At Namely, we pair technology with a human touch to create what we call HR for Humans. We believe HR strategies should be designed with the employee experience in mind so you can support engaged, happy workers—the key to any good business. A study by economists at the University of Warwick found that employee happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity and unhappy workers were 10% less productive.
HR professionals are always looking for ways to improve employee experiences. With rapidly changing priorities in the workplace—a greater emphasis on people instead of processes in everything from social media recruiting to employee benefits selection—new HR strategies pop up every day. Oftentimes, combining two very different strategies in ways that may not seem possible at first can be the key to the best outcomes.
Take design thinking and data analytics. Creativity and science. It may seem impossible for both to work hand in hand in your workplace, but the results may surprise you.
Around the world, design thinking is entering conversations about the workplace. It’s all about focusing on the human experience to find solutions that work better for your business, be it with a customer or an employee.
Just because the practice is described as “design” doesn’t mean it’s wholly artistic in nature. Instead, design thinking looks at problem-solving as a trial and error process, taking into account a person's experience and emotion. Tim Brown, credited for defining the design thinking process, describes it in a blog post as “a more collaborative, human-centered approach that can be used to solve a broader range of challenges.”
The Harvard Business Review outlines the concept in four principles to be used when developing ideas. First, focus on a user’s experience. This is where emotion comes into play. When you look to the user to determine which improvements can result in better experiences, your innovations become more effective. Next, use models to examine complex problems. Then, create new, working prototypese’ll go through a specific human resources example regarding prototypes at the end of this post. Finally, tolerate failure—trial and error. The best way to find the best solution is to test it. Not every idea is gold, but there is only one way to find that out.
Diving into design thinking can be like going down a rabbit hole, though. Dean Malmgren, co-founder of Datascope Analytics, says it is a constant process of integration when applied to a business—finding what skills from what departments can help others, or finding even more uses for newfound data. It just keeps going. “It’s like a sweater,” he said. “You tug on the first thread and then there’s a number of things you want to look at.” What’s the context of the information we gathered? How can we improve it?
In the general, business sense, the design thinking's four principles can be further distilled into three steps: innovate, test, and implement. First, brainstorm some ideas for improving any aspect of a company—whether that’s the bottom line, employee engagement, or customer service. Next, make a prototype. This is the trial and error stage where you try the new idea on a smaller scale then collect feedback and make adjustments so that the invention is at its best. Lastly, bring it to life: Implementing the new product or service on a large scale is the final step. All that’s left is to watch the magic—or start the next project.
The design thinking practice is becoming popular across industries, with 79% of executives in Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey rating it as an important or very important issue. And while many employers use it to increase their business strategies, it can be just as useful for an HR department.
Design thinking helps HR focus on the employee experience—a high priority on any HR professional’s to-do list. Deloitte suggests using digital design, mobile app design, and user experience design to make employees’ experiences better.
Bottom line: Design thinking shifts HR from building solutions and tools around policies and processes to building systems tailored to people. One CHRO even calls herself a “chief employee experience officer” in Deloitte’s survey.
It’s obvious that the world of work is changing, but design thinking isn’t the only strategy in practice for making business better. The same Deloitte survey found that 82% of respondents viewed people analytics as important or very important. And, again, it is being used throughout companies and should be considered by any HR department.
In 2013, Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte wrote a Forbes article on the value of data analytics for HR. He cited a number of workplace aspects where data can be effective—including recruitment.
Bersin cited an example from Deloitte’s research on integrated talent analytics. A major customer service provider who analyzed 7,240 employees in seven locations had discovered that “relevant job experience” in customer service meant nothing in terms of performance. After finding this data, the company created a new process to predict high performers through qualities other than customer service experience.
This provider used data to find a weak point in their recruiting and went on to develop a new process that did work. It can be done in any aspect of HR—to build a better environment or even create better communication systems. Data can make processes stronger and more effective.
Putting It All Together
HR can be even more effective by combining data analytics with design thinking to build the best employee experience.
Telstra, an Australian telecommunications and information services company, married data and design thinking to bolster the engagement of their new hires. The goal: lower turnover and increase engagement during onboarding. Using interviews and turnover data, the team started by finding key areas where the employee’s experience could be improved.
Next came prototype testing. Solutions were created, tested, and refined over and over again. As they learned from their mistakes, their end result was a 90-day onboarding program that revolved around four employee actions: join, learn, contribute, and grow. With the implementation of this program, productivity increased, employees were more committed and engaged, and new talent experienced a quicker integration into the org. Today, Telstra uses design thinking in all aspects from leadership to management programs.
Combining data science and design thinking brings together technology and human processes to make for the best employee experience. Google Ventures has designed a weeklong design sprint, founded on design thinking principles, that’s ready for use by organizations and HR teams alike. By taking numbers and adding some thoughtful innovation around the human experience, you and your employees will feel the difference.
Do you have a thoughtful strategy for the DOL's new overtime rules?
