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Employee Happiness: A Productivity Booster

Posted on January 11, 2011 by Ellen

According to Jonathan Strickland of, “Offering on-site benefits, have the added bonus of keeping the employee workforce in the office more often.  Give employees enough reasons to stick around and you’ll likely see productivity go up.  Why head home when everything you need is at work?”

Have you ever had a job that made you miserable, where just getting out of bed seemed like such a hassle?  If so, do you remember how the lack of enthusiasm for your job made your loose your jobs ‘focus factor’?  Many studies have shown the advantages of a happy work environment.  Some of these advantages include increased productivity, quality of work, lower absenteeism, stress and burnout, higher sales and customer satisfaction, among many others. 

Melissa Dahl of MSNBC, reporting on a study done by Harvard University, writes: “New research shows that happiness isn’t just an individual phenomenon; we can catch happiness from friends and family members like an emotional virus. When just one person in a group becomes happy, researchers were able to measure a three-degree spread of that person’s cheer.  On average, every happy person in your social network increases your own chance of cheer by 9 percent — and the effects of catching someone else’s happiness lasts up to one year.”

So then, if happiness is a key contributor to employee productivity, what have we done as a company to boost our employees?  The answer we developed was Free Food Friday.  It may not be free food everyday like a mammoth company such as Google, but it’s still valuable.  Lunch is provided every non-payday week along with some ‘getting to know you and getting to know the company’ conversation.  Having all the employees in one place every other week for some fellowship has proven to create happiness and grow friendships.  In addition great management has also been a key contributor to our office happiness.  Each manager is given the unique opportunity to create a cohesive and happy environment for their staff.  Some bring coffee or snacks on occasion, give encouragement when needed, and laughter and music request days to lighten the mood.  It’s the small boosters that keep employees happy on a day-to-day basis.

This is what we do, what has your company done to create employee happiness?


Surviving Fires at Work (Why You Need a Plan B)

Posted on August 31, 2010 by Ellen

We had an exciting (or terrifying) day at the office a few weeks ago. I looked out the window from building 1 to see huge flames and an abundance of black smoke as the parking lot next to us was on fire!  I called out to the others in the building that there is a fire then proceeded to call 911. As the others were on the move, I immediately looked to my evacuation plan and safety procedures to see what should be done next. However, after checking the evacuation map it says our “meeting place”, in case of an emergency, is the lot across from our parking lot… yes they very place on fire. I could, for the sake of professionalism, say that something rational and cool went through my head, but I would simply be lying if I said it wasn’t profane. We quickly adapted, got everyone’s car moved and all of our employees safe. Firemen were on the scene shortly and the fire was extinguished through some impressive work from the Riverside Fire Department.  Overall, the entire debacle went very well considering how bad it could have been.

So my lesson learned is this: I need a Plan B. Not only does my safety plan need a Plan B, but Plan B isn’t bad in my business emergencies either.  Things don’t always go the way we plan them, in fact, most of the time they don’t go that way at all. As we approach the daily fires of our work day, we have to wonder why Plan A failed in the first place, and remember that there is more than one way to get something right, even if there are “failures” in between.

Fire at work


My Favorite Interview Questions

Posted on July 8, 2010 by Ellen

Interviews are the short sliver of time we get with potential employees before adding them to the company family. For our interviews, we use a handful of “typical” interview questions to get to know the applicant, their motivations, their ethics and their personality. There are a few questions that we use that, to me, really show how well the employee will work out here. Adding these to your artillery might help you understand some important aspects of your applicants before you hire them. My favorite questions are:

    • Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what circumstances and in what ways? This question will let you know if you have a go getter on your hands. With an office full of go getters, I am always surprised when people give me a qualified “yes” explaining that they are competitive in their personal life, maybe in board games or something, but are not competitive and actually resist competition in their work life.  This is a great insight into their work ethic and how they might help our company evolve and grow.  We need competitive people and look for people who are always trying to get ahead.  I assume some people equate competitiveness with mean-spiritedness, but not understanding that you can be friendly and a go getter also means that they would probably not be a good fit here.


    • How do you handle questions and problems that exceed your knowledge or experience? This question helps me figure out if the applicant has the ability to think outside of the box and use their skills to solve problems, or if their default is to just ask for help. Our company is always looking for better ways to get our work done and if our employees are always thinking of ideas of ways to get things accomplished we will be better off. We want to see a balance between asking questions and figuring those questions out on your own.


