Avoid These Reference Check Mistakes

July 19th, 2013

The reference check is usually considered a minor player in the hiring process, a quiet, supportive presence that doesn’t often have the power to derail a strong candidacy or give new life to a faltering one. Some companies skip reference checks altogether, since their minds tend to be made up at that late stage in the process. And even when mangers rely heavily on reference checks to make a decision, they sometimes follow false leads or fail to ask the right questions, so the value of the process is often diminished.

If you plan to ask your candidates for references, make sure you use these references to inform your decision. And if you’re committing any of the errors below, take a closer look at your reference checking strategy.

Common Reference Check Mistakes

1. Inconsistency. If you’re going to check one candidate’s references, check them all. You can wait until you’ve narrowed the pool to a few finalists, but give each finalist’s references an equal chance to put in a good (or mediocre) word.

2.  Making the offer before the reference check instead of after. If you make the offer first and use the reference check as a contingency, you limit your own options. You’ve already selected a candidate and made an unofficial commitment—So it will likely take an extreme red flag or gravely serious problem for you to back pedal. Don’t do that to yourself. Leave the door open until you’ve heard every voice you need to hear to make an informed decision.

3. Ignoring the proximity between the reference and the candidate. Make sure you take this distance into account. And take the experience level of the reference into account as well. Often a candidate will come recommended by a C-level executive, but this person won’t have much detail to offer since she rarely saw the candidate in action. On the other hand, a low level coworker who sat side-by-side with the candidate will have more to say, but less to offer from a management perspective.

4. Asking leading questions. Keep your questions open ended. Instead of “Was she easy to work with?” ask “How would you describe what it was like to work with her?” Ask questions that encourage thoughtful responses, like “Which tasks were you most likely to trust to this candidate? Which tasks would you assign to someone else?”

5. Not listening carefully to the answers. Listen carefully and read between the lines. And don’t let neutral responses lie. If a reference seems indifferent, ask follow-up questions to get to the heart of the matter.

For more specific guidance on your reference checking process, and for a list of questions that can help make your reference checks more efficient, contact the Des Moines staffing experts at the Palmer Group.

Keep Your Employees Engaged and Committed

June 21st, 2013

The summer is on its way in, and along with its laid back vibe and long daylight hours, this season also tends to come with a unique set of staffing challenges. Regardless of the cyclical nature of your business  (some companies experience rising demand in the summer while others slow down), your employees are likely to be tempted away from their desks by a host of seasonal distractions. Children are home for the summer and need attention, vacation plans are looming or just passed, and long lunches and sunny parks are calling employees away from the work at hand. If these things are creating obstacles to your productivity, try these moves.

1. Don’t crack down. Employees will only find this annoying, and if you act as if you don’t trust them to complete their jobs on their own terms, they may begin to resent you. Recognize the competing demands on their attention, respect these demands, and find ways to overcome and work around them.

2. Consider offering summer hours. Allow your employees to work an extra hour each day in exchange for every other Friday off. This kind of flexibility will help them manage their schedules, but more important, making a generous offer like this will give you a little more negotiating leverage when you need them to step up to the plate.

3. Relax the dress code. Your employees may enjoy a little seasonal freedom. But if you decide to do this, be very specific about the new rules– Don’t just move from a rigid dress code to an anything-goes atmosphere, or you’ll never reverse the situation in the fall. Instead, make a simple adjustment, like allowing sandals.

4. Plan an occasional surprise outing. Take everyone out for ice cream on a random Friday afternoon, or schedule a Saturday of mini-golf. While you’re at in, now is the time to organize a softball or Frisbee golf team that can allow your employees to have fun and connect outside of the office.

5. Never forget to provide clear coaching, give honest feedback, keep your door open, and thank employees for their hard work. These are not seasonal obligations—they’re necessary all year round, and if you find yourself daydreaming and forgetting your basic managerial responsibilities, how can you expect anything more from your team? Set a good example—the more seriously you take your own work and your own role, the more respect you’ll earn and deserve from your employees. 

For additional steps you can take to keep your staff engaged all summer long, reach out to the Des Moines staffing and business management experts at the Palmer Group.

