Where Have All the Good Employees Gone: An Untapped Labor Force

If you’re like many small businesses right now, you may be struggling to find qualified employees. Business owners have told me “all the good employees are taken!” but I’ve discovered a yet mostly untapped resource: our state’s vocational rehabilitation service. I met with the dedicated New Hampshire staff recently and was blown away by the services they can offer and their desire to help employers and employees. According to their website, New Hampshire Vocational Rehabilitation’s (NHVR) service can help businesses:

  • by providing information on staffing, financial incentives, accessibility and accommodation options, educational programs, and expertise on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • gain a critical business advantage by connecting them with a qualified and largely untapped New Hampshire labor force.

When I met with the team, I heard real-life stories to back up these claims and was quickly provided with the financial incentive information, educational programs, and easy to follow information on the ADA. Let me share some of those stories:

  • They worked with a former business owner who could no longer provide the day-to-day manual labor he had historically done with his own business. They connected him with a larger organization in the same industry where he provided supervision and leadership along with his experience;
  • A simple solution to keep a valuable sight-impaired employee engaged and employed by providing a larger monitor;
  • Educational programs provided to employees on topics such as working with a terminally ill co-worker or disability etiquette.

Some business owners are hesitant; this path is new and different, yet it has clear advantages. For example:

  • The VR team pre-screens applicants, saving you, the business owner, time and energy. I’ve never met a business owner yet who enjoys that step in hiring!
  • Financial savings in the form of tax credits and tax deductions.
  • NHVR may provide funding to a business for specialized skill training based upon the amount of time the employee needs to learn that skill. NHVR pays the hourly wage of the employee providing the training for a period determined by the business.
  • VR applicants are motivated and reliable. They are held accountable to NHVR standards, in addition to your own.
  • You are making a statement to the community about your company’s values. That being said, many individuals with disabilities require little to no accommodations so that “statement” may be more of a whisper.

There is an immeasurable value to hiring an individual a bit outside of your “typical” hire. In my experience, a VR hire may bring lightness and gratitude to the work environment; I looked forward to seeing Sally, a vocational rehab employee, to hearing her perspective, on a daily basis.

In NHVR’s words, “VR’s mandate is to find our participants competitive, sustainable employment where they will be working with non-disabled people.  We are not looking for a hand out or a favor.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d take an employee who fits that description any day.

For more information about the New Hampshire Vocational Rehab services, go to: www.education.nh.gov/career/vocational, You can also contact the Employment Specialist, Terri Tedeschi, directly at 603-271-6719.

To hear firsthand how New Hampshire businesses are having success with the Vocational Rehabilitation program, I encourage you to attend the Employment Leadership Awards. They will be at the Currier Museum of Art on Thursday, October 13, 2016, at 8:15 AM. To learn more and to register go to the Events page at www.MillyardCommunications.com, or http://millyardcommunications.com/index.php?submenu=events&src=events&srctype=events_list_blurb.



Starting Strong, Part II: How to Successfully On-board Your New Team Member

Successfully Onboarding New Team Member Part IIIn Part I, I talked about how to best on-board your new team member and get them up to speed. The work doesn’t stop there, though. Make sure that you’re holding yourself accountable, and let your team (new members and established ones) know what they can expect from you. 

  1. Reviews. Employees wonder when they will have a performance review and what will happen at a review. Let your team know how often and at what points they will have a review, what the review process is, and what they are expected to bring to the table.
  2. Define for employees your management style. Are you all business? Tend to blur the lines between owner and friend? Clarity will not only help your staff be comfortable but also help you be comfortable with your own style.
  3. Decision making. Let new employees know what your decision making style generally is. For example, if you tend to ask employees for input just to hear another person’s perspective, your team needs to know that their input is not a vote, but only an opinion.

The initial days/weeks of a new employee’s work with you are very important. Here’s a quick guide on what to do and when:

  1. After job acceptance/prior to first day. At a minimum, send an email letting them know that you’re looking forward to them joining your team. Better yet, send them a handwritten note to their home.
  2. Day 1. Let them know what their first day will look like specifically (i.e., 9-11 AM – shadow Lizzie; 11-12 noon – meet with business owner; lunchtime – team lunch); any documents you need them to bring; how you expect them to dress.
  3. Let clients and customers know that there is a new team member and when they would interact with that new person, if it’s not obvious. Sharing your enthusiasm for the new hire will encourage everyone to be excited to have them on board! Post an announcement where everyone, including your new team member, will see it.
  4. Beyond the first day, define in general what their first week or so will look like and how quickly you expect them to be working on their own.

Feedback, good and not so good, are critical in the first few weeks of a new employee’s time with you. Leave a note after an especially promising day. Written communication that they are fitting in and fulfilling their responsibilities will make their day. 

