It’s Personal: An Employee In Crisis Can Build Up Or Tear Down Your Company’s Culture

I didn’t have any intention of writing this article until I woke up this morning. After seeing all the news and reminders about breast cancer month I was compelled to talk about how a health scare created an employee/employer bond that can’t be broken.

It’s time for me to own up. Not many people know that I went through breast cancer and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment two years ago. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t talk much about it.

I pride myself on helping others and was surprised by my reaction to the diagnoses. I didn’t let many people help me. I was overwrought with emotions. I put a cocoon around myself and went deep within to deal with the cancers. I told only those who absolutely needed to know and I asked them not to discuss it with me or anyone else unless I brought it up. I realize, without a doubt, that was very difficult for family, friends and co-workers who love and care for me. Yet, everyone respected my wishes.

What does this have to do with company culture? How employees are treated every day is part of your company culture. An employee in crisis can magnify aspects of the culture either good or bad.

Build your culture and help an employee at the same time
I was working for a large corporation at the time and was naturally nervous about what cancer would mean for my life and career. I was worried that I wouldn’t be considered for a promotion or plumb assignment if they thought I couldn’t handle it physically or if my future was uncertain.

Fortunately, I had a manager and employer who respected my wishes and helped me through my treatment. Their handling of my diagnoses also demonstrates the culture they want for the company. They value their employees; plain and simple. Here is how my situation was handled and how helping employees when they’re “down” can help build a culture of mutual admiration.

Six actions to take to help an employee through a crisis

  1. Listen, listen, listen.  This is the single most important action any manager can take during a difficult situation.  Listen for what your employee is saying and not saying.
  2. Ask how you can help.  Find out what they would like you to do or not do.
  3. Respect the employee’s wishes.  If the employee wants support from his/her team, help them get it.  If they want to keep it on the down low, abide by their decision.
  4. Look out for ways you can alleviate their stress.  This can be in the form of easing their workload, setting up a system that will allow your employee to attend to any necessary appointments without having to ask, or providing them with additional resources.
  5. Check in.  Their needs may change from the initial discussion and you want to make sure you’re helping them throughout the process.
  6. Give them time to adjust to their new reality. Continue to view this employee as an active contributor who will come through their situation to be the same or better employee.  Other employees are watching closely to see how you’re handling the situation.

My outcome
I am healthy and free of cancer. I was loyal to my employer and co-workers before my health scare. Their approach to my situation made me double down on my commitment and demonstrated to those closest to me at work how a compassionate manager and employer can make a difference.

Since my treatment, many aspects of my life have changed. I was promoted to a position I always wanted two months after returning from a short medical leave. Six months later, I made some difficult and dramatic changes because I realized that I didn’t want to put off dreams I had for my future. My husband and I moved to Florida from New Jersey and started our own business, Paradise Workplace Solutions.

I made sure before leaving that someone was in place, up to speed on leading my group and that there was a smooth transition. I wanted the company to know that I appreciated everything they did for me and that I had no intention of leaving them in a lurch.

After my leaving the company, the manner in which I was treated remains a part of the culture they are building every day. My commitment to my former manager and employer is still strong. I cheer for my former co-workers and company from the sidelines and advocate for the work they are doing. I am a staunch supporter and make sure I refer only the very best potential employees because I want their culture to be the best it can be. That’s the least I can do for the co-workers, manager and company who helped me through the most difficult time of my life.

Click here to talk with us about people strategies.

Paradise Workplace Solutions, LLC works with business owners dealing with disappointing business results get on a path to improved productivity and profitable growth by aligning people strategies to the company’s business plan.

Grow Your Talent, Create Value For Your Company

Your employees are your number one investment. Their actions, skills and knowledge are going to help your grow your business or sink the ship. Assuming you would choose the former, now is a good time to take a look at how your people match up with the future growth of your company.

Most likely, your employees’ performance can be bucketed into three categories. Some are still not up to speed in their current role, others are comfortably meeting your expectations and some may be outperforming. It’s important to know where your employees are in their development because you and they need to come up with a plan for their growth to keep them energized and engaged in supporting your business.

Various stages of performance
The new or struggling employee
Obviously, employees not performing up to standards in their current work need to focus on the skills to do their job, enhance their knowledge or change behaviors. It’s their manager’s responsibility to identify those undeveloped skills and get them the training they need. They will need a development plan to get them on track. Make sure your expectations fit the development need. Sending someone to outside training that has a skills deficiency is like trying to row a battleship with an oar; it’s not going to happen. The real development of the skill or ability comes with combining the outside training with perfecting the skill on-the-job. Repetition, coaching and feedback are the real ways that employees enhance skills.

