My Good News and a Pause for HHHR

AdobeStock_75926072It’s been a month since my last post and I indicated on my podcast that week that I had some exciting news to share. I meant to post and podcast about this news much earlier but was simply unable to find the time because of the news.

Things have been a whirlwind since that week!  I accepted a job with Merrill Gardens and their sister company Pillar Properties in Seattle as their HR Director where I will be in charge of the HR function for both companies.  It’s something I’m very excited about as the HR department services both company’s 2000+ employees in seven states.

Since that week in February, I had a lot of work wrapping things up with several of my clients in Denver that I would no longer be able to continue working with due to my leaving the Denver area. In addition, I had to pack a few things and get up to Seattle to find a place for my wife and I to live until we find a place to buy.  I also got stuck in Casper, WY for a few days due to the winter storm that passed through the western states mid month. Not a big deal because I grew up there and we stayed with my in-laws but it delayed my house-hunting plans by a few days!

I eventually made it to Seattle and was able to find a place and as a bonus, am temporarily staying with my daughter and her family and am spending some wonderful quality time with my granddaughter!

So, I’ve had a lot going on the past month and it will be a while before I start posting and podcasting again because I need to devote my full attention on my new job and getting acclimated to the company and all I need to learn and accomplish.

There won’t be a podcast this week since my podcasting equipment is packed up and in storage.

Once I get to a certain place at my new job, I expect to start posting and podcasting again on a monthly schedule.  I love blogging and podcasting but I need to focus 100% on my new job and company!


Jeeps, Tires, and an HR Foundation

I’m taking a break from my series on strategic HR and pushing out a post about a recent purchase I made that ended up inspiring me to write a post that equates to HR.

This morning I had to buy new tires for my Jeep Wrangler – my dream car and one I was finally able to buy (with my wife’s consent, of course!) after pining for one since High School. I’m not an off-roader but have always loved the look of the CJ-5 and CJ-7 and then the Wrangler through all its iterations.

I also had to buy new tires for my wife’s car a couple weeks ago so it’s been an expensive couple of weeks but one I’m OK with it now that winter is here. I’m OK with spending money on important safety and foundational things.

As I was driving from Les Schwab Tires to Starbucks this morning, I noticed how much better the ride was compared to my old tires. I hadn’t noticed my old tires were worn down to the point where I needed new ones until it had snowed a little the other evening and I was slipping around more than usual. This being the rig I’d always wanted, I take very good care of it, religiously washing, getting my oil changed, and rotating my tires every 5,000 miles.  I was hoping I could squeeze out another winter on my old tires

And by just looking at them, they looked fine, the treads were all evenly worn and there were no bald spots (something I used to use as a guide when I was much younger and poorer!) But having slipped around more than usual the night before, I did the “penny test” and discovered that it was time to get new tires.

As I said earlier, I immediately noticed how much better the ride was compared to my old tires. My wife also commented how much nicer her ride was after getting her new tires. Of course, we always notice this whenever we get new tires because it’s a drastic change going from worn out to new tires. We never notice our new tires being slowly worn down because it happens over a long period of time. 

Now that I can afford it, I always buy the highest quality tires I can. I do this because the tires on my vehicles are the foundation of the car. They are the only piece of equipment that has contact with the ground.  Whether the surface is smooth dry pavement, a rough dirt road, a wet surface, or a snowy icy road.

The tires we have on our vehicle are what allows us to safely, or unsafely, navigate the different road conditions to get where we need to go.  If we have poor quality or worn out tires, we can usually survive for a while on the dry smooth roads but they may eventually blow out and leave us stranded. Ultimately, we will have trouble on the other types of road conditions. Its very important to have a solid and safe foundation.

So yes, I’m equating the quality of the tires on my Jeep to building and maintaining a solid HR foundation. Is that a stretch? Maybe, but let me tell you why and explore further as I equate the parts of my Jeep to the functions of an organization. All are equally important.   

