Managers have the daunting pressure of being responsible for a multitude of duties. Training and developmentinnovationmorale, metrics/reporting, and employee performance, to name a few. Let’s take a minute to give managers a hand, can we? It’s tough work and many times, thankless. I can personally attest to the fact that there is nothing more gut wrenching than having an employee that isn’t meeting expectations. You see one thing, then another, and then something’s mentioned in confidence to you that aligns with what you’re seeing. Diagnosis: performance problem.

During my years in HR I had managers seeking guidance regarding performance concerns on a pretty regular basis. My response was to listen, ask defining questions to fully understand the situation, then ask what their plan is to get the employee back on track.  I was often met with a shrugging of shoulders and an, “I don’t know, that’s why I’m here” response. Fair. I found that most performance concerns typically fell into one of two buckets: skill or motivation. Either the employee doesn’t have the skill to perform the role, or they know how, but aren’t motivated to do so. Sometimes you have a combination, but typically it’s one or the other. Determining whether it’s skill or motivation is fairly straight forward, but here are a couple of examples that outline both.

Scenario A: The employee meets regularly with his or her manager and they agree to specific deliverables that can be completed within a certain timeframe. Manager offers support and an open door if the employee has questions, needs guidance or a simple check-in. The week passes, they meet again and the deliverables aren’t complete or heading in the direction that was agreed to. The employee doesn’t provide an explanation for not meeting deliverables and he or she didn’t seek any support during the week. They breakdown the project to ensure the employee is confident of next steps. The manager asks if the employee feels ok with the project, or, if there is anything wrong, “nope, all is well and I’ll get right on it” is the response from the employee. The manager notices that the employee is late by 5-10 minutes on a regular basis, spends a lot of their time socializing on their phone, and seems disengaged in meetings.

What’s the diagnosis for the above scenario, skill or motivation? Correct, motivation! The manager has provided the employee support, resources, reviewed the project together, mutually agreed to a deadline – and nothing. Motivation is a tough one to remedy. If the employee doesn’t want to do the work vs. doesn’t know how to do the work – there’s an issue. The manager can document the situation, outline some examples, meet with the employee, and objectively share concerns. They can provide mentorship or a peer to work with them. But, it’s really up to the employee to decide in this situation.

Scenario B: Director has an employee that has recently been promoted to a managerial position. The new manager expresses enthusiasm for the promotion but shares that management is new; a role they’ve never done before. The manager oversees a team of entry level employees, meets weekly with each one, has departmental meetings, and provides support to the team. Time goes by, the director gets reports of micromanaging, low morale, and general unhappiness on the team. The director and manager meet and a pizza party/outing is suggested to help with morale and getting to know each other better. Issues persist and a few employees resign over the course of many months and provide feedback regarding their manager through exit interviews. The director supports the manager by saying these things happen and it will get better. It doesn’t. The manager gets a performance review stating that morale and employee satisfaction needs to improve. Despite the managers sincere attempts at improving, problems persist and the newly promoted manager is overall unsuccessful.

By process of elimination, you’ve probably guessed that scenario B is skill. What did that new manager need? Training, skill-set assessment, and probably a mentor. What did he or she receive? Suggestion for a get-to-know-you session and a pat on the back that things will improve. This person clearly has motivation to get better as a manager, but no idea how to get there – aka, skill.

Solving employee performance concerns is a much larger topic for another article but beginning with the diagnosis helps you determine your approach.  You can teach just about any skill if the employee is motivated to learn and improve. Motivation is more difficult and many times requires more open ended questions to the employee and extended conversation. If you can solve the root of the motivation issue – win win!

The answer to that question is, probably not. You want to see the fish in their natural environment. How do they swim, do they interact with other fish, how do they search for food? This isn’t about fish, but the idea of conducting part of the interview within the environment the employee is going to work, is often overlooked by HR and hiring managers.  

I once had a position where I was responsible for hiring custodians to clean dormitories at a residential high school. The custodians would be assigned to one dorm and serve as the point person for the overall day to day operation of the building. The custodians saw the same students, day after day, got to know them, the dorm faculty, and, many became an integral part of the dorm culture.  