Salary Negotiation Tips for Employers

June 7th, 2013

Once you’ve completed the interviewing and selection process for your new candidate, your task is only halfway over. You still need to encourage your chosen applicant to accept the terms of your offer and sign on the dotted line, which may come with challenges you don’t anticipate. Don’t miss a crucial detail and let a great hire slip away.

1. Act carefully, but quickly

If you love this candidate, there’s a strong chance that at least a few other employers feel the same way. And some of these employers may be your competitors. In fact, she may already be engaged in the negotiation process elsewhere before she completes her final interview with you. So stay competitive, push through the red tape, and get your offer into your candidate’s hands as quickly as possible.

2. Don’t make lowball offers to highly desirable candidates

Don’t assume that a candidate will respond to a lowball offer with a counteroffer. It’s just as likely that she’ll come back to you with a simple “no thanks”. Conduct careful (but again, quick) research into the market rate for this position in your geographic area, and then factor in this candidate’s specific level of experience, skill, commuting distance, etc, etc. When you arrive at a number, be ready to justify this figure to your payroll department, but be ready to justify it to the candidate as well. If you can’t give her the salary she deserves, increase her benefits package and potential annual bonus rates.

3. Frame your offer with words of encouragement

Don’t just plunk your offer down on the table (or into the mailbox). Instead, make sure you present it with enthusiasm and let the candidate know that you’re excited to bring her on board. Re-emphasize the benefits and highlights of a job with your company.

4. Recognize when it’s time to back away

If a candidate drags her feet or shows pronounced hesitation, think before you push too hard. You may not understand all of the obstacles holding her back, and you don’t want to strong-arm her into a decision you both may later regret. At the same time, if you’ve made a fair– or more than fair—salary offer, there’s no need to keep raising it. This is just another form of pressuring a candidate into a potentially poor decision.

5. Stay in touch after the offer is accepted

The final two-week period in a current workplace can be a precarious and emotional time for candidates, and it’s not uncommon for negotiations to break down during this time as a result of changes of heart or counter salary offers from current employers. Protect yourself from both by staying in communication with your new hire and inviting her to company social events.

If you’ve found the competitive candidate of your dreams, contact the staffing experts at the Palmer Group. We’ll help you out together a strong offer and successfully close the deal.

Translating Your Employees: What They Say vs What You Should Hear

May 31st, 2013

Do you ever get the feeling that you and your employees are speaking separate languages? Do you ever feel as though a little more clarity and honesty from either side might solve huge problems and knock down enormous barriers to productivity? Do you ever wish you could just say what’s on your mind without crossing a line or being misunderstood? Well here’s some news for you: your employees feel the same way. But since the professional environment is loaded with cautious speech and self-editing, you’ll have to do the best you can to read between the lines and understand what your employees are actually saying, even if their words mean something else. Here are a few common employee-to-boss translations:

1. When do you need this by?

Translation: “I need a clear deadline so I can work this project into my already packed schedule.” Employees don’t ask for deadlines if they can simply take a project back to their work stations, complete it, and hand it over. When you’re asked for a timeline, it means the employee in question is booked, double booked, and possibly on the verge of being overloaded. Note: If an employee uses this language instead of simply saying, “I’m really overloaded right now,” it means she’s trying to hide her swamped schedule and manage her priorities on her own. She’s trying as hard as she can to accept the project and not say no. Give her a break without forcing her to ask for one directly.

2. Do you have a minute?

Translation: “There’s something on my mind that I need to discuss with you. Can I trust you to listen?” Employees who ask for a minute sometimes need much more than a minute to express themselves. When an employee asks this, invite her in, put your work aside, hang up the phone and give her your full attention. If you can’t do this at that exact moment, ask her to come back at a specific time. Write the appointment down and treat it with respect.

3. You’re the boss.

Translation: “I disagree with you about what’s best for the company, but I know my place in the hierarchy, so I won’t push the issue.” If you hear this, don’t try to force the employee to break the rigid rules of social order right at that moment, in public. But if you’re really interested in his opinion (which you probably should be) ask him later to share what’s on his mind.

4. What do you think?

Translation: “I want your honest and genuine feedback.” Respect your employees– and earn their respect in return—by recognizing when they’re subtly asking for your honest opinion about their performance. They take their jobs seriously, and sometimes that means they really need your approval, correction, or coaching. Accommodate them, even if there’s no formal review cycle on the horizon.

