Transition Coaching is a Good Investment in You!
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I am an HR consultant. To the untrained eye, that might look like I’m a recruiter, or someone who helps people figure out how to find the right job. But that’s not really what I do for my clients, even though I really think that work is important and valuable, and I highly respect my colleagues who perform that critical function.

I’ve found myself recently crossing that line between talking with really good friends and close colleagues about career strategy and getting meeting requests from people I barely know or just met, to help them with their careers. I often feel like I am giving scattershot advice, and I don’t know how to help them along in their personal journeys toward a rewarding career choice, because I don’t know them well enough and don’t have the tools available that my colleagues have to help identify strengths, tendencies and archetypes. I know what I would want to do, but not everyone is like me. I also don’t have time for a bunch of follow up conversations, which people in transition really need. It feels like I am letting them down when I can’t just jump on every request or question they have, because I am trying to do paid work for my own clients.

When I started thinking it through, I realized that the best choice is really clear. My network has all of the answers that transitioning job seekers need!

When someone recommends, “You need to talk to so and so, he knows everyone,” or “my coworker such and such, she has a great eye for personal branding,” that is a start. It makes sense to go ahead and reach out to that person. But the next question shouldn’t be, “When can we meet for coffee?” but instead should be, “do you know of a good transition coach you would trust with your career?”  

I am a lucky, lucky member of the #HRTribe and I know several amazingly effective and talented professionals I could call, located all over the U.S., if I needed transition coaching. I would contact any one of them immediately if I find myself in need of that assistance. Many folks who know my work understand I am not a career coach. I fear I am not up to the task, and this kind of work doesn’t feed my passion. That said, if we work with one another, as volunteers or on work projects, we are in the same network and know many of the same people. I will go to bat for you and recommend you, and I will send you job leads and get you in the back door all I can. Beyond our connection, that is just good business, because you get a great new job, and the people I know get a great new employee. Everyone feels good about that result!

But the bottom line is that people like me are touchpoints in the job search process, but we can’t be your primary way to get a job. My advice: don’t trust your career to half-hour phone conversations you are having with referrals adjacent to your network, who don’t know the superstar quality of your work, the depth of your values or the fire of your passions. These random calls don’t benefit you or the people you’re talking with as much as you hope they will, because they lack alignment with a real career strategy. Also, the people you set up calls with are busy, and they may even resent your intrusion on their schedules unless they are personally looking to hire someone like you now or in the near future.

The exception? An offer of help should ALWAYS be accepted. There is no such thing from me as a disingenuous offer. If I offer to help someone, that means I have already considered what I can do and am willing to spend time talking about how I can assist.

How do you help your network get a leg up in their job searches? Share with me and we will help everyone up their transition game.

Photo by PhilWolff on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Support 101
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In my consulting, working with employees through difficult times in their lives, including medical and disability issues, I come across a lot of great techniques to support others during a personal crisis. In addition, I have witnessed some (usually well-meaning) actions that don’t help, and actually can make a bad situation worse. For an employee who is facing a devastating medical challenge or serious accident, or that of a family member, support from management and coworkers can be the difference between getting through a tough time and coming back to work with a renewed sense of appreciation and engagement, and toiling through a crisis feeling alone and disengaging from work in a way that is neither good for the employee or for his/her team and employer.

Sometimes employees share full details of a crisis with their coworkers, seeking understanding and help from the people they spend the majority of their lives with. It is a natural reaction for the team to express support initially, but then begin to worry about how the work will get done, and even to withdraw from the employee in crisis and realign work immediately. This is a mistake. A more nuanced reaction is in order, and managers and teammates should take their cues from the employee and allow him/her to dictate what is reasonable, while providing a safety net in case additional help is needed. If someone is still at work and wanting to be engaged and productive, we shouldn’t strip that from the employee, but rather should wait in the wings and only come in to offer help when that support is truly needed. To remove responsibility and meaningful work from an employee without them requesting assistance can make that person feel like their relevance is diminished and that they are being written off as “too sick to work” when they are still there, contributing important forward motion to the team.

