Tag Archives: engagement

Vote Tomorrow (If You Haven’t Already)—Pros and Cons of Early Voting and Mail-in Voting


vote-stars1I’ve made my political leanings on many topics clear in this blog, but I encourage readers of all political persuasions to vote tomorrow. I’ve worked on several voter registration drives over the years, and I have probably registered more people who vote contrary to me than I have supporters. But I believe in the importance of every eligible citizen weighing in on the issues of the day, and tomorrow’s election is no exception.

In recent years, many states have loosened their requirements for early voting. Some states permit voting more than a month before election day. Other states (including Washington and Oregon) now conduct their elections completely by mail, without any polls on election day.

I have worked most of the elections in my precinct for about six years now, and I see pros and cons to early voting and mail-in balloting. First, readers should realize that a common election day was not required early in our nation’s history. The first time the United States had a common election day for the Presidential election was in November 1848.

The advantage of early voting is that citizens can vote when it is more convenient for them, which should increase turn out. However, a disadvantage is that when voting is permitted over a long period, citizens cannot include information that surfaces during debates or in the media and last-minute developments in their decision-making.

Moreover, I see value in citizens coming together on a common date (or narrow window) to decide on their elected representatives. It just feels more democratic when we all act at the same time.

Balancing the pros and cons, I support early voting of a week or two before election day. Six weeks feels entirely too long. But I can see allowing citizens a free opportunity—without having to explain their need to vote before election day—to vote the week before the election for their personal convenience.

With respect to mail-in voting, one advantage is that voters can research the candidates and issues as they cast their ballot, and their choices might therefore be more informed. However, in every jurisdiction, voters who care can research their decisions and take that information into the voting booth with them. So this advantage is only important if voters won’t do research before going to the polls, but would if they voted at home.

The disadvantage of mail-in voting is the increased possibility of fraud. When a ballot is voted at home, there is no way to ensure that someone else does not complete the ballot for the voter and simply tell them to where to sign. This could happen when a parent completes the ballot for a college-aged child, or if an adult child or other relative or friend completes the ballot for an elderly person who may not be able to see well or may even not have the requisite mental competence to vote. Or parties or candidates could buy votes and demand to see the completed ballot before making the payment. All these fraudulent situations are easier in the absence of supervised polls.

Based on my experience as a poll worker, mail-in voting is more likely to result in fraud than the absence of photo identification cards, which is the issue being debated in many states this year (though I support reasonable photo ID requirements for voting as well).

What does any of this have to do with corporate America? I believe that workers who are educated about and engaged in the political process are more likely to be educated about and engaged in their jobs as well.

What do you think of the loosened requirements for voting in recent years?

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Issues and Best Practices When Conducting Employee Surveys


survey imageWhen I managed the employee relations function in Human Resources, one of my responsibilities was to implement the company’s employee satisfaction survey. My employer had a twenty-year history of using one particular vendor, which conducted a survey of more than 100 questions. We switched to the Gallup Q12 Engagement Survey, with only thirteen questions. And still later, we moved to yet another vendor with more flexibility than either of our earlier vendors.

Throughout all these survey processes we debated the pros and cons of doing a survey at all. There were common themes to our debate, regardless of the tool we used. This post describes some of the issues of employee surveys.

Setting Up an Employee Survey

  1. What Do Your Employees Really Think?

The primary reason for undertaking an employee survey is to discover your employees’ concerns that you cannot learn through direct personal contact. If you knew all your employees’ problems, you wouldn’t need a survey. But people being people, some employees will not tell you their concerns, out of fear for what their supervisor might think, out of worry for losing their job, or out of simple reticence.

Most often, the reason they won’t talk to management directly is because of some prior problem with a manager or Human Resources. “It won’t do any good,” is the prevailing attitude.

An employee survey, then, is only as good as its ability to identify those latent concerns that you won’t hear about otherwise. If that isn’t the purpose of your survey, then maybe you need a different tool.

  1. Are Your Issues Broad or Narrow?

Decide upfront how broad to make the survey. You may have only one or two issues on which you need input, or you may want a broad assessment of your employees’ satisfaction with their workplace and/or management policies.

