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Hiring for Tasks or Hiring for Ideas: Taskmaster vs. Analytical Ace

Posted on August 6, 2008 by Ellen

Small, fast growing companies thrive off of nimble, entrepreneurial, growth infested staff at all levels.  The thought is that eventually, you will be able to fill from underneath, as the company grows-up and develops a strong upper management team.  But finding the turning point between hiring for ideas and hiring for tasks is challenging; and there is a point. 

The small business e-commerce entrepreneur must understand that even when hiring for entry level positions, it is better to hire the analytical ace then the taskmaster.   For example, just because someone might say they want to start their own company someday when interviewing for an entry level position, doesn’t mean they won’t be an excellent employee for the two years they do spend with your company, and by no means should it be an immediate turn off.  Yes they might leave in a year or two, but it is better to hire employees that can grow the company with their ideas and complete the tasks, then worker bees that complete the tasks but require additional management. 

The truth is that both the “taskmaster” and the “analytical ace” suffer turn over and it has just as much to do with the nature of the position as it does the nature of the employee.  Finding the tipping point when your company is huge enough, and I mean huge enough, to support worker bees is a fine science.  However, judging this pinnacle could make or break your growth and efficiency.  Especially in this down economy, when investments should be even more calculated and on target, it is better to invest in someone who can grow you, rather than save a few dollars on someone that can sustain you. 


Federally Mandated Paid Sick Days: A Benefit Entrepreneurs may not be Seeing

Posted on May 28, 2008 by Ellen

Regardless of political affiliation, in times of economic uncertainty, governments traditionally become more involved; i.e. more legislation, rulemaking, enforcement, and influence.  The situation today is without exception.  At the same time Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke finally orated “recession”, various departments at various levels of government increased their involvement in the economy.  Multi level policy making not only means that various levels of government will act, but their actions will affect multiple levels of society.  Realizing Bernanke is known best for his research on inflation and the Great Depression, leaves little surprise that the Federal Reserve bailed out Bear Stearns.  Similarly, with the ferocious presidential contest of only Senators that has engaged even the traditionally uninvolved lower socio-economical and vulnerable members of society, it seems timely that Congress is now working with the mortgage lenders on loan forgiveness instead of foreclosure as a cost savings strategy.  These policies coordinate to create an economic stimulus by reducing the individual burden of market participants. 

Senator Ed Kennedy has vowed to call a vote on the Healthy Families Act soon that would allow “7 days of sick leave with pay annually for employees working 30 or more hours per week; or a pro rata number of days or hours of sick leave with pay annually for employees working less than--(A) 30 hours per week on a year-round basis; or (B) 1,500 hours throughout the year involved.”.  On the campaign trail, both Democratic frontrunners Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama express support for mandatory sick days.  This is not officially labeled as part of any of the candidate’s economic stimulus plan, if there is one, but it does have characteristics of a stimulus.  This legislation would give sick days to part time employees, and lower level employees which are not currently entitled to paid sick days.  It creates happier, more productive lower level employees, in an economically stressful time requiring increased efficiency.  For a single mother of two working two part-time jobs, paid sick days could be the difference between eviction and a healthy family.  

Some question the rationale behind mandating employers to implement costly benefits in a recessional time of cutbacks, slimming margins, and dwindling profits.  These situations leave this legislation ferociously unpopular in the small business community, but it is worth another look; you might actually see it has some positives.  Employee rights are a tool in the government’s artillery to create economic stability and consumer confidence; a tool that an individual small business owner cannot brandish with the same far reaching impact. In fact, if one small business owner decided to implement paid sick days in a recession, they would be forced to raise prices to cover costs.  However, without the competitor’s participation, the small-business-owner-with-the-paid-sick-days will be dominated by their competition, and might even be pushed out of the market completely.  In all actuality, the negative effects of rising costs related to mandated employee benefits are minimal.  Business owners would be forced to raise prices together and pass on increased costs elsewhere, thereby decreasing the burden to individual businesses.  Meanwhile, the small business owner will benefit from the well-known positive impacts of employee benefits, while not having to shoulder the burden alone.  Governments have the supremacy to equally mandate improvements to the bottom rung employees, and produce far reaching positive economic impacts. 


Human Resources: Is It In You to be the Policy Maker?

Posted on April 22, 2008 by Ellen

In the week of my annual review, I thought it would be fun to write a blog legitimizing my existence.  As one of the only departments not actively involved in increasing sales, I rely heavily on the efficiency argument when reporting our accomplishments in the weekly meetings.  At that, even the efficiency argument is qualitative, and lacks much quantitative backup. 

As an e-commerce entrepreneur and small business owner, one must decide when the right time is to implement POLICIES.  That’s right I said it; rules, structure and even some formalities.  In an environment where “business casual” only means no ponchos or pajamas, implementing structure into a small business can be daunting.  There are so many fine lines: When is an Indian War Club a weapon, and when is it inventory?  When does hiring your cousins go from, they’re the only ones who will work for me to, I’ve got a company full of related upper management and it is a morale problem for the other employees? And finally, when does a laugh at the office go from a joke between friends, to a million dollar lawsuit?

