It’s 2017. You’re probably reading this post on your smartphone while flipping back and forth between your social media apps. If you’re not using HR software to automate your small business processes by now, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
For years, I worked in a small business tracking HR stats and metrics on an Excel spreadsheet. Why? At the time, most HR systems were geared towards mid-sized to large organizations and simply were not cost effective for small businesses. Today, there are an abundance of options. In fact, I would venture to say the market is “saturated” with small business HR software that can automate just about everything. So, small business owners no longer have the “not cost effective” excuse to hide behind. On the contrary, it is simply not cost effective to go without HR software when you count up the number of hours spent on manual tracking and data entry (and fixing data entry errors).
Although I am an HR professional, I also consider myself to be an HR technology nerd. I have a knack for digging in and exhausting system features, and if there is a bug to be found I’m usually your girl. So, in the course of running my consulting business, I’ve demoed and tested dozens of HR software systems (i.e. HRIS, performance management, ATS, benefits administration, etc.). I have also been retained by clients to help them research, demo and test systems, and subsequently provide implementation and customization support after they have selected their “right fit”.
So what exactly does "right fit" mean? At their core, HR software systems do the same things. Most can be manipulated to fit your work processes, but they all have differentiators that make them special. Choosing the right system(s) is a bit like choosing who to date. First, you have to decide what qualities (i.e. features) you are looking for in a software “mate.” Then, you have to decide which of those is most important to you (the non-negotiable must-haves). Once you have narrowed that down, you know where to start.
I’ve found that many traditional HR systems were born from payroll products - the costly big guys who most people have heard of (and many small companies still use). They have tried adding HRIS, performance, benefits, training and ATS modules on to their payroll solutions, but they often come with a hefty price tag, marginal to poor customer support, and/or half-baked "custom" features. So, whether or not your small company is willing to change payroll providers plays an important role in selecting the right HR system. If you are willing to change, then there are some very cost-effective end-to-end solutions that do a fantastic job of automating processes all the way from recruiting to employee exit. If you are happy with your payroll provider and don't want to change, then there are core HR systems with partner or add-on modules that can integrate with existing payroll, resulting in custom end-to-end solutions. (The biggest challenge with the latter approach is when the various systems can’t be accessed via single sign-on, and you end up with a bunch of logins and different looking interfaces, which can be frustrating for you and the employees.) Either approach can work, but integration and automation are the keys.
One of my favorite clients to date has given me free reign to automate their end-to-end processes through the use of HR software. When a new employee joins their organization, the entire system of on-boarding (i.e. tedious paperwork), entering them into payroll, and enrolling them in benefits (i.e. more tedious paperwork) takes about 10 - 20 minutes for HR, and 20 – 30 minutes for the employee. No paper forms, no emailing attachments, and a pretty impressive first impression for the new hire. And, since the employees enter almost all of the information themselves, the margin for error is extremely low. The software also manages (among other things) self-service changes, online employee files, performance reviews, tracking training and assets, and processing exits. The cost? For each employee, the total monthly amount is roughly equivalent to what it might cost to buy them a few cups of coffee.
For small companies who don't have the luxury of employing a dedicated HR professional, HR automation is essential. If you are interested in exploring HR software for your small business, there's no better time than now. We can help, and your bottom line will thank you.
Having spent the past several years starting and running a small business, and also providing consulting services to dozens of small business clients, I’ve gained a bucket load of insight about what makes a small company tick. From the CEO down to the newest intern, small company people share a similar profile and they embrace a sort of business continuum.
Starting a new business is risky for the business owner. There is usually limited stability, and it is not for the faint of heart. If you are a potential employee considering joining a small business, you likely need to have a “nothing to lose, much to gain” personality. If the business succeeds you succeed, and vice versa.
Small businesses need money. If you are the owner, you either need sustained contracts or capital. If you are the employee, you need to get a paycheck and you want competitive benefits. A little stock ownership never hurts either!
Good people are the heart of any business, and smart owners understand this. You need people who will drive the brand, work with you to define the future, and help achieve success. If you are a job seeker, you likely want to work both with and for people that you respect and enjoy. In a small company the hours are rarely 9 to 5. A substantial amount of time is spent with your boss and co-workers, so if you don’t have mutual respect things can get ugly in a hurry.
For the business owner, developing a successful brand requires focus and strategy. You need to know your market, and promote a credible and interesting product or service. As an employee, becoming part of a brand that you are proud of provides a measure of job satisfaction. A great brand is exponentially easier to sell to clients, friends, and potential recruits.