Reach out to the staffing experts at the Palmer Group for more tips on communicating in the workplace and make sure you and your employees are on the same page.

HR Metrics that Matter

April 12th, 2013

The HR department is just as central to company success as any other. Accounting, product development, marketing, sales, and IT all have a place at the table. But when HR managers experience a need or a crisis, they often have trouble making their voices heard among executive decision makers. Why does this happen? What leverage do these other departments tend to have that we don’t have? The answer is simple: numbers.

Unlike most other departments, HR challenges and goals aren’t always easy to quantify. That’s because we deal in a currency of human beings and human capital, and it goes against our nature to distill human needs, value, and problems into straightforward metrics. A high turnover problem, for example, may require budget resources to resolve. But it can be hard to make this case to upper management without putting a number on the problem first.

So how can you gather metrics that allow executives to make sense of the challenges you face? And among these varied data streams, which ones matter the most to company success?

Metrics and Hiring
When you decide to quantify “successful hiring”, what does your company focus on most? If speed matters, measure the time it takes to fill each position and look for cost effective ways to reduce that number. But keep in mind the fast/cheap/good paradox. Almost every resource it takes to run a business—including employees—can be obtained fast, at a low cost, or with high value. And as the saying goes, you can have any two of these, but you can’t have all three.

If “good” hires are the goal, define those terms. Are good hires employees who last more than a year? More than five years? Consider handing surveys to managers of new hires and ask how they rate the success of each hire after one, three and five years. If “cheap” hires are the most valuable, how can you target undervalued candidates with high upside potential? And once they’re onboard, how can you get the most productivity from these workers while keeping salary costs under control?

Metrics and Retention

Hiring isn’t the only element of staffing that can be quantified and measured. In order to measure and control retention, you’ll need to find ways to put numbers on worker satisfaction. You’ll also need to quantify how your company stacks up against the competition in terms of salary data, workplace culture, perks, and opportunities for advancement.

Start by distributing surveys at least once a year among your teams, and balance this survey data against that of thoughtfully designed exit interviews. Make sure you draw as much information as possible out of departing employees, and find ways to crunch their reviews into meaningful data points that can be used to generate change. For more information on how to do this, reach out the Des Moines staffing and HR experts at The Palmer Group.

The Most Important Interview Question You’ll Ever Ask

April 5th, 2013

In some ways, there’s no such thing as a completely valueless interview. No matter what questions a manager asks, the interview gives her a chance to chat with the applicant and glean both tangible and intangible information about what he’d be like to work with and how motivated he is to please and impress.

But interviews are like any other aspect of business operations: reaching your destination is only part of the goal. You also want to reach that destination in a way that’s efficient, cost effective, fast and risk free. You don’t just want a candidate who will keep a chair warm and not turn into an expensive mistake. You want a candidate with the specific skill sets the position demands, and a candidate who cares as much about your business as you do.

To that end, it’s time to cut the fat and skip the interview questions that are merely “good.” Rebuild your interview script from the ground up by starting with the most important question any efficient manager can ask: “Describe your most important accomplishment in this role/this industry.”

Why is this One Question so Valuable?

This question forms the foundation of the rest of your twenty minute session with the candidate.  Use this as a starting point, and help the candidate flesh out a detailed twenty-minute response by asking the following supporting questions:

1. How did you find yourself facing this task or project?
2. Why were you chosen instead of someone else?
3. What was your first step, second step, etc, and how did you formulate this plan?
4. Did you need to enlist the help of others, and if so, how did this go?
5. Did your team encounter any interpersonal problems on the way? How were they solved?
6. What personal challenges did you face?
7. What team challenges did you face?
8. Was your project ultimately successful? If not, what did you learn and how did the experience make you proud?
9. If the project was a success, what did you learn from the process and to what do you credit the success?
10. If you could tackle this project again, what would you do differently?

Wrap your interview tightly around one key incident, and you’ll help your candidate tell the story of his or her professional life. You’ll gain a strong sense of who she is as a protagonist, where her strengths lie, and how she’ll leverage her unique contributions to support her next employer.

