions of the recently passed federal legislation take effect.

George’s decision to introduce this legislation is absolutely amazing because not many Republicans are gutsy enough to back healthcare reform in our current political climate. He is also bucking the trend by working with a Democrat to co-sponsor the bill. (Rep. Marc Corriveau, Northville HB 6034-6037)

As a practicing physician, George clearly has some strong opinions about health care reform – this is not the first time that he has sponsored legislation on this topic.

Regardless of your opinion of the health care debate, you have to admire someone who sticks to his guns regardless of the political climate. In this case, it may be helpful that Mr. George is a physician. He’s taking a big gamble with this legislation so it’s a good thing that he has a career to fall back on. He may need it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Change is Inevitable

There’s an old saying that “Change is inevitable except from vending machines.” While change certainly is inevitable, it isn’t something that comes easily. Change is coming at businesses faster and more frequently than ever before. Unfortunately, people usually react poorly to change. The question for us is: “How do companies implement change without scaring employees and losing valuable productivity?”

A few years ago, the company I was at had a recreation committee which organized company events. The Christmas party was traditionally the best attended event and the format had remained basically unchanged for several years. The committee, of which I was the treasurer, decided to change things up and go with a disco theme. When the disco theme was announced, people were angry. Letters were sent to the president and some employees promised to boycott the party.

The anti-disco rebellion reached the executive committee and I was asked to defend this particular party plan. Being a relatively well organized pack rat, I brought with me the letters that had been written to the president about the party. Not the disco version, but the five year old letters from the last time the party format was changed. Interestingly, they contained the same themes: This idea is bad, no one will come, why would you change our party?

So how can employers make change go smoother? First, the topic matters. Ironically, areas that I call “comfort items” like the cafeteria, company events, office arrangements, and the dress code bring forth the most emotional responses. Business plans? Not so much. Here are a couple of tricks for successfully communicating change:

• Share information about potential changes in advance
• Ask for employees to provide feedback
• Actually listen to employee concerns

Then, pick the right thing (not necessarily the most popular) and do it. Communicate how you came to that decision and don’t waiver once you’ve done it. Remember, being a leader isn’t a popularity contest, but it is about leading, listening, and setting a vision.

Curious about what happened with the party? After it was over, our executives said it was the “best ever”. So, put on your tight pants, unbutton your shirt, and play that funky music. Change can and should be fun.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare Reform – What Does This Mean for Business?

First off, healthcare insurance fascinates me. I’ve been doing plan design for years and I couldn’t tear myself away from watching this unfold on CNN last night or from the internet updates for the past several weeks. As you know by now, the House passed the healthcare reform package and reconciliation legislation. This is one of those “love it” or “hate it” proposals and with opinion polls running nearly equal (46% for and 45% against). There’s been a tremendous amount of debate. It’s mostly done now and the new question is: What does this mean for business?

This is an emotional topic, so there’s been a fair amount of misinformation on both sides of the aisle. Let’s start with some things that are not included in the reform package: Death panels, government provided or socialized healthcare (other than Medicaid and Medicare), coverage for illegal immigrants, and, if the reconciliation package is passed by the Senate, government funding of abortions.

What is included? Here are some of the main items of the combined legislation:

- Elimination of lifetime benefit maximums
- Coverage for dependents up to age 26
- Removal of rescission provisions
- Elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions
- A requirement that companies with more than 50 employees either provide healthcare coverage or pay a $2,000 per employee penalty
- A requirement that every individual either obtains insurance through his/her employer, purchases it independently, or pays a $695 fine or 2.5% of income, whichever is higher.
- A new tax on individuals earning greater than $200k per year ($250k for couples).
- Subsidies in the form of tax credits for families of four earning less than $88,000 per year to purchase insurance.

Will healthcare cost more or less in the future? I looked into my crystal ball and it looked like my bathroom mirror after a long shower. Here are some things to keep in mind:

- When you increase benefit levels, you increase costs.
- Since insurance companies will be insuring everyone, not just those who have to have insurance based on their health conditions, the cost per person for individual purchasers could be reduced.
- If more people are able to get preventive care, that will help reduce costs. We’re already paying for the uninsured in the form of pass through costs for emergency care at the highest possible rates.

Only time will tell what the real impact of this legislation will be. In the meantime, I’ll be watching how this develops and will keep you posted. I’m certain that there won’t be any shortage of communications on this leading up to our elections in November.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Winter Blahs and Employee Morale

Last week we had a nice break in what is traditionally the bleakest point in our all too long Michigan winters. Our break included two days of nice sunshine and above freezing temperatures. During this sunny stretch, I managed to get my car washed and drove around with my radio up and windows down so I could enjoy the “balmy” 37 degree weather.

While I’m lucky enough to be out traveling during the course of the day, most people are working inside when the sun is shining. How can we, as managers, spread some sunshine to our employees during this period of dreary weather and sputtering economy?

Most of us get the winter blues around this time of the year. Knowing that, it should not have been a surprise on Tuesday when I showed up for a meeting at one of my favorite clients and found the HR staff, in full Mardi Gras regalia, passing out King Cake to their employees. They even had a purple top hat and beads for me, so I was able to join in the festivities.

Why not make the effort to spread a little sunshine and boost the morale of your employees, too? St. Patrick’s Day is only 2 weeks away, or you could create your own holiday to celebrate. The point is, spread some cheer, have some fun, and try to keep the productivity levels up. It’s one of the best things that you can do for your company and your employees.