Once a business is established, for the owner it becomes about “where do we go from here.” It’s about expansion versus enhancement or more simply put, about growing the bottom line versus continuously improving what you already have. For the employee, the future is about “where can I grow from here” but the answer is less traditional. The career trajectory of a small company employee is more likely to be sideways than upwards. It often involves gaining new skillsets versus taking on positions of increased responsibility. Ladder climbers beware – the small company is probably not for you!
The desired end result for any business owner is the reward, which either comes in the form of a profitable, well run organization with happy employees, or a big payday. For the employee, the reward is not as well defined, which is why all of the other factors are so critically important. Sometimes, the reward is in the roller coaster ride itself.
In a nutshell, small company people are the ones who eagerly brave the business continuum and enter into the cycle over and over again. They are the “roll up your sleeves and get it done” people of the world who are always on the hunt for their next adventure, both inside and outside of the office. They bring structure rather than require it, and they aren’t afraid to take on challenges in areas where they may not have much experience.
Are you a small business insider? From one to another, enjoy the ride!
Although I have done a lot of recruiting in my career, until I became a consultant I have always recruited as an employee within a company, so I’ve been able to represent the company as “one of their own.” As a consultant, I now only do recruiting on a limited basis, either for existing clients or people / companies that I know. There is a process of learning the company when you are on the outside – you must “build the story” in order to accurately represent the opportunity to a potential candidate. Having recruited on both sides of the fence, there are a few things I have learned that are critical in successful recruiting across the board.
Know how to represent the opportunity
We’ve all been job seekers at one time or another, and I think I can probably speak for most when I say that the experience of understanding the job opportunity first comes from the recruiter. Recruiting is sales – we are selling the opportunity to the buyer and they want to know they are getting a good “product” and later on, a good deal. If we haven’t been given all the tools we need to develop our sales pitch, the candidate won’t buy it.
Be quick to respond
Whether a candidate is actively or passively seeking a job, they want to know where they stand with regard to your opportunity. You may have the sales pitch down and get them excited during the first conversation, but if you can’t follow through in a few days about what is happening in the process they will quickly lose interest.
Engage the people making the hiring decision
The interview team must be engaged in the process. They are running the next leg of the sprint – taking the baton and keeping the adrenaline going for the candidate. They must understand and buy in to the importance of keeping things moving.
Don’t postpone interviews
The candidate must be a priority. Everyone has legitimate reasons from time to time for why scheduled meetings must be postponed, but when you reschedule an interview, the candidate is more than likely going to wonder what the “real” reason might be. Postpone twice, and those other companies courting them are going to become a lot more attractive.
Post interview is your greatest opportunity to close the deal if the candidate is someone you would really like to hire. This will require a lot of action, from following up with the interview team to determining a potential offer, and making sure that all happens quickly. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are the only company they like. Great candidates will likely have multiple offers from good companies, and sometimes the first company to the finish line is the winner.
When it comes right down to it, recruiters can’t guarantee a successful outcome unless everyone is engaged in the process. Candidates want you to court them, keep them engaged, and tell them truth. Everyone dealing with the candidate needs to be on the same page. They want to know what the company is really like, whether they will fit in, if the pay is in line with what they are making / asking for, and what they are really going to be doing if they accept the position. No job opportunity is perfectly represented, but the closer you can get to laying out all the facts, the better chance you have at making the hire.
There’s some healthy debate going on right now about the value of HR, what we should call it, and whether companies really need it at all. In his article titled “Why We No Longer Need HR Departments,” Bernard Marr has suggested that HR is dead, and companies should do away with it altogether. Josh Bersin on the other hand, in his article titled “Why We Do Need the HR Department” states “human resources professionals solve some of the most important problems in business today” (an opinion with which I tend to agree). Interestingly, while both authors are coming at it from different angles, after reading their articles I was surprised to see that they are actually saying many of the same things.
Marr suggests that we should do away with the HR department, and reinvest in the “people function” which focuses on attracting, retaining and developing people; Bersin agrees that while the HR name might be antiquated, research shows that we need strategic HR professionals to hire and develop leaders within the organization. Ultimately, there is agreement that companies need people who are focused on creatively tackling the challenges of finding good candidates who are a fit for the organization from both a skills and a cultural perspective, engaging those people early on, finding ways to motivate them, and making sure that they are growing in their careers all while contributing to a strong bottom line.
