Motivate Employees with ‘Flexible Fridays’

As with many small business owners, I belong to a number of online social networks including Twitter and Facebook.  I frequently review postings from other members to identify interesting information that I believe will be of value to my target customer, small business owners. 

In reviewing some recent Twitter postings, I came across one from Amy Nichols the CEO of the franchise organization, Dogtopia.  Her posting regarding the ‘Flexible Fridays’ program at her company struck me as a concept that other business owners might have interest in using in these days of high gas prices, long commutes and 60-hour work weeks. Therefore, I asked Amy if she would write an article to share her program with our readers.  The resulting article is below.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (By the way, as a former D.C. area resident myself, I can absolutely attest to the traffic difficulties Amy discusses in her article; I assure you, I would have been thrilled to have an employer who believed in ‘Flexible Friday’s’ when I lived there!)

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Flexible Fridays

Washington, D.C. is known as our nation’s capital, but it also has another national moniker, that of one of the worst cities for traffic in the country.  Forbes ranked us in the Top 3 Worst Traffic Cities with the likes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. http://bit.ly/ForbesWorstCitiesForTraffic

Commuting in our area is grueling, and after leaving the “rat race” seven years ago to start my own business, I thought I had found a way to truly control the time I spend in my car.  I opened a doggie daycare, Dogtopia, just seven miles from my house.  Our business hours had me commuting outside of the most congested periods of the day, and I felt that I had solved the problem.  No longer would I be subjected to hours of wasted time in my car.  Until I decided to expand the business, that is.

A few years later we decided it was time to grow Dogtopia.  We had great success with the first dog daycare franchise in Tysons Corner, VA and felt it was time to add a “sister store” in North Bethesda, MD.  The new Maryland store would be only 14 miles from the Tysons Corner location – an easy commute between the two.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, the Wilson Bridge that takes you over the Potomac River and from Virginia into Maryland, had other ideas.

Skip forward a few more years and we are now a growing franchise company with 20 locations across the country.  We also have over 30 employees, six of which are in franchise management and report daily to our North Bethesda location.  The North Bethesda location now houses our national headquarters and training center.  Since we began the business in Virginia, that also happens to be where the majority of our corporate staff  lives, thus the daily undertaking of the Wilson Bridge.  The result, I was back to where I started eight years before and dealing daily with the horrors of DC traffic!

It occurred to me last summer that it would be quite easy to work from home on Fridays, and I felt that I deserved a day free from commuting.  My second thought was that my employees would really enjoy working from home on Fridays.  And if I could do it, why couldn’t everyone on our management team?  They would each save two hours or more in daily commuting time, and could therefore have an earlier start to their weekend and more time with their family.  I even came up with a clever name, “Flexible Fridays.” 

The way the program works, you can work wherever you want, but there are a few rules:

  1. Must be available by phone
  2. Must be online and available in email
  3. Must be on Instant Messenger

 The first two are quite obvious; the third requirement is because even when in the office, I often use IM to communicate with my team.  I might have a quick question while on the phone with a vendor or franchisee and it prevents me from having to yell and/or put the person on hold. 

Our initial ‘Flexible Fridays’ program last Summer worked great!  Knowing they had at least one day per week where they could avoid traffic really improved the outlook of the staff, and I know they appreciated my gesture.  There have been a few frustrations, but the slight inconveniences are more than outweighed by the increased satisfaction felt by my staff.

 This year I decided to once again offer ‘Flexible Fridays’ and so far, so good.  Other times of the year it would not be possible due to franchisee training and other commitments, but it has become a nice Summertime perk, and one that I plan to continue indefinitely.

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Managing Virtual Employees

 

By Nipa Shah, June 18, 2009

Nancy is a financial analyst working for a mid-sized company located in the United Kingdom, but she lives in Michigan. She works from home in her pajamas and “meets” her boss once a month via video conference.

She is a virtual employee enjoying one of the perks of working from home and leveraging technology to stay in touch with her boss.

Companies across the globe are leveraging technology to retain resources that no longer have to be located in the same building or even in the same country. It is commonplace to hear of an individual working for a multinational company and having never met another team member.

By creating a virtual workforce, companies have been able to create efficiency, reduce travel and overhead costs, and essentially service the end-customer 24/7. Virtual employees, on the other hand, benefit from having a better work-life balance due to flexibility in working hours and not having to dodge rush hour traffic to be at work at a specific time.

Companies, however, face a common concern when it comes to virtual teams, that of measuring an employee’s productivity. Since the employee is no longer under a manager’s nose per se, managing productivity through “oversight” is impossible. Another concern is keeping an employee motivated and connected to company happenings.

