The employee suggestion box is dead

You don't remember the last time an employee left a suggestion in the box. In today's entrepreneurial world employee suggestions are worthless. You care about the ideas your employees are acting on. 

With free easy to use tools you can implement an "Execution Box". This is a private cloud based space to see who is working on what and build on experience for accelerated growth company wide. Here is a prime example may employer face.

When it comes to shared knowledge, most employers find themselves in one of two categories.
  1. You have that great employee who allows you to get away, but chaos would ensue if they unexpectedly didn't show up for work.
  2. Time and opportunities are lost because best practices are not shared through out the company.
Leverage social media behavior you staff is familiar with on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to organize information. This will foster the discovery of great ideas and you won't be left disabled when your "right hand" employee suddenly leaves. Try out some of these tools today to protect your business from brain drain.

Company Intranet: Using a Google groups/sites for free or paid platform like Zoho Collaborate will allow you to setup a central hub for announcements, documentation on projects, internal FAQs, storage for common documents, and discussions. All shared knowledge is accessible to all employee. You do have the ability to restrict non-employees and keep some information exclusive to a team if necessary.

Microblog: While Twitter is the defacto microblog for individuals, you may be asking how can my company use microblogging? Check out Yammer or Socialspring. Instead of trading emails and Cc: everyone using a microblog platform for business can simplify things a great deal.
  • It forces people think about what they are trying to communicate and to be brief. 
  • Multi-media is simple to attach to you short form communication.
  • Old messages can be searched with simple search terms.
  • Free up the phone and email for you clients to reach you.
Wiki: Have your employees build a tiny Wikipedia just for you. Now anything that is learned is documented. Because anyone can update a subject the information is always current. 

Employee participation is the key to getting the value of any of these tools. With any of these systems you can quickly see what is being share, the quality of that information, and who is becoming the "go to" person. Make sure that person is acknowledged in public and throw in a little something extra on pay day. Think about where you would be if they never shared and were the only person who could perform a task in the company.


Reduce your liability and improve relationships

As a business leader you are well on your way with plans for the new year. One area that should not be overlooked are company policies including an updated employee handbook. Take action to reduce your liability as an employer. Make clear the vision for your firm and how that vision should be executed. You, your staff, and clients will be better for it. 

I am very excited to post the first of many EmployBetter interviews. Being proactive with employment law is so important it is appropriate that our first interview covers the subject. Phillip Cha is a tenured employment law attorney who took some time to share his insight on the correct view of labor law as an employer. Here is what he had to say:

EB: Please give a little background on who you are. Education, hometown, etc.

Phillip: My hometown is Los Angeles, California.  I received my B.A. in Sociology from UCLA and my law degree also from UCLA.  I have been a practicing attorney specializing in labor and employment law since 2000.

EB: Why are you an attorney and how did you enter employment law as an area of focus?

Phillip: I was not a good science student, so I saw the legal field as my way of helping people.  I became interested in labor and employment law when I took an employment law class during law school.  The cases I read were really interesting and people-oriented.

EB: Where are you practicing now?

Phillip: I am with Lim, Ruger & Kim, LLP, which is one of the oldest and largest minority-owned law firms in California.

EB: What are the key components of employment law?

Phillip: The key components are the anti-discrimination laws, wage and hour laws (like overtime, breaks and record keeping) as well as traditional labor laws if there is a labor Union in the workplace.

EB: Given the dynamic nature of recent legislature, what do small employers have to do for the Affordable Care Act / Obama Care?

Phillip: From an employment law standpoint, Obama Care will require employers with more than 50 employees to provide health care coverage to its employees, or else pay a penalty in the form of a tax for each employee that is not offered coverage.  However, the details are pretty vague right now; we are waiting for the government to give us some more guidance.

EB: I talk to many business owners who say they are too small for HR. At what size does an employer need to consider HR issues?

Phillip: All employers should be thinking about HR issues.  Age discrimination and disability discrimination claims are at an all-time high, and no employers are immune.  That said, once employers hit 50 employees, they are considered “large employers,” and that is when they become a bigger target for lawsuits and regulation.