Often, employees in crisis worry that they will be marginalized and ejected from the team during the time when they are unable to work, because they understand how important their contributions are and they worry that without them there, someone else will need to take their place, and they will no longer be needed. For this reason, it’s very important that managers clearly articulate their desire to have the employee back at work just as soon as they feel ready, and to check in on a regular basis to let the employee know that their presence is missed and their team is looking forward to seeing them again. That said, this message should not be that there is a lot of work to do and that the team is falling behind because the employee is away, or that pressure is being brought to bear on the employee to force them to return to work before it’s medically appropriate. Rather, the message should be that the employee is in the team’s thoughts and that they want to see him/her back at work when the time is right.

Managers who are aware of one of their team members’ illness and impending absence may have trouble answering questions from the team about what is going on. I have often heard concerns from managers about how to communicate with their teams in a way that helps them understand the impact, but also protect the privacy of the employee in crisis. The right answer, I often advise, is to be clear about the work status of the employee, without communicating details that don’t contribute to the team’s need to plan for work while the employee is out. Often the communication is simply, “Joe Doe is on Short Term Disability/FMLA leave beginning today, and he is expected to return in six weeks, so we will be covering his work during that time. I want you to know that Joe is okay and is looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible.”

Coworkers who are aware of more detailed information because the employee has chosen to share that may be wondering how they can support their teammate. Here are a few easy ideas:

·       Listen. Say, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through this. How are you feeling?”

·       Help. Instead of asking, “Is there anything I can do?” mention something specific, like, “Can I pick up your kids for a playdate?” or “How about I bring by dinner tomorrow night?” If you don’t know your teammate well enough to visit the home, give a gift card to a local restaurant.

·       Stay in Touch. If you are close enough to have your teammate’s cell phone number, call or text each week or two to check in to say hello and let him/her know you care.

Sometimes well-meaning coworkers, friends and even family will do things they think are helpful, but actually aren’t. Here are a few things to avoid:

·       Making it about you. Telling long, drawn-out stories about how you once had an aunt who had the same problem…it’s fine if there was an inspirational outcome and you want to lift your coworker’s spirits, but otherwise, just offer support and a caring, listening ear instead of monopolizing the conversation chatting about yourself when your teammate is the one who needs help.

·       Offering prayers or saying anything about “God’s will” unless you are already sure that is welcome. Some people are not religious, and although offering prayers makes YOU feel better, your coworker may just feel uncomfortable about how to respond. Plus, even if they believe in it, they may feel like God’s will kind of sucks right now. Instead, think of saying, “I am hoping for a quick recovery for you-I’ll keep you in my thoughts.”

·       Sending them crackpot therapies like juice fasting, coffee enemas and crystal healing, in an effort to “make sure they know what will cure them.” If you want to give a referral for a great massage therapist to help your coworker stay in balance during healing, by all means do so. If your coworker asks for your advice, feel free to give it. But telling your teammate that conventional medicine is harmful, or trying to hijack what is already a complicated treatment process for them, is selfish and counterproductive. Keep it to yourself.

·       Avoiding your coworker. If you don’t know what to say, don’t avoid the issue and pretend your friend isn’t going through something tough and risk contributing to their feelings of isolation. It’s always okay to say, “I don’t know what to say. But I want you to get better, and I care about you.”

Most people are very caring and want to be supportive. They don’t intentionally do things to stress out people in crisis and waste their energy when they need 100% of it for recovery. Respecting employees’ privacy, treating them with dignity, ensuring they have an ongoing opportunity to contribute at work as they are able, and providing them with a caring support network are all ways to effectively help a coworker through a crisis. In addition, avoiding the things that don’t help, and focusing on the things that do, can help effectively support employees through crisis and get them back where they want to be, in life and at work!