The virtual team requires a shift in managerial and employee behavior. Here are some best practices which can effectively help you manage virtual employees:

Level Set Expectations
Beyond the policy and procedures set up by human resources, be sure to level set your expectations with your virtual employee, in a one-on-one discussion. Specifically state how you’d like him or her to keep in touch, how often, by what means (e-mail, chat, phone), and what deliverables you expect to receive at various times during the week. By level setting expectations in a more personalized manner, you create a better working relationship with your virtual employee and also plan for corrective action in the future.

Trust Employees
This is an important responsibility for a manager even when managing an on-site employee. It is an even more important responsibility when working with a virtual employee. Lack of trust can lead to micromanagement, which is never productive. Refrain from micromanagement in the form of “urgent e-mails” and “urgent voicemail” on a daily basis, which can create friction and unproductive working relationships between manager and employee. Trust the employee to do the work assigned and to turn it around in a reasonable timeframe. Once expectations are set, trust the employee to perform and do the work as assigned.

Provide Tools and Support
Virtual employees may require additional support to ensure their productivity. They could run into technical issues when connecting with a company local area network, or they could have issues sending large files through the firewall. All these issues need to be promptly addressed so that productivity is not impacted. Tools such as a BlackBerry, fax, access to resources and webinars, etc. should be offered to ensure employee can do the job.

Create an Inclusive Environment
Just because an employee is virtual it doesn’t mean he or she should be isolated from corporate events and happenings. Virtual employees still need to be included in team meetings, conference calls, town hall meetings, and other events so that they feel as if they are part of the corporate culture. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The importance of communication cannot be overstated. Even with all the technology in the world, it is important to do more than “staying in touch.” On a regular basis and without micromanaging; keep in touch, ask questions, participate in dialog, provide feedback, ask for feedback, etc.  Do everything necessary to stay in touch with your virtual employee so that you have clear communication.

A virtual workforce can be a blessing for companies and individuals alike. To make it work effectively, everyone involved will need to learn new skills and techniques. A successful virtual workforce can help a company save money and increase efficiency. Implement the above strategies and create a dynamic virtual workforce for your company!

Nipa Shah is president of Jenesys Group, LLC, an online marketing and Internet solutions company, providing technology consulting (with emphasis on offshore management) and online marketing. She is also the founder of the Michigan India Chamber of Commerce. Shah can be reached at nipa@jenesysgroup.com.

Do You Know What Your Employees are REALLY Thinking?

One of the biggest issues facing the owner of a company – particularly as it grows larger – is keeping a pulse on the thoughts and feelings of the company staff.  As every smart business owner knows, your front-line people are often the most critical to your organization, but they also tend to be the ones a company CEO has the least contact with.

Below please find the story of one CEO who took a bold step to learn the thoughts and opinions of his front-line staff so he could insure that his decisions were being properly implemented – and he could insure that the decisions he was making that would affect those staff members were the proper decisions based upon all necessary facts.

While most business owners would not be able to initiate this type of plan, reading about it may cause you to develop other ideas that can be implemented within your firm to obtain similar results.

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The undercover boss

By Stefan Stern – Published: June 8 2009

Employee attitude surveys, brown bag lunches, focus groups, informal chats: managers try quite hard to find out what their staff are thinking. But the results are mixed at best. What are your staff thinking? Admit it – you don’t really know.

Is there any way of finding out? Electronic surveillance would be a bad idea. Cloaks of invisibility work for Harry Potter, but are not available to the rest of us. One chief executive has done the next best thing. He went undercover in his own business for two weeks, disguised as an office worker, completing shifts on 10 different sites. He has heard for himself what his people really think. It has been a revelatory experience.

Stephen Martin is the 43-year-old CEO of the Clugston Group, a medium-sized civil engineering and logistics company based in the north of England. But for two weeks earlier this year, as far as his colleagues were concerned he was “Martin Walker”, an ordinary co-worker trying to earn a living like everybody else.

Ordinary, that is, except for the film crew that was following him around. The cover story was that this documentary team wanted to record how a clerical worker would cope with the demands of a physical labouring job. In truth they were making a programme, called Undercover Boss, which will air on British television (Channel 4) in two weeks’ time and then in a US version (CBS) this year.

How did Mr Martin avoid being found out? He is still a relatively new CEO, having started in December 2006. He grew a beard and turned up to work in protective clothing rather than a suit. His down-to-earth, approachable style does not mark him out immediately as “boss class”.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear unfiltered what my employees were really thinking,” Mr Martin told me when he came in to the Financial Times office – clean-shaven and in a suit and tie – last week. “They said things to me that they would never have told their managers.”

What lessons has he learnt? “Our key messages were just not getting through to people,” Mr Martin says. “People working a shift on a large site do not have time to read newsletters or log on to websites. You have to communicate with people on their terms, and it is different for every location. One size does not fit all.”