What is it that draws Omer Aziz to data analytics? Exponential growth. And at the moment, Aziz has his fair share of growth to keep up with as SVP of Human Resources at Sysomos.
Sysomos has hired about 150 new employees in the past eight months. The data analytics company studies what’s being talked about on social media and how its clients are presented on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. While Sysomos focuses on helping your brand grow, Aziz is focused on its 365 employees. “HR is critically important as a company expands,” Aziz said. “You can only expand so far before you hit a wall if you don’t have the right culture.”
The right culture is one of three things at the top of Aziz’s priority list. “Number one is ramping to a workforce plan, number two is culture, and number three is development and growth.”
The most important HR responsibility, says Aziz, is getting the right talent. You need to find where they are, and you need to make them fall in love with your company. But, a guaranteed repellant for a prospective employee is one or more bad company reviews. And, although some companies prefer to ignore the phenomenon, social media could play a large role in securing a positive company image.
Glassdoor, Aziz says, is the perfect example. “It’s the de facto trusted standard for people when they’re wondering what other people really think about a company,” Aziz said. “They trust that more than what the company says about itself.”
Companies need to participate in the discussion, instead of sitting on the sidelines and watching or even trying to shut down the conversation. It’s no surprise that Aziz finds value in social media, just as Sysomos does. “Social media is a vast treasure trove of unstructured data,” Aziz said. “The amount of insights you can get out of people speaking freely and creating networks with each other is something I want to harness.”
But once you’ve hired the talent, your work is just beginning. “A lot of people here want development,” Aziz said. “They want to feel like the company is putting into their experience a skill set that will be theirs forever and will be valuable here or elsewhere.” And while of course managers want to become better at managing, people also want to develop skills they can apply wherever they are, says Aziz.
Bring Your A Game
In the world of data analytics, companies are turning the traditional workday on its head. The fixed 9-to-5 schedule is being replaced by employees who think about work 24/7, but not in a workaholic way. “They’re always trying to imagine solving all these different problems,” Aziz said. “And you have to provide a culture that brings out their best.”
That’s Aziz’s motto: get employees working at their A game. As is understandable, many companies are built by what works best for the CEO. The work style of the CEO will have a large influence on a company’s work environment—it’s evident in Steve Job’s influence on Apple’s culture and Jeff Bezos’ influence on Amazon. But, Aziz points out that this might not work for every employee, “What brings out the best in the CEO might even bring out the worst in you.”
The goal for HR, says Aziz, is to shape a company where every employee feels capable of doing their best work. “When you’re bringing your A game, you’re in a completely different state,” Aziz said. “Can you imagine if your culture created the environment that allowed you to bring your A game every day?”
This may seem like a daunting task—how do you create an environment that fits every person’s needs for doing their best work? That environment is different for everyone, and that’s what makes it tricky. Aziz has one solution: find the universals.
Aziz finds that some universals exist when people are working at their best—and he wants to create an environment full of them. These characteristics, like not being distracted by other tasks and receiving constant feedback, put everyone in the "flow" that makes working at their A game easier. “I put these universals in the environment and can unify something that’s by definition customized.”
One universal is setting up individual goals. When each employee has a clear picture of exactly what they should aim to accomplish, everyone will be able to work at their best. Plus, with goals, there’s the added benefit of automatic feedback: instead of waiting for someone to tell you how you’re performing, you can measure your success by how far you exceeded your goal.
A customized environment—even with added universals—means you have to know your talent. And for Aziz, that means he needs a good system, a talent-driven system to be exact. “From a strategic workforce perspective, I need to know who my talent is and where they reside, or where my talent pool can come from,” Aziz said. “I need to know as much information as I can capture about what brings out an employee’s best and Namely has all the hallmarks of what I’ve been looking for.”
But, Aziz's draw to Namely goes beyond implementing his ideal HRIS. He has a substantial list of reasons for why he chose us as his HR partner. So he sent it to us:
- Like us and want to grow with us
- Eager to learn with us
- Value proposition was well-suited to our size
- Advantages of cloud technology
- Implementation plan was not super heavy
- Platform will give us powerful talent analytics
- The power of a large-company platform, but at an affordable price
- Negotiation was very collaborative
- Ability to integrate with other systems
- Takes care of several compliance requirements out of the box
- Employees have access to drive their own updates
- Scales with us as we scale
A New Workforce
The pool of talent Aziz usually interacts with looks a little younger today, and has different needs. The age of the millennial worker has arrived and Aziz says it’s time to embrace the change. “We need to trust our millennials,” Aziz says. “What they do best looks different than how we did it twenty years ago, but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing the right thing. It means we’ve evolved.”
Some of the most useful feedback Aziz received from his group of new hires is to avoid micromanaging. And the strategy fits in perfectly with his goal to have employees always working at their best. Not everyone works best with the same schedule. If you find working out at 2 p.m. and taking a call at 7 p.m. to be better than working eight hours straight, who is that hurting? “That’s a win-win for all of us,” Aziz said. “You don’t want to try to muzzle them or manipulate them.”