Surveys can focus on pay, benefits, working conditions, relationships with co-workers, management communication, quality of supervision, morale, and company reputation. Some of these are easy to ask about directly. Other areas require a lot of interpretation.

If there are trust issues between your employees and management, perhaps you should start narrowly and develop a successful response on a particular issue before taking on the broader issues of employee engagement.

On the other hand, perhaps you want a baseline assessment of your employees’ feelings about work, and you are committed to making changes in a broad array of programs, if the survey data warrant.

  1. Survey Methodology

These days, with SurveyMonkey and similar tools, most employee surveys are conducted online. This certainly makes data collection easier. However, if you want verbatim responses, you will need a way to review and interpret the data. Moreover, this can be time-consuming, so don’t take on more than your staff can handle.

Also, even if your survey is easy to complete online, you may get a low response rate, particularly if employees do not trust their managers. You cannot force employees to take it, nor to respond accurately. If trust is an issue, start with a survey on objective topics asking for limited responses, rather than verbatims.

You might also set aside work time for employees to complete the survey in a group. You still need to make sure the responses are kept confidential (see below).

Potential Pitfalls in Employee Surveys

  1. Poorly Drafted Questions

Poorly crafted questions can leave managers with little to go on in developing a response. Particularly where the survey is broad, it is important to write the questions carefully. Working with a vendor that has experience writing questions and interpreting data is helpful.

  1. Confidentiality

Confidentiality is another concern. Employees worry that their individual complaints will get back to their managers. The survey process and the follow-up communications must be unequivocal that the surveys are anonymous and that individual employees cannot be identified in the results. Even then, if your workplace has serious trust issues, some employees may not complete the survey.

  1. Management Expectations

Sometimes management thinks their workers are satisfied because they haven’t heard of any problems. But often, they’ve heard nothing because employees don’t feel there are good channels of communications. Top management needs to be prepared to deal with whatever is learned in the survey.

  1. Follow-up and Action Planning

Sometimes small group meetings are needed to expand on the survey data and turn the information into a meaningful action plan for a particular work unit. Conducting those meetings requires more facilitation skills than some managers have, which means that upper management or HR will need to supplement what some supervisors can do.

Developing meaningful action plans is also difficult. How do you build trust between managers and employees, when that is the issue? Is it simply a matter of lack of communication, or is there a fairness issue underlying the distrust?

But doing nothing in response is the greatest problem with undertaking an employee survey. As Shelley Freeman states in Employee Satisfaction: The Key to a Successful Company,

One caveat about employee surveys, suggestion boxes and the like: affirmatively asking for employees’ feedback and then ignoring it is worse than not asking at all.

You don’t have to take action on every point raised in the data, but you do have to address the major issues that employees have surfaced in their responses.

Conclusions and Best Practices

  • Before you even begin the survey, be sure senior management is committed to dealing with the results—whatever they may be.
  • Some preliminary investigation would be helpful. Talk with first-line managers to see what they think employee concerns might be. Exit interviews with departing employees might also be helpful.
  • Focus the survey, particularly if it is your first. Narrow the topics and state the questions clearly, so that you are focusing on what is most critical for management to know.
  • After the survey, communicate the results.
  • Do something with the results. Develop action plans. And most importantly, follow through on the action plans.
  • By the time of the next survey, you want to show positive changes in response to the last survey.
  • Decide on how long to go between surveys based on how long a reasonable action plan will take. There are organizations that survey employees every six months, but most employers find that a one or two year cycle works best.

For more on employee opinion surveys, see

The Pros and Cons of Employee Surveys, by R. Stell, at NFIB.com

The Pros and Cons of Employee Surveys, by John Faure, SPHR, on SHRM.org

An Introduction to Employee Survey Techniques, on InsightLink Communications

 

What has your experience been with employee surveys?

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Filed under Benefits, Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Workplace

Assess Yourself as a Manager As You Assess Your Employees


MP900341467I’ve written previous posts on performance management. For example, this post on setting performance objectives for the year. Did you follow my advice?

