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ReCap of the HR Series

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I am an optimist. I gravitate toward stories that are heartwarming and inspirational. If you’re like me, then you likely experienced COVID news as an assault on your state of mind.

 

For months, there was a dearth of positive news as devastating COVID stories dominated the headlines. As an optimist and business leader, I responded to this crisis in the only way I could: find and promote good stories that offer a light during this dark time, highlighting inspirational individuals on the frontlines of the pandemic. The series was called, “The Unsung Heroes of COVID, Interviews with HR Professionals.”

 

I prioritized HR because there was a conspicuous absence of news reports about the people who were managing the work lives of others, helping employees get up and running with remote home offices, and/or improving facility safety for those who needed to work onsite. I was lucky to speak with high-level professionals who gave a firsthand account of the front lines of human resources during a global disaster and how they kept a positive outlook.

 

From these conversations, a few themes jumped out and they are instructive. First, was the idea of business culture. Dee Marrs, President of AustinPeopleWorks pointed to the adage “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and said that HR and Leadership must ensure that the right culture is supported and ferociously protected. As companies pivoted to a remote work environment, Mrs. Marrs pointed to examples of how to ensure ‘respect in the workplace’ and going beyond a weekly check-in call. Companies shifted their focus to think more carefully about health and wellbeing as well as keeping remote employees engaged, excited, and feeling valued.

 

Melissa Morgan, HCM Process Consultant with Paycor made an important observation, she noticed two different mindsets among business leaders, and it mattered. There was panic mode, which resulted in furloughs, closings, and contractions. Then there was the optimist mode, which calmly recognizes that tough times are cyclical and businesses can still thrive.

 

Optimists have used this time to prepare for the future because they understand that great change, even very tumultuous change, is a time for growth and helping others. And this last point – helping others and being engaged on a social level, is critical. David Hughen, Founder and CEO, AustinWorkNet pointed out that Millennials and Zoomers just entering the workforce want to attach themselves to companies that do social good. Companies that have in their DNA a cultural commitment to give back to the community are better able to differentiate themselves and attract great employees to create high-performance organizations.

 

The topic of the “new normal” for remote work has been discussed ad nauseum but I’m mentioning it here because our Series’ participants talked about innovative hybrid environments around workplace expectations.

 

Debbie Smith, Executive Vice President of Human Resources with E2Open said they were in no hurry to get everyone back to the office. Some people may be able to continue to work from home indefinitely while others struggle to maintain boundaries at home. She highlighted that employees may be getting more work done at home because there is no natural stopping point. Her concern was that staff are overworking not underworking. She said the main goal is to make sure employees take care of themselves first. E2Open is now offering to cover internet charges over what their employees would normally use at home to help defray the cost of home offices.

 

If companies move to remote office permanently, it highlights major cost savings from commercial real estate rents, utilities, and other expenditures associated with large offices. A fraction of those savings could go to employees to incentivize working from home.

 

The question of keeping people connected is still a concern. David said he has been inspired by the humane ways in which organizations are maintaining comradery in a virtual environment, like Zoom happy hours and games. We also heard about LinkedIn contests for the best home-office photo and free mental health services for employees.

 

We are grateful to our participants, leaders in HR, for providing some good news and interesting ideas during a difficult time. Their time and effort is so valuable to the lives of so many. As many HR professionals already know, you can’t spell “hero” without HR.

 

Moving forward we will be launching our new blog series as we continue exploring overlooked professions for inspiration and knowledge. Next up, we will be featuring Pharmacists and their role in helping control drug costs. You may not know it, but your pharmacist is doing a lot more than putting pills in a bottle. You will be surprised and amazed.

HR The Unsung Heroes of COVID: A Conversation with Debbie Smith, Executive Vice President, Human Resources with E2Open

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Continuing our blog series, “The Unsung Heroes of COVID, Interviews with HR Professionals” Tom Dorsett, CEO of RazorMetrics, spoke with Debbie Smith, Executive Vice President, Human Resources with E2Open.

Debbie Smith has more than 25 years of domestic and international human resources experience. She joined E2open in 2015 and currently serves as Executive Vice President, Human Resources.  In this role, she is responsible for developing strategic and tactical human resources programs, plans, and processes that support company growth.  This includes recruitment, providing competitive and attractive reward systems, and ensuring the quality and depth of leadership throughout the company.  She has to lead a global HR team supporting the growth of E2open from 425 to 2,400 employees and the integration of 13 acquisitions. Debbie holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business management from Saint Joseph College, Connecticut.