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Women Lending to Women: Microloans
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I’ve been researching ways to take the success I am generating for my company and pay it forward, especially for other women. After researching options, I’m convinced that microlending is a wonderful opportunity to participate as a partner in women’s business development activities such as farming, retail and services in the U.S. and around the world. This kind of lending allows all of us to band together to support other women and also to reap the paybacks to reinvest over and over to impact an ever-greater circle of women entrepreneurs.

Here are the most promising opportunities I’ve found for microlending:

1.       Kiva: Kiva has an impressive 96.9% loan repayment rate. That means that when I invest in a micro-loan, I can expect to be repaid and can reinvest the funds in other entrepreneurs. Kiva has many different categories of loans, including those focused on women, eco-friendly, agriculture, refugees, U.S.-based, artists, and more, so it’s easy to choose categories and borrowers that resonate with you. With as little as $25, I can make a quick impact. Kiva does not charge fees or interest-field partners can collect reasonable interest to offset costs, but Kiva is careful not to work with field partners who charge inappropriately high rates. You can also choose to do a direct loan, in which case there is no interest charged to the borrower at all.

2.       Prosper: Prosper is a personal loan platform where you can lend to vetted borrowers whose requirements and FICO score are listed on the site. The loans earn a return, typically of about 6.7%, so if you are looking to balance your portfolio with earning opportunities so you can grow the amount you can reinvest, Prosper might be a good option. However, because Prosper is “for profit,” the borrowers are essentially paying them for the opportunity to get funding. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as borrowers need the opportunity to get loans, and the interest return doesn’t seem out of line. You can also invest as little as $25, and diversify your loan portfolio over several borrowers.

3.       Lending Club: Lending Club also allows investments of as little as $25, providing flexibility for lenders. Some interesting options are also available with IRAs and 401(k) rollovers-it appears you can open a lending account with your rollover, and allow the interest payments to add to your retirement funds. This is a good potential plan for people looking to diversity their retirement investments, but doesn’t align with my personal goals for lending. But I mention it in case it could resonate with others.

Microloans are not a magic bullet to eradicate poverty. Women don’t always have access to the education, training, support and control of their own money to make a successful go of a business venture. There is a great analysis of the potential impacts and downfalls of microlending in Barron’s. I am motivated to allocate resources where they will be most effective, but that said, I don’t need to be 100% certain that a loan alone will lift a woman out of poverty. It is an extremely complex issue, and I feel like choosing lending opportunities on Kiva, especially direct lending, allows me to ensure fees are not exorbitant and that other women have the chance to go for their dreams and make their lives better while reinvesting their earnings in their own communities.

Image credit: kiva.org 

Navigating the Patchwork of Paid Family Leave Laws: An HR Challenge Met
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HR professionals are on the front lines of the need for, and implementing requirements around, paid family leave. Given the uncertainty at the federal level in the policy area of paid family leave (PFL), with a recent proposal being floated that would open up workers’ social security benefits for them to “borrow” against their own federal retirement benefits to fund their current PFL time, it’s no wonder that states are stepping in to fill what they see as a gap in employees’ very real and unmet needs in this area. The results are creating significant business, compliance and human resources challenges in implementing a patchwork of legal requirements across the United States.

New York’s state paid family leave requirements became effective on January 1, 2018. A very thorough state-specific overview was recently posted by Megan Holstein on the Jackson Lewis blog here, so please be sure to check that out if you are looking for particular New York PFL guidance. More generally, however, it’s important to consider how operationalizing legal requirements for paid family leave is not as simple as it seems. These are some of the challenging issues that must be resolved by HR:

·       Alignment of current paid leave programs such as PTO, short-term disability benefits, FMLA, and sick leave with the state and local requirements

·       Updating technological systems such as payroll programs and solutions for those in affected states so that accruals, usage and notifications are compliant with the law