For example, Mr Martin found that an apparently sensible idea – encouraging his workers to take a tea-break where they were working rather than coming back to a canteen – was taken to mean that the break had been cut.

What is more, having worked these physically demanding shifts, which involved pouring concrete, laying kerbs and clearing drains, the boss now has a better informed view of the job. His conclusion: “We were asking the impossible of some of them.”

This TV-inspired experiment has highlighted a classic management problem. Leaders may know exactly what they want to see happening. They send out messages down the management line. Employees ought to understand. But between the top table and the shop-floor something goes wrong. Leadership teams can be scarily ignorant of how badly their wishes have been distorted, and how much unhappiness there is among those on the receiving end.

And right now there is a bigger, more urgent point. In a recession it is even harder to have an effective, open dialogue with an anxious workforce. Mr Martin shared what he had learnt with his team of managers after filming was over. It provoked a (frequently repeated) response: “They’ve never told us that!” But “Martin Walker” had seemed like someone it was safe to talk to, a regular guy, working night-shifts and staying at a £27-a-night ($43) bed and breakfast hotel called the Cocked Hat. “Even we wouldn’t stay there,” his co-workers had told him.

Mr Martin feels he needs to “over-communicate” to reassure staff who have seen big redundancies in recent months. “If you don’t pass on enough information, even if it is bad news, they will fill the gap with something else, probably worse than the truth.”

That view is supported by Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University in California, and author of the cover story in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review: “How to be a good boss in a bad economy”.

Prof Sutton says there are four things in particular that managers need to provide if they want to avoid this false anxiety syndrome: predictability (over-communicate); understanding (keep it “Sesame Street simple”, advises Procter & Gamble’s AG Lafley); control (break down big challenges into manageable ones); and compassion (show that you care).

Having had a chance to eavesdrop on his employees’ hitherto private conversations, Clugston’s Mr Martin has been forced to rethink much of what he thought he knew about management.

Convincing employees that the company has their best interests at heart is hard work. Key messages to staff should never go undercover, even if one boss had to don a disguise to find this out.

Top 10 HR Mistakes Made by Businesses – Large & Small

  1. Failure to develop an effective corporate communication strategy; internal and external.
    • Establish specific communication policies
      • internal/external email
      • internet/intranet
      • social media
      • IM
      • media/public communication
      • corporate document sharing
    • Publicize internal communication; open access promotes honesty and trust between management and staff
      • staff meetings
      • town halls
      • newsletters
    • Handle confidential information appropriately
  2. Failure to link individual goals to company goals
    • Short-term and long-term objectives; personal and company
    • Developing action plans
      • corporate > division > department > individual
    • HR planning
      • staff selection & planning
      • training & development
  3. Not utilizing HR metrics to track activity and performance
    • Measure how activity is impacting the bottom line, not just the cost of the activity
    • Needs to objectively demonstrate benefits to the business
  4. Lack of employee motivation and retention strategies
    • What motivates employees?
      • recognition; feeling valued by the organization
      • sense of achievement
      • feeling they are an integral part of the organization
      • opportunity for increased responsibility and advancement
      • compensation package
    • Develop credible reward programs
    • Insure that compensation packages are competitive to the market
  5. Lack of strategic recruitment plan
    • Hire people that fit; effort, expectations, attitude, talent, skills, training, experience
    • HR needs to manage the recruitment process, not department heads or executives
  6. Lack of training
    • Empower front-line management with authority; train them to use it effectively for the organization’s benefit
    • Don’t allow lack of awareness to be an excuse for inappropriate actions
    • Insure managers have training regarding legal issues affecting the manager/employee relationship
    • Ensure there is a clear understanding of corporate values
  7. Not establishing employee performance guidelines
    • Establish a reward system based on performance
    • Insure timely attention to employee performance issues to prevent staff morale issues
  8. Failure to keep up-to-date on legal requirements related to HR
    • Establish a network of experts for guidance
    • Participate in continuing education programs
  9. Lack of documentation
    • Insure proper tracking, measuring, analysis, reporting and follow-up
    • Meet all legal requirements for payroll documentation
  10. Failure to maximize the effectiveness of the HR team
    • HR should be an integral part of the executive team
    • Be pro-active rather than re-active to avoid negative perception amongst staff
    • Allow the HR department to be the catalyst for change management initiatives

Let us help you avoid these mistakes; contact us via our website or email us at info@strategicgrowthconcepts.com for assistance with your HR strategies and structure.