For Aziz, whether he’s responsible for experienced baby boomers or eager millennials, his top priority is finding that sweet spot where no one has to put in extra work to work at their best. “That’s what I live by. How do I find a way that brings out the best in everyone’s performance?”
A successful workforce always starts with the right talent.
Download our eBook
The Journey to Finding — and Empowering — Top Talent
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It’s tax season: your favorite time of year for filling out a million forms, staring at your computer for hours, and maybe pulling out your hair just a bit. But, reporting doesn’t have to end in partial balding. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance. To prove that they meet these requirements, companies need to file the Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C.
Filing season can be an administrative headache. The IRS estimates that the Form 1094-C alone can take up to four hours to complete. The Form 1095-C, which is sent to both employees and the IRS, clocks in at only 12 minutes per form. For a company with 100 employees, that means you’ll spend 25 hours completing them.
Let's make ACA reporting easier. With our guide to Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, you’ll be the most relaxed, compliant employer on the block—with a full head of hair to prove it.
What are Forms 1094-C and 1095-C?
The ACA’s forms aren’t just requirements meant to make tax season stressful. They allow the IRS to keep a closer eye on what coverage employers are offering to their employees—specifically, that they are providing the minimum essential coverage required by law.
- The Form 1094-C, or Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns, is like a cover letter for the Form 1095-C. In other words, you only send one. It provides basic employer information and the number of 1095-Cs your company is submitting.
- The Form 1095-C, or Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, shares your employee health care plans with the IRS so they can ensure you're meeting ACA requirements. A form has to be filed for each employee, regardless of whether they enroll in your company's healthcare plan or not.
In addition to determining instances of improper coverage, the Form 1095-C determines whether an employee qualifies for the premium tax credit. The credit offers assistance in purchasing health insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace, the government or state-regulated market where those without health insurance can purchase private healthcare. An employee can receive the tax credit if he or she is not provided minimum essential coverage, which is specified on the Form 1095-C.
Who has to file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C?
If you employ 50 or more full-time employees, you’re an Applicable Large Employer (ALE). Anytime you see "ALE" in an Affordable Care Act document, they’re talking about you. That also means you have to file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.
Employers with fewer than 50 employers aren't quite off the hook. If these companies provide employer-sponsored self-insured health coverage, they need to file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B. These are the same as forms 1094-C and 1095-C, but they are for smaller organizations that follow different compliance policies.
Who do you send your ACA forms to?
The Forms 1094-C and 1095-C have to be filed with the IRS. Filing can be done by mail or electronically; however, employers with more than 250 employees must file electronically.
In addition to sending the IRS a 1095-C form for each employee, employers must furnish every employee with a written statement reporting the same personal health insurance information. It’s easiest if the written statement is just a copy of the employee’s 1095-C, but it doesn’t have to be. Whatever form you do choose, it must be one of the IRS’s acceptable substitute statements.
How do I file the Form 1094-C?
You have to send the IRS one Form 1094-C and one Form 1095-C for each employee.
Part I. This section of the Form 1094-C relays the employer’s name, employer identification number (if you don’t have one, you can apply online), address, name, and point of contact. This is also where you accurately record the number of employee Form 1095-C filings you're submitting along with this form.
Part II. This is the most complicated part of Form 1094-C—specifically line 22, "Certifications of Eligibility." It’s also the most important section to get right. This line designates whether or not an employer can use an offer method or transition relief. You can check one of four boxes:
A. Qualifying Offer Method. Choose this option if you made a qualifying offer (offering minimal essential coverage) to one or more full-time employees for the entire year they worked full-time for you.
B & C. Reserved. Sections B and C were options used in 2015 and are no longer used.
D. 98 Percent Offer Method. Check this box if you offer affordable health coverage and provide minimum value to at least 98 percent of the employees you fill out a 1095-C form for.
Part III. This section is where you indicate whether your company offered minimum essential coverage to at least 95 percent of full-time employees for the entire calendar year. If you have done so, check the "Yes" checkbox on like 23 for "All 12 Months." If, however, your company failed to meet essential coverage during certain months, you must indicate which months you failed to meet coverage requirements by selecting "No" next to the month.
Part IV. If you checked "Yes" on line 21 (Is ALE Member a member of an aggregated ALE group?), then you must fill out this section. If you were a member of an aggregated ALE group for any month of the year, you must specify the group member's names and EINs. The form has room for up to 30 aggregated ALE groups, but if your company was a member of more than 30, include the top 30 members with the highest monthly average of full-time employees.
How do I file the Form 1095-C?
The 1095-C form is all about the employee. Remember, you must submit one for each individual.
Part I. This section of the form includes the employee’s name, social security number, address, as well as the employer’s information.
Part II. This lays out the coverage that the employee received for the year. There are different codes that correspond to different types of coverage and they can be found on the IRS website here.