    • What disadvantages do you see working for a small, growing company like ourselves?  I don’t appreciate it when an applicant doesn’t have an answer to any question that we ask, but this one in particular almost makes me laugh when someone doesn’t have an answer.  Many times when I ask this question, people will say that they don’t think there are any disadvantages for working for a small, growing company.  It makes me think they have little knowledge about business in general.  I want to hear an honest opinion of what someone’s anticipated challenges will be with our company and through that explanation, an expectation of how they would look at those challenges. There are some really great aspects of working at a small, agile and growing company like this one, but we all know that there are some serious setbacks as well.


    • How do you handle making mistakes? Tell me a specific time where you made a mistake and how you handled it. This might make me sound like a curmudgeon, but I really think that people “these days” just don’t take responsibility! If you make a mistake, handle your business.  The last thing I want to be doing as a boss is trying to figure out whom messed-up and why, I just want to work on fixing it. Our company needs individuals that know when they make a mistake, and takes responsibility so we can all move on to the fix it phase. Taking responsibility and initiative is a great character quality that will show up in many great aspects of this employee and a sure sign of a mature and trustworthy person.


If these questions aren’t used during your interview process, I would suggest adding them in and seeing if you get the same satisfying and useful answers that I have found with their use.


Why Human Resources Should Read the Company Blog

Posted on October 27, 2009 by Ellen

If you’ve spent any time reading though the eCommerce and Entrepreneurship blog, you’ve seen the difficulties the company engages in. These “journal entries” of sorts, are an opportunity for our employees to express what hardships they’ve gone through and what positive and negative outcomes come from their experiences. The blog is a legitimate forum for venting, learning, growing and sharing; aka an HR manager’s best friend. Everyone’s blog entries have enough of their personal stories laced through them that these entries become a useful means for HR to check out what lies just under the surface at the company. Under the surface is where you’ll find people’s motivations, perspectives and a look at how they view themselves in comparison to others. What better way for me is there to find out what is going on at our eCommerce business than to read the online commentaries detailing employee’s experiences?  Of course there are details and extreme circumstances that should not be displayed publicly and should be treated with the upmost confidentiality, but when it comes to the company’s everyday lifestyle, the blog is a great tool to use when figuring out where the Lifestyle Pillar meter should be rated.

Gordian Project’s eCommerce and Entrepreneurship blog of course has its intended strategic business purposes, but it is not there just so we can share with the world what mistakes we’ve made and what successes we’ve mastered.  The blog lets us look at ourselves to see how we’re doing, what frustrates us, how we can make our retail websites a better place for us to be productive and enjoy coming to work. If there is anything we can do to make our employees just “not hate coming work”, but look forward to going to work everyday, it will be better for the employees and better for the company. 

Take for example those who have been involved in our OutdoorPros Adventure Team, activities outside of the office have sparked relationships and growth inside of the office.  I’ll let some of the pictures speak for themselves:

Josh Mc Catching the Sunset

Bobby, Paul & Chad around the campfire

Zach surfing

Sean and Zach jamming

Zach catching the sunset

But I know what you’re thinking…. “We’re here to run a business, not a daycare”. Of course I understand the extremes associated with letting employees be “happy”. I am not advising for a lack of structure that ends up with work becoming a video game palace and online shopping café, but rather, I’m promoting growth of employee ownership and self-investment in their everyday work. Making work enjoyable allows employees to build commitment in their intimate relationship with the company. Happy employees equal productive employees and if they’re unhappy, I guarantee it will end up on the company blog.



Posted on July 21, 2009 by Ellen

I’ve been thinking about something lately and I need your help. Can someone please tell me why every article, blog post, news report, or ANY informational piece in our space has had recession tunnel vision?  Entrepreneurs in eCommerce have quickly shifted focus from the latest fads and trends in user interfaces and vendor partnerships to best practices in hiring, strategic cash plans, etc. and all as a result of the recession.

It seems that the recession is the driving factor behind the influx of attention made on best business practices.  This just cracks me up – as if these things should not be a major focus in BOOM times.  We should be doing this (concentrating on efficiencies, market share, employee retention rates, etc.) all the time!!  I have to admit, I am guilty of writing posts like this myself.  Just imagine if all of the business owners, politicians, whoever should be named, crunched these same numbers when the economy wasn’t forcing everyone to pay attention and do so?  What if we were motivated and “entrepreneurial” enough to make these meticulous calculations when things were going well?  If we all acted as if “economic Armageddon” (as we all like to call it around here) was just around the corner, just think about how much leaner and meaner our businesses, industries and economy would be as a result.  Those that are successful, those that survive and move through these difficult times are those that are proactive, those that are prepared and ready for what’s next, they create their own competitive advantage in doing so.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that different times call for different strategies, but it just seems like strategies such as particular hiring, sensible cash plans and market share maneuvers are important regardless of what the economy is doing.  How about from now on, don’t just ride the market cycles, drive them.