Finally, remember that letting your team know what to expect from you raises the bar of professionalism. It is a clear way of telling your team not only what their responsibilities are in your business, but also what you will do to make your team successful. Plus, you can use these expectations as a guide or ruler – it will be easy to see when you’re excelling, and equally easy to tell when you’re not measuring up.

Starting Strong: Successful On-boarding for Your Small Business

Congratulations, you’ve finally done it! You decided that it was time to grow your staff and hire a new team member. You identified what you really needed in your small business, and you posted your job description online. Thanks to your thoroughness and preparation, you received excellent feedback and brought in winners to interview. Interviewing was a breeze because you kept it simple and asked questions that matter to your small business.

 All in all, you are to be commended. You stayed focused, decided who and what you wanted, and now your new team member starts next week.

But wait: this is where the real work begins. Don’t throw your leadership skills under the bus – not after all that great work you just did! Do more than manage your new employee – LEAD them from day one by starting strong. Clarify what you expect from them and that they understand those expectations. Be sure to cover:

1.         Their hours. It sounds simple enough, but a miscommunication about hours becomes kindling for further frustrations. Be clear: does 9 to 5 mean show up at 9 or show up at 8:50 and be ready to go at 9? Let them know what to do if they haven’t finished their tasks at the end of the day; do they stay past their stated hours, ask for guidance, or leave? It comes down to your priorities – completion of tasks, overtime, work-life balance, effective use of time – and they are all part of the simple question about employee hours.

2.         Communication.

  • Amongst staff. If becoming “like family” is part of who you are, let new employees know that. Conversely, if you prefer to keep work and personal separate, letting new employees know that can prevent all kinds of undesirable feelings that go to the root of human needs and personal values. Be fair and let them know where the personal/work boundaries are.
  • With clients and customers. Boundaries between staff and clients should also be clearly defined. If you prefer that patients stay at an arms’ length distance, be clear up front with new  employees. While you won’t prohibit staff from becoming friends with clients or customers outside of the work environment, you can certainly let staff know what your preference is and why.

3.         Presentation. Our employees are not mind readers, so while it seems to you that employees should just “know” what your expectations are about dress and office conduct, prevent any misunderstandings by defining your expectations. Dress, behavior, even eating habits at work – if applicable, should be defined.

4.         Tasks. Clarity, for yourself as well as for your employees, is critical in every aspect, especially in task completion. Consider:

  • What you want employees to do if they don’t complete a task?
  • What you want employees to do if they don’t understand a task or their responsibilities. Basically, when do you want them to ask for help? From whom do they ask for help?

When in doubt, clarify and simplify. Make it so that the only thing your new hire has to do is their job. Remove the guesswork, and watch them wow you!

5 Things You Must Do First When Hiring

orange-and-black-help-wanted-sign-e1328943663785My clients are hiring, and if your business is growing you are, too. While employment numbers are improving across the country (this is great news for the general economy), it may also mean it’s more difficult for you to hire your next employee. You may be in a better position to hire, with more available workers than ever, but lack the time and patience to actually “hire”. Sometimes business owners postpone the hiring process because “it’s just such a hassle” or “takes too much time”. One client recently received almost 30 resumes in the 24 hours after posting an opening. Not to worry; I have helped many of these clients hire more quickly, easily and successfully with just a few simple tips that I am going to share here. 

  1. Yes, you need a job description (most often asked question!) but I want you to break it down between the following: 

  • Must Haves. These are skills as well as attributes that a successful candidate absolutely must have. Consider these to be your non-negotiables. Remember, skills can be taught; what will make an employee successful or not in your organization are their values, perspective, and attitude. Business owners are often confused about how much experience to require; decide before you hire if you want someone to hit the ground running and prefer not to do a lot of training, or if you are willing to train your future hire. If you love training and grooming staff, less experience is acceptable. Remember that the more specific you are in your description, the more detailed applicants will be. You still may have applicants apply even if they don’t meet the stated experience requirement, but your specificity will help narrow down who meets the qualification and who does not. 
  • Ideal qualities. These are applicant skills, attributes or personal goals that would make you giddy with excitement. Although this is a personal example, it makes the point: I once hired a babysitter who loved to do errands because that was a skill that I knew would help me, even if it’s not part of the typical job description.  
  1. Your job opening posting placement can make or break your success. Think beyond skills: what kind of person are they? Craigslist.com is a different audience than your local coffee shop and LinkedIn. 