·       Changing processes, documentation and protocols for leave requests so that legal requirements are fulfilled

·       Training HR, management and others on new processes and requirements

·       Ensuring that sufficient staff capacity is available to handle state-based processing requirements

·       Recognizing the complex situations that arise where state, local and federal law, as well as collective bargaining agreements and other requirements create the potential for complying with one set up requirements but violating another, and coming up with ways to avert this risk

·       Building the internal expertise and relationships across siloed departments to effectively handle novel issues that may arise, in a way that treats employees like human beings and not problems

Other states where paid family leave is already in effect include California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Washington state passed PFL in 2007 but it has never been implemented. Washington, DC has a new PFL provision that will roll out in 2020. Continued proposals are being brought forward, including the Colorado FAMLI Act, which would apply to every employer with employees working in the state, including very small businesses without HR support to handle the challenges above.

One solution that has been advanced is also called Workflex in the 21st Century Act, also called the #workflexbill. The act, recommended by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to the patchwork of complex requirements continues to impact multi-state employers, amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow employers to opt out of state and local requirements as long as they provide paid leave to all full- and part-time employees with at least 90 days’ tenure. The leave would be provided at the cost of the employer, not the taxpayers or employees. Part-time workers would receive paid leave proportional to the hours worked for their employer.

For HR professionals who are helping employers implement paid leave benefits and operationalize regulatory requirements, being aware of the legal landscape and solving the operational challenges are both critical. Whether benefits are required by law or not, it is up to HR to ensure that employers are meeting the needs of their employees. In addition, smart HR professionals work to align leave with other compensation and benefits options to support the strategic plans of their organizations and capture the benefit to their employer brands that comes with nurturing employees’ needs for paid family leave.  

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Running Your Small Business: Tools That Work
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Running a business is challenging. I’d argue it’s also a lot of fun. Some of the activities I enjoy most about running my business are areas that were new to me when I launched in 2015. Marketing, web design, bookkeeping, timekeeping, tracking mileage and expenses, and social media are all areas where small business must excel with easy-to-access and affordable resources. We don’t have the luxury of expensive tech solutions and teams of employees to implement the day to day requirements of making business work. Luckily, being an HR professional, that area is a snap for me-but it isn’t easy for other small business owners and startups. More on that later!

When I get together with other professionals, often the first questions they ask me are about the nuts and bolts of running a business. That’s something that the most Rockstar internal professional likely hasn’t had experience with. I always start at the beginning. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel in today’s age of easy (and often free) online tools. But since finding the best ones that worked for me has taken some trial and error (not to mention research and time) I’ve decided to save my readers the trouble and share my favorites!

Timekeeping

My favorite: Toggl

Toggl is a super easy and free web-based tool to track time spent on projects. I use it to document hourly work for my clients, but it’s also a good way to organize your time and recapture wasted segments, if you want to use it as an organizational tool. Toggl allows me to track in real time or manually, entering as detailed a description as I wish, and to allocate that time to a client and project. I then can download my entries by different time periods to provide my clients with a detailed outline of how I worked to advance their projects and needs. I’ve found that it not only builds trust and maintains transparency, but it also provides clear evidence for the return on investment in retaining my services.

Bookkeeping

My favorite: Wave

Bookkeeping is a very important part of running a successful small business. Not only is it required for me to keep up with requirements like taxes, accounts payable and payroll, but it also helps me capture expenses, bill my clients in a timely manner, and collect money that is owed to my company. As I have grown, I’m not as much in need of the free online service Wave provides. You may be in need of a more robust system like Quickbooks, especially if you manufacture products or have a more complex business than straight services. But Wave has allowed me to put together professional-looking invoices, review my balance sheet, and provide year-end reports for filing my taxes. It’s a great choice for a simple business that is trying to save money.

