Archive for June, 2011

Creating a Successful Mentorship Program

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Mentoring is a tool to grow employees and accelerate their career development. Companies that offer mentorship programs enjoy many benefits, including retaining top talent, increasing company loyalty and keeping employees engaged. Overall company productivity is also improved when mentorship programs exist.

Employees who are mentored gain critical company knowledge, learn new skills and receive feedback on their career growth and goals, which help them to succeed in their positions. Senior staff members who mentor prosper from the experience, too. Researchers found that their work productivity increases, they have less stress and they feel revitalized in their careers.

Benefits are achieved only if the mentorship program has a strong structure and committed participants, so follow these guidelines to create a successful initiative:

Define the Goal and Structure

To make sure the mentorship program flourishes, it is important to have a strong program goal. Whether it is to help new hires acclimate faster or to cultivate potential manager candidates, one focus will help the program triumph.

Establish an end date as well. More people will participate if there is a specific time frame, and an end date gives a new set of employees an opportunity to experience the process.

Facilitating and Participation

A good mentorship program has a designated facilitator, often called the Mentoring Program Manager (MPM). The MPM creates the mentoring program and works to align the initiative with company goals. The point person sets clear expectations for both the mentors and mentees, which include the time commitment and level of engagement needed from all participants.

Ensuring all staff members are involved in some way or are aware of the program will help the initiative obtain good results. High-level executives should partake in the process—either to offer suggestions to the program facilitator or to serve as mentors themselves. Their participation will help others see the program’s value.

Mentees, Mentors and Managers

Specify criteria for those being mentored. Mentee candidates will help define the qualities needed for mentors. In addition to having excellent communications skills and a strong ability to relate with others, experts suggest that mentors should be at least two levels above the mentee. This requirement guarantees that they can offer great company information while understanding their mentees’ roles. This format eliminates competition for jobs or promotions as well.

Managers provide information similar to what mentors offer, but they have different objectives and job requirements when working with their employees. Managers want employees to grow and perform to help company productivity, and unlike mentors, managers can assign projects, conduct performance reviews and recommend raises or promotions.

Companies should avoid staff members mentoring people they directly manage because they act as key decision makers for their employees. Mentees might feel as though they cannot freely talk about their frustrations and weaknesses with their managers. Mentors who are not managers provide employees with a safe environment to discuss various topics.

Follow Up, Evaluation and Results

Facilitators should make a great effort in following up with participants throughout the process. Encouraging open communication and constant feedback will help the MPM get a gauge on the program’s progress.

Because it might take months to years to see direct results, patience is required when launching a mentorship program. Making sure you get feedback from participants is important when measuring its effectiveness. Surveys and interviews help evaluate success, and final results received will help your company determine if the program was a good investment and if there are improvements needed for a future initiative.

For more information or tips on successful mentorship programs, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Workplace Friendships: Reap the Benefits and Avoid the Negatives

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Companies hire people based on the skills and knowledge they can offer to help achieve business goals. Forming strong friendships with others is usually not a job requirement, but when considering the number of hours employees work together, office friendships are likely to occur. Understanding both the benefits and harm that workplace friendships can create will help your organization maintain a professional work environment while creating a friendly atmosphere that positively affects business performance.

A 2010 survey from recruitment company Randstad revealed that a majority of American workers are happier at their jobs because of their office friendships. Survey participants credit work friends with making their jobs more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile and satisfying. Not only do office friendships benefit employees, but they also provide organizations with several advantages. Here are a few examples:

  • Friendships create a more enjoyable workplace, which promotes greater employee engagement and increases individual productivity.
  • Friends give each other feedback. Receiving constructive criticism from peers versus supervisors is sometimes easier to digest and correct.
  • Work gets stressful and talking to friends who have similar responsibilities provides workers with positive outlets to release frustrations.
  • A friendly work environment yields creativity because employees feel comfortable being themselves and are able to think more freely.
  • Team members who know each other on more personal levels might work together more effectively and efficiently than with those who do not.

Although there are many positive outcomes that come from office friendships, knowing the negatives will help your company establish boundaries and guidelines for staff members to follow if they plan to pursue friendships. Watch out for these situations:

  • Too much non-work chatter can turn focus away from work and lead to decreased productivity.
  • Office friendships that end unfavorably can create tension for all parties involved. Backstabbing and sabotage can happen as well.
  • Coworkers who form bonds can create cliques and leave others out to create favoritism.
  • Inappropriate behavior from colleagues, such as tardiness or not completing work, might be ignored or enabled by staff members who are friends.
  • Pals who have negative views about their employers have the potential to get others to share their views, which can result in decreased company loyalty.

