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Management strategies: human resources advice for emerging businesses.

Smaller companies in particular feel the effects of high turnover. If you have 10 employees and five of them leave within a year or two, tha'ts 50% of your staff. If you are always "teaching someone the ropes," you lose continuity in a department, and you will have spent a lot of training dollars for no return.

On the other hand, if you are building a business, it is descouraging to find that many of your first hires are poor matches; you begin to doubt your ability to choose good people. Linda Randall, DVM, and owner of Cloverleaf Animal Hospital in Westfield Center, Ohio, says, "It has taken me a year to get a staff that can work as a team. Even though I had hired what I thought were the best people for the job, they just couldn't work together with a common focus. I had to understand that sometimes even the best people don't make it."

If you want to have a long-term, highly motivated, contributing employee, clearly define what you are trying to accomplish. Carefully think throught he qualities and quaifications required to get the job done and interview to finda a match.

If employees are leaving at a high rate, it is important for you to find out why. Exit interviews help to a degree, although most people will not be completely honest. Attitude surveys or focus groups cna tell you what needs to be changed. New companies often have a higher turnover rate, as owners work to define the positions required to produce and market a product. If you begin with the end in mind, provide good training, keep your staff informed and present your company as a team, you should be able to overcome high turnover.

Incentives Really Can Work

Employee of the month, "flex-time", "comp-time," dinner for two, flowers every week, catalog gift choeces, free trips. Banks, offices and retail stores are taking a page from the sales industry, and useing incentives to reward and motivate employees.

Business Digest in Bethel, Conn., rewards its staff by giving extra training. A reward? "Definitely," says Publisher John Rawson. "First of all we have a day together away from the office with a great lunch. I bring in a consultant and we learn how to work better as a team. It is not only a great incentive, but an opportunity for us to grow together, which increases our productivity."

Need to get out a big job? You'll have many more volunteers from the office staff if they know they will have "comp-time" when they need it. Keept them involved and informed.

Borrowing another page from sales, recognize achievers. Although money is always welcome, and your people should be well paid, the reward does not always have to be extravagant or expensive. Plaques, paperweights, "employee of the month" citations and a mention in the newsletter are all welcome motivators.

Look for achievements that may go unnoticed. Most employees are involved in community activities; find out who they are and give awardsa for volunteer work.

Many retail stores are reluctant to talk about it, but they reward employees for new charge-account customers. If you use another credit card, they will often ask you if you would like to open an account with the store. The salesperson who brings in the most accounts receives a choice of gifts.

Other motivators for good performance are the buttons that say, "If I forget to give you your cashier's receipt, you will get a coupon for a free pizza." This is a motivator for the cashier to give receipts because he or she will receive an award for good customer service, and it's easily measurable.

Want to tive awards, but don't know where to begin? Form an incentive team and have them discuss their work. How could they improve it? Give them idea starters and let them tell you what would turn them ln.

Then listen. Give honest accurate feedback. If you are sure their ideas won't work, let them know why. However, don't judge too hastily; give it a try for a period of time. Incentives can be a stimulus to help employees and companies attain goals. And those goals that we are most committed to are usually the ones that we set ourselves.

Good Reviews Start With Great Job Descriptions

A great job description should be more than just a recital of the tasks and responsibilities of the job. If it is well-written, it can be a measurement of the position and the success of a person in that position. Ideally, a job description should be an analysis of the role behavior required to get the job done, a basis for training, a bechmark for hiring.

Job descriptions have to be reevaluated every two years. Outdated, they are meaningless and maybe illegal, especially if you can't prove that the qualifications you are requiring are used on the job. On the other hand, an effective job description not only assures that the right person is in the right position, but becomes a road map during training--an evaluation tool. It almost guarantees successful performance.

To write a good description, start by defining the role of the individual in that position. Develop a list of tasks (a single element/activity of the job). Next, define each task and exactly how it should be performed. Then determine the required qualifications. Make sure that the scope of responsibilities of the position is clearly spelled out. This includes items such as use of independent judgment, number of persons superveised, dollar value of equipment or sales under this person's jurisdiction. Armed with this information, you are now ready to design the job description. Only the most important tasks should be included.

Once the job descritpion is written, it is easy to determine the personal qualifications that are most important for the position. Make a lists of them. Write them as compentencies. Answer the question, "A person who fills this job will be able to...."

Here's an example. The competencies for the Management Planning area of Staff Development in the example Job Description (see box) would be written as follows: A person who demonstrates this competency:

* Is proactive rather than reactive and takes action before being asked to, or before being forced to by circumstances of the business.

* Seeks information needed to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

Now, based on the job description and competencies, you should be able to list the major qualities that contribute to success in that position.