Think about highly successful companies. What do they have that can’t be “bought?” They have employees who are ambassadors for the company because they believe in it. Those employees promote the company brand and culture without being told to do so, and they recruit their talented friends to join in and be a part of it. You can track metrics and do predictive analysis all day (and there is certainly a place for that), but ultimately successful businesses are about engaged people. Just one bad employee – particularly if it is a leader in a small company – can quickly turn the tide and blow all of your well-designed metrics.
For many years, I worked as the sole “HR person” in a technology company. If you want to find a group of people who are skeptical and difficult to win over when it comes to buying in to HR, just put yourself in a room full of software engineers. Personally, I’ve never written a line of code, never run a daily scrum meeting during a sprint, and have never been responsible for identifying, troubleshooting, and debugging system errors. But I have successfully hired, managed, motivated, rewarded and retained technical people who found me to be a credible advocate for them, as well as a strong proponent of the business. Why? Because I chose never to hide behind my HR title. To be taken seriously, people in HR or any other function within a company need to understand the business from end-to-end. This doesn’t mean each person needs to be an expert in every function – it just means that we need to take the time to understand the other functions and how they relate to the business as a whole. As HR people, this affords us the opportunity to create programs and initiatives that are both relevant and effective.
Regardless of what we choose to call them, companies will always need creative thinkers who can design and facilitate effective programs that attract, retain, motivate and develop people. I once heard someone say in another context that people tend to spend too much time arguing about the “minors” instead of agreeing on the “majors” and working towards progress, and I couldn’t agree more. So go ahead, call me HR. As long as you believe I’m doing work that moves the business forward I can take it. I’ve been called worse.
In an era of job uncertainty, conducting an employee engagement survey can be a silver bullet for your business. Employers of any size will benefit from surveying employees, but they can be particularly useful for small companies who may find themselves at that growth point where they have moved beyond the ability to know (in theory) what concerns their employees, and what they care about.
At my prior company, we started doing our annual employee survey when we had about 30 employees, and we continued the survey each year as the company grew. The feedback we received was invaluable, and it provided us with much needed insight into the minds and motivations of our employees.
I believe that with employee surveys, there is no “one size fits all” approach. There are plenty of generic surveys available online that you could quickly implement, but the results you get from a survey will only be as good as what you put into it. If you really want to reach into the minds of your employees, you need to create a thoughtful, customized survey that will address very specific issues that are important to your company.
When creating a survey, here are a few tips:
If you take the time to create a thoughtful survey that doesn’t shy away from addressing tough issues, your company will realize a much greater return on investment than you might expect.
I am in the process of reading “Start Something That Matters,” a book by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes. I am a fan of the shoes – between my daughters and I we have six pair – but I am also a fan of the cause, and Blake’s story. As I have been ramping up my business, I have been soul searching and trying to figure out how I can use it to do something that would serve a greater purpose than just providing an excellent service for my clients and generating income for my family. I believe that we have a God-given responsibility to help those in need, and there are countless opportunities for us to do so, both as individuals and as business owners. The important thing in any scenario is to find a cause that you are passionate about, and incorporate that into the core of your business. If it really means something to you, then finding ways to further the cause will come naturally. There are so many great quotes that I have earmarked in Blake’s book – quotes that have inspired me as I decide how I will use my business to help others. Here is one of my favorites:
When you live your story, you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. You can just be yourself. It’s been said that there’s nothing more dangerous than someone who has nothing to lose—and it’s true in business too. When you are living your story, it means your actions and your mission are the same…
We all have a story. For small business owners, it is likely some part of your story that provided the motivation for you to take the risk and go out on your own. When you reach a point in your business where things are easier and you are enjoying success, giving back can mean helping others who are just stepping into the shoes that you wore when you first started. What good is success if you can’t use it to help others to be successful as well? So as you build your business, figure out how you can use it to build other people up at the same time. You will create more than just a company – you will leave a legacy.
When looking to contract with an outside company, it’s important to do your homework. You shouldn’t just evaluate the product or service they are offering, but also evaluate the company itself. Just like you try to run a good business that attracts great employees and retains them, your vendors and service providers should be doing the same. Essentially, the quality and continuity of service you receive is directly related to their employees, and their turnover is very likely to affect you.