Tom:  What were your greatest challenges responding to COVID?

Debbie: It may sound surprising, but we did not face any significant challenges. We have 2,400 employees at E2open, 2/3 of them are in the Asia Pacific region.  We were able to pivot to a work from home environment in short order. Our local leadership had the foresight to obtain laptops for those without them before the pandemic, so all of our staff were equipped to continue working remotely.

We anticipated that stress and uncertainty would be a factor, so we leaned into our strong culture of transparency, reassuring people of the company’s strength by continuing salary increases, promotions, and bonuses. We are still hiring, and our remote onboarding is going very well. We know that turnover went down after the quarantine went into effect.

Keeping our people informed and responding to questions is a high priority.  We encourage people to ask questions during our regular ‘All hands’ meetings and our CEO does a great job addressing questions and reassuring people on the strength and stability of the company. HR gives a regular update to assure people that working from home is fine.

In addition, we quickly installed a global employee assistance program to help our employees manage stress in a culturally relevant way and while it was deemed to be an urgent need, to date it has had low activity.

Tom:  How are you managing a return to the office?

Debbie: We are in no hurry to get everyone back to the office. We have 25 offices worldwide and are at different stages in the slope of the virus spread so some will open earlier than others.  We have published guidelines for what returning to the office will look like, however, we are going slow erring on the side of employee wellbeing.   When it is deemed safe to do so, we are allowing certain staff into the office if they wish to return.  There is no penalty for staying home during this time, in fact we are now offering to help cover internet charges above standard needs. We understand that some people have underlying health issues, kids who are remote learning, aging parents, or any number of other reasons that require working from home. There is no rush back to the office, however, we expect that a return to the office will happen as we gain stability

Tom: Do you think ‘work from home’ will become the standard?

Debbie:  I do not think that will happen for us.  Work from home offers some appealing savings in real estate, travel, and materials but only time will tell if that becomes the dominant work format.  Some of our staff want to get to an office because they say working at home is too distracting or the space isn’t productive for them.

We have been able to successfully run large scale meetings via virtual means during the last six months, so we know this can work.  However, the loss of networking and team building that happens in physical settings is felt.  We look forward to coming together when it is safe.

Tom:  Do you have any advice or recommendations for resources to help other HR professionals who may also be confronting this challenge?

Debbie:  Supporting the remote environment and ensuring managers are equipped to manage their teams is imperative.  Listening to your employees and having regular, open communication channels.   Helping employees set boundaries has been important.  Working from home does not provide a bright line between professional and personal life, so while people may feel more productive by working more hours, it isn’t the healthiest approach.  We encourage people regularly to take time off to refresh and relax.

HR The Unsung Heroes of COVID: A Conversation with Melissa Morgan, HR Process Consultant with Paycor

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Continuing our blog series, “The Unsung Heroes of COVID, Interviews with HR Professionals
Tom Dorsett, CEO of RazorMetrics, caught up with Melissa Morgan,  HCM Process Consultant with Paycor.

Melissa has more than ten years in Human Capital Management Process Consulting and has been trained and mentored by the best in the industry. She has been with Paycor for four years since she opened the market in Austin, Texas in 2016. Melissa is an award-winning consultant with start-up fortitude and enterprise finesse. She challenges the status quo and disrupts existing models with the belief that clients deserve the highest performing products and services that help them achieve their business goals. She is a leadership mentor, trainer, and passionate volunteer. Melissa serves on the Executive Committee for ACG and is VP of Awards.

 

Tom: What were your biggest challenges helping companies manage the COVID crisis and return to work?

Melissa: Communication has been the most important thing. News is changing all the time—the family first response act, new earnings codes, PPP loan tracking, tax deferrals—the COVID situation is fluid and things change fast. I’ve heard clients say that as soon as they figure something out it has expired. It’s critical for businesses to stay on top of the incoming information and keep employees and customers informed. This must be done quickly and consistently.