Quiz – what’s most important for this hire?
A. Rock star custodian with an eye for detail and solid work ethic
B. Motivated candidate that enjoys being around teenagers and is enthusiastic about being part of a dorm family
If you guessed B – you’re correct! Yes, it would be nice to have a little A in there, too. But, what proved to be successful was the enjoyment of being around youth and being motivated by the day to day operations. My thought was that you can teach someone to clean if they are motivated, but if they don’t like teenagers – forget it. 

Here’s where the environment comes in. I would ask candidates to meet me at the student center, typically during a time when classes were changing. It was chaos in there! Students grabbing coffee, laughing with friends, bustling by you so they got to class on time. Why did this matter? I watched the candidate. I observed how they reacted to the chaos. I paid attention to whether they would hold a door open, look people in the eye and even…smile. Did they seem to enjoy the energy or shrink to the side?  This candidate could have killed it in the interview. They could have answered every single question perfectly and even claimed to love being around teenagers. But until I saw them in a student environment, I couldn’t be sure.

Now, how does this translate to you. We’ve all gone to interviews where we’ve been escorted from the lobby to a windowless conference room, interviewed, then ushered back to the entrance. Great for privacy, quiet and being undisturbed, but you may be short changing yourself and the candidate by not giving them a chance to see the work environment. The above scenario probably doesn’t apply to your business, but you could adopt this universally. Give the candidate a tour through the building, workspace or production floor. If appropriate, have them spend 10-15 minutes with an employee actually seeing the work being performed. Do they ask good questions that suggest they are really thinking about the work, are they politely interacting with those they meet, do they seem engaged and interested in the job?

They key to success in this whole environment thing is for the interviewer (hiring manager or HR) to not talk the person’s ear off. If you’re talking, you can’t listen! Let the candidate absorb the room, allow them time to ask questions, slow down and don’t rush them around the workspace or hallways. Just let the environment sink in. I guarantee that you’ll be more confident with your hiring decisions if you use the work environment as a way to assess their potential.  

Presidential administrations have vastly different priorities, and, we know the current administration is placing a lot of attention on immigration. We heard it through the election cycle and that theme has steadily continued thru the first year of the Trump presidency. Politics is a like a pendulum. The swings can be dramatic, and as an employer, what happens in Washington and with I-9 compliance, should matter to you.

This past week, 7-Eleven stores across the US had simultaneous federal immigration agents knocking on doors in an enforcement operation that yielded 21 arrests and prompted the employer to comply with a full-scale audit. Audits like these can result in a number of penalties and subsequent fines that can be costly. Not surprising, the federal agency has in-depth fine schedules that will give anyone sticker-shock.

One of the ways to enforce immigration law is through the Federal Form I-9. From the Fed’s website: Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. The why seems fairly clear, but the how (compliance) isn’t. Completing the I-9 is typically done through Human Resources, a Manager, or the Business Owner at the time of hire. Usually it’s done in tandem with tax forms and insurance enrollment, but there are some timing and validation requirements that cannot be overlooked.

  1. Form I-9 – are you using the correct form? The latest version is dated 7/17/2017. If you are using a form dated prior to that, get rid of it and replace it across your organization right away. Some managers have a tendency to be “helpful” and keep a version on their desktop. Remind everyone to remove and replace if that’s the case. The date is at the bottom left of the form. This date is important because if you’ve hired anyone after that date and used the previous form, you’re out of compliance. According to the Department of Homeland Security, if you discover you have completed an outdated expired Form I-9, you may correct the error by either stapling the outdated, but completed form, to the current version having the employer sign the current version notating why the current version is attached (wrong edition was used at time of hire) or, drafting a letter explaining that the wrong form was filled out correctly and in good faith.
  2. Timing – when do you have to have this form completed? Timing and the dates that are recorded are key. The employee section of the form must be completed on the first day of work.  The employee must provide documentation that is validated in the employer section and must be completed within 3 days. My advice is to let new employees know that this will be a requirement and come to work on day 1 prepared. Catching up with people after the fact can be difficult and the details sometimes get neglected.
  3. Validation – attention to detail matters. Employers must carefully complete every detail of the form exactly according to the published sample. The accepted documents presented must fall within the guidelines outlined and the recorded dates have to coincide with when the employee starts work. Keep in mind that you cannot specify which of the acceptable documents the employee uses for the I-9. In regards to presented documents, I was recently at a HR professional association meeting and the employment law attorney suggested retaining copies of employee documents. If you do this for one, you need to do it for all.
  4. Retention & Storage – established a standardized process. Employers need to have I-9s on file for all employees that receive pay. These files can be electronic or paper, and I would suggest, separate from the employee’s personnel file. If you have multiple locations, the forms should be centralized. This helps with ensuring all I-9s are retained and stored similarly, and, in case of inspection, you can pull your I-9s and present easily. And, employers need to retain I-9s of former employees for a specified period based on an outlined calculation.
  5. Inspection – if you have employees, you are eligible for inspection. USCIS typically provides employers with written notice (Notice of Inspection) and the law allows employers three days prior to inspection. But, in the case of 7-Eleven, agents can inspect without notice if they have a warrant or subpoena. Employers should be prepared to present a list of all employees receiving pay and their I-9s. Remember, each state also has Department of Labor agents that have the right to include I-9s as part of any inspection: safety, wage and hour, etc. I would even suggest that’s going to become commonplace with this administration.