I can recall working with a software vendor and having three different project managers in less than a 12-month period. Very frustrating. I had to re-explain my company, and our scenario, over and over. So, what are some additional things to consider when choosing to contract with an outside company?
I joined my former company when they were in startup mode. Having worked for several of the federal contracting mega-giants in my prior jobs, I was genuinely excited to be on the ground floor of what I believed was a great opportunity. I was working for people that I admired and respected, and we had a shared enthusiasm that made it exciting to go to work every day.
When I began recruiting people to join our company, a standard question that I asked every candidate was “What attracted you to our company?” Almost without fail, each person answered that it was the ability to be a part of something where their voice mattered, and where they weren’t just a number.
As our company grew, we worked hard to make sure that our employees’ voices were heard and we enjoyed growth and profitability while maintaining a fun, employee-centric culture. As in any growing company, though, there were times when tough issues forced us to make unpopular decisions, and we learned what you probably already know – the larger a company becomes, the less likely it is that the decisions you make will please everyone.
So, what is most important when making decisions that may seem to favor the needs of the business over the wants of your employees? Transparency, and honesty. Simple, but I believe it really is true. Decisions need to be thoughtful, they need to be communicated properly, and company leaders need to be able to explain the “why.”
When it comes to employee commitment, “Transparency isn’t just a public-facing practice. Allowing employees to see where the business outperforms and in which areas it’s weak binds each employee more closely to the company’s strategic goals. Openness and trust (two effects of transparency) create a comfortable environment that spurs innovation and experimentation and reveals early failures or oversights. The more a company trusts [its employees] with its wins and shortcomings, the greater [their] personal connection to the company is and the harder [they] want to work...”
What people really want is to be treated fairly. They want to believe that you are telling them the truth, and that you have thought through each decision carefully. The way company leaders handle difficult decisions and explain them to their employees can make a huge difference between acceptance and discontentment, which could lead to attrition. Unpopular decisions can be tough to communicate, but being transparent and honest is your best bet. Your employees may not like it, but they will respect you for it.
The traditional process of managing employee performance does not always deliver on its intentions. The purpose is to motivate and reward employees, but motivation is intrinsic. External factors either foster or squelch motivation. So many managers are squelchers without even realizing it, and many times, it is not entirely their fault. Companies often impose rules so intensive and processes so complicated they can make an educated person feel completely inadequate, and they fail to capitalize on doing the small but valuable things that could motivate employees.
You would probably agree that performance management is often viewed as the “necessary evil” in your organization. It is the non-subjective way of figuring out who ends up at the top of the heap for increases and bonuses at the end of the year. It can be an arduous and dreaded process that yields the same end result that you might have achieved if you simply lined up your people and subjectively decided who should get what, and when not carried out correctly, it can be a lose-lose for the manager and the employee. I'm not suggesting that you go wild and dump your review process. It has merit, and documenting performance is important for legal reasons, particularly in the event that you ever need historical data to deal with an employee issue. I’m simply suggesting that companies should empower managers to get to know their employees beyond the formality of a process if they really want to motivate them.
So, what if performance management began on day #1 with a focus that was less about a person’s skills, knowledge and abilities, and more about what motivates them? You spend 40 hours a week with your co-workers - often more time than you spend with your own family - yet how many managers know much at all about what motivates their employees and what would make them feel excited about coming to work each day? The way in which you are attempting to motivate your employees might be squelching their motivation instead.
Finding out some very small but important things about the people in your organization should be the first step in the manager-employee relationship building process. This doesn’t need to be complicated. A simple survey can be incorporated into the new hire process to gather the data, and the results can be shared with the hiring manager. Here is a sampling of just a few questions that every manager should be able to answer about their employees.
Are you a company that gives, or one that truly invests in helping others? Many companies give money to charities and provide opportunities for their employees to donate, but fewer actually invest substantial time in doing good or make it a routine part of their culture. Please don’t get me wrong – corporate giving is a wonderful and much needed thing, but if we are being honest, as companies isn’t our giving sometimes like dropping an occasional dollar in the cup of a homeless person? Of course we do it to help, but we do it because it makes us feel better too, and that’s where it ends.
So, why not take it a step further? Why not provide your employees with regular time to invest in something? Not only will this affirm your commitment to giving back, but it will also empower your employees to make a difference. Within a company, being united in an effort to do good for others can break down barriers and create camaraderie. It can boost employee morale and lead to higher retention. Here are a few ways to create a culture of giving:
Giving is good, but investing is better.