Best of all, you’ll clear an efficient path to your goal: identifying the candidate best suited to this position. For more guidance on how to keep your interview process focused, lean, and meaningful, reach out the Des Moines staffing experts at the Palmer Group.

Are Bad Reviews Killing Your Business?

March 29th, 2013

If you think online reviews don’t have any impact on the future of your business, think again. Most studies show that more than 60 percent of consumers turn to the internet and consult reviews before making major purchasing decisions, and 50 percent of the U.S. population search for online reviews before conducting a transaction with a local business for the first time. If you’re concerned about the way reviews impact your business—and you should be—keep these considerations in mind.

Dealing with Online Reviews

1. First, find out what’s out there. The most popular online review sites (in order) are Yelp, Google Places, and Citysearch. If you aren’t already checking these sites and periodically running Google searches of your company name, start now. 

2. Second, get out in front of customer complaints before they find their way online. Do this by making it very, very easy for customers to complain to you in person and have their problems resolved. Provide customer satisfaction surveys after every job you perform, and offer easy access to customer complaint forms, both in paper and on your website. When customers register a complaint in person, make sure your employees are trained to respond by listening carefully and handling the problem quickly and effectively.

3. Never become defensive or dismissive of a customer complaint. You may as well just ask the angry customer to head online and trash your company publically. No matter what you can or can’t do to set things right, listen hard and take the issue seriously.

4. Reach out to a complaining customer immediately and privately by phone or email. Try not to get drawn into public arguments.

5. Stay on good terms with your local competitors. This is an easy way to avoid online turf wars and spam reviews.

6. Don’t be tempted to post fake positive reviews of your own business. This rarely plays out as planned, and it’s easier for online visitors to spot a fake review than you may think. The same applies to posting reviews on behalf of a client or customer. And it should go without saying, but never post a fake negative review of a local competitor (see item 5).

7. Get help. Reach out to a professional digital marketing firm and let them take responsibility for the online aspects of your business. When you put your brand, your search engine rankings, and your online reputation in the hands of professionals, you can turn your full attention back to running your company.   

Need help finding a marketing firm that can boost your online reputation? Are you looking for frontline employees who can put a great face on your business and build strong relationships with your customers and clients? Turn to the Des Moines staffing pros at the Palmer Group. We’ll connect you with team and resources you need to take your growing company to the next level.

How to Keep Teams Focused and Productive During a Hiring Freeze

March 22nd, 2013

When payroll budgets are tight and the future looks uncertain, sometimes a hiring freeze represents a viable cost cutting measure and a company’s only path to survival. But this move can be hard to explain to existing employees who were counting on the promise of additional hands to help manage accounts and process orders. And the fear and anxiety employees may feel about the situation can easily undermine daily productivity, and can even send valuable workers running for job boards and dusting off their resumes.

So what can you do to make sure a hiring freeze actually adds value and increases your collective odds of survival, instead of making a bad situation worse? And how can you accomplish more work (or at least the same amount) when employees are distracted and vital support positions are standing unoccupied? Keep these tips in mind.

Control and mitigate uncertainty

This is where your basic PR and messaging skills will come into play. When calming rattled nerves, nothing works better than a tightly controlled message, and nothing supports a tightly controlled message like old fashioned empathy and diplomacy. Anticipate your employees concerns and get ahead of them, don’t wait for employees to bring them to your attention.

Enlist employee involvement and commitment to a shared goal

Provide your teams with a sense of control over the situation by including them in decision making processes and shared goals. Don’t think of managers and employees as “us” and “them”. Bring everyone onto the same team. Inspire your workers, include yourself among them, and keep their attention focused on specific business targets related to profitability and revenue.

Lead by calm, focused example

If you settle in, put the drama of the hiring freeze behind you, and turn your attention to the goals and work at hand, your teams will be more likely to follow suit. If you harp in the subject relentlessly, provide official daily updates when you have no new information to offer, or behave in way that seems gloomy or anxious, your staff will probably give in to distraction and idling. (For example, avoid talking about future deadlines and projects as if they may never materialize. Commit to your December publication, release, or rollout date, even the company may not exist by then.)