If so, you should be in decent shape for writing your performance reviews now.

I’ve also written about how important performance management is to an organization’s success, and how poorly managers do it. So, assess your own performance as a manager at the same time you assess your employees.

  • Have you worked to improve as a manager?
  • What techniques and tools have worked for you?
  • What do you still have trouble with?

If you still have room for improvement (and which of us does not?), there’s another year ahead of us. Perhaps in 2014, you can

That way, you will retain your good employees, and your organization will be more productive.

Best wishes for a successful 2014!

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The Business Case for Diversity: What Does It Mean To Your Organization?


VOTE – Early or on November 6, but VOTE!I’ve been hearing about the business case for diversity for at least twenty years now. It has been used so frequently to justify corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives that the phrase is now trite. Most managers can rattle the words off glibly, but few are able to explain them, and even fewer are able to apply the concept to their own organizations.

1.      So, what does the “business case for diversity” mean?

In essence, the “business case for diversity” refers to attempts to move beyond mere legal compliance with EEO and affirmative action laws. The theory is that in today’s global economy, there is value in the diversity of thought and perspective that employees from a wide range of cultures can bring to a business. Those companies that employ a more diverse workforce should be able to deal more successfully with their increasingly diverse customers. More diverse companies, then, should achieve better business results – higher sales and profits and a stronger corporate reputation.

Note that while I am articulating the business case in terms of the goals of a for-profit company, the theory should hold true in non-profits, educational, and government enterprises as well. Wherever an organization’s success can be defined, diversity should improve it, according to the “business case for diversity.”

Understanding what the business case for diversity means is the first step. The next step is to understand what it means for all businesses, and the final step is to understand what it means uniquely for your business.

Unless managers can find value to their organization in diversity, the phrase will continue to be trite and meaningless. It will not drive action.

2.      What are the alleged universal benefits of a business case for diversity?

Here are some of the frequently cited benefits of diversity:

  • Easier recruiting and access to a wider employee base, because the company becomes an employer of choice
  • Increased engagement among a more diverse employee base, leading to higher productivity
  • Better decision-making and creativity, because more perspectives are brought to a problem
  • Improved employee retention
  • Improved corporate and brand reputation

These advantages apply regardless of your business. Which are more important to you depends on your business. For example, if you can easily hire employees, increased retention may not matter to you as much as if your business struggles to keep jobs filled.

Which of these benefits will you emphasize in your business case for diversity, and why? Be sure you can articulate the reasons for your emphasis.

3.      How do you make the business case for diversity uniquely in your organization?

Examples of some of the more individualized aspects of diversity could include

  •  Appealing to the growing diversity in your consumer base, potentially giving you an advantage in product development and marketing, and ultimately in sales and market share
  • Obtaining a more global perspective on your business, leading to better supply chain sourcing and lower costs and/or higher quality

MP910216391 (1)Each organization will have to articulate how diversity can help its particular strategic objectives in terms similar to the above. Moreover, leadership must seek out evidence to prove or disprove the role of diversity in their organization. As the enterprise becomes more diverse, does it experience growth and increased profitability? Is it more creative? This is important, because no initiative will take root unless its proponents can convince the organization at large that it brings success.

At the end of the day, the business case for diversity will not be successful unless leadership of an organization internalizes it and uses it to drive decisions. They must believe diversity is important and that their organization’s future depends as much on building a diverse and inclusive workforce as in building a robust supply chain and strong customer relationships. Indeed, they must believe that their diverse workforce is integral to improving the other aspects of their business model.

How far along is your organization in internalizing the business case for diversity?

 

POSTSCRIPT: Here are a few useful articles on the topic:

Only skin deep? Re-examining the business case for diversity: Deloitte point of view, Human Capital Australia (September 2011)

The Business Case for Diversity: How Companies Keep Their Competitive Edge, by Tammy Worth, in Texas Diversity Magazine (September 2009)

The Business Case for Diversity: Reality or Wishful Thinking?, by the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (2011)

What’s the Business Case for Diversity in the Workplace?, by Evan Apfelbaum (MIT Sloan) (February 27, 2013)

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Filed under Diversity, Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Workplace

Performance Management: Critical To Success, Yet in Critical Condition


performance-reviewHuman Resources managers don’t really know how to design performance management systems. They know their organizations need performance management, and they know their organizations don’t do it well. They know managers and employees alike hate it. Yet recognizing performance is a critical engagement and retention factor. Despite being critical to an organization’s success, performance management is often barely breathing.