Here are four tips to consider when implementing a Human Resources Department: 

  1. Tag Team – Combine the Human Resources role with another operational role, such as Finance.  The budget lover and policy pundit combination is a rare breed, but finding someone with the ability to understand both, strengthens decision making for the entire business. 

  2. “If You Build It, They Will Come” – Similar to a civic planning philosophy, if you prepare for growth by building infrastructure, you will attract the growth. In HR, this is true with employee manuals, benefits, liabilities, hiring, etc.  One of the first benefits offered to employees was the food program: virtually unlimited breakfast, lunch and snacks.  Starting that program early allowed us to pound out inefficiencies so that expensive mistakes and morale killing issues could be limited.  It is one of our most popular and cherished benefits. 

  3. Plug that Hole – Hurry, we need three customer service representatives ASAP!  Having a structured HR department that can fill holes quickly and intelligently makes quick decision making a viable option.  Without the HR structure, hiring three employees in a matter of hours could be the difference between efficiency, and domination; intelligent people placement is a skill most important for a small, growing business when the effect of one person is greater to the entire organization. 

  4. Oh Crap – “But Judge, there’s no such thing as an inappropriate joke…that’s why they’re jokes!”  Quoting Michael from the Office is not going to get you off the hook from that $1 Million sexual harassment lawsuit.  Training employees early to detect and prevent costly personnel liabilities can save millions in time and money in the future.  Setting this tone from the beginning is a zero sum game.  Remember, it only takes one phone call… 

The decision to have a Human Resources department is a decision about how fast and efficiently you want to grow your business.   Having the infrastructure in place early will facilitate a strong, scalable and efficient business with an edge.   

There!  Now do I get a raise?


eCommerce Food Programs: Sometimes Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Can Get Messy

Posted on April 1, 2008 by Ellen

Got Milk?  Sometimes we do.  A popular benefit of dot coms is providing ample amounts of food to feed the entrepreneurial soul.  Food can be a great benefit for employees.  It can be a huge money and time saver and moral booster.  But managing a comprehensive food program can get messy.   

Here are five rules to help:

  1. Identify your non-negotiables:  No we are not going to buy Monster Energy Drinks, sorry.  Communicate to your employees that there are certain items that are not available through the food program.  This way, employees will not expect to see such an item in the selection; the less disappointment the better.
  2. Make a list:  Identify certain items that you will always purchase and invite employees to participate in the process.  Post the shopping list in a conspicuous place so that when an item is running low, or is out, it can be communicated efficiently to the office food buyer.
  3. Order Regularly:  We order food at least once a week, and sometimes twice.  This keeps a constant flow of food through the kitchen.  It is also a huge moral booster.  When the employees see a cart full of goodies roll through the office, they get excited.
  4. Put in a few surprises:  Every once in a while, buy a few items that aren’t on the list that are maybe on the more expensive side.
  5. Diversify:  You can only eat frozen bean-less burritos for so long.  Analyze the list after some time to make sure that the consistent items are sitting in the freezer for too long because the employees are simply just getting tired of them.  Try a new brand, different flavors and different food items to keep the food program exciting to the employee.

Keeping quantities up, while keeping costs low and still satisfying the taste buds of multiple employees can be a challenge.  Keeping those five simple rules in mind can reduce the stress and management of a worthwhile and cost efficient benefit that makes your workplace exceptional.



Should 2008 Election Opinions be Kept Hush Around the Office?

Posted on February 5, 2008 by Ellen

Excuse Me, Who did you vote for?

Should 2008 Election Opinions be Kept Hush Around the Office?

You may be asked this question in this frenzied Presidential election year, but should you answer?  From a human resources stand point I would recommend keeping this personal information to yourself.  While you and your colleagues may feel comfortable discussing your views and opinions on ecommerce, technology, and video games, be cautious of airing your political opinions.

Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these “one liners” whispered around your workplace lately:
“I don't know if you heard this or not but Fred Thompson has dropped out of the presidential race.  Don't worry about Fred, he can always go back to his prestigious fake law firm. ... packing the bags under his eyes” -David Letterman

As this 2008 Presidential race heats up and consumes the discussions on our televisions, at our dinner tables, and even at work, be aware of what you say at the workplace; political opinions are not protected against discrimination or retaliation.  As an “at will employee” if your “Romney loving” boss hates that you volunteer for Hillary Clinton, he or she can fire you.  If you are feeling pressured to share your opinions you are not alone.  According to a survey done by "35 percent of bosses openly share their political views with employees. Nine percent of workers said they've felt pressured to conform to their boss' views."  So no matter who tickles your “political fancy” whether it be Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Ron Paul or Mike Huckabee be careful what you say around the office, you don't know who you might end up offending.  Perhaps two pieces of tape across the mouth are your best bet.