So let’s break it down like this:

  1. The financing of the loan for my Jeep is the Finance organization. (Boom. Easy)
  2. The engine and drive train are the Operations organization. This function is what actually propels the Jeep and organization forward and makes everything in the Jeep and organization run. Like the tires, this function has to be regularly  well maintained.
  3. The body of the Jeep is the Marketing organization. This is what things look like to the outside observers and potential employees.  Just as my Jeep looks so darn cool, Marketing is responsible for making the organization look appealing to their customers.    
  4. The driver is the Leadership of the organization. Of course, like the driver of the Jeep, leadership is responsible for steering the organization to where, and at what speed, it needs to go and essentially sets the tone of everything that happens in the organization.
  5. The passengers are the Employees of the organization. The employees are not always just passive passengers but can assist Leadership with the direction they are going and can help drive and offer advice on where to go and how to get there.
  6. The tires are HR.  As are the tires, HR is not the most exciting part of an organization but the function that should always be in constant contact with the culture of the of the organization just as the tires are always in constant contact with the road. Good tires and good HR help the Jeeper and Organization safely navigate through difficult terrain/culture and weather/business environment conditions.  

The next two items are things that a Jeeper and organization have much less control over.  

  1. The climate and weather is the business environment the organization is in.  Jeepers have no control over the weather and Leadership has no control over the business environment. On any given day the weather/business environment can be clear and sunny, overcast, windy, gloomy, stormy – you get the picture.
  2. The road is the organization’s culture. Similar to an organization’s culture, the roads we drive can be smooth and dry, rough and rocky, slick and icy, and even flooded and impassable. Sometimes we even go off-road to experience something new and unusual.

And when we are talking about these last two items, where we have little to no control, it depends mostly on the skill of the driver/Leadership, the health of the engine/Operations, and quality of the tires/HR foundation that you have on your Jeep/organization that determines how well an organization navigates through challenging conditions as they reach their ultimate destination.

Since this is an HR blog and podcast I’ll close with this.  When the organization invests in a high quality HR organization and takes good care of it, just like me investing in and taking care of the high quality tires on my Jeep, the organization will be able to effectively and safely travel to it’s desired destination, weather all the storms, and navigate the different and often dangerous road conditions along the way.

Effectively Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Do the Blocking and Tackling

Since sexual harassment is currently such a big issue these days, I’m going to talk about the tools I’ve effectively developed and used over the years.  I’m writing this in November of 2017 and you can’t watch TV, listen to the radio, or read anything online without learning about some high profile politician, media personality, or famous celebrity being accused of some form of sexual harassment.

What frustrates me is how it has become such a “popular” thing to expose all of a sudden.  If we are being honest with ourselves, we all already knew this kind of behavior has been going on for years but nobody ever did anything about it.  At the highest level possible, we had a two term President in the 90’s who we all knew engaged in it.  And we now have a current President who was recorded bragging about it before winning the election. We also all knew about the infamous “casting couch” in Hollywood which has been around since the 1920s and probably even earlier. 

I’m frustrated that our society tolerated it for so long.

It’s about time that women are finally feeling comfortable about coming forward with their stories of harassment. There is no place for sexual harassment in our workplace and private lives. Never has been and never will be.

While all of the stories, so far, have been from women, and I fully recognize that most of the victims are going to be women,  I’m waiting to hear some men start coming forward telling their stories of how they were harassed – it happens to all genders, in every industry, in every socioeconomic status, etc.

In fact, two of my three biggest sexual harassment investigations were with women as the instigators.  So I know it’s only a matter of time before we hear about a woman politician, media personality, or celebrity harassing a subordinate. Let’s not forget how many female teachers, a female dominated profession, are being caught having sex with their male underage students. So it cuts both ways. Both men and women can be deviant creeps.

So how do we stop sexual harassment?  I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how the old traditional ways of dealing with it – an up-to-date policy, training, and investigate quickly and fairly to all complaints – no longer work.  That we must do something different to put an end to it, things like promoting more women and  implementing predictive analytics!