Be very clear about new individual goals and realigned positions

Since a hiring freeze often means adjustments to employee roles and responsibilities, make sure these adjustments are clear. If workers will be taking on new projects or relying on new skill sets, make sure they get the training and guidance they need to be successful. Do so even if these new roles are expected to be temporary.

The Des Moines staffing and business management experts at the Palmer Group can help you keep your team focused and committed while riding out a rough patch. Contact our office and arrange a consultation to learn more.

Employee Recognition on a Tight Budget

March 8th, 2013

While your business may be slowly rebounding from the rough patches of the last few years, it’s possible you’re still facing budget limitations that keep you from handing out big bonuses. And you may not be able to lavish your top performers with the monetary gifts and other incentives they probably deserve. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on incentives entirely. Consider a few simple and effective ways to thank your top employees for all they do. Inexpensive gestures like these will let them know they’re appreciated without breaking the bank.

Focus on employee-manager relationships

If you put some extra effort and pressure into relationship-building between employees and their direct supervisors, you’ll notice the difference. And so will they. Instead of a big check, try a pair of concert tickets to a popular show. And instead of just choosing “a popular show”, let your managers choose a band or play they know a specific employee has been wanting to see. 

Give the gift of time
These days, employees lead very busy lives that extend far beyond their jobs. Priorities are more complex than they were generations ago, and time is often worth more than gold. Give high performing employees an unexpected day off. Or reward a victory by letting the entire team leave early on Fridays for a month.

Reward top performers with opportunity

There are few things more satisfying than an exciting and appropriate opportunity for advancement. A statement like “We’ve been watching you grow, we’re impressed with your last project, and we’d like to see you take the following step up…” can make employees feel appreciated like nothing else. Reward top performers by clearing a path for them in a direction that matches their goals.

Pile on the small gestures

Order lunch for your teams now and then. Have a bouquet of thank you flowers placed on a talented employee’s desk. Be generous with sincere and specific verbal thanks. Treat your entire team with tickets to a minor league baseball game. Take everyone out for ice cream on a Friday afternoon. These gestures might seem small, but if they’re frequent, personal, and well meant, you can cultivate loyalty among your staff and keep them onboard, even during lean times.

For more ways to reward your staff without jeopardizing your ability to make payroll, reach out the Des Moines staffing and small business management experts at the Palmer Group.


Looking for Ways to Increase Employee Engagement? Bring the Fun!

February 15th, 2013

If you’re still clinging to the old school idea that fun in the workplace equates to frivolity and wasted time, reconsider. And look around. How many of your employees are under the age of 35? Probably more than a few. And how many of your employees, regardless of their age, are disengaged, watching the clock and struggling to get along with their managers and coworkers? Giving these employees a reason to laugh and a reason to connect socially with their peers won’t hurt your productivity. In fact, it might save your company. Here are few tips that can help you bring some life and levity into your workplace culture.

Build Engagement: Liven up Your Office

1. Consider establishing a regular weekly happy hour at a local bar or restaurant. Choose the venue carefully. It should be easy to access, clean, friendly, and welcoming. The more often you encourage happy hour gatherings, the less ceremonial they’ll become, and the more your employees will begin to relax, join the scene, and come and go at their leisure.

2. Encourage friendships and outside connections. Sponsor and encourage non-work activities, like Saturday volunteering, picnics, and ski weekends.  Don’t work too hard to please everyone—while some events might not appeal to employees with children and others may not work for those who live far away, don’t naysay. Just keep the ideas coming. If an employee abstains from one event, he can participate in the next one without missing anything.

3. Encourage a culture of conversation, honesty, and open feedback. In a thriving workplace, conversation and chatter are a constant, low-grade background noise. People express their feelings and ideas without hesitation or fear, they trust each other, doors are open, and feedback is constant and free. Make sure your workplace culture fits this model. Don’t perpetuate a climate of risk aversion, mistrust, and passive aggressive silence.

4. Value relationships, and make sure your upper managers value them as well. Healthy, growing companies recognize that human relationships don’t just affect the bottom line, they are the bottom line. Happy, well-balanced employees are the heartbeat and engine of your company. Don’t ignore their well-being or treat it like fluff.

For more tips on engaging your employees and adding some fun to your workplace, reach out to the Des Moines staffing and retention experts at the Palmer Group.