Organizations wanting to prevent the adverse effects of workplace friendship sometimes implement strict fraternization policies, but employees are often capable of finding ways around restrictions. Here are some guidelines to present to your staff in order to uphold a professional work environment and allow employees to be friends:

  • Work pays the bills, so stay focused on your assigned projects and tasks. Time at work should be professional and focused on driving business—not socializing.
  • You received your assignments for a reason. Do not miss deadlines or lose sight of your goals to help friends who are behind on their projects.
  • Office gossip is not tolerated. Information that you would not tell the boss should not be told to colleagues.
  • Do not share too much personal information with your coworkers. Private topics, such as salary history or performance review results, should be avoided in conversation.
  • Respect personal and professional boundaries with your colleagues. Just because you have a personal relationship with a coworker does not entitle you to put them in an awkward position inside or outside of the office.

For more information on how to handle workplace friendships, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo source: peyri

Employee Benefit Communications – Keep it Clear and Simple

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Chris Tutino who serves as Communications Specialist for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act, which says that all communications from the federal government must be clear, concise and well organized. That’s not bad guidance for all of us to follow – especially when it comes to communicating to our employees.  In fact, data suggests that employee communications that are not easily understood can lead to distrust and possible legal ramifications, specifically around insurance communications.

In an Employee Benefits News online story, Deborah Bosley, an associate professor of English and plain language expert at UNC Charlotte , was interviewed and provided four reasons to write communication materials in plain language:

  1. According to a Stanford University study, when people can’t understand complex information, they lose respect for the company.
  2. When information is difficult to understand, they don’t trust the company.
  3. There’s a direct correlation between the corporate reputation and how well employees understand information relayed to them — a company that commits itself to writing employee benefits in plain language will garner more trust from its employees, saving time and money.
  4. Vital communications that are not written in plain language can open your company up to legal struggles.  Bosley specifically mentioned two lawsuits where she was an expert witness on plain language that surrounded summary plan descriptions.

It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all used big words to try to impress someone…an employer, significant other or teacher. But when we’re talking about key information that is crucial to an employee making a year-long decision on benefits, we should ensure that what we’re communicating is easy to read and understand. By doing so, it can save time, our reputations and build trust.


How Company Culture Affects Business Success

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Body language expert Julie-Ann Amos says that there are several broad categories of business cultures, including industrial, conservative, casual and academic. Within these broad categories exist many different business culture variations. She points out that if your manner of dress, attitude and body language is “out of sync with expectations in your business culture, you will likely be perceived as less capable, less qualified, and maybe even less trustworthy in some cases.” http://www.bodylanguageexpert.co.uk/BusinessAndBodyLanguage.html

It is important to understand your organization’s culture and how to fit in with the setting. As an employee, your productivity, satisfaction and level of success within your organization is often linked with how well you function within the business culture.

In some organizations, success is achieved in groups, decisions are made by committees and responsibilities are shared. In other organizations, however, success is centered on an individual endeavor that contributes to the business as a whole, and people are encouraged to be “stars,” or “leaders of the pack.” Self-sufficient and independent individuals thrive in such an environment. If success is considered a team effort within your organization, you do not want to be perceived as overly independent or a loner, and you may need to adjust your attitudes and behavior accordingly.

Productivity in your organization may be connected with speediness in project completion, or with creativity, accuracy, customer satisfaction, sales or any number of other factors. Know the performance norms at your place of business, and work at surpassing them.

If you are a manager or owner, be sure to justly compensate your top performing and most productive employees. If the employees whose productivity is below par are allowed to continue their bad habits and are compensated the same as everyone else, it can create a negative company culture that can be costly.

High employee satisfaction leads to high company productivity, because satisfaction is linked with retention, recruitment and training costs, as well as individual employee productivity. On the other hand, a culture where employees are unhappy and fearful can lead to the hiding of mistakes, the withholding of new ideas, poor morale and low productivity.

Your company culture directly affects its success as well as its customer and employee satisfaction, for better or worse. Take the time to foster a successful culture at your place of business.

For additional information, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Image Source: Mykl Roventine: Out & About

Two Key Considerations When Performing Background Checks

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

When people fib about their work history, educational degree, job titles or salaries, criminal background and substance abuse habits – the top five lies told by job candidates – the results can be devastating for a company to have these individuals on staff. Performing a strong background check to weed out violent and dishonest candidates is essential if a firm is to work at top efficiency. In fact, one study estimates that the resultant annual ROI for using background screening to prevent business losses is more than 900 percent.