We had an emergency response team already identified and ready to go before COVID. We understand that emergency situations will happen, that’s just life, so we prepare in advance for sudden disruptions. When COVID struck, our emergency response team was activated and hit the ground running. We are a large company and had the capability to do this. Average to small companies did not. For these companies, it was critical to take time and assign personnel to stay informed and communicate to the rest of the company.

The way communication is accomplished has also been a challenge. Different people process information differently, so it was important for us to set up a variety of content points. We chose webinars, a COVID Support Center on our website, email, social media, and articles on best practices, like “How to work from home with kids.”

Morale was also a big priority for us. COVID is scary and working from home can be isolating. We communicated clearly and quickly about our working-from-home policies to make sure no one was confused or worried.  We focused on making the remote environment fun despite the struggle. For example, we held a contest and asked people to post a photo of their home office on LinkedIn. The winners received a free Apple AirPod! Employees are going to have higher anxiety levels during this time, so we encourage businesses to look for fun ways to keep people connected and rally the teams.

Tom: How are you managing the work-from-home challenge?

Melissa: Many Americans are working from home with kids, including me, and this is a real challenge because of distance learning. All across America, people have new co-working spaces in their dining rooms. My eight-year-old starts distant learning this month and I am taking personal days to help her get set up and figure it all out. My manager was really supportive, and this meant a lot to me, that leadership understands work-life balance. We are staying optimistic and moving forward to make the best of it.

The CEO, CFO, and HR leads need to be that light to put employees at ease. Communication from the executives helps keep everyone calm. During March and April, a lot of people were panicking, but leadership must be the voice of reason to employees and customers. Communication should focus on de-escalating fear and anxiety. I found the best example of this is video messages from leadership teams. Paycor’s leadership gets on a panel and provides a video update on the business and it’s nice to see their faces and hear their voices.

Tom:  Do you have any advice for other HR professionals who are facing the same challenges?

Melissa: From a business perspective it is critically important for HR and finance leaders to coordinate and communicate. Depending on the group, these teams should sit down daily or weekly and discuss what is going on in the business – turnover, benefits strategy, prescription benefits, burnout, retention, etc. Finance and HR need to have a unified morale strategy to keep it high while managing costs where possible. Businesses that have forward-thinking HR tools can provide the CEO and CFO important data about headcounts, where business is trending, how many people have left, and why they have left. This data allows leadership to have those important conversations.

I have noticed two different mindsets among business leaders, and it matters. There is panic mode, which results in furloughs, closings, and contraction. Then there is the optimist mode, which holds the idea that we’ve been through tough times before and still thrived. Optimists are using this time to prepare for the future because they understand that in one way or another great change is a time for growth and helping others.

HR The Unsung Heroes of COVID: A Conversation with Dee Marrs, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and President at AustinPeopleWorks

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Continuing our new blog series, “The Unsung Heroes of COVID, Interviews with HR Professionals” Tom Dorsett, RazorMetrics CEO spoke with Dee Marrs, President of AustinPeopleWorks. AustinPeopleWorks is a modern solution for the gig economy that aligns people’s operations with a business’s vision and objectives.

 

Dee has spent the last 25+ years in the human resource management space supporting companies, their leaders and employees with HR guidance and oversight.  She works nationally across a variety of industries including healthcare, manufacturing, retail and hospitality, high-tech and in both the public and private sectors. She is a subject matter expert in the areas of HR compliance and best practices, HR infrastructure, and policy and procedure development, benefits, leadership development, and employee relations and employee development.

 

Tom: What are your top 3 challenges helping companies manage the COVID crisis and return to work?

 

Dee: This is obviously uncharted waters for all leadership teams. It’s different than other disruptions our profession has faced—natural disaster or sudden loss of key customer(s)—the level and length of the uncertainty is unprecedented. To navigate the challenge businesses will undoubtedly create new ways of conducting business, whether that is through teaming up with competitors, re-engineering services with different supply chain strategies, and / or going back to basics.

The first challenge is culture. Following the adage “culture eats strategy for lunch,” HR and Leadership must ensure that as organizations refit themselves and adapt, the right culture is supported and ferociously protected. This means reinforcing ‘respect in the workplace’ and focusing on health and wellbeing, and keeping remote employees engaged, excited, and feeling valued. It takes so much more than just a weekly check-in call.