Your consistent, dependable employee
Employees who are meeting your expectations are golden because they are helping to sustain your business. This is a good time to find out their development goals. Do they want to stay in their current role or do they want to learn a different part of the business? Take the time to point out other positions or work they can do to contribute to growing your business. Match them up where you expect to need strong consistent team members in the near future. This group of employees can be your strong core. They can move through various positions to get a solid understanding of your business and customers. They need a plan that encourages them to grow through being successful and satisfied with their work.

The overachiever, high performer
The outperformers have likely already told you their development goals and are actively pursuing them. High performers need to be challenged to keep them engaged. Look at these employees to see if they have the skills for higher level roles in the organization either now or in the future. If you believe an employee can meet the requirements with some additional training, come up with a development plan that aligns with your business plan. High performers’ plans may include going elsewhere to achieve goals or gain experience but at least you’re aware of the person’s desires and can plan for it so your business is not disrupted.

It’s most important to have development plans for everyone, including yourself, so you know that your employees are working toward goals that will improve and increase your business growth.

People development plans
No matter which level of development is needed, a plan contains relatively the same components below.

• Identified skills, knowledge or behavior that will be the focus
• Actions the employee will take to learn
• Opportunities to apply the learning (practical application with repetition, coaching and feedback)
• Success measures

Each area for improvement should have a SMART Goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Many organizations make SMART goals mandatory because they clarify the goals and get everyone on the same page. Peter Drucker is known for coming up with the criteria for SMART goals and George T. Doran for formalizing it back in the early 80s and still universally used today. You can find an abundance of information by looking up “SMART goals” on the web.

Hold your employees accountable
One of the most important points of a development plan is that the employee owns the plan and their development. You can help identify areas for improvement, fund training programs and provide opportunities for development but ultimately, the employee is responsible for their growth. As the business owner, you are responsible for opening pathways for them to meet their growth goals and provide feedback along the way.

Developing your people is just one aspect of a people strategy that aligns with your business plan and goals. A people strategy will benefit your business because your people are going to propel you to meeting your business goals.

Next up: People strategy

5 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Employees’ Understanding of Change

Did you ever think that leading a business would involve so much talking and explaining? You talk with your managers, employees, customers, peers, vendors, the mailman, the cleaning crew and on it goes. It’s no wonder, then, when an employee says he/she doesn’t understand a change you want to make that you question if anyone has heard you.

Many important business decisions are well thought out and communicated with managers and employees. Yet, employees still don’t make the changes you need. This isn’t uncommon. How people adapt to change has been well studied in various situations from grief to business. There’s a process that people go through before they can truly act on implementing any change.1 Resistance is normal and should be expected when you begin to think about making a change. Still, how can you help employees through it?

Overcoming resistance to change
As a business owner, you spend a good deal of your time developing plans and finding solutions to problems. Your time is consumed by many different issues. Once you’ve solved one problem, another pops up to demand your attention. This is the point at which a change can begin to fail and you could be missing out on the most important factor in making your business successful—ensuring employees understand what you need from them. I’m not talking about knowing what the change is. I mean truly UNDERSTANDING and being a part of the company’s success.

Having spent most of my career in employee and leadership communications, I found that a company is always evolving to flourish. In stark contrast, many employees fear the very actions that will ensure the longevity of the company and their own future. Basically, they want their work experience to remain the same or want to make part of a change. How often have you heard team members say that they like the way the company was before more employees were hired or challenging market dynamics affected the business? Each employee has his/her own preference and degree of comfort with change.

Change is inevitable
Change IS happening more rapidly and businesses need to adapt or suffer. So, if companies are changing regularly and rapidly, shouldn’t we expect that employees would “get used to change”, adjust quicker and get on with the work that needs to get done? The number of experiences employees have with change doesn’t help them adjust. It’s the quality of how they have been included and understand the change that helps them adapt more quickly to what you need from them.2 Employees’ needs around the change must be met in order for them to be able to focus and get the job done.

As the owner of your business, you’re continually looking for ways to make improvements, increase your profits, become leaner, satisfy your workers and customers and reduce costs. You can’t do all that without occasional disruption. The question becomes how to continually improve your business while keeping your employees productive and satisfied working for you. The answer is to involve them in your business issues and improvements.