Potential employees can omit details that hide facts that can be difficult to uncover. To make sure your background checks are as thorough as possible, consider the following suggestions:

Hire a professional background checking company, also known as a consumer reporting agency – A CRA can help a business conduct background checks on candidates so that it does not have to devote extra time and resources for this process, plus it helps reduce liability. If you use a CRA, you must follow the federal law and tell the candidate on a document separate from the employment application that you are going to conduct a background check to independently verify the information provided, and the individual must first sign a document authorizing the background check. Turning someone down based on information drawn from a CRA requires that you give the applicant a chance to review the negative information, and possibly dispute the record before you make your final hiring decision. To know what you can and cannot do with a CRA report, review the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements.

Perform searches appropriate for the position – Hiring a CRA is only part of the battle. You must make sure that you are asking for the appropriate research.  You should start with some sort of name and address history search to independently verify the applicant’s basic information.  Then you should search for criminal records based upon the address history for some given “time window” – maybe 7 years.  Other types of searches should be based upon job responsibilities. Check on licensing claims, driving records, education verification, professional  and employment references, Medicaid sanctions, and other registries where needed to ensure that the applicant meets the minimum requirements for the job. Early discoveries can prevent much bigger later headaches if the person is lying.

For additional information on what to consider for background checks, please call Kevin von der Lippe at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo source: showbizsuperstar

2011 Ovation Award Spotlight: Rex Healthcare

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Winner of numerous accolades, including best hospital and best place to work, Rex Healthcare constantly aims to please its clients, patients and employees. Rex has always invested a significant amount of time and effort in long-term facility, service line and operational planning to keep its position as one of the leading health care providers in North Carolina and the country. To stay competitive in the health care industry, the hospital focused its attention on workforce planning.  Rex’s initiative to forecast and identify talent needs to support its long-term strategic goals earned the hospital the 2011 Ovation Award in the large employer category (companies with more than 500 employees).

Several years ago, strategic workforce decisions were made based on instinct instead of data. This approach led to faulty assumptions with little or no consideration for long-term implications of talent decisions. Realizing that proactive workforce planning would be critical in implementing strategies to support the community’s growing health care needs, Rex’s leadership and HR team developed an improvement plan.

The improvement plan included the following components:

  1. The senior leadership team conducted a SWOT analysis and used scenario planning to forecast worst case, best case, and no change scenarios.  The talent implications of each scenario were identified.
  2. The HR team engaged mid-level leaders in assessing Rex’s current labor pool and anticipating talent needs based on their future business plans.
  3. Leaders segmented positions as strategic, key, support and transitional to help better define important focus areas for future workforce planning.
  4. Workforce planning was piloted in one business unit before rolling out to the whole organization to make sure the program was solid.
  5. Special attention was placed on making sure that Rex’s HR team was fully prepared for the impact that the new initiative would have on HR processes, such as compensation, recruiting top talent and managing performance.
  6. The HR team was trained in the workforce planning process, how to hold strategic business conversations with business leaders, workforce data analysis and coaching of business leaders to use data to create a workforce plan.

After two years, one of the key outputs of the process—data integration and mapping into a new workforce planning tool—is nearly complete.   Rex expects to gain many new insights into its workforce once the hospital begins to analyze the data.

Many positive outcomes have resulted from the improvement program already.  Scenario planning revealed talent gaps and assisted in creating three high-priority workforce planning strategies that resulted in innovative solutions for developing and retaining employees in key and strategic roles.

In addition to helping the hospital win CAI’s 2011 Ovation Award, Rex’s initiative helped the hospital identify positions and processes to establish a competitive advantage in the industry. For more information on implementing a workforce planning initiative at your organization, please contact Theresa Brett, Director of Strategic Talent Management, at Theresa.brett@rexhealth.com.

CAI recognizes North Carolina companies for innovative HR/People solutions with Ovation Awards during its annual HR Management Conference in February.  If you’d like to be considered please send a 2-3 paragraph description of your program to doug.blizzard@capital.org.  The description should summarize the business need, describe how the solution was implemented, and highlight the measurable and/or forecasted business results.

Use Professional Development to Motivate and Retain Top Talent

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Many organizations believe that increasing salary is the most effective way to retain their stellar performers. Although higher salaries might keep employees at their jobs, it is not a cost-effective solution for employers. To help staff members remain content without maxing out budgets, companies can devote time to staff development and education.

Employees stay in their positions when they believe they are accomplishing their goals and advancing in their careers. Showing serious interest in the development of your staff demonstrates to employees that they are essential in achieving success for the company. Support within management to invest in workforce coaching will help your organization attain a lower turnover rate and strengthen employee morale.

