Pats On the Back Can Pay Off

Acknowledging contributions is a great way to build rapport. Start a dialogue with someone about what they’ve done well, in order to find out how they’re really doing. In an environment of tight budgets and limited pay increases, appreciation can help boost morale.


I have been told that I need to give my staff some positive feedback. I’m not great at that – seems gratuitous. I’m busy and get my tasks done, no one pats me on the back. Why should I do more than expect them to do their jobs?

Thoughts of the Day: Acknowledging contributions is a great way to build rapport. Start a dialogue with someone about what they’ve done well, in order to find out how they’re really doing. In an environment of tight budgets and limited pay increases, appreciation can help boost morale.

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Bring on Employees the Right Way

It takes a while for employees to get on solid footing with their new employer. There are people to meet, forms to fill out, rules to learn, culture to understand and fit into, as well as a job to master.

We have yet to define a good onboarding process. New employees tend to start and get thrown into the mix. I know that’s not right. How should we do things better, so we can get new employees started right.

Thoughts of the Day: It’s easier to onboard employees if you think of it as a process rather than an event. Divide up the work of onboarding. Build tools and checklists to help insure everything gets done. Use the onboarding process to assess the employee. Think of it as the difference between orienting someone to the company and starting a long term plan for success.

It takes a while for employees to get on solid footing with their new employer. There are people to meet, forms to fill out, rules to learn, culture to understand and fit into, as well as a job to master. There’s a rush of activity, from finding out where the desk is, to filling out legally required paperwork. Learning where things are kept, how things work, meeting peers, bosses and subordinates – don’t try to master it all the first week.

Some things are required by law. Some things are optional, but can cause a lot of problems if overlooked. Some things will contribute to long term retention. Have a plan to get through all of them, within a defined timeframe. Know who is responsible for getting the new employee through each piece.

Have a team of people involved on onboarding. One person is responsible for a tour of the facilities. Another goes over paperwork. Each department has someone who gives a tour appropriate to the level of the new employee. Someone talks about formal rules within the company. Another provides an orientation to the company culture. People in the department hiring the new employee should lay out a schedule for introductions and job training.

Make sure the legally required forms get filled out right away. Include non-compete and non-disclosure forms along with the w-2 and other government forms. Ask the new hire to initial a copy of the offer letter, and put that on file.

Make sure the company rules and protocols are clearly laid out. It’s unfair to be upset with an employee who breaks the rules, if no one has clearly explained what the rules are. What’s the company’s start time? Policy for taking sick days? Rules about who to call if you’re not going to be on time? Who to go to if your boss isn’t available? What to do if you think something needs to be escalated? Social media and computer use rules? This should mostly be covered in the employee manual. A crib sheet handout with essential information can also be helpful.

Talk with employees about the company overall. What’s the culture? What’s the history? What are the goals? New hires are easily overwhelmed with information. Boost retention by giving the new hire documents to refer to on their own time.

Consider giving a test periodically to assess how much information has been retained, and how much needs to be repeated. Keep track each day, each week, of how the new employee is doing mastering basics. Is the individual demonstrating the skills represented on the resume? How much on the job training will be required? Is the individual making connections with other people in the company? Is there a good fit?

Every jobholder needs a training plan. Start with the basics. Check in weekly. Should training go faster, or slower. Set goals for what to master within 1 -3 months. Make a list of outside training, mandatory and optional, and plan time off from the job to get that training.

Once you build an onboarding process, you can use it as a tool in recruiting new hires. You’re looking for people who want long term success with your company. Show them your company is serious about doing its part to make that happen.

In the interview process, make notes on what the candidate is looking for in terms of growth and development. Once hired, pull out those notes out and use them to craft the individualized portion of the onboarding process. Go from generalized introduction to the company to specific areas of interest, so that each employee gets an overview of what could be in store.

Looking for a good book? Successful Onboarding: Strategies to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization, by Mark Stein, Lilith Christiansen


Ramping Up Your Workers’ Experience

Have an inexperienced team of people. They’re eager and want to learn, and they are picking stuff up quickly. That said, I need to get them ready for a big seasonal push that’s coming within a few short weeks. I don’t want them making costly mistakes, or saying yes to something when they should be checking in first. I also don’t want them sitting around waiting to be told what to do. They’re bright, and I know they can handle it. I just want to get them started right, and do that quickly.

Thoughts of the Day: Getting things done right is important. Lay out a training plan, in writing. Test for comprehension in small doses. Look for trainers within the pool of people who do the work already. Get out of the way to find out if they can do it. Move people around until you get the right fit.

Doing work without mistakes saves time, effort and money. Multiply revenue by 1%. That’s a dollar estimate of what each 1% increase in costs related to errors means to your business. That should be motivation enough to make it worth your while to figure out how to move new people into the workforce with as little disruption and as few errors as possible.

Before you put people to work, prepare some written instructions. They’ll pick up more if you back that up with written notes they can refer to as they go about doing the work. Ask people to make corrections to the training notes as they go through the day – if they find something that doesn’t make sense, or that is done differently from the way it was described. Incorporate those corrections into future training.