The second challenge is building and maintaining trust; this is more critical than ever before. As businesses slowly re-open, employees need to know that their safety is a top priority. This means that new health practices and protocols must be rigorously followed, top down.  In addition, during this time of layoffs, furloughs, terminations, and business closures, HR and Leadership must ensure the employee experience is as positive as possible. Delivering devastating news takes a toll on HR and Leaders. Regrouping to support the organization moving forward requires strong self-awareness, empathy and clear communications so that employees can trust their managers, HR and Leadership. When there is trust, transparency, and inclusion, even bad news can be accepted and digested within organizations.

Finally, companies must stay on top of the rapidly changing compliance requirements. The complexity of them all has just upped the game for HR leaders. Employees are fearful and concerned, but when HR and Leadership know and understand the changes, they can better provide leadership insight and support.

 

Tom: How are you helping companies manage these challenges?

Dee: In several ways. We advise companies to make sure employees feel valued and appreciated. This can happen in a variety of ways:

  • Actively listen to their ideas and give them credit where appropriate.
  • Consistent communication, with clear definitions of job responsibilities and expectations.
  • Proactively be aware of employee time restraints and challenges they may be juggling with new and sometimes unrealistic demands on them coming from forces outside of work and help provide alternative and creative solutions to needs and challenges they may be facing.
  • Promote fairness and transparency by explaining the thought process behind various decisions, which can help employees feel included and respected.

 

Tom:  Do you have any advice for other HR professionals who are facing the same challenges?

Dee: First of all, HR has to work within an environment that seems to be changing daily. Wear masks. Don’t wear masks. Open up for business. Don’t open, or scale it back. The company’s operational and sales leadership are being challenged to operate in an environment totally foreign to them. There is no place to go find information on how to do this. HR has to partner with business leadership on those issues while handling the everyday HR functions. If the company is large enough to have staff dedicated to pandemic issues, then they might pick up compliance responsibilities. If not, and if no one else steps forward, HR might take this on. So, it is important to figure out where you can get the right information, and then help with the plan to adapt it to your business model.

In this Covid 19 environment we have adopted a multi-part approach.

  1. Don’t take your eye off the ball. From a business perspective, adapting to Covid will drive up costs and decrease margins. Management must be supported despite what is going on, since quality and service cannot suffer. However, the company must remain profitable, so controlling costs is still important. The best way to strike the right balance is by keeping a strong focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with an even a bigger focus than usual on the various ways companies share results and communicate with employees.
  2. Ensure that the new operational rules that govern how you operate with Covid are communicated clearly to employees. It is important that HR is aligned with management on what policies they want and how they will be enforced. New rules must be written and communicated, and no rule should be put in place unless it can be and will be enforced. It is important to stress to employees that it is not only for their good but for the good of their fellow employees. It is also important for Leaders to set the example. If masks are the rules, it is important that Leaders check themselves for compliance. Some of this might sound trivial but a strong approach to all the above helps to keep people focused on their jobs as opposed to things beyond their control.
  3. Empathy. This is probably the most important point. Employees’ families are affected. With school closures, childcare is and will be an issue. Leadership has to decide what their official stance will be and relay it to HR. Will it be business as usual where each employee is responsible, or will the company lend a hand? Coaching for managers may be needed on how to handle these issues.
  4. Communicate often and when possible, in person. Leaders and HR need to be more visible than ever. Covid updates from official sources should be relayed by Leadership and HR in a timely fashion. It will be important to remember to be empathetic to issues that employees are experiencing, and it will be important to routinely reference KPIs or the business practices that made the business what it is.
  5. Help the sales guys! Many of these people are isolated from offices and the contacts they once made in person to customers are now handled virtually. Sales will need help with the messaging they need to be giving to their customers. Make sure they have the tools they need and the know-how to tell the customers what is going on with their business and how it is going to continue to meet their expectations.

 

If you know an HR executive that would be a good candidate for our blog, please let us know.

HR: The Unsung Heroes of COVID

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A Conversation with David Hughen, Founder and CEO, AustinWorkNet

To kick off our new series, our CEO Tom Dorsett sat down to Zoom with David Hughen, founder and CEO of AustinWorkNet. David provides a high-level perspective on the broader HR landscape in the COVID era.