There is no easy solution and, sadly, no matter what we do, sexual harassment will never end.  It is, unfortunately, part of human nature.  Harassment, sexual and other types, have been around since the beginning of time and will be around until the end of time.

The only way to deal with it from an HR standpoint, in my opinion and experience, is to effectively and consistently do the basic blocking and tackling of having a strong and updated policy, conduct training annually and during onboarding, and conducting quick and fair investigations.  

I’ve had a lot of experience handling sexual harassment complaints and investigations.  And I can say that by effectively executing the basics I listed above is the best way of slowing it down and keeping it under control.  It creates a culture that clearly demonstrates that sexual harassment is not tolerated in the workplace and will be quickly addressed.

I have three steps of a Harassment Policy process that I find work best.

First, during onboarding,while reviewing the employee handbook, I stress that there is no tolerance of sexual or any other type of harassment  in our workplace.

When setting up the employee handbook, I make sure the policy is the first one listed so as to emphasize it’s importance. I also make sure I review it, along with our legal council and/or an employment lawyer, at least once every two years (I would do it right now regardless of when it was done earlier because of the current high profile cases in the media) to ensure it’s up to date. It’s also good to make sure the policy is written in plain english, not in legal handbookese that nobody understands.

Make sure each employee’s signee Acknowledgement of Receipt is in their file so there’s evidence that you reviewed the important policies with them.

Second, later in the onboarding schedule, I have a Harassment Training  session.  I will conduct either a live presentation or show them a video depending on the size of the onboarding class. I have two compliance trainings during onboarding, Harassment Prevention and Drug and Alcohol Prevention, and this again emphasizes the importance of our policy by putting such a primary focus on it during their onboarding.

I also have two mandatory annual all-hands Harassment Prevention training sessions, one for the general employee population and one for the supervisors and managers. I require managers and supervisors to attend the general employee population session so they are seen by all employees to be part of and fully supportive of the process. This also emphasizes to the managers the importance of the policy.

Each of these training sessions has a quiz that I require each employee to take and turn in after we review the answers. This gives you a document for their file that they’ve attended the training session and interacted by taking the quiz. Also make sure the employees sign an attendance sheet and file those sheets with your training materials.

Third and finally, when a complaint is received, I immediately jump into action and start an investigation. I once drove five hours from my office in Denver, CO to a remote location in central Wyoming the same day I received a complaint and immediately started the investigation. I stayed there for two days to interview people, have discussions with management, decide on proper corrective action, communicate our conclusion to affected employees, and conclude the investigation.

I then write up a final report documenting the process of my investigation, who I spoke to and what was said, my conversations with management, and the results of the final decision and corrective action taken.  This document goes into the accused’s file and I like to have a copy in a separate investigation file with other investigations I conducted.  

As you can see, I will always drop what I’m doing and immediately start an investigation when I get a harassment complaint because harassment is the most toxic workplace situation. It creates all sorts of serious legal, morale, productivity, ethical, safety, and many other similar problems. Problems that I can head off if I address the complaint immediately.

While it’s important to keep the investigation as confidential as possible while on site, we all know that the grapevine will communicate why you’re there and what you are doing.  Employees will see the corrective action and understand why.

This final step of a quick and fair investigation followed by the appropriate corrective action, if warranted, sends the strongest message possible to employees that harassment is not tolerated and will be dealt with swiftly. And it only really takes one or two instances to send a clear message and make a positive impact on the culture.

Now, remember, these steps will not completely eliminate harassment but they will go a long way in significantly reducing it to the point there will only be a few cases.  

But you have to do the day in and day out blocking and tackling consistently in order to minimize harassment and keep your company culture one that makes it clear it’s not tolerated.

My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

Building an HR Foundation

Establish your credibility, competence, and trustworthiness

HHHR Photo

The most important thing an HR professional who’s moving into a new job or department can do is to build and establish a rock-solid foundation of credibility, competence, and trustworthiness. Today, I’m going to discuss how to do this.

There are two things an HR pro typically does when starting a new job at an organization or transferring to a new department.