Think about the Mardi Gras celebration. How much did that activity cost them? While I didn’t ask the price, I’m thinking that at one piece of cake per employee, the cost was minimal. Lost time? None, the cake was passed out during break in the cafeteria. To steal a line from the Visa commercials: Value to employee morale? Priceless.

Not interested in providing food? Look at your business results. There must be something positive. Find it, highlight it, celebrate it, and watch what happens. You might just be surprised. In the meantime, let’s all keep hoping for an early spring this year.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Morning Michigan Marijuana Musings

While I was taking my shower this morning, the news on the radio was that the first medical marijuana clinic opened today in Kalamazoo. For $200, individuals with a debilitating medical condition can register to receive an identification card which allows them to legally possess and use marijuana.

Obviously, this raised a few questions for me. Like: Can employers still drug test these people? If I have a card can I test positive and still keep my job? If I’m qualified to use medical marijuana, does my employer need to accommodate my need to light one up during my lunch break? Can we increase the snack offerings in the cafeteria?

Some companies, particularly office environments, may be able to accommodate a few of these situations, but what about those companies that employ truck drivers and/or manufacturing equipment operators? That’s not nearly so easy.

The excitement started back in November of 2008 when Michigan voters approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA). And no, I didn’t misspell “marihuana,” it’s spelled this way so that it matches the way it is spelled in the Michigan Public Health Code (which, based on the spelling, was apparently written back when marijuana use was even more prevalent than it is today…)

To clarify what to do, I called my attorney friend Mary Pate at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn, LLP. She told me there are a lot of questions out there, and that until case law is determined, it’s going to stay that way. The good news from Mary is that we don’t have to allow employees to work under the influence or to smoke at work. I think the big question to come is: “What does it mean to be under the influence?” If I smoke tonight and test positive at work tomorrow, was I under the influence?

I did a little research and found some fun things too, like: employers can allow the use of medical marijuana on the worksite if they choose. So can retirement homes as long as the residents are qualified and registered. Will Woodstock be making a come back?

More information is available on the Michigan Department of Community Health Website at: MDCH - Medical Marihuana Program. With 16,028 applications already received by the state, this is definitely a topic that is going to grow.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sailing Along to Better Performance Management

A couple of weeks ago, I led a training session on performance management at one of my client companies. Performance management is one of my favorite topics and the training must have made an impact because my client keeps reminding me of the analogy I used.

Here's how it goes. During the summer I love to sail. I use a small, old, basically indestructible, and incredibly fun sailboat. When I sail, I pick a point on the other shore and then sail towards it. While I'm sailing, lots of things happen. The wind changes, other boats pass me, and I hit some big waves. To reach my "goal" on the other shore requires continuous adjustments.

Now pretend that each of your employees is a sailboat. Do they know where they are supposed to be heading? Do you provide the coaching adjustments that they need to navigate the obstacles that come along or do you wait until the end of the year to point out that they sailed to the wrong shore?

Great leaders inspire their people to stay on track, work their way around the obstacles that come up and to storm the other shore. Timid leaders leave their flotillas adrift at sea. What kind of a captain are you?

Layoffs - American Style

Earlier this morning, I read a Newsweek article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer titled "Lay Off the Layoffs." If you haven't read it, you should. He explains the impact that layoffs have on companies, not only on the employees who are laid off, but on those who stay. He also shows that S&P 500 firms that downsized remained less profitable than those that did not, even after statistically controlling for prior profitablity.

In my first professional HR position, I was at a company that was downsizing. In the 6 years I was there, I laid off approximately 950 people. My experiences in that role line up well with Pfeffer's observations. Our best and brightest were leaving in droves, and those that remained were demoralized. Eventually the company was sold and closed - an inevitable result.

So what's my point? Companies shouldn't fire people? Not exactly. Performance issues need to be addressed and non-performers removed. No question. But think long and hard before you start removing people due to economic layoffs. Can your company absorb the reduction in morale, stock prices, productivity and loss of talent that Pfeffer found? Instead, consider ways to expand your market, branch out into new areas and reduce other costs. Get your employees engaged in finding new opportunities for the whole company, not just for themselves.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Goals for the New Year

At the beginning of each year, it’s traditional to create a list of New Year’s resolutions. As with most, my list includes a variety of topics ranging from getting to the YMCA for my swim on a more regular basis to continuing to grow my business.

The challenge for most companies this year is getting employees engaged in the process. Last year was so unpredictable, that it’s hard to imagine what will happen in 2010. I’ve read several predictions, but I know only 2 things for certain:

1. Tiger Woods’ problems will continue to grow
2. We’ve got a ways to go before our economy returns to full strength.

The word from my clients is a mixed bag. Several are hiring, but one is doing the opposite. So how do you keep your employees from using the uncertain economy as a reason not to commit to stretch goals during 2010?

First, revisit that vision statement that you set 10 years ago. Does it still make sense? If I visited your company today, could your employees tell it to me by memory and with enthusiasm? If not, then it’s time to redo it into something relevant and meaningful.

From there, the goal setting process becomes easier. Just ask your employees to individually document what they will do to forward the vision of the company and then explain their plan to you. You might be surprised what they come up with.

If they can’t come up with ways that they can improve company, then it’s time to ask them why they believe they can’t make an impact – and then fix it.

Personally, I believe that 2010 is the year that we see significant improvements in our current economic conditions. I’m looking forward to more business, warmer weather than last summer, and more trips to the YMCA.