The entire organization benefits when time and resources are allotted to professional growth and job preparation. Employees are satisfied and become more productive, which leads to increased efficiency and greater revenue. Here are a few tips to promote the growth of your team members:

  1. Help staff set goals. Have employees evaluate their responsibilities to determine their strengths and weaknesses prior to setting goals. Help them establish obtainable goals that align with their interests and strengths to support success. Goals should be measurable, and a timeline can track progress.  Personally praise employees when goals are achieved.
  2. Inform employees on training opportunities. Alert staff of different training and educational opportunities that benefit their position, and encourage them to participate. Offer to sponsor their attendance for different activities, such as conferences and seminars. If sponsoring is too expensive, partial payment still exhibits your vested interest in their career.
  3. Encourage membership in professional groups and associations. Organizations relevant to employees’ positions allow them to network with similar professionals, learn best practices and even gain new clients. To help facilitate their involvement, consider providing them annual stipends to partake in group activities related to their fields or reimbursing membership dues and other fees. Provide flexibility in scheduling and options to work nontraditional hours to allow employees to attend events as well.
  4. Recognize training progress. Employees need positive reinforcement when they continually perform their duties well. By attending training sessions, they invest in their career development as well as benefit the organization, so it is important to acknowledge their efforts. Take time to discuss what they learned from their experiences, and advocate that they integrate new knowledge into their responsibilities. Congratulating team members on earning certifications also promotes company loyalty.

Members of management should consider training options for themselves as well in order to set positive examples for all employees. Company leaders should also explain the value of continual education and professional development during staff gatherings or one-on-one meetings.

For more information on staff development and professional training, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746, or ask for an account manager to discover the different training options CAI offers.

Photo source: lumaxart

Informative, Engaging and Entertaining: CAI’s 2011 Employment and Labor Law Update Conference

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Three hundred and seventy-two executives and HR professionals traveled to the McKimmon Center in Raleigh on May 17 and May 18 to attend CAI’s 2011 Employment and Labor Law Update Conference. CAI’s annual two-day event is designed to inform employers on the challenging and ever-changing legislative and regulatory environment companies are up against.

During the conference, lawyers from Ogletree Deakins and CAI staff members updated conference attendees on pertinent information ranging from a variety of topics, including health reform, NLRB changes and tips for creating effective company documents.

First-time conference goers, like Joan Inman, human resources director of SouthData, explored the 2011 conference to get professional expertise and vital information related to employers’ issues.

“I’m just seeking knowledge, and I want well-informed people telling me what I need to know,” Joan said on why she attended.

Each year CAI works with Ogletree Deakins to develop educational and engaging program sessions for the attendees. Those participating at the conference also receive notebooks packed with PowerPoint slides, white papers and several case studies that all further explain recent legal changes. Not only are the legal and regulatory updates a huge draw for conference attendees, but HR professionals like Yolanda Dejesus, director of human resources for the Office of Strategy and HR at AICPA, said the conference is “well worth the value” because of the information provided and the opportunity to network with others, including attorneys and company leaders from the Triangle, Triad and Eastern North Carolina.

“[CAI] always has great training and conferences. I always learn something new,” said Erika Koteff, HR manager at District Distributors when asked about the updates supplied at the conference.

Participants also have the opportunity to receive legal counsel on their own employment issues during the conference’s panel discussion. Featuring lawyers and HR specialists, the panel gives expert solutions to questions raised by audience members. Popular topics addressed during this year’s session included questions about FMLA guidelines and staying compliant with government instructions regarding I-9s.

Entertaining the audience members was a must at this year’s conference as well, and during the lively Wild and Wacky Cases session, guests learned about unbelievable cases that occurred in 2010. This year, the popular session highlighted information on crazy bathroom break policies, jaw-dropping workplace fraternizing and outlandish professional dress. Another fun and highly interactive part of the conference was the trivia game. Once the final informative session ended, Matt Keen of Ogletree Deakins asked participants to test their knowledge on the information presented at the conference by using electronic devices to answer the game’s yes or no questions.

The 2011 conference evaluations revealed that attendees found this year’s topics relevant and applicable to the many issues they are facing in their HR departments. CAI members, such as the Director of HR at Haven House Jennifer Boyler, return to the conference every year to stay up to date on news affecting employers.

“It’s a can’t-be-missed conference,” she said when describing the valuable event.

Please see the Employment and Labor Law Update web page at http://www.capital.org/lawupdate for additional information on the topics covered.  The 2012 conference will take place on May 2 and May 3 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.