  1. They come in with “guns a blazing” and immediately start changing the way everything is done and immediately start introducing HR initiatives. They focus on quickly making a big splash introducing HR initiatives and impressing senior leadership.
  2. They come in and take the time to get and know the employee’s, their team, processes, and culture. They focus on providing outstanding customer service to their client base and getting a good lay of the land and culture before making significant changes and introducing big HR initiatives.

Yes of course, sometimes you have to come in with “guns a blazing” and get things fixed quickly. The situation, and leadership, demands it because they need things to be fixed, and fixed yesterday. While it seems to make sense at first, it’s not. It will mostly cause significant chaos and business disruption. It certainly does not establish the credibility, competence, and trustworthiness for the new HR pro!

The best and most effective way for the HR pro to establish their credibility, competence, and trustworthiness in the eyes of their new company/department is to take the time to get to know and understand the team, processes, and culture before making any drastic changes. Build that important and critical foundation.

Remember, Human Resource pro, you are dealing with humans and, as such, you need to build a foundation of relationships first before you will be able to accomplish anything with any credibility and trust. Everybody in your organization is watching what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Start building a solid foundation so that you will be seen as a credible HR expert. Make sure there are minimal mistakes made with the basics like payroll, benefits, answers about polices, etc.

Here are the steps I recommend to build a strong and stable foundation that will establish your credibility and ability to effectively manage the HR function in your new organization. I think we all know this but often forget as it is the blocking and takleing.

  1. Most importantly – get to know the team. Get out of your office every single day and CIRCULATE around the office(s), store, plant, etc. and chat with your fellow employees. Learn your employee’s names and what’s important to them both personally and professionally. This helps them see HR as a part of their team, not the Grim Reaper that only makes an appearance when something bad is about to happen.
  2. Study and know the employee handbook (I know, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) and other policies and procedures. You’ll need to be able to answer policy and procedure questions from employees as you circulate and as they come by your office/desk.
  3. Dig into the HRIS and make sure all the data in there is complete and accurate. It often isn’t. Make sure it is so that everything that feeds from the HRIS (payroll, benefit integration, etc) will also be accurate.
  4. Become the expert in the health and retirement benefits your organization offers. Make sure enrollments are completed with 100% accuracy. Build great relationships with your brokers and ask lots of questions.
  5. Respond quickly, accurately, and politely to all manager and employee requests and questions. Remember, you are a service organization supporting the other functional areas of the organization. Don’t ever be condescending because you think they should know the answer. You are the HR expert, not them and they are coming to you for your expertise – the reason you have the job!

By doing these five basic steps, you build the foundation of a successful HR function in your new organization. These are the basics that will establish you as a credible and trustworthy HR professional in your employee’s eyes.

Yes, I know every senior HR professional, and leadership team, wants to do the exciting strategic stuff but without that important foundation, the strategic HR initiatives will fall flat because you will not have the credibility and trust from the very people who need to buy in to those initiatives.

You absolutely must have a solid and effective foundation in order to effectively build the strategic framework that your leadership, managers, and employees will embrace. This will ensure your success in your organization and allow you to more easily have your strategic HR initiatives be successfully adopted.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive!

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The Creative Destruction of the Retail Industry

Amazon Has Changed the Retail Landscape

Amazon announced this past week that it will be adding 100,000 new full-time jobs in the US in the next 18 months. Having spent the early part of my career in the retail industry as a store manager for Macy’s, I like to still keep up with the news and goings-on in the retail industry.

What’s so interesting about the news from Amazon is the news from the big traditional retailers that is happening at the same time. Macy’s closed 40 stores in 2016 and announced it will close 100 more in 2017, recently listing 68 of those stores getting the ax. In addition, Sears Holdings announced that it is closing 150 Sears and KMart stores, and JC Penney recently announced it will be closing a bunch of its stores. I’m only touching on the major retailers here and there are dozens of the small retailers closing stores as well that are too numerous to list.