How to involve your employees

  1. Have conversations about your current business plans with your employees. Let them ask questions, probe your thoughts and rationale.  Include the naysayers.  Make sure your managers can articulate your plan and have conversations with their employees.  Do this as often as it feels comfortable.  Rotate the employees you’re having conversations with to get different perspectives.
  2. Set up environments that allow open, unstructured dialogue to occur. Coffee or lunch sessions with you or their manager.  Let employees know that they can ask you anything and you will answer to the best of your knowledge.  Most importantly, listen with no expectation other than to hear what they say.  Afterwards, take what you’ve gathered and think on it. Incorporate what you can and keep other ideas socked away until you see a pattern of similar issues or ideas.  Then act on those improvements.
  3. Ask your employees regularly how business or their work can be improved and what can be done differently. Employees are the experts on your business and know what your business needs.  Talk to employees who directly interact with customers.  What are your customers asking for that the business isn’t providing?  This is where your next new business development idea may originate.
  4. Write down what employees say and who made the recommendations. Follow up with one-on-one conversations or get a group of people with similar ideas together to discuss.  Engage them in coming up with ideas or changes.  Then have them help explain the change to others.
  5. Recognize employees for contributing. Give them credit when possible.  Use stories that include them when talking about new business ideas or changes that will make the business run better and more efficiently.

Here’s what you can do today

  • Talk to your leadership team about involving employees at all levels in discussions on business direction and improvements.
  • Set up a lunch meeting with 5 or 6 trusted employees to discuss how you want to get more worker input. Then set up another lunch meeting with 5 or 6 naysayers.  Ask them if your approach will work in your company’s culture.  Ask what would concern other employees about contributing more and owning the changes that will result.  Then begin implementing consistent, timely discussions with your workforce.

If you haven’t involved employees in solutions and business development previously explain what you’re doing and why, what you expect from workers and how you’d like this new approach to be part of your culture. The larger your business becomes, the more insights you will need from employees. It’s never too late to start including your employees in growing your business.


1 Managing resistance to change, www.prosci.com, August 5, 2019.
2 Joseph B. Fuller, Judith K. Wallenstein, Manjari Raman, Alice de Chalendar, Your Workforce is More Adaptable than you think, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019, issue, p. 118-126.

Look for our upcoming blog on:
Enhancing your employees’ skills through training and development

How The Labor Shortage Could Impact Your Business

For decades now, we have heard that there was going to be a labor shortage coming to the US labor market where there would be more jobs available than people to fill them. The shortage is here and it may impact your business.

Some of the headlines coming from the US Department of Labor recently include, Unemployment Rate Near 50-year Low,  7.3 Million Job Openings and 17thStraight Month Unemployment Rate Is At Or Below 4%.

On August 6, the US Department of Labor announced that for the 16thstraight month, the number of open and available jobs exceeded the number of job seekers.

Impact on your business

As a business owner, the most important asset your business has is your employees. But what happens if you don’t have enough employees or the people with the right skills? Here are just a few resulting issues that might impact your bottom line.

  • Missed customer order deadlines
  • Additional cost for overtime to existing employees
  • Expense for hiring temporary employees (if they’re available)
  • Quality errors because your employees are rushing to complete orders
  • Overworked employees can lead to more accidents and safety issues
  • Higher absentee rate from burnout and frustration

What can you do right now to mitigate the crisis before it hits your business?

Look at your employee engagement through employee retention, turnover rates and data. Are your good people leaving? These ‘keepers’ are the lifeblood of your business now and in the future. Simply stated you need to retain your star employees.

What can you do to assure you keep your solid contributors working for you?  One way is to have ‘Stay Interviews’ with your high performers.  The answer may sound simple, but will take time, thought and effort. 

Stay interviews

Stay Interviews help leaders and business owners engage in dialogue with employees they don’t want to leave the business.  The interviews uncover what keeps your strongest employees coming to work everyday and will help identify issues in your business that may be alienating these team members. You then have the opportunity to make changes and improvements—all to benefit your business.

5 steps to keeping your star performers

  1. Determine who your ‘keepers’ are. You and your managers should be able to quickly list them. These employees are those that not only deliver results, but they do so in a way that exhibits the culture of your business. These employees probably work collaboratively, conscientiously, diligently and carefully.If you suspect that any of them may be ready to leave, make them your priority.
  2. Schedule one-on-one time with your high performers to have the stay interview discussions. First, tell them that you want to hear their opinion on what’s working in the business and what needs to be improved.  Assure them this is a casual, friendly conversation and you will be setting up time with them.  The meeting should not be a tag-on to another one, but a special meeting to discuss issues they may have and to give you feedback on how your business is running. It also should not be done during a performance review discussion, unless it is as a follow-up to previously held discussions on the topic.
  3. Be prepared. Give some thought to what the employee could say. You need to be prepared for anything. Also have pre-arranged questions that you can ask to get to the heart of any issues. Be prepared to write down what they say, questions that you may need to get answers to and follow-up activities that might be necessary.  Click here if you’d like to request our stay interview questions.
  4. Have the discussions. Try to have the discussions in a ‘neutral’ environment, free from distractions. A small break room would be great. Try to avoid sitting behind a desk in a typical manager/subordinate situation. Level the playing field. Give the employee an environment in which they can be comfortable.
  5. Follow-up. Depending upon the outcome of the discussions, you should follow up on some action items. Be sure to circle back with the employee to assure that both of you are fulfilling any commitments made.