HR managers wrestle with the following issues:

  • Were the objectives set at the beginning of the year meaningful? If not, why should they be the basis of performance ratings?
  • Should HR force managers to grade on the curve? Should they force a distribution into superior, average and below average employees?
  • Should pay increases be tied to performance? How does that work when salary increase budgets are no more than two percent?
  • How does the organization determine which adequately performing employee should get no increase, so that a strong performer can get four percent? And how motivating is a four percent increase?

Despite these serious questions about performance management, most organizations continue to use annual performance reviews. Most also tie pay to performance.

It’s important to keep the focus on what the purpose behind performance management is. The purpose is to align the work that employees do with the organization’s mission and goals.

So managers and HR employees need to ask themselves:

  • Does each employee’s performance objectives relate to the quality and quantity of output the organization needs to be successful? If not, why do I care whether that employee meets that objective?
  • If all employees meet their performance objectives, will the organization exceed its goals for the year? If not, where are the gaps? Which objectives are most critical to success?
  • How will we measure success on objectives? If we can’t measure it, how can it be an objective?

There are many resources available to managers and Human Resources experts which purport to help answer these questions. Government and educational employers often post their practices on the web, and other organizations can adopt similar policies and procedures. For example, the Office of Personnel Management posts its process online for managing federal government employees. That process is no better and no worse than many others that for profit and not-for-profit employers use.

There are books available for managers to use that rant about the problems of performance management and purport to offer simpler processes. See Performance Reviews: Why We Hate Them and What You Can Do About It, by Tim Moran, for a short overview of what is wrong with performance management in many organizations and the author’s suggested improvements.

At the end of the day, what matters is that a manager and the employee sit down to discuss the employee’s past performance and expectations for the future.  Ideally, this is not a once-a-year event, but is a regular part of manager/employee interactions.

It is the attitude of caring that the manager exhibits that motivates and engages the employee for better or for worse. Some managers do it well. Some do not.

Most managers could use improvement in some respect, just like their employees.

What are your performance management best practices?

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Filed under Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Management, Workplace

How To Conduct a Layoff – Go Beyond the Basics


MP900341467One of the regular features of this blog is a series of posts about “favorite firings” – situations when an employee has been fired that are unique, because either the employee or the company (or its manager) has done something questionable. But what about situations when an employer needs to fire multiple employees? Whether because of a business downturn or a reorganization, there are occasions when even good employees cannot be retained.

Many Human Resources managers have to work with line management to design the new organization, slot existing employees into the new roles in the organization, and determine how to transfer or lay off employees who do not fit the new roles. This is not an easy part of the HR function, and it is fraught with legal and employee relations risks.

I worked on several reorganizations during my corporate career, both as an employment law attorney and as a HR director. Layoffs, or reductions in force (RIFs), are also a large topic in my novel in progress, Playing the Game (which I hope to publish this fall).

As a result of my past and present involvement in RIFs, I was interested in the recent Inc. article, Lay-Offs: This Is Exactly What You Don’t Want to Do, by Francesca Fenzi.  Ms. Fenzi gives the following broad tips for how to terminate employees during a layoff:

(1) Do it face-to-face.

(2) Rally the (remaining) troops.

(3) Go the extra mile.

These pointers are correct, as far as they go, and Ms. Fenzi’s article is worth reading. But whole books – “how-to” books, not novels – could be written on each of these three tips, and much is left unsaid in each simple statement.

Face-to-face = RESPECT.  It is critical that the fired employees believe the organization values their past work and is treating them as humanely as possible. Before the employer can authentically show respect for terminated employees, managers and HR need to have done a thorough job in determining that there is in fact no role for each individual who must be let go. And they need to be sure that the reorganization has not been implemented in a manner that adversely impacts a particular racial, gender, age, or other protected group. Only when the leg-work is done ahead of the RIF can the fired employees feel they were given a fair shake.