Hiring: Don’t Take it For Granted

Posted on June 25, 2009 by Ellen

I recently read Jason Calcanis’ newsletter regarding the current hiring environment entitled, "How to Hire – and Get Hired – in a Recession".  This newsletter spoke mostly of how important it is to be a hard worker and how important it is to hire someone who is willing to work hard. He admitted that it sounded a little obvious, but still had many legitimate and important suggestions regarding the subject. I would like to advise readers of Jason’s newsletter that our economic position can cause a lax attitude when it comes to the subject of hiring and reply with a few things to consider before making any drastic changes.

    1. Understand what the unemployment numbers are really saying:  Yes, the overall unemployment rate might be 10%, but that doesn’t mean the employee you are looking for necessarily comes out of that unemployment pool. High school grads have the highest unemployment rate at (10-15%), while college grads are in the middle (7-9%), and graduate degree earners have little unemployment problems at all (2-3%).  Jason said he received 200 resumes for one $10/hr job posting. That would make sense considering that the $10/hr job would most likely (not always) be picking from the high school graduate pool with the highest unemployment rate.  So the next time you’re thinking, “I know the pickins are good and I can just replace that person”, think of what group that person comes from and how hard it might really be to replace someone. This leads to my next warning…


    1. Don’t let your attitude turn into “my employees are dispensable”.  Remember that your employees are the people that you have entrusted to run the day to day functions of your business and these responsibilities shouldn’t be taken lightly. They can mean the difference between profits and losses. If you treat your employees as if they are dispensable, they will treat your business as if it was dispensable. This leads to my next point…


    1. Pay the Price: Jason talks a lot about hiring someone who is obsessed with work and who is willing to work late, extra hours etc.  Remember that type of employee comes with a price and you better be willing to pay that price for that type of commitment.  This doesn’t mean that you have to pay more money necessarily. Really, paying the price can be as simple as recognizing that your employees are working hard.  I’m not sure any staff member would appreciate being told that they are replaceable let alone the “work-a-holic”.  Rarely being recognized for the hard work that they do can be a larger detriment than monetary compensation to some.  Individuals that are that dedicated to their work, who spend their personal hours to improve your business, look for recognition.  A little encouragement goes a long way.


Jason is right; I agree that hiring the hard worker will be the best for your business.  Please remember however, not to take advantage of these people or let the unemployment rate change your appreciation of your employees.  Your employees are the ones running your business. Treat them with respect and they will keep making your company a profitable one.


Avoid Living Beyond Your Means: Determining Salaries for New Hires

Posted on March 19, 2009 by Ellen

One of the most difficult areas of Human Resources to manage is salaries and wages.  As an eCommerce business, and I am sure traditional businesses face this too, it is one of our highest expenditures.  Not only that but salaries, wages and benefits are one of the most difficult areas to tweak.  I highly recommend charting out your barriers and expectations before you start the hiring process.  Setting up guidelines should not prevent you from being flexible, but rather should just set up fundamentally necessary boundaries that may help to prevent future regret.

A lot of small business do not know how much to pay a new employee.  Instead, they wait to see what their resumes are asking for and make decisions based on the asking price of the new hire.  These decisions are not made on what they can afford, and maybe more importantly, what fits in their lifestyle.

I think of it in terms of making any large purchase.  If you know how much your bandwidth as a company can handle, in terms of salaries and wages, don’t get bright eyed and excited when you see the flashier, more qualified, more expensive person.  More importantly, don’t fall into the, “I’m sure we could make more money if we just hire her.  She’ll pay for herself!”  Just know your limitations and know your goals.

In the end, find a balance between flexibility, goals, and living beyond your means.