Part III. This section of the form will only be filled out if the employer offered a self-insured major medical plan and a health reimbursement arrangement. If you didn’t, go ahead and skip this section.
When are the filing deadlines?
If you’re physically mailing forms to the IRS, both must be post-marked by February 28, 2019. Feeling rushed? Filing electronically can buy you more time. The online filing date is April 1, 2019. And when it comes to delivering form 1095-C to employees, the cut-off date is March 4, 2019.
|February 28, 2019||March 4, 2019||April 1, 2019|
Note: The Form 1095-C furnishing deadline was originally set for January 31, 2019 before the IRS pushed it back to March 4, 2019. Read more about the change here.
Worried about meeting deadlines? If you're running late, it's possible to get an extension. For an easy 30-day extension, no signature or explanation necessary, fill out the Form 8809 and file it by the due date of the returns. Just be sure to file it before the due date, or you could face strict penalties for missing a filing deadline.
What if a form has a mistake?
Did you send in a form with a mistake? Don’t worry—you have the chance to file a correction form for either the 1094-C or 1095-C.
To file 1094-C corrections, send the updated form by itself. Nothing else can go with this form. On the correct form, mark the "corrected" box with an “X.” For specific cases and how to deal with them, consult the chart on the IRS site.
A corrected Form 1095-C must be sent along with a 1094-C transmittal form. Be sure to only check the "corrected" box on the Form 1095-C, not 1094-C. A copy of the corrected form must also be furnished to the employee. Again, refer to the IRS charts for specific mistakes and how to take action.
The final step: Take a deep breath. These forms aren’t as scary as the paperwork makes them seem. With the proper planning and an HR provider who’s got your back, you’ll be sure to steer clear of those costly penalties.
It’s reporting 101: when tax season rolls around, independent contractors get form 1099, and permanent employees get a W-2. They get different forms because they are different: different benefits, different working structures, different pay structures. However, the process of defining each employee and distributing these forms to the correct person can get tricky. And, many forms often end up in the wrong hands.
Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and its long list of reporting mandates, the IRS is monitoring—closer than ever—how employers define their employees and what that means for benefits coverage of the workforce.
State-level studies found that between 10% and 20% of employers misclassify at least one worker as an independent contractor. It’s tempting to categorize employees more often as independent contractors because, in short, it’s cheaper. They don’t receive overtime pay, unemployment benefits, or workers’ compensation. Plus, the employer doesn’t have to pay payroll taxes such as Social Security and Medicare. But, full-time employees misclassified as independent contractors miss out on the benefits they deserve.
Not only does misclassification leave the employee at a disadvantage, but it also puts the employer at risk of being hit with penalties—stricter penalties now that the ACA is kicking in. For an employer with at least 50 full-time employees, not providing coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees results in a fine. Sometimes, the failure to reach 95% happens due to employees being reclassified by the IRS.
The Department of Labor is cracking down on misclassifications and fighting for the rights of these employees through their own investigations. In 2015, the department’s investigations found $246 million in back wages for more than 240,000 workers—a 29% increase from 2008 in back wages for low-wage workers.
On top of the DOL’s increased monitoring, the ACA’s new reporting structure makes getting by with misclassified employees less likely. As of 2015, each employer with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, must file forms 1094-C and 1095-C. These are the employers who, under the ACA, are required to provide employees with health insurance coverage.
The employer sends form 1095-C to both the employee and the IRS. It outlines the offered coverage, the lowest-cost premium available to the employee, and the months of the year when the coverage was available. The 1094-C form only goes to the IRS, with the 1095-C forms attached. The 1094-C form provides information about the employer, including how many 1095-C forms were sent. These forms allow the IRS to see what kind of coverage employers are providing and will ensure that employers correctly classify—and correctly cover—all of their employees.
The higher risk of penalties means employers need to double, even triple, check how they are classifying their employees. Guidelines to classify an employee examine the degree of control and independence in three categories: behavioral, financial, and type of relationship. More specific rules can be found via the IRS here, and with more info on the Namely Blog here.
Although there are a number of determinants and tests for deciding the label of an individual employee, there is no exact checklist to find the final answer. But not to worry: If an employer is unsure of how to classify an employee, he or she can file an SS-8 form with the IRS. The IRS will review the information and respond with an official decision.
The Affordable Care Act is changing the way employers handle employee reporting. And, with the increase in penalties, getting classification right has become a top priority for both employers and the DOL. Staying on top of employee definitions will keep your business in the clear and the IRS far away.
The push and pull of social media monitoring is a difficult one to manage. As an HR manager, your relationship with an employee or a prospective employee’s social media profile must have the right amount of intimacy and distance. But how do you find the balance between being a laid back, carefree manager and an overbearing social media monitor?
Inhabiting that middle ground between social media stalker and stranger will help to make the HR-employee relationship a smooth one. However, efforts to move there start before someone becomes your employee.