Why Your Firm Needs an HR Professional

One of the questions I am often asked by small business owners is, “I only have one employee, why do I need to worry about human resources issues?”  While I can certainly understand the question – particularly if they don’t have a clear understanding of human resources, I find myself surprised that I get this same question from small businesses that are much larger than a one person firm.  In my career I have worked for (as an employee) and with (as a consultant) a significant number of small businesses that have had several hundred employees and still did not believe they had a need for a staff to perform HR functions (or even a person!).  As many times as I’ve experienced it, I’m still surprised.

However, given that experience, I thought it would be a good topic to broach as today’s blog post as I think it may launch some good discussion.  So here’s my statement of opinion, even if you have only one employee, you need to have an understanding of human resources issues.  And, if you have more than five employees, your understanding of HR and the type of HR program you put in place need to be substantially more comprehensive.  My justification follows.

Even if you are among the smallest of small business owners, you are still going to find yourself dealing with human resources related issues (even if you didn’t understand before today that those issues were human resources issues).  Some of the areas I’m thinking of would include:

·         Finding employees as you need them, and hiring the best ones that you possibly can

·         Once you’ve hired the best person, what programs and policies do you need to put in place to make sure that you can keep them

·         Training programs to help new employees learn company policies & procedures, as well as their new job responsibilities

·         Pay rates – are you paying them too much or not enough; are there any issues with a person being more than another person doing the same work though they have less experience; is there any chance they’ll train with you and then move to your competition because you don’t pay them enough?

·         Non-compete agreements.  While obviously drawn up by your legal advisor, it’s a human resource responsibility to insure that all new employees have signed them and that this information is tracked in their file.

·         Also, company key, equipment, credit cards, etc. – these need to be tracked and monitored  by employee to insure that your company is protected

·         Benefits – even if your only benefit is a paid holiday, there is still tracking that needs to be done; and if your company benefits are more extensive there is vendor identification, bidding, and management; as well as government reporting, tracking by employee and many other tasks associated with benefits.  Also, are your benefits meeting the legal minimum limits required in your state?  Are they competitive enough to help you recruit the employees you need?

·         Payroll – I know that most small businesses think this can be handled by the bookkeeper, however, there are a great many legalities involved at the state and local level with regard to employee payroll administration, time tracking, records management, etc.  If not handled properly, this issue alone can put your company in serious jeopardy!

·         How do you counsel an employee if they are having trouble with a co-worker

·         How do you counsel an employee if they are having performance issues

·         Terminating employees who are not performing or who have broken a company policy (and by the way, development of those policies is another HR issue)

·         Annual performance evaluations that need to be done on every employee

·         Worker’s compensation – are you paying the correct rate?  How do you handle it if someone gets injured at your place of employment or on a jobsite?  Do you know what the procedures are and how it will affect your company?

·         Do you have an employee handbook so that everyone knows the rules and understands them clearly?  If not, this leaves your company vulnerable if an ex-employee decides he or she has cause to sue you.

·         Do you have job descriptions for every position – and performance standards?

Convinced yet?  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I believe it will give you some perspective on why the average small business owner shouldn’t be trying to handle human resource issues without the assistance of professionally-trained HR staff member or similar resource.

Remember, the right staff can help you build your company to a great deal of success – or they can contribute significantly to its downfall.  As a small business owner, you have enough on your plate with the many hats you are already wearing.  Therefore, it’s not in your firm’s best interest for you to manage the details of human resources legalities and such for which you have no training.  Just as you need a professional skill level in an attorney and an accountant, I would recommend if you still believe that your firm is too small to have a full-time HR need, then you should hire at minimum a part-time staff member or outsource the work to a consulting firm who specializes in such issues.  Either option will give you the benefit of the expertise you need while still keeping your costs as low as possible.

If this article has caused you to re-think the way you are handling your firm’s human resources issues, please feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our HR associates to discuss your areas of concern and how we may be able to assist you so you can go back to doing what you do best – increasing the profitability of your company!

3 Critical Steps to Improving Your Small Business HR

By Kris Bovay, Manta Online

If people are your most important resource, then you need to understand the role of human resources in your small business. Many small business owners believe that because they have only a few employees they do not need to focus on human resources issues. The reality is that when you are a small business owner, you need to focus more attention and support to your human resources because, effectively, they can make or break your business.

Even from a mathematical perspective this is true. If a small business has only 4 employees, each of those employees has at least a 20% impact on the business (the small business owner is counted in this impact assessment). If a business has 19 employees, each of those employees has a 5% impact on the business; and so on. Therefore the impact of a bad hiring decision or an under-performing employee is significant to small businesses.

Every business employs resources to get work done; typically the resources are a mix of people and equipment. Equipment resources are typically measured for value (that is, cost and return on investment or payback on investment). Human resources are often not valued similarly but if they were, business owners would pay a lot more attention to making sure they hired the right people, trained them well and measured their performance effectiveness regularly.

Click HERE to read what you can do to make your business’ HR efforts more effective.