EB: Give me some of the basic and mandatory tools/documentation/ processes all employers should have in place?

Phillip: Basic and mandatory would include an employee handbook spelling out the employer’s policies and expectations, as well as a reputable payroll provider that knows the ins and outs of wage and hour laws, like overtime.

EB: How do good processes and documentation enhance employee performance?

Phillip: When employees know what the employer’s policies and expectations are, it is easier for them to follow the rules and focus on productivity.  

EB: Besides being sued, when should I enlist the services of a labor attorney?

Phillip: Employers should consult with a labor attorney before taking adverse action against an employee (whether it be termination, discipline or denying a leave of absence).  With the help of a good attorney, employers can avoid litigation before it happens.  Unfortunately, most employers wait until after the lawsuit is filed to hire an attorney.

EB: As a business owner what should I be looking for and asking when interviewing labor attorneys?

Phillip: The most effective labor attorneys are experienced in both litigation and HR counseling.  Too many focus only on one or the other, but you need both skill sets to do the best job for the client.

EB: As a small business owner where can I get quality low cost or free information/advice?

Phillip: Some of the larger chambers of commerce have resources for cost-conscious employers, but the cost of consulting directly with an attorney specializing in this field is not as high as most employers think, and consulting with an attorney early can save thousands of dollars in the long run by reducing your risk of litigation. 

For more information regarding tools some cloud based starter solutions  subscribe at the top of the page. If you are here is the Los Angeles area and would like speak directly with Phillip leave a comment and we will make it happen. 


How to run and the path to run on

Working non-stop with limited sleep on a big goal with a small group you're getting to know a little too well. No it's not your start-up; I am talking about my experience with the SoCal Rangar relay event I completed this past March. Our group of 12 covered 200 miles in 36 hours and it was a ton of fun.

Like sporting endevours your business needs direction and instruction for it's participant. When you have employees that direction and instruction comes in the form of an employee handbook and job descriptions. These are two tools that are foundational to the relationship you have with your staff and the one they have with paying customers.
  • What does this company do and what does it stand for?
  • What is my role?
  • Where do I go for help?
  • Who do I voice my complaints with and should I put it in writing? (Don't assume much of anything)
  • When am I eligible for benefits?
These are some of the questions you need to have in writing and acessable to staff to proctect your culture, brand, and financial well being. Don't wait until an employees attorney calls. If you know you need to get this done or update what you have (once a year, laws change often) leave a comment or subscribe via email. I am happy to connect you with resources and people that will delivery a ready to use set handbook or other employee documents tailored to your needs.

What your employees are doing that you should require

Your company must be the foundation of employee's professional social media efforts. Today's employee is tomorrow's entrepreneur. Even if they have no plans of hanging their own shingle and coming back to eat your lunch, workers are marketing themselves like never before. They are on Linkedin, Twitter, and writing blogs about your industry from their perspective. Don't think in terms of controlling that energy, here are some tips to leverage that effort.

  • Lead by example. Set-up YOUR profile on Linkedin or Twitter.
  • Claim your company URLs on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook even if you are not ready to use them now. If you can't manage the page it is better not to put it up. You don't want your name on a party that no one shows up to. 
  • Find that social media savvy employee and have them give a tutorial over lunch for other employees.
  • Don't let people walk away from that tutorial empty handed. Ask everyone to dress up a bit, find a clean blank wall and take everyone's head shot. Social profiles without a smiling mug will be ignored.
  • When you set up your Linkedin page have all your staff indicate that they work for your company on the site as well. Now your company will be able to ride the wave of everything they interact with professionally.
  • Solicit article submissions from you staff for the company blog. Link to their professional blogs. 
  • Have a social media policy in your employee handbook that everyone must sign. Even if you don't encourage the professional use of social media what your staff projects to the online world could reflect negatively on your firm. (We will have more detail on this step at a later date.)
More than ever before, employees are not forever. Don't worry about them jumping ship. No matter where they go, the personal equity you build with each employee by helping them build their brand will help cast your net wider that you ever could by yourself. If you have done your job in the hiring process you have bright, creative, and professional people on your team. Help them shine and your company can profit from their glow in the process.