The Facebook Stalker
Between Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and countless other channels, it’s possible to find someone’s entire life story on the internet—even pieces they might not want to share. Jobvite’s 2014 Social Recruiting Survey found that 93% of hiring managers will review a candidate’s social media profile before making a hiring decision. Going through a person’s social media is as intimate as going through their medicine cabinet, and that means there needs to be some sort of boundaries. Still, social media searches are important for informing any hiring manager’s decision—you want to know if your prospective candidate spends his nights posting sexist rants on Twitter before you extend an offer.
Ethan Wall, author and founder of the social media law firm Social Media Law & Order, suggests delegating social media searching to someone other than the hiring manager. “You separate the person who is doing the search from the person who is making the hiring decision,” Wall said. Have someone besides the hiring manager review social media profiles. This way, the social media searcher can alert the manager to any inappropriate posts, and a level of bias in the recruiting process is removed. Split the balancing act between two people instead of leaving one person to juggle being completely enveloped in the profile and totally unbiased at the same time.
What goes in a social media report on a candidate and what is left out is a matter of company policy, and one that always adheres to the discrimination laws outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Train your hiring personnel on what the laws are, what to search or what should not be in the report,” Wall said. There is no point to having a separate searcher if he or she doesn’t know what to leave out of the report.
The report system also guarantees a fair search process for everyone. “You have to be consistent,” Wall said. “You can’t search old people but not young, you can’t search women but not men.” Separate searchers and a consistent policy guarantee just the right amount of HR involvement in a prospective hire’s internet life.
Of course, there’s opportunity for crossing the line into too much social media snooping. During the hiring process, asking for a candidate’s password certainly crosses the line. Requiring a candidate’s username and password—which is illegal in ten states—could have consequences other than fines.
During the interview process, a candidate develops an image of what working at your company will feel like. Any information about what kind of a manager you are is gold to them. So, what impression will be built if before being hired the person is required to hand over all their personal details?
“Sometimes it’s about weighing the legal risks against the practical reward,” Wall said. “If I had a boss that signed a contract that said he could walk into my home, open my drawers, and look at whatever he wants, I’d say no.” A request like that would leave the candidate with an image of a hostile workplace where the manager has no trust in his employees. This level of invasion of privacy could easily turn an employee off of your company. To be on the safe side, leave the password alone.
Beware the Ban
Once hired, good social media management for your employees will lead to a positive reputation of your company’s work style. The last thing you want is job seekers thinking your office has a hostile environment. The key to a balanced social media culture is a balanced policy.
Balance means saying no to bans. Completely cutting off employees from Facebook or Twitter leads to hostility. “If you say ‘no this’ and ‘no this,’” NYU Stern professor David Purdy said, “you’re going to find an organization that tells everyone what they should do and eventually employees are going to disengage.” An environment where people feel they don’t have any freedom is not one where people will be motivated and productive.
In fact, Facebook and other social media outlets can make your employees more productive. 46% of people surveyed online by PEW Research feel more productive because of internet, email, and cell phones. “People need to waste time,” Purdy said. “Whether they’re on Instagram looking at pictures of their cats or on Pinterest, the point is that people need to breathe.” A quick break from long hours of brain power will revitalize an employee.
And the benefits of social media keep coming. With an internal social media news feed, you can bust the doors of communication wide open. Scott Heydt, CFO of VaynerMedia, can’t stop raving about how an in-office news feed can engage employees, plus keep a culture constantly communicating. “It gives me full view of everything that’s happening in the company,” Heydt said. “That sits on my desk all day long and it’s taken over as a place for employees to collaborate and connect.”
In-office social media allows employees to talk through issues together while simultaneously sending concerns up the ranks to higher managers. But, if your company has poor communication already, these platforms won’t automatically fix it. Employees must feel encouraged and safe while speaking their minds or they will stay quiet.
A quiet workforce makes for bad work—and bad leadership. “Leadership is a conversation,” Purdy said. “Even the Pope is listening to the flock now.” A back and forth between employees and managers will make the office more comfortable, the company goals clearer, and your end products better.
Tell Them Like It Is
Social media obviously has its benefits, but it also has some risk. To keep social media from taking over the office, it’s necessary to be hands-on in certain places. Drafting and implementing a social media policy is an easy way to stay on top of the workforce’s social media use—and research shows policies could be more common. A report by Protiviti in 2013 found that only 57% of employees surveyed received a social media policy.
The first step in having an effective social media policy is the drafting stage. It can be easy: All you have to do is follow your ABCs. “A is accuracy, B is brevity, and C is clarity,” Wall said.
An accurate policy is all about compliance. “You’ve got to make sure that your policies are reviewed by someone who knows social media and the law to make sure they comply with federal labor laws,” Wall said.
The National Labor Relations Act protects the employee’s right to participate in “concerted activity.” This means they are allowed to discuss things like unsafe conditions at work or unfair pay—and you can’t ban those comments from social media.