While stay interviews are one way for you to show you value your ‘keepers’, don’t look at it as a one and done.  Be sure to re-engage with your star performers.  Let them know that you thought through what they said.  Ask specific questions to get more information.  Invite them to participate on teams outside of their area of expertise to show you value their input.  Let them know you want to hear what they have to say.

Click here to request a copy of our Stay Interview questions.

Look for our upcoming blogs on:

  • Ensuring your employees understand the changes you want to make
  • Enhancing your employees’ skills through training and development

Human Resources Demands Eat Up Business Owners’ Time

We’re seeing trends with our customers that show business owners spend more of their days managing human resources-related demands than they should.  Their time is continually interrupted or consumed with trying to meet the people needs of their business.  Let’s take a look at why that is and what you can do about it if you’re in this situation.

You vs. global corporation resources

HR demands grow as the number of employees, benefits and laws change and you introduce new clients or products.  There’s a good reason global corporations have large Human Resources departments to handle employee relations issues, benefits, compliance, talent management and organization design, employee engagement and employee communications.  As you grow, the business and employees generate more challenges.

If you’re the only one handling HR you must be overwhelmed. We typically find in businesses with more than 100 employees that you and a few other people may be dealing with all these issues as only one of your responsibilities.  The amount of time you spend on these activities has likely grown gradually and now you find yourself absorbed with HR work that is critical to the business but is taking you away from growing your business and revenue.

What’s at the root of the problem?

We’re seeing that focus and skill level of the people responsible for HR activities are predominant reasons for the flow of work coming to you, the business owner.

Some likely causes include:

  • The people you have doing HR work may not be knowledgeable enough about the areas you’re asking them to cover.
  • They aren’t trained Human Resources professionals.
  • These employees are likely distracted with other responsibilities if they are only partially dedicated to HR activities. They may be as overwhelmed as you are with the amount of HR demands.
  • Decisions are raised to you for approval because your people are unsure of their level of decision-making responsibility.
  • You don’t have an “People” strategy that you’re following.

In all these situations, something needs to be done to alleviate the demands on you and your employees while ensuring you’re not putting your business in jeopardy.

Solutions

It’s time to take a hard, close look at the resources you have dedicated to human resources activities and map out what you need now and in the future.  This is a good time to look at your business and revenue goals for the future. Setting your organization up now to meet your future goals will prevent you from falling back into this situation.

Here’s what you can do today:

  • Evaluate the HR demands and what you’re asking your people to do. Do you have enough people focused on HR?  Are their responsibilities so diverse that they have to jump back and forth between “jobs”?
  • Assess the talent you have doing the work. Do they have the right skills?  Are you overworking a skilled HR professional with routine HR responsibilities that someone at a lower level can handle as a development opportunity?
  • Determine what your future needs will be based on your business goals. Do you have the number of people with the right skills to do the work to meet your expectations?
  • Develop a plan to address these needs.

Help is out there

If this becomes overwhelming considering your other responsibilities, there are companies that can help you.  Paradise Workplace Solutions can work with you to diagnose your company’s issues and develop an implementation plan to get you on course to developing your business and growing your revenue.

You certainly don’t need the level of resources required by large corporations.  The ultimate goal is to get you off the HR hamster wheel and focused on meeting your customers’ expectations, keeping you in compliance and ensuring your employees’ needs are met.

Click here for more information.

Are You Overplaying?

How talented business owners may be stagnating their company’s growth

As a small or mid-size business owner, when was the last time you gave attention to your personal development? You probably have been growing your business and developing managers but putting yourself aside because you have other priorities. You’re too busy running your business, right?

You may be thinking that you’ve grown a great deal by leading and fostering your business, and you have. But could you be even more of an asset by looking at how you could improve? We all have strengths and shortcomings that we recognize in ourselves. Self-awareness is good. Have you ever considered that one of your strengths may actually have jumped the shark (remember that Happy Days episode?) and is getting in the way of you achieving more of your business goals?