Decide how much should be taught each day, and how to measure progress. The first time is the hardest, after the first round of training you’ll have benchmarks based on the first group’s progress. If error rates spike up, slow down the training until the error rate drops.

Go through each routine or job that people will be performing and lay out the parameters. Identify who should be consulted if there’s a question. If more than one person is involved, put it in writing – who to go to for what.

Set up a time at the end of each day to review how things went. Focus first on what went well, how much progress was made. Then talk about what went wrong, what errors or problems people encountered.

Encourage people to discuss problems openly. Ask them to describe how they dealt with the challenges they ran into, and what they learned. Make sure that people who are struggling get someone assigned to work with them one-on-one. Wrap up with encouragement for the next day, by focusing on the progress made so far.

Start the next day with a brief meeting to go back over what has been learned so far. Remind people about lessons from the previous day’s wrap up. Ask if anyone had any insights overnight that they’d like to share.

Find competent trainers who can teach people what to do and act as positive role models. Look at the pool of people who already do the job well. Ask one or two of them to do training part time. Look for trainers who take pride in a job well done, who do it with a smile, and who are good at encouraging those around them to enjoy what they’re doing.

Think twice about moving someone into training just because they’re good at the task. Make sure they have good people skills as well. A big part of training is motivating and encouraging people.

Steadily ramp up the tasks people are asked to perform. If they make mistakes, see if they recognize they’ve made a mistake, and if they can fix it on their own. Give people a chance to show you without being interrupted. If possible, make people figure out how to fix their mistakes instead of fixing it for them. If they don’t get it, then show them how to do the task and ask them to do it exactly the way you showed them.

Consider that people may have hidden talents. You might hire a person to do one task, and then find out they’re really good at something else. Don’t be afraid to switch people around. Move someone else in to do the task you hired this person for. Move this person on to the tasks for which they’ve shown more aptitude.

Looking for a good book? Enterprise Performance Done Right: An Operating System for Your Organization, by Ron Dimon.


Build a Talent Bank to Grow Your Company

There are 10 other companies using the same job advertising sources to look for the same kind of employees we want to hire. We know there’s a limited talent pool for certain positions. Without more people we don’t grow. How do we set ourselves apart as employers?

Thoughts of the Day: One of the big obstacles to growing small business is when companies can’t get the talent they need, when they need it. You need to understand why your current employees are your current employees, and not past employees. Use that insight to market the perks of working for your company to any future candidates. Get ahead of the low staffing problem by planning your talent needs for the next 3 years. Think outside the box as to who else might be interested.

As unemployment rates drop competition for labor will go up. For some positions, it will become more difficult to attract and retain the employees you want. At the same time, employees who’ve waited a long time to switch jobs may decide to go once they think there are more jobs available in the marketplace – thus your company may have even more positions to fill.

Ask your employees what they value about working for your company. Put out job ads that emphasize those things. Whether employees value being part of a team, having a place to work that’s fun, being able to learn and grow, or knowing that the compensation is fair, you want to advertise want what your company can provide. One of the best ways to attract ‘A’ players is to offer candidates an opportunity to join a top notch performance team. Make you ad different by talking about what makes your company special.

Get employees to think of themselves as ambassadors to the workforce at large. Employees may hang out with peers who could be interested in the same jobs that they like doing. Employees may be able to spot candidates you’ve overlooked. Employees who are committed to what they are doing can help to recruit more of the same.

Don’t leave recruiting to the last minute. Lay out company goals for the next 3 years. Estimate the number of replacements and new jobs that will need to be filled, assuming the company hits its goals. Build a resume bank of qualified talent for every level of the company.

When at trade shows ask around about who’s already good at the positions you’ll need to fill now and in the future. Be ready to talk up the company as a great employer. Of course advertise to pull in future talent.

Recruit internally and back fill at more entry level with new employees. Talk to existing employees about what they’d like to learn to do next. Tie salary growth to adding skills and responsibilities. Ask employees to get ready for promotion by finding and training their replacements.

When hiring, hire people with ambition and drive. Then give them opportunity to learn, prove what they can do and move up. Think about hiring as the way to grow talent with the habits and skills you want them to have.

Offer existing employees incentives to build back-up skills in areas where the company needs help. Don’t try to fill shortages of critical positions with temporary workers. Instead, ask people who already work for you to learn how to be the skilled back-ups. Then hire temporary workers to do less critical, more menial labor. Existing employees can get special duty pay and have the opportunity to try out a different job and prove themselves.

Expect increased turnover as the economy heats up. The severity of an economic downturn results in employees being unwilling to risk leaving a sure bet. As the economy recovers, more jobs open up. Good employees consider jumping ship for another opportunity, more confident that if it doesn’t work out they’ll be able to find something else. Build replacements into your hiring and training plan. And minimize losses by giving good employees plenty of opportunity to grow skills, responsibilities and compensation.

Looking for a good book? Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting and Selecting People with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude, by Mark Murphy.