"A is accuracy, B is brevity, and C is clarity."
Ethan Wall, author and founder of the social media law firm Social Media Law & Order, on crafting an effective social media policy.
B is for brevity, as in keep it simple. “Meaning use plain English,” Wall said. “Don’t use fancy legalese terms, because not everyone will understand it and they’re not going to follow the policy.” If your policy can be understood by an eighth grader, your employees are guaranteed to get it, and misunderstandings leading to social media crises will be avoided.
The last item on your checklist is clarity. Use plenty of specific examples throughout the document to make the rules as clear as possible. “If you have a policy that says you can’t make negative comments about the company, that might be a problem because it’s too broad,” Wall said. But, specify what those negative comments are—racism, sexual harassment, or other harmful statements—and the confusion disappears.
The same way communication strengthens your business, it is the key to a successful social media policy. Consulting with your employees while drafting the policy will make it better suited for your specific workforce and built to avoid backlash. Employees will let you know what rules will bog them down and which will make for a cooperative workplace. Plus, it will help foster a workforce that feels valued and included.
Furthermore, to be completely sure everyone is on the same page with social media, offer trainings for employees that outline the do’s and don’ts of online behavior—especially the don’ts. Wall runs trainings such as these. “There is no privacy on social media,” he said. His presentations begin with an abundance of employee slip-ups to show his trainees what to avoid.
Social media is a risky tool that, if managed with the right attitude, can be one of HR’s biggest assets. A quick scroll through Instagram will revitalize an employee, and an online conversation between employees and managers will foster a trusting community. Add a training, and online slip-ups become a thing of the past. Social media can help bring out the best in a workforce, and it can be easy. Just let them be social.
Aza Steel is all about hearing his employees’ great ideas—and as CEO of GoGuardian, he makes sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle. “We’ve continued to bring on incredible people who I’m really excited to keep building stuff with,” he told Namely.
GoGuardian is a student online safety provider that offers the most advanced filtering, monitoring, and classroom management software available for school computers. As the head of a company so dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, it’s no surprise that Steel wants all of his employees’ ideas to reach the top. And that makes up a lot of his day as CEO. “I spend a lot of time dealing with interpersonal or 'we're all human' stuff.”
Steel is very conscious of the positive culture he’s building, but he’s equally conscious to not overengineer it. That is, he keenly knows when to let the culture build itself. If all ideas are encouraged and being circulated, Steel says everything is fine. The problem arises when some people’s ideas are stifled. “It’s important to recognize that there are often people with valuable ideas who aren’t always great at vocalizing them in front of a group,” Steel said. An HR-centric CEO like Steel asks those people for their thoughts and encourages employees to make decisions on their own, with the luxury of a personal touch afforded to companies of less than 100 (GoGuardian staff stands at 53 today).
When he’s not working to encourage his employees, Steel is looking for the best people to build his workforce—something he’s gotten good at. GoGuardian has more than double the number of employees it had earlier this year. And they’re not all the same. Steel makes sure of that.
In Steel’s book, it’s not a deal-breaker if a candidate isn’t a “perfect fit” for the GoGuardian culture. Sometimes, intelligence and drive outweigh a flawless cultural fit. “People think a little too much about, ‘how much am I going to want to work with this person,’” Steel said. “It can be worth it sometimes to hire someone who is really smart but also a little difficult.” Steel is over the recruiting maxim of simply hiring those you’d love to get a beer with.
A focus on skills makes for a more diverse workplace with more intriguing cultural variables tossed in, whereas a more homogenous team of “culture fits” means unique thinking can fall to the wayside. “You want people that have really different perspectives,” Steel said. But, when you throw a bunch of different working styles and personalities into the mix, how can you be certain productivity is at its peak? That everyone still works well together? Steel has a solution: look to the data.
OKRs to the Rescue
GoGuardian’s goal-setting methods are growing right along with its staff. Steel helped roll out the company’s first cycle of OKRs in the first quarter of 2015. Invented at Intel and made popular by Google, OKRs are objectives and key results—the claims of what people and companies want to accomplish paired with concrete and measurable key results to see how close their efforts come to success. At GoGuardian, their OKRs focused on a company-level distribution with the help of sponsors across the company to run evaluations.
But these sponsors weren’t always managers, and Steel had his reasons. “Sometimes it would just be someone who I felt particularly confident in their ability to deliver results,” he said. “It was a great way to test someone’s follow through and figure out what their trajectory in the organization might be.” It’s one more way for Steel to learn about his employees when he may not work with them closely day to day.
The next step, which GoGuardian has also recently implemented, was to add departmental goals into the equation. Following that, of course, will be to fully cascade the goals across the entire organization, reaching them all the way up to the core goals of the company itself.
Alongside the quick and easy search for any employee’s contact information, Namely’s 360° Reviews are an anticipated addition to Steel’s performance management toolbox. His reasons for choosing the review method are numerous. The first comes from Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In the pages and pages of tips for building a business, Horowitz touches on the minimizing of workplace politics through a clear structure for promoting—criteria that 360° reviews fulfill easily.