 

David Hughen is a successful entrepreneur who built his 25+ year career on helping organizations succeed by coaching their leaders and addressing their human resource needs. He is the founder and CEO of AustinWorkNet, which focuses on optimizing employee commitment, performance and productivity by aligning them to the organization’s strategic business goals. Before AustinWorkNet, David co-founded Austin HR, which was acquired by Asure Software. David is a thought leader and one of the originators behind the HR roundtable, which has been bringing together HR leaders spanning multiple industries (though, primarily represented by the tech industry) to drive discussions around emerging trends in managing modern work life for the past 20 years.

 

Tom: When the pandemic was just beginning, what was the experience for HR professionals?

David: In the beginning, it was very reactionary. Getting employees remote was the immediate need for many but the capacity to manage the sudden challenge varied significantly. Until recently, companies have been in a responsive mode trying to gauge their human capital, operational needs, and revised financial expectations. A lot of time and energy has been spent on evaluating short- and long-term projections. Companies had to make hard decisions about furloughing, reduced pay programs, or layoffs. It took its toll.

 

Tom: You mentioned until very recently companies were being reactive. What’s changed?

David: Companies are just beginning to raise their heads up to reconsider how to manage their business. It’s moved from reactive to proactive. They are looking to invest—where possible—in the things that are necessary to distinguish the company in the marketplace.

 

Tom: What is the new focus for companies coming out of the reactive phase?

David: Companies are shifting back to the things they do best: developing new business channels, creating a high-performance organization, and remaining committed to giving back to the community.

 

That last piece is especially important to Millennials and Zoomers just entering the work force. These folks want to attach themselves to companies that do social good. Companies that have in their DNA a cultural commitment to give back to the community are better able to differentiate themselves and attract great employees to create a high-performance organization.

 

Tom: When talking about creating a high-performance organization, how are HR professionals managing work life in light of the pandemic?

David: As some parts of the country are re-opening, most companies are taking it slow. HR leaders are trying to help employees deal with a variety of issues — from employees suffering from cabin fever, extroverts wanting to get back to a workplace, working parents without childcare who need to stay home, executives who want to see employees back on the worksite and many other situations. They are focused on designing return to work programs and are working with facility managers to create a safe return. At the same time, they are extending accommodations for work-from-home through the end of the year.

 

The general theme is to go slow until we have a better understanding of the health impacts. It’s still a live condition. No one wants to make the headline “we started up and then had two COVID cases leading to us shutting back down.”

 

An HR colleague shared that her company reopened too quickly. They were, in part, trying to accommodate the extroverts. But the required PPE and other safe workplace protocols made people feel weird. Others just didn’t feel safe.

 

Tom: There’s been a lot of conversation about the “new workplace”. What’s your long-term take on that?

David: It will look different for many companies moving forward. There will likely be a combination of both work-from-home and work-from-office.  The office may shift into a “touch downing” location where less people have defined work spaces. There is a strong argument to having people on site because it allows for immediate access and interpersonal interactions that are so productive in a work environment. That said, there are many tools available now to recreate that interpersonal experience, i.e. Slack, IM’ing, among others.

 

The extent to which companies can create conditions where people are not hampered and may utilize tools that can be incorporated into the rhythm of work life will determine the change. Nine to five may be replaced with a variety of rhythms in the way employees engage with each other, set up meetings, hand off work, etc. Companies are trying to sort through it all.

 

Tom: You mentioned that companies had different capacities to react. What made the biggest difference?

David: Companies with employees that interface more with computers were able to pivot quickly and effectively. Tech company employees work online as a matter of normal business so remoting in for a meeting was easy. Life has not changed that much.

 

Manufacturing was less flexible because people must be onsite to physically make the product. Their challenge was updating procedures to keep employees safe inside the facility. Any company with aging IT or a workforce not used to interfacing online had a difficult transition. Really, every organization has their own story.

 

Tom: Have you heard any stories about HR leaders innovating during this trying time?

David: I’ve been inspired hearing the humane ways in which organizations are accommodating the situation. I’ve seen companies find great ways to keep people informed, communicating constantly. In an absence of information, people often assume the worst. HR leaders are innovating ways to keep staff connected by offering fun things like happy hours and games on Zoom and other platforms. A company’s culture is a precious commodity. The best leaders are finding ways to recreate the comradery and support of the office environment.

 

 

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