Rally the remaining troops = CHANGE MANAGEMENT.  This is about the morale of the workforce going forward and change management. Not only must the departing employees feel they have been treated as fairly as possible, but the remaining employees must feel that way also. Those who are left behind – the “survivors” –also must understand their new roles in the organization, believe they have the training and ability to do the job, and not feel overwhelmed by the change. Managers and HR need to re-engage the remaining employees in their work.

Go the extra mile = LEADERSHIP.  This is about communication and leadership. The old adage “communicate, communicate, communicate” applies at every step after a layoff is announced. There is a time for confidentiality before the decisions are final, but once the RIF is public, leaders must step up and own it – this includes leaders at all levels of the organization – from the C-suite to middle managers to front-line supervisors. Each level of management must be equipped to communicate to their reports, until they feel they are over-communicating, and then communicate patiently again. All leaders need to visibly support the organization, so that their employees will buy into the future. HR should drive that process.

For good overviews of the details in conducting a reduction in force, read articles such as:

Layoffs, Downsizing & Reductions in Force: How to Do Them Right, by Greg S. Labate, on the Labor & Employment Law Blog

QuickCounsel: Planning and Conducting a Reduction in Force, by Scott T. Baken and Penny Ann Lieberman, Jackson Lewis LLP, on the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) website

Tips for Planning Reductions in Force – Michael L. Rosen, Foley Hoag LLP (ebook)

And talk to your own employment law advisor early in in the process.

What experience have you had as a manager in conducting layoffs? What do you wish you had known before you started?

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Filed under Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Law, Leadership, Management, Workplace, Writing

Work/Life Balance Never Ends: Elder Care and the Workplace


MP900185238The blockbuster articles and books on work/life balance tend to focus on women’s decisions early in their careers around work and children. Those decisions have been hot buttons for the more than 30 years I’ve been in the workplace, and they clearly do have an impact on how far and how fast women progress in their careers.

But the impact of elder care is also a detriment to many women’s (and men’s) career progress. Caring for elder parents and in-laws hits employees just when they are in their forties and fifties and reaching their peak earning years.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 43.5 million adult caregivers are caring for someone at least 50 years old, and more than 15 million people provide unpaid care to someone with dementia. One in three seniors now has some form of dementia by the time they die.

According to a Sloan Work and Family Research Network report in 2008, nearly 60% of those caring for an adult over the age of 50 were working, with the majority working full-time (citing MetLife Mature Market Institute & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2006). A more recent study by AARP supports these statistics. See Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work, by Lynn Feinberg & Rita Choula (AARP Public Policy Institute Fact Sheet 271, October, 2012).

These figures indicate that well over 25 million working adults are providing care for older people. And the number is growing.

When we talk about preserving your career path by “leaning in,” we should consider the impact of elder care on careers as well as earlier career decisions. AARP reports that 68% of caregivers have to make work accommodations because of elder care responsibilities. They arrive at work late or leave early, they take time off, they cut back on work hours, they change jobs, or they stop work entirely.

Sounds a lot like the work adjustments that working parents sometimes make, doesn’t it?

Holding Hands with Elderly PatientAs employers consider work/life issues and develop workplace policies, it is important to remember that the problems of balancing a job with other aspects of life do not stop when the kids reach school-age, or even when the kids leave home. For too many workers, another generation of work/life issues begins about the time that childcare responsibilities end. Flexibility is appreciated at all stages of employees’ careers.

I do not advocate government mandated regulations to address individual employee’s needs. But I do advocate careful consideration by managers and HR professionals as they balance what their business success demands with what employees need to be most effective on a long-term basis.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 86.1% of large companies surveyed offer some elder care services to their employees. For best practices on how employers can help with elder care, see Study Highlights Best Practices in Workplace Elder Care Programs, by Kathy Gurchiek.

What has been your experience with employees who are also involved in elder care?

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Filed under Benefits, Diversity, Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Management, Work/Life, Workplace