The likelihood of having federal agents wearing ICE jackets standing outside your door tomorrow is probably not imminent. But as an employer, there is a risk associated with not having your documents in proper order. Ensuring the person completing the employer section and validating the documents presented by the employee is trained is critical. That person doesn’t need to be an expert with documents, but they should feel confident in what is presented and be schooled in fraud. Lastly, I would regularly perform an I-9 audit. It doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s best practice and it alleviates the pain associated with penalties and fines – regardless of the political pendulum.


During an interview they asked what? Getting insight into what an interviewee asks during an interview. 

Hiring is hard. It’s time consuming and you typically put in a lot of effort coming up with a list of those that you want to interview in person. We’ve all conducted interviews where you carefully went through the position, you got a good sense of the person’s qualifications and experience and you’re feeling good. Then, you ask the candidate if they have any questions…and you’re left scratching your head. You’re ready to talk about important new initiatives, success factors and the company’s culture when the candidate asks questions that seem slightly self-serving. My advice is to press the pause button and don’t rush into a hiring decision. All may be well, but maybe not.

I would also suggest to a hiring manager that’s it’s a good opportunity to see the way the candidate thinks by the quality of their questions, the possible motivation behind them and the depth of their thinking. Here a few:

“What promotional opportunities are there?”
Ideally, this isn’t a terrible question, but it may be a good idea to ask the candidate what they are ultimately looking for, and, what their expectations are in regards to promotional opportunities. You may have a go-getter, but the position could be considered a stepping-stone. If they ask the question, I think it’s a fair to check in with the candidate to make sure you’re on the same page.

“When can I start taking vacation time?”
Ugh, I haven’t offered the job and they’re asking about taking time off? Well, everyone has vacations, family events and plans, so I don’t blame the person for checking in. Depending on the leave policy, you can provide the details, if appropriate. You can also ask if they have an immediate need. If you are an accounting firm and the person wants to take off the first two weeks of April, that may be a hardship! Best practice: ask.

“When is the first pay increase?”
Prior to an in-person interview, I would suggest discussing salary expectations and/or sharing what’s budgeted by phone. If they ask about pay increases during the in-person interview, you could share that pay increases are tied to performance, board approval, profitability, etc. You could share the increase percentage that was given the prior year as an example – but no promises here.

Or, nothing…….
The dreaded, “I have no questions”. Really, there must be something that you want to know? There are times when a hiring manager covers everything during their conversation, and, indeed all questions have been answered. If not, it may be a glimpse into their intellectual curiosity and/or motivation.

I would coach any hiring manager to give some thought to the types of questions that are asked by the candidate. If you aren’t comfortable answering the question during the interview, let them know you’ll get back to them. If there’s a theme of all-about-them, think about that in relation to your other candidates. Quite often, interview questions can be like poker tells. What are they showing you now could be very beneficial to know later.

Many of us know this story…The star employee that’s great at what they do, gets promoted into a position that they were unsuited for, and, ultimately fails. Who’s to blame here? The organization needed them, and the employee stepped up. The employer has an opportunity for growth, and promoted internally. I say neither is to blame, but timing and intentional conversation about an employee’s long-term goals and development is the key to success.

I heard the term “battlefield promotion” once and thought, at the time, it is unrepresentative of the internal promotion, but looking back, it’s exactly the correct term. Many companies must identify someone quickly to lead a team or manage a high-level process. That’s not the best time to offer someone an opportunity if you haven’t already addressed it with them. Many employees have a deep and sense of responsibility to a company, and in no way want to let anyone down and feel it’s “the right thing to do”, so they accept. How can we, as leaders, do a better job at succession planning?