Caveat: Use discretion if you are in an industry where clients value your anonymity.


Healthcare reform and the 2012 W-2

The Affordable Care Act could have a blog all unto itself. For employers it will be like ribbon being unfurled from a high rise window, it will be rolling out for the next few years. Today we'll look at an immediate change and clear some confusion.

One of the questions that has come up quite a bit as we approach the end of the year revolves around the W-2. Business owners are still confused about their obligation to report health care contributions on the employee W-2. For most employers it is simple this year; you get a pass!

Here is how it works:

For the 2012 W-2 which must be post marked by January 31st 2013 contributions made by the employer toward employee health benefits in a company sponsored plan must be reported on the W-2.

Not all employers are required to do this for 2012.  Only the big guys, employers who issued 250 or more W-2 form in 2011 will have to include the additional information in 2012. There are other circumstances that relieve the employer from this requirement for 2012. The fewer than 250 W-2 forms threshold will cover most small businesses this year. Here is a list of the other relieves.

(2) multi-employer plans;
(3) Health Reimbursement Arrangements;
(4) dental and vision plans that either
  • are not integrated into another group health plan or
  • give participants the choice of declining the coverage or electing it and paying an additional premium (see Q&A-20 of Notice 2012-9 for more information);
(5) self-insured plans of employers not subject to COBRA continuation coverage or similar requirements;
(6) employee assistance programs, on-site medical clinics, or wellness programs for which the employer does not charge a premium under COBRA continuation coverage or similar requirements; and
(7) employers furnishing Forms W-2 to employees who terminate before the end of a calendar year and request a Form W-2 before the end of that year.

For more detail here is a link to the IRS website. Reach out to me directly if you would like professional human interaction on this and other HR topics.


Five ways to give your clients some facetime

It's the reason surgeons cut, the reason Steve Nash & CP3 dish out assists, and why Mother Teresa gave: IMPACT. Part of the thrill is seeing the results of your efforts. Given all of his rubber necking, impact on others is clearly the reason Usain Bolt runs the glamour events. So, it's unfair to expect the best from employees and not provide them the opportunity to see how their efforts affect customers lives

U.S. Cellular's current campaign on Youtube is one we have seen before. Giving customers the chance to hear directly from their more talented employees with the theme "Call someone who cares." Flip this around and bring all of your staff face to face with the people who benefit from their effort.

Use some or all of these tools to give every person in your company a glimpse into the companies and lives they impact with their work.

  • Set up an internal Youtube channel and ask a few customers to send you video of them with your products or services in action. Show a few of the submissions at the next company meeting. Better yet, put a live feed in break areas and on the production floor.
  • Use Flickr to chronicle a customer's environment before and after your company was called in.
  • Launch the video chat features of Skype, Google Talk or Groups to let customer service, shipping, and others look a patron in the eye from time to time. It's harder to slack on someone when you've seen their smile.
  • Send people who rarely leave the office out with a salesperson or technician.
  • Have salespeople take some customer service calls so they don't forget that their promises impact people long after the commission check has been cashed.

I recently purchased a box of plastic, foam, and electronics which make up a RC plane. It is more than just an airplane, it is a reward for my son who reached a milestone and a father-son bonding opportunity. Those are just two of the ways it brings value to us. So receiving a defective part and not being able to get a replacement for two weeks makes a difference. Maybe if people in the testing dept. saw my son's eager face they would have checked better. The customer service person with kids of their own who promised a replacement part may have acted faster if they knew a dad had to tell his son to wait a little longer to fly his first plane.

Implementing these tools and others are minimal cost or free and readily available. Leverage this high-tech world and impress upon you people the importance of their high-touch in all they do.

How do you keep your staff from loosing sight of the lives the impact?