Handle Your Employees With Care

It's said that praise should roll off your tongue like water off a duck's back, and criticism should be as slow as molasses in January. True? It really depends on the style of the employee.

Below are four employees with different behavioral styles: The Direct/Dominant always likes to be in charge. The Interactive/ Infulencer enthusiastically takes on too much. The Steady/ Stabilizer has a structured way of looking at life. The Cautious/ Compliant wants to take very few risks and always be correct. How would you criticize or praise each?

Direct/Dominant: Don is active and outgoing. He usually charges right into a job and gets things done. Don is results-oriented. Although he sometimes irritates people he is a born leader. You can always count on him is a crisis, and, in fact, he may even create one or two. Praise him by letting him know how impressed you are with his ability to focus on the bottom line and get results. Don needs to see criticism as helping him reach his goals faster. Don't tell him what to do. Do talk about bigger challenges, higher visibility and increasing income.

Influencer: Ivy is fun to be around. She is always optimistic and enthusiastic about most projects. She can diffuse the most volatile situations. A great communicator, she has ready smile and cheerful disposition. She's eager to take on new assignments and sometimes over-schedules herself. She is a bit disorganized. She needs to know that she has the approval of others. She likes trophies, applause, outward recognition in front of her peers. To her, ciriticism says you don't believe she is truly a straightforward and optimistic as she seems. If you need to have her modify her behaviour, tell her privately and let her know how influential she is in motivating others.

Steady: Stan is more methodical. He enjoys procedure and policy and can always be counted on to get the job done. A traditional thinker, he doesn't make waves and is a good team player. Stan likes security, and although not charging ahead in his career, he is a very valuable contributor to the business. Change does not come easily to Stan, but given time and adequate reasons he can be counted on to work for the common goal. Praise for Stan would include his team, whether that be his secretary, work group of family. He needs to know that what he is doing is benfiting the company. If you need to criticize or modify his behavior, explain carefully how your request relates to the overall good for the company. No quick changes here, just incremental improvements.

Cautious: Cynthia is more complex. She is an aanlytical, logical, strategic thinker who is most interest in putting out a quality product. She likes to see things in writing and although she finds it difficult to make hast decisions, when she does make a decision it is usually the right one. Her work is quality work. Any criticism of her work is often taken as personal criticism. Make sure that your praise is logical, and let her know exactly why the praise is being given. Be careful with criticism. Take your time and be patient when you explain it to her; it is important to ask for her input on how to improve performance.

Generating The Big Idea

You never know where the next big business builder will come from. Consider Post-it notes. This idea used a product that had been discovered years earlier and written off as a mistake.

One Sunday, Art Fry, a researcher in product develoopment at 3M, was singing in the choir as usual, marking pages in his hymnal with slips of paper, when he remembered an unusual adhesive that had been discovered by another 3M scientist, Dr. Spencer Silver. Thinking that a "temporarily permanent" bookmark might be the ideal use for Silver's product, Fry took advantage of the 3M "bootlegging" policy, which allows scientists to spend up to 15% of their work time on projects of their own choosing. And innovation resulted in a product that the market now finds indispensable.

How do you get such ideas onto the table or into a discussion? In Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles (HarperPerennial, $10.95 paperback), Peter F. Ducker writes that there are often overlooked sources of innovation within a company. New ideas can come from unexpected events or results which at first may be seen as a problem. Customer complaints of having to wait too long for glasses led to one-hour stores like Lenscrafters.

Drucker also mentions incongruities. When something does not make sense, it usually indicates that an important change has yet to be recognized. In 1886, for example, a man named David McConnell gave away vials of fragrance to women who purchased books. Soon women were clamoring for the perfume. An astute marketer, he added a line of fragnace and the California Perfume Co. (later to be named Avon Products) was born.

"We still tell the story of David McConnell," says Evette Beckett, Director of Fragrance Marketing for Avon products Inc. U.S. Division." Our beauty heritage continues today, along with the need to be responsive to our consumer."

To allow incongruities to play a part in your business, don't be so focused on selling your product that you close your eyes to other opportunities. Look for trends, too. These are easily identifiable and often relate to demographics. For example, by the year 2010, the average age of the work force will be 29. Perhaps you can brainstorm innovative ideas that will help your company reach that maturing population.

To get your employees to speak their minds and offer innovative ideas, start by assigning responsibility for monitoring each of these three areas: unexpected events, incongruities and needs based on trends.

Try Story For New Ideas

If most of yoru staff is in the office or meets regularly for conferences, use the creative storyboarding technique to tap them. You will need a wal or board that you can stick pushpins into, a supply of index cards, felt-tip markers and a table to sit six to eight people.