Obviously, Amazon and technology have fundamentally changed the entire retail landscape. The big traditional retailers didn’t see it coming and didn’t, or couldn’t, keep up. They seem to be heading in the direction of some smaller retailers, Blockbuster and Borders who are a shell of what they once were or no longer even exist.

I remember being asked by one of my employees back in the early 2000’s when I was a store manager for Macy’s what I thought about online retail putting traditional retail out of business. My employee was very concerned and I told her that I doubt companies like Amazon would ever be much of a threat to the big retail giants like Macy’s, Sears, JCP, etc.  After all, people like to go out and shop, handle merchandise, try things on, and talk to and interact with other people. I thought online retail would certainly have it’s niche (books, music, etc.) but didn’t think it would ever pose a serious threat to traditional retail.

Boy was I wrong!

Really wrong.

The news that Amazon is planning to hire 100,000 people at the same time the big traditional retailers are announcing huge store closings and layoffs tells you everything you need to know. Amazon has successfully changed the way people like to shop and I  include myself in that change.

Frankly, I love shopping on Amazon and because I’m a Prime member, I get “free” shipping for most of what I buy from them. Yes I know it’s a gimmick but it does make me feel special!

I find it a pain to go to the mall  and much easier to find what I want online where the selection is unlimited I click a few times and then get a package delivered to me in a couple days! I find it very satisfying.

There are some who are criticizing Amazon complaining that the jobs they are creating are low paying jobs. This is true, however, most retail jobs in general, have always been low paying jobs anyway so it looks to me that they are basically just replacing many of the jobs that the big traditional retailers are cutting.

There are also a lot of good paying jobs at Amazon, just as there are/were at the traditional retailers. There is the buying organization, management, HR, recruiting, IT, and other support services.

Amazon also makes an interesting claim that they sustain an additional 300,000 jobs due to their marketplace business:

Amazon has said that its employment figures alone do not capture its full effect on jobs. On Thursday, the company said its marketplace business, through which independent merchants sell goods on the company’s site, sustained 300,000 additional jobs in the United States.

And sure, Amazon has had some growing pains and had some bad press about their workplace culture but in talking with some of my friends who work there, they are making efforts to improve.

Jeff Bezos and his team have done an amazing job building their company from an online bookseller to a full line store and fundamentally changing our shopping behaviors. They’ve been aggressive and innovative and it’s been fascinating to watch.

Amazon is leading another round of creative destruction in the retail industry where one form of the retail industry is being replaced by a new and much more innovative one.  Shopping malls with  big anchor stores are being replaced by online retail just like downtown shopping districts were replaced by shopping malls back in the 1950’s -1990’s.  And I’m sure we will see something replace online retail in the future.

Creative destruction is tough.  It’s tough on many people. But creative destruction is also good and necessary for advancement and growth. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have all the things that make our lives so much more enjoyable. All you have to do is look back 50 years, 100 years, 200 years and see how far we’ve come and it was all because we allowed creative destruction run its natural course.

Don’t forget to take the survey on today’s subject about Amazon and the creative destruction occurring in the retail industry.

Trouble in the Energy Industry


Image courtesy of dan at

Working for an energy company based in Colorado and Wyoming, I pay very close attention to all the employment events that happen in the energy industry.

Sadly, we are currently experiencing a serious downturn in the industry.  Just recently, on 3.31.2016, two separate coal mines in Wyoming laid off a total of 465 people.  Peabody Energy cut 235 employees at their flagship North Antelope Rochelle mine, the largest coal mine in the US, and Arch Coal cut 230 employees at their Black Thunder Mine.

The reason behind the layoffs is due to three things.  First, as in most mining operations, when the price of the commodity is high, operations ramp up and production is increased.  This almost always leads to an over supply in the commodity which brings the price of the commodity down.  Right now, there is an over supply of coal in the US.  The nation’s coal fired power plants currently have approx 95 “days of burn” stockpiled which is the highest level since 2010.  The power plants are saving their coal which is reducing demand and bringing down the price.  Second, cheap natural gas is taking away from the demand for coal.  The coal in Wyoming is competitive with natural gas when