  1. Shift the hiring work load to applicants. The prospect of wading through piles of resumes and cover letters is daunting and has stopped many business owners from hiring anyone or hiring well. They just want the process over. Here’s my favorite trick: require applicants to answer 2-4 questions to send along with their resume. Well-worded questions allow you to determine which applicants are willing to put some quality effort into finding a job and which possess your “must haves”. These questions can be used to assess skills that people may leave off of their resume: are they creative, are they flexible, do they have a sense of humor? Do they look at information with a fresh perspective? Rather than plowing through resumes and cover letters only to possibly find which applicants might be a fit, ask them straight out about the attributes you need. Let me give you a couple of examples: 

  • One business needed an employee who worked well independently and who was willing to dig around when they didn’t know the answer. In the ad, we gave applicants a part description and asked them to find 2 suppliers, the part number, and the price of the part. We weren’t looking for perfection, only looking at their research and deductive reasoning skills. 
  • Another business owner for whom customer service is paramount asked applicants to describe the best customer service they had ever experienced. This let the business owner compare what the applicants described as extreme customer care to his own expectations. 
  1. Rate each applicant a 1, 2, or 3.  

  • 1=must speak to/must interview 
  • 2=acceptable if #1s don’t work out. Need more info to decide if they are a 1 or a 3. 
  • 3=not acceptable. Let them know immediately so you’re not tempted to bring them in. 
  1. Invite your #1 candidates for an interview. Schedule them for 30-40 minutes each, back to back. If they want the job, they will find a way to make it work. At this point, we are still making it easy for you and, to some extent, testing applicants. 

Keep in mind that at this point, your goal is to find the people that you want to interview, only. Do NOT try to make a hiring decision simply on someone’s resume: some people look great “on paper”, but may be a poor fit for your business when you meet them in person. Decide early on what you want, and use this method to filter your applicants. Happy Hunting!

Let It Be: Making Progress When It’s Not Perfect

Let It Be- Making Progress When It's Not Perfect

“Let it be what it is.”

 This was the response I received when I explained to a friend why I had not made further progress on a article I was working on. I’d missed several deadlines, postponed key dates and meetings, because I had not made progress. Instead of making progress, I was making excuses.

 Let it be what it is? His suggestion, although simple, reminded me of a song I would hear on Sesame Street as a child. I didn’t see the relevance, and told him so.

He suggested that if the draft that I was working on needed work, so be it. “If it’s bad, let it be bad,” he said. “That’s why there are backspace keys, erasers, and white out. It can only get better once you get it on paper.”

I didn’t see it that way. In my head – I was busy. I created needless lists, asked for the opinions of people that were completely unrelated to the task, and mulled over my ideas. In other words, I had created useless work that wasn’t moving me forward. He explained that I wasn’t moving forward because I was afraid of the possibility that my work might be bad, that my client wouldn’t like it, and that ultimately, I would fail. None of this had occurred, however, because I hadn’t even reached a point where I, or anyone for that matter, could critique my work.

 Fear of the “what-ifs” had me paralyzed, and instead of moving forward, I kept adding one more thing, one more reason, why I couldn’t do my project. My fear of failure had me stalled.

Download the Intention to Action worksheet.

What’s the problem?

 Instead of taking decisive steps forward, I was creating needless obstacles and projects. I thought I was productive, but I was really just busy. I was masquerading as being “thorough”, “cautious” or “detailed”. In reality, I was postponing a task that I found difficult and made me uncertain.

 The real problem: I was afraid. My fear of failure had me driven to add completely unnecessary steps and tasks to my writing project, even though they weren’t required or useful. While I was technically working, I wasn’t seeing the progress that I should. When it was finally time for me to share my progress with my colleagues and supervisors, I would have to make up excuses, or if there was something to share, it would be so rushed that I knew it was not my best work.

 In other words, I was living a self-fulfilling prophecy: because I didn’t move forward on my writing project and take the necessary steps to meet deadlines and make progress, my final products were not up to par. I was afraid of doing poor quality work, and because I didn’t set goals and work toward them consistently, that’s exactly what happened. This same fear prevented me from being present in the moment. I found myself constantly thinking about what could go wrong, and what I needed to do in the future, that I wasn’t taking action today.

The Cure

I had to draw a line in the sand. I had to remind myself to live with intention, set daily and weekly goals, and then ACT on them. Then repeat. If you have appointments to make, show up early. If you have project deadlines, work with the intention of meeting them. Sure, your work and projects will go through many drafts and revisions. That’s the beauty of it. You shouldn’t avoid it because it’s not perfect.

 Let it be what it is.

 This does not mean that it will be easy. But when you get out of your own way, and live with purpose and focus, the end is easier to see. Your days are busy, and you have a lot to do – we all do. If you are living a life that you love, embrace it. If you are not, make a change. What you shouldn’t do is make excuses.

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.