Sotryboarding is a unique way to create a forum for idea exchange. Every month, plan an idean-generating meeting with a different group of employees. The facilitator opens the meeting by asking people to present reasons why the idea-generating meeting is being held. Pin up the ideas under a "Purpose" card. Reasons might include: Get fresh ideas, find the next "Post-it note," speed production, involved the staff--all reasons are accepted and welcomed. You want people to start presenting their thoughts without fear of criticism.

Next, ask for ideas addressing the purpose of the meeting. People write their own ideas on the index cards, which are given to the pinner to be pinned up. This displays collective thoughts. Resist the temptation to criticize; that comes later.

If there is a lull, conduct a "what if" session. What if the new product was produced in a different way? Or had a different fragrance or a different color? How would it look, who would buty it and how much would they pay for it? Look for connections and linkages.

After about an hour, or when everyone has run out of ideas, take a break. Lunch gives a good interlude. When you reconvene start the critical thinking process. Ideas need to be defended. Weaknesses must be uncovered. You'll find that the session is an energetic one, with contributors having the opportunity to influence, persuade and develope ideas that can boost your company's sales. Because everyone participates, stroyboarding is a terrific morale booster.

Keep In Touch With Weekly Reports

If most of your staff is in the field, or you travel a lot, use the 5-15 idea-generating report, so named because it requires no more than 15 minutes to write or five minutes to read. According to Paul Hawken in Growing a Business (Simon & Schuster, New York, $9.95 paperback), two famous mail-order companies successfully use the 5-15 report: Smith & Hawken (specialty garden items) and Patagonia Inc. (outdoor clothing).

Ask for the report to be submitted every Friday, either handwritten or typed. It should consist of three parts. The first part is just a simple activity report for the week. The second part of the report should be a blunt description of morale; that of the writer's and one describing the department's. The last part requires everyone to present one idea that will improve his or her job, department or the company. One idea a week, 52 ideas a year. With the 5-15 report, you'll always have your finger on the pulse of the company, and you'll consistently be generating fresh ideas.

Keeping Staff Morale Up When Business Is Down

The need to keep staff morale high is especially important in a small but growing business, where one unmotivated employee can have a real impact on the bottom line. but how do we go about it? It helps to remember that no two of us are motivated in exactly the same way. However, we are all motivated to meet our own needs. Michael O'Connor, Ph.D., and Sandra Merwin, Ph.D., in their book the Mysteries of Motivation: Why People Do The Things They Do (Carlson Learning Co., Minneapolis, $6), explore "needs-driven" behavior. This, they say, is the behaviour we are most comfortable with, that is natural for us. Generally speaking, if we could feel any way we wanted to, most of us would prefer to:

* Feel good about ourselves

* Have satifying social experiences and the approval of others

* Have job security

* Produce quality work

These four needs are not always satisfied, so any time you, the owner or manager, respond to your employees by filling these needs you can boost morale, even in the most distressing of times. Once you begin responding to the needs-driven behaviours of your employees, productivity and efficiency should increase, as they build a better rapport with customers and with each other.

The need to feel good about ourselves

We all want to feel worthwhile, and this is usually verified by accomplishment. Look for the person who likes to take charge of people and situations. You'll find they like a fast pace and a lot of variety in their work. To motivate this person:

* Give lavish, honest praise for achievement.

* Delegate meaningful work, not just the "grunt" stuff. When you do have to give out the unpopular assignments, always explain why.

* Provide a challenge. Give "stretch" assignments to give them a chance to grow.

* Relate assignments to the bottom line. Make sure that results-oriented people know exactly what impact their input has on profitability.

The need for a satisfying social experience

This is especially important to those employees you often find interacting with someone else: an employee, a customer, a family member. Always busy and always personable, the need is to socialize and to persuade. To motivate those who like to be where the action is:

* Host departmental continental breakfasts once a month. Be there early and mingle with the staff. Listen to concerns, but overall it should be a relaxed social hour.

* If you have company bowling leagues or softball teams, offer recognition at the end of the season, no matter what the standing of the team.

* Make sure there is free coffee and tea available for the staff at all times.

* Ask for volunteers to chair fund-raisers instead of just appointing someone from the Human Resources department.

The need for job security

This past year has emphasized this need. In an often-changing environment, we long for days that were slower-paced and more relaxed. Even those of us who are motivated by activity still remember with affection the long summers of our childhood and the stability of the school seasons. To give your employees just a little sense of stability:

* Keep the staff informed. Use a company newsletter or biweekly update meetings, even when the news isn't good. Everyone will hear the same news, and it will help eliminate the rumor mill.

* Don't make rash promises such as "This is the last time we will have a cutback in staff." Once you begin to lose credibility, it is bery difficult to get it back.

* Remember birthdays and anniversaries. A card or even a single flower from the boss is a great morale-booster.