When It’s a Buyer’s Market, That Can Mean It’s a Headhunter’s Market As Well

Posted on October 15, 2008 by Ellen

It’s all about the silver lining…

If you’ve looked at the prices of homes lately, there are some great deals out there; a huge supply and little demand.  The same can be true in the employment market. When other companies are cutting jobs, many qualified people are out there hunting for employment.  Not to make light of a very sensitive subject, but the current employment rate’s 16 year low, can actually be a great opportunity for the growing small business. A huge supply and little demand of workers is a great chance to snag up a quality employee.  Not only will you get your pick, but you will be less likely to get caught in a bidding war, which most small businesses can’t afford to win.  You will have a better opportunity in this market to hire qualified employees, then when the competition for such employees is fiercer.

Shop on.



Mixing Parties and Policies

Posted on September 4, 2008 by Ellen

The professional world of eCommerce can often be more relaxed than other businesses.  With fun and work being commonly intermingled, it’s sometimes like a mullet: Business in the front, party in the back.  Among the various in-house amenities like basketball and foosball, outside parties are also useful for maintaining a “fun” work environment.  

This is where it gets messy.  How do we apply in-house policies to outside parties while still utilizing the “hangout outside of work” feel?  Where can we draw the line between camaraderie and debauchery?  Company party misfits can not only ruin the occasion, but can expose the company to costly liabilities.

I have come up with four standards that can be used when laying down the law at work parties that still allow for parties to be productive:

  • Be Prepared:  Where my boy scouts at?  Anything can happen, so limiting unwanted variables can contribute to the success of the event.  A well organized party with specific activities, such as well defined games and interactions, will lessen the chances of having inappropriate behavior.  Our most recent example of this was at our company anniversary party.  While the party was casual with excitement at the pool and food at one’s convenience, we had a set schedule of our own Backyard Olympic Games.  Teams participated up through the championships while others watched and cheered.  Given that party goers had the opportunity to focus on fun and friendly competition not much room was left for unwanted actions or behavior.

  • Gordian Project 4th Anniversary Pool Party

    Gordian Project Backyard Olympics

  • Executives and Upper Management Set the Tone and Demeanor:  If your boss brings a flask to the 4th of July picnic that gives everyone else the OK to do the same thing even though this type of behavior is not ordinarily acceptable at the office. 
  • Encourage Family Participation:  A good way to keep it G rated is to invite the kids along.  Not only does this help set the tone for a G rated event, but it promotes family.  Family promotion can be especially important for the husband/wife dynamic; this creates an environment devoid of the stress of the feared ‘Company Party Sexual Harassment”.  Not only does this add sensibility to the occasion, but employees will generally have a better appreciation of the festivities if their families are not only invited but encouraged to attend company functions.  It’s a win-win. 
  • No Exceptions - Be Consistent:  Give your Employees a chance to succeed.  All of us in HR can sympathize with the difficulty that comes from ever changing rules and regulations. . Keep that in mind when legislating your own company rules.  Just as enforcing the rules consistently among employees is obviously important, keeping the expectations the same from party to party is just as vital. 

The human resources rep doesn’t have to be the stick in the mud at the party and with the proper planning and expectations no one will have to take on that role either.  Summer’s coming to an end so keep these tips in mind as we move toward the up and coming holiday parties.


HR Strategies: Consider Efficiencies and Leave the Layoffs and Downsizing

Posted on August 26, 2008 by Ellen

Don't Jump the Gun

In this negative economy, I get a lot of HR emails about layoffs and downsizing.  It is surprising how quickly companies turn to downsizing to solve their problems that relate to their bottom line.  This is the time to find efficiencies and areas of opportunity; not run for the hills and give up.  Understandably, there are times when layoffs are necessary and downsizing is a last resort, but it should not be the first thing that pops into my inbox as economic stresses increase.  Not only do they make us HR folk grow gray hair and get heartburn, they are expensive, reduce performance and diminish one of the company’s most central investments. 

I’m Going To Need You To Get Outside The Box 

In combination with other strategies throughout the company, try some efficiency tactics through the HR department.  First, reevaluate job descriptions and roles in all areas of the company.  People do their best when they are doing something they love; happiness at work is the ultimate productivity booster.  Changing a couple of employees around or even simply adjusting their scope of responsibilities to involve areas of interest can impact employee enthusiasm and create a more efficient and excited workforce.  This philosophy will not only raise the level of efficiency per employee, but will also give a much needed “fresh” look at the overall picture.  Maybe that employee in customer service has some great ideas about supply chain, but has never been given the forum to express these new and exciting thoughts.  At a time when competition is fierce and the opportunity to get ahead narrows, this tactic could produce the “out of the box” thinking a company really needs to get back on their feet and diminish the impact of the depressing economy.