How does a strength flip on you and why?

It’s called overplaying a strength. Overusing a strength is an easy trap to fall into. You’ve received rewards throughout your career for your strengths. You’ve received approval from someone who was important to you, won a new customer account because you persevered or a completed project because of your problem-solving skills. You may even have been positively influenced by people suggesting you’re skilled enough to start your own business. This all feels good and we innately want to continue to get positive recognition.

Now, compare the accolades you’ve gotten with the number of discussions you’ve had about one of your shortcomings. Typically, discussions on a person’s flaws occur infrequently, maybe once or twice a year if you had development discussions. No wonder you play to your strengths. Most leaders have been recognized and rewarded to continue the behavior as they make their way to the top position or establish their own businesses. And they do the same with their managers. Positive reinforcement is beneficial in many ways and isn’t bad especially when it’s balanced with talk of areas for growth.

What does overplaying a strength look like?

Some commonly overplayed strengths include taking action, perseverance, fairness, listening, and negotiating. On the surface, all good strengths to have. But when you’re running your own business, overusing these skills can confuse or annoy your employees, interfere with work getting done and hamper getting the best out of your employees.

I’ll give you an example involving perseverance. Do you know a person whose name immediately comes to mind when you think of the word determination? Do you have positive or negative feelings about that person? What do you and their co-workers think about working with them? If you have a positive reaction, the person probably is using their skill of determination appropriately. Overusing the skill may be in play if you have a negative reaction. You may feel the person is like a dog with a bone or won’t let up until they get what they want. This behavior may cause others to give in or shut down. In any situation, but especially in your business, the reaction of giving in or shutting down because of someone else’s behavior doesn’t end up serving the business well. Would you want your people to be prevented from providing their best information and advice because another co-worker was dominating the project? What if that person is YOU? Overplaying a skill can be harmful if not checked.

How do you know if you’re overplaying a skill?

It can be relatively easy if you look at the challenges you have in your business and have had in previous roles. If there are issues that keep coming up over and over again, then that’s where you need to look. In your current business are you unintentionally interfering with those issues getting resolved? You can ask your employees what needs to change to grow the business or the most challenging issue they have in getting what they need from you. You can do a leadership assessment. Or, one of the most helpful books I’ve used for my own and other employees’ development is FYI For Your Improvement. I’ve relied on this book and recommended it for years. If you’re a reader, this book will help you determine if you need to develop a skill, are at the right skill level or overplaying it.

What’s important is that you take the time to look at the skills you need to improve and then invest the time to develop or rein in those skills. It’s good for you and it’s good for your business.

Check out our Executive Coaching offerings.

Year of Yes

For years friends and colleagues told me that I should share my knowledge and expertise by consulting. I had given it some thought but always had a reason that prevented me from moving forward.  Then, life threw a few curve balls that ended up being perfect pitches.

Around the same time, the TV show, Scandal, written by Shonda Rhimes was in its final season.  I happened to look up Shonda on the internet and found she had written a book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. It interested me enough that I downloaded it.  Then I started to read it.  While it wasn’t what I expected, I took the simple message of say Yes to everything for a period of time and see how your life changes.  Once I started saying Yes to what I was passionate about everything else fell into place.

Randy, my husband and business partner, had been consulting on business and Human Resources for a little while.  We had just moved from New Jersey to Florida and needed to register that business in the state. Randy and I had worked together earlier in our careers and complemented each other’s skills and personalities.  I thought long and hard about the opportunity to finally do Communications consulting work.  And, we decided to make a go of the business together.

That business is Paradise Workplace Solutions.  We help small and mid-size businesses evaluate what they need to do to take their business to the next level by looking at their processes and employees and match it with their plans for future growth.  Businesses, like people, get stuck in old patterns that worked on one level but could be getting in the way of future business growth. That’s where we come in.  We help leaders communicate differently, identify the skills their employees need, work with them to implement and set them on a new trajectory.  Our sweet spot is assisting owners and managers until they’re comfortable and then following up periodically to ensure their organizations match with future business goals.

I’m saying yes to the unknowns and I’m acquiring knowledge in areas that I would never have thought would interest me. I’ve navigated the business licenses process, am building a social media presence, doing market research, identifying business leads, selecting a customer relationship management system and developing marketing plans and materials.  I’m energized.  And, I’m having the time of my life.

Look for Paradise Workplace Solutions on LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter. Like us, Friend us, Follow us.  We’ll be posting regularly.

Susan O’Connor