Email and Documents

My favorite: Microsoft Office 365

While I have colleagues who utilize Google Docs and Gmail for their solutions, my perennial favorite is Outlook 365. That doesn’t mean that I can’t play nice with the Google folks. I have found ways to use Microsoft’s Windows 10 apps to track multiple email addresses in one place, since I often have email addresses for my clients that are in all different hosting scenarios. I enjoy the predictability of the Microsoft suite, and after a laptop failure last summer, am utilizing cloud storage for more of my data. Along with my significant experience with these Office programs and ability to work quickly within them, there are some new improvements like in-document translation that I have been exploring. Outlook 365 is affordable and reliable. For now, it remains my choice.

Virtual Meetings

My favorite: Zoom

Others have pointed out how Zoom is basically just like Skype. But I would argue Zoom has a more user-friendly interface and provides a better experience. Skype has different iterations, like Skype for Business and regular Skype (which no one can ever find my Microsoft username for) and can be clunky to use when it is set up on someone else’s Outlook account (as I mentioned above, I often use several for different clients) and has legacy users with usernames as well as newer users with Microsoft account names. They don’t talk well with each other. If I can’t find someone by searching with several different pieces of demographic information, there’s something wrong.

Zoom is easy. Easy, easy, easy. Did I mention it’s easy? All you do is provide your link. It is the same link every time and for every meeting you have, if you want it to be set up that way (I do). I opted for the professional plan because on the free plan if you want to meet with more than one person, you can only do that for 40 minutes. I use Zoom all the time and have had great results. It’s not as good as meeting in person but much more high-touch than a phone call.  

That said, some people complain about it. They are usually people who don’t have video available or who are skittish about having to open a new solution (the first time you use it, you will have to set it up, just like GoToMeeting or other similar platforms). The easiest way to use Zoom is to download the app into Windows 10. I have it pinned to my taskbar. Some people just don’t want to be involved with new technology. Since I tend to work virtually at least some of the time, it’s best if my clients are at least open to exploring how a video conferencing platform works. If they are truly wedded to only in-person or phone conferences, it will be difficult to be on site for every meeting, and on the phone it is more difficult to share my desktop or documents on the fly during our discussion. It does limit our collaboration to a certain extent.

Scheduling

My favorite: Acuity

My newest favorite tool is the Acuity scheduler. It’s a free service, and I can easily integrate it into our website onto a hidden link and share it with those who need to schedule a meeting with my company. You can set up availability, either manually or with a set schedule. It’s also possible to block off time when people are out of the office. Scheduled meeting types can also be created, with cushion times in between so there’s time to prepare for the next meeting. My Acuity schedule is set up with a virtual default, using my Zoom link. When you make an appointment on my page, you receive a calendar invite with my Zoom link, and I receive a notification. You also will get a reminder from Acuity the day before your meeting, and you can reschedule if you need to, all right on the scheduling platform.

While I like Doodle when I am scheduling with a larger group, the Acuity scheduler avoids several of those emails: you know, the ones where you say I can make it on blah blah blah and the other person gets back to you a day later saying “sure, blah works,” but then that time is already booked. It truly saves time and I believe people scheduling appointments appreciate the easy and convenient platform. I always let folks know that if they can’t find a time, we can work out something else.

HR and People Strategy

My Favorite: Internal leaders teamed with HR consulting expertise

For small businesses, often internal professionals who are handling HR are office managers, accountants, and even owners. Good people strategy begins with an understanding of HR and how it can help you and your team be successful and compliant at the same time. Strategic HR support also takes away the burden of handling complex employee issues and provides leadership support for your executive team to help you take your business to the next level. For most small businesses with under 100 employees, it may not make sense to employ a full-time HR leader with significant expertise and experience, so consultants like Solve HR can provide that support, troubleshooting, training and mentoring for internal staff members like generalists and coordinators. Not sure what you need? Contact us and we will talk it through with you, free of charge. 

What small business tools do you love? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter @KellyinBoulder and @solvehrinc.

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