Reviewing from all sides also offers valuable insight into employees. When coupled with OKRs, Steel will be able to see just how productive people are inside the culture GoGuardian is carefully building. Whether it’s recognizing and rewarding the right people or helping those who need it, 360° reviews will be Steel’s sure way to boost transparency—in an honest way.
Setting Company Values
With talent management and recruiting efforts ever-advancing, GoGuardian’s core values offer a guiding light as the company continues growing. With a list of maxims to live by—including “communicate openly, seek truth without ego,” and “move fast, be resourceful”—employees are guided towards achieving their goals as Steel is guided towards pursuing great talent.
Company values can be a fast-growing company’s best friend. When new hires are introduced to the company, these values ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to approaching their work. Steel, as CEO, is still actively involved in recruiting—but he can’t build his team alone. “It takes a village,” he said. And that village includes him, GoGurdian’s head of talent, various department heads and soon to come, a head of HR.
With 44 employees today (and 9 independent contractors), Steel is looking to fill a few positions geared towards employee care. But in each case, including a VP of engineering, these future managers will work with the CEO instead of separately to take care of “things like personal growth, talent acquisition, structuring teams, and making sure everyone is working cohesively.”
The CEO’s role in crafting company culture is a tricky one. It’s hands-on when managing performance—like Steel does with OKRs— as well as in recruiting the best talent to be found and mapping goals across the organization. But it’s hands-off when you recruit for crucial skills over absolutely perfect culture fit, allow every employee to speak their mind, and add a lot of people quickly to meet competitive demand. Steel handles his involvement in his culture gracefully. As GoGuardian continues helping children everywhere learn, Steel is learning volumes of his own on how to delicately grow a company with great people.
Diversity—it’s a key to good business. Whether you’re a tech firm, a hotel, or a hospital, diverse employees can only bring good things to your company. A variety of contributors will offer different perspectives, leading to more creativity and more innovation.
Studies show more diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35 percent and are more innovative than homogenous teams. Increased diversity in the workplace not only helps create a more inclusive and creative work environment, it also helps achieve business goals.
So, with all these benefits, why is diversity something we strive for instead of a staple of business? Researchers say it’s our unconscious bias—that innate feeling you get which makes you for or against someone based on a specific characteristic. It’s natural, but becomes a problem when we let it influence our interviewing, or hiring, or day-to-day work.
A number of studies provide a heap of evidence for the presence of unconscious bias in hiring. In a study from the University of Chicago on racial bias in résumé screening, identical résumés were sent to a variety of companies in Boston and Chicago. The results: résumés with domestic or white-sounding names were called back more often than the résumés with foreign or black-sounding names. Some job applicants who are aware of this prejudice are even changing their names to sound more ‘Anglo-Saxon.’
Everyone has unconscious bias, and it doesn’t mean we’re all bad people. The only way to begin fixing the harmful effects our biases cause is to become aware of the biases themselves. Project Implicit, a research program started in 1998 by three scientists to study thoughts and feelings which we do not control, aims to raise the awareness of implicit bias.
With a multitude of tests available online, the non-profit informs people of their hidden bias and collects data which is made available to other researchers. Their tests measure several biases, from seeing people with disabilities as weaker to viewing attractive people as more competent. “We want to give people the opportunity to learn about their own unconscious biases so they can try to overcome them if they want to,” said Kate Ratliff, executive director at Project Implicit.
And remember, we can’t completely remove our biases—it’s not how our brain works, says Neal Goodman, Ph.D., president of Global Dynamics, Inc. “It’s part of our socialization and our upbringing,” he says. Goodman’s company is a global provider of training programs and consulting for organizations looking for diversity and cross-cultural competence. The key, he says, is to first recognize our biases and start taking measures to dismantle them.
“In the end, if you’re conscientious of the bias and say, ‘I’m not going to let that impact me and I’m going to look at the quality of the person and their performance,’ then you can make the best decision,” Goodman said.
Sometimes, since bias is human nature, it is easiest to take a swing at removing all opportunity for bias. Practices like omitting names or graduation dates from résumés during the review process—implemented by a number of companies—will secure more of an unbiased operation.
Many hiring managers today are taking a cue from orchestra audition changes implemented in the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the time, orchestras were mostly made up of male musicians, so a few orchestras began to conduct blind auditions—where the musician performed behind a screen—which forced the casting directors to rely solely on what they heard. Before these auditions, female musicians made up 5 percent of the top five orchestras, but by the turn of the century, that number increased to 25 percent.
Today, hiring managers are similarly stripping résumés of personal details so they’re only left with skills and experiences. However, Goodman points out that even subtle aspects of a résumé can tip off our unconscious bias. For instance, if one résumé features the president of an LGBT alliance and the other spotlights the leader of a conservative club for students, there’s the potential to tip a manager’s bias one way or another. “They can’t help it,” says Goodman.