* Staff working late to help you meet a project deadline? Order in pizza and soda on you. Later, when the project is finished, give each one a "dinner for two" to enjoy with a loved one.

The need to produce a quality product

To many of your employees, quality is akin to personal satisfaction. They are deeply committed to the accuracy and precision of their work. Conservative and disciplined, even strict if that is what it takes, they want to produce the best possible work. To meet the need to produce a quality product:

* Recognize quality work. When a letter or report has been typed perfectly, when a deadline is met ahead of time, when zero defects hae been reached, comment on it.

* Let your staff know that your are always available for consultation. keep your door open--lietarally and figuratively.

* Involve people in decision-making. Let them brainstorm the problem from the very beginning. They will have ownership and be more committed to seeing the program successfully carried out.

* Don't respond to concerns too quickly. It is perfectly acceptable in most cases to say, "I need to think about that, I'll get back to you in a couple of hours." And then do it before the deadline.

"Boosting morale to increase self-motivation and commitment is not difficult if you keep your staff in mind, and give people the opportunity to input their ideas." says William H. Webb Jr., of Greenwich, Conn. "Being president of two companies, [Webb Distribution Inc. (electronic hardware, fasteners and components) and Marco International Inc. (manufacturers of computer memory products)] offers opportunities daily for me to motivate by supporting innovative ideas. Working from my staff's point of view fulfills the Platinum Rule: "Do unto others as they would have your do unto them.'"

Employee Handbooks For Trouble-Free Management

A good employee handbook must do three things. It must enlighten, inform and be drafted carefully to prevent tying you in legal knots. It should also be easy to read. Following are some rules to keep in mind as you write your handbook.

Determine the importance of a good employee handbook to your company. Your employees need to know certain organizational practices and policies. In the example, some topics are fedrally manadated for most emplyers. You have some leeway with the others.

Decide what information will be included to give employees a sense of continuity and pride. A story about the founder of the company, perhaps, or the mission and vision of the owner. What you include has a lot of bearin gon the culture of your organization. Employees need to know what to expect from the company and what the company expects from them.

Draft this information in broad terms so that it cannot be misinterpreted as a legal contract. There is no exact formula to follwo, but before you distribute the book, you might want to run it past your legal counsel. Determine what will be included to let employees know the benefits of being affiliated with the company. When listing benefits, speak in broad but personal language. You want your employees to read the handbook, understand it and even ask questions about it. Include the subjects your employees ask about most often, and the employee work habits that are most troublesome in the company. Consider the subjects that managers tend to complain about; they might be the most misunderstood. Check whether state regulations on subjects such as terminations should be included.

Overtime and holiday pay policies are the ones that, if the language is not properly drafted, might create problems. The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938, tries to enforce a goal of 40 hours a week, with any time over 40 hours paid as overtime. The problem arises when, for example, an hourly worker works a 10-hour day for four days, has been paid overtime for each day, and is then asked to work on the fifth day. If the handbook is not written properly, the employee may also be due overtime pay for all of the fifth day, since he or she has alredy worked 40 hours that week. A State Labor and Employment booklet (Butterworths Legal Publishers, Salem, N.H.) is available in the research section of your library to check for accuracy in your state. It is also important to determine the image that you want to convey. Keep in mind how you want the finished product to look. Will it have the company logo on the cover or will it be a computer-printed version with pages stapled together? Decide on the format. You might want to consider a three-ring binder, so you can add to it easily as the need arises, without reformating the entire manual. Also, when it comes to numbering pages, consider, numbering sections 1, 1.1, 1.2, and then 2 and so on. This will also help retain continuity without extra work. As you edit the handbook, try converting features to benefits. For example, under Equal Opportunity, you may have: "AXON company maintains a policy of nondiscrimination with all employees and applications for employment."

To point out the benefits of such a policy, you might change to: "AXON, a company that values a culturally diverse workforce, maintains a policy of nondiscrimination with all employees...."

The importance of a handbook is to have a record of information that is used daily. If the task seems overwhelming, there is help in the way of books and software. Crisp Publications Inc., 95 First St., Los Altos, CA 94022 (415-949-4888) has an excellent booklet, Writing a Human Resources Manual, by Susan L. Brock and Sally Cabbell ($8.95) that can be used as a reference in developing a handbook. There is alos expert assistance available in the form of a computer program, Employee Manual Maker, available from JIAN Tools for sales Inc., 127 Second St., Top Floor, Los Altos, CA 94022 (415-941-9191). The Manual Maker works with all leading word-processing programs, is as simple to use as filling in the blanks, yet allows you to have a customized program to meet your needs. There are 125 policies already written. Available for both Apple Macintosh and IBM computers (includes 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch disks) for $139. Manual writing was never easier.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Randall, Iris
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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