Goal Setting – having discussions with employees about their career goals is important. Do they want to manage a team, or move up as an individual contributor?

Promotional tracks – many large companies have well established promotional tracks with benchmarks for each level. Most small and medium companies do not though, but it’s something that can be developed, even on a small scale.

Development opportunities – investing in employees translates to investing in your organization. What does the employee naturally gravitate toward? Develop that skill and they’ll take off!

Mentorship – having a mentor, who is not the employee’s direct supervisor, is key. The employee can develop a trusting relationship with a leader, so they can learn and ultimately emulate what they see.

Change is inevitable, but with some thoughtful conversation and planning, you can be prepared for what’s coming your way

HR’s Role in Safety & Risk Management

Human Resources professionals and Safety professionals share many of the same objectives of risk management for their organizations, including:

  • Legal compliance with federal, state, and city government
  • Creation of a strong culture of teamwork and support
  • An efficient, productive, and safe work environment
  • A trained workforce with continuous improvement
  • Retention of experienced workers
  • Control of costs and liability
  • Employee participation with ideas and solutions
  • Engaged, supportive leadership involvement

There is also overlap in certain functions, such as policy development, training, and workers’ compensation management, as well as a strong connection with harassment and bullying prevention, performance management, and promotional opportunities.  A safety-minded culture creates the best risk management and it needs to be supported across rules, individual assessments, compensation plans, and people in supervisory roles.

For example, if an employee is very productive with strong technical skills, he or she will often be considered for promotional opportunities. But what if he or she is not particular about following required PPE rules? For example, he or she is often found not wearing safety glasses? Or he or she tends to skip a safety step here and there in the interest of time?  If this person is then promoted to a supervisory role – without a strong safety philosophy – what kind of example does that display for his or her new subordinates? What kind of training will he or she focus on?

Another example is an incentive program designed to raise productivity that could emphasize production over safety performance. My grandmother’s old adage, “Haste makes waste” comes to mind. Not only can costly accidents happen along with all of the resulting complications, a feeling that management is not concerned about their workers’ health and safety can arise.  Once workers feel they are not your priority, you’ll see everything else slip.

Given these commonalities, Human Resources and Safety would be wise to partner together to support not only one another, but the people they are charged with caring for and their organization’s long-term viability.   

If you currently have a bit of separation with each other, I encourage you to reach out and invite the other for a coffee and collaboration.


corporate recruiting

competitive recruiting

If your company has employees, you are in competition with the thousands of other employers in your geographic region who also want to hire talented, reliable workers and who do not mind stealing your talented, reliable workers. Surely you have heard the old saying, “All’s fair in love, war, and recruiting”?

Think about what you do to handle competition in business:

  1. You learn your competition.
  2. You learn your customers.
  3. You differentiate yourself.
  4. You develop your brand.
  5. You market your brand.

The same strategy goes in recruiting and the good news is it is much easier than it used to be. Two excellent sources of information are: and Why? Because they are both very popular with employees, they both offer the ability to research both your competitors (other businesses) and your customers (future employees), and they both offer you the chance to differentiate, develop, and market your brand.

The first step is to “claim your business” on both sites, so you can take control of your brand and message. Many businesses have not done this yet. So negative worker reviews stand unchallenged without your perspective on your brand, your benefits, and your message. Most job seekers are going to do their homework and check out your organization’s reviews. This is especially true if they are contemplating leaving their current employer for you. If someone is on the fence and they see one of these actual reviews on and….

““Ok place to work, but they don’t pay enough and expect the world.”

“Free lunches are sometimes given. But the working group is not friendly.”

“Long hours, low pay, under-staffed, and under-appreciated.”

“Favoritism runs high in this company, and there is no advancement based on actual skill.”

“Great place to work if you’re one of the good olde boys or part of the rumor mill.”

…there is a good chance you are going to lose that candidate. You are also missing a valuable opportunity to receive feedback and identify potential areas of improvement and/or pending trouble.

Remember recruiting is a competition and the early bird gets the worm. So, be proactive, claim your business, interact with job seekers, show how you are different, describe your brand, create visuals of your brand, and be real.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”