If You Can’t Beat It, Acknowledge It
Goodman’s favorite part of the unconscious bias training his company provides is the first minute of a simulation. He makes everyone in the audience hate him, in under a minute. “Without saying a word people think I am a sexist, elitist bigot, when I am actually the opposite,” he said.
Exactly what he does is a trade secret, but he plays on the group’s unconscious bias. While they quickly form an opinion of him, he is demonstrating the very thing holding them back from diversity. And then comes processing: why are you feeling that way, and what assumptions are you making?
“You don’t know what you don’t know, so there’s no reason why they should understand it,” Goodman said. “You have to make them aware that there is something going on in their brains that leads us to make assumptions that could be 180 degrees wrong.”
It’s a fact—we find comfort in sameness. If you are a hiring manager who attended Harvard, and you interview a candidate who also attended Harvard, a bond will inevitably form over your common ground. Goodman emphasizes that it’s fine to have these similarities and it’s even okay to bond over them, but when it comes to making the final decision, those biases need to be far away.
Leave Your Bias Outside
Removing bias in résumé screening can be simple, but the interview is where combating bias definitely becomes more active. An interviewer makes most hiring mistakes in the first 30 minutes, Lou Adler writes in his book, Hire With Your Head. It’s a problem of the first impression—it only takes seven seconds for a person to make one. In the time it takes to shake someone’s hand, you’ve already developed a number of assumptions about them.
While business today puts an emphasis on immediacy more than ever before, the hiring process needs to slow down. Our bias becomes detrimental to business when we make quick deductions—gut reactions—and when we have no facts to back up our assessment of a candidate. “Everyone believes they’re a really great judge of talent,” says Laura Mather, founder of Unitive, a startup that provides tools to combat unconscious bias in job descriptions, résumé screening, and interviews. “Everyone believes they have what I call the golden gut, but it turns out, 95 percent of us do not.”
But it’s only when you really take the time to have a thoughtful conversation with an applicant, review the person’s entire application, re-review all interview answers, and also take time to double-check your own biases that you can actually make a decision that could be considered impartial.
Not surprisingly, diversity can lead to more diversity. Goodman suggests using a diverse interview panel to make the hiring process fairer. Each person adds a new perspective on a candidate and they can keep each other’s biases in check.
A standardized list of questions can simplify an interview process and leave less room for bias as well. A biased interview might focus on a particular characteristic or topic—positively or negatively—instead of covering all aspects of a candidate’s qualifications. But with no influence from bias on the interviewer’s questions, everyone can benefit from an equal playing field.
At GL Group—the family-run, parent company to several book distributors—interviewers receive a set of questions before they meet with candidates. “We try to give all candidates the same landscape,” said director of human resources, Lisa Whealon. “We help the leader doing those interviews to truly be able to value candidate A versus candidate B versus candidate C.” Without making a wholehearted effort, bias simply gets the better of us.
Keep Diversity Active
The push towards a more diverse workplace doesn’t end with hiring. Unconscious bias is also present—and hurting diversity—in day-to-day work life. From project planning to team building, bringing together diverse points of view for any aspect of business will make the initiative more effective.
The Royal Bank of Canada has an internal social media platform where employees can join communities and talk about these hidden biases. The site, RBC Connect, has information and resources pertaining to diversity and inclusion. The group has created a variety of communities on the site, including Women@RBC and LGBT@RBC.
The more commonplace talking about unconscious bias becomes, the closer we get to keeping it out of decision-making. “I like that people are becoming aware of those biases,” Mather of Unitive said. “I like that they are gaining vocabulary so that it becomes accepted and encouraged to talk about these things.”
The GL Group interjects the conversation of diversity into every aspect of the workplace. Not only is the conversation encouraged, but, no matter the circumstance, Whealon puts diversity at the forefront. “We’re really supportive of all of our teams being involved in different committees,” Whealon said.
Each year, GL Group puts on a “Get Involved Fair” where its 200 employees are encouraged to join one of the companies’ committees. They include Wellness, Volunteerism, and Book Club as well as many others that contribute to shaping the workplace environment at GL Group. Whealon finds that diverse groups lead to the best results.
Whealon also encourages project leaders to go out into the business when choosing project members instead of choosing the same type of people every time. “This ensures that we are addressing our customers’ needs at all levels,” Whealon said. “And that our teams are able to work with different people within the organization.”
Sometimes, a company can fill every diversity quota imaginable, and still not reap the benefits which should come along with their variance. It’s due to a lack of inclusion. “You have to have people that feel they can make a contribution, that want to make a contribution,” Goodman said. “Diversity is the reality and inclusion is the choice.”
Unconscious bias, if unchecked, can affect all aspects of work life. And most of the time, we have no idea it’s happening. But just becoming aware of our bias is a big step in the direction towards a diverse company—where varied points-of-view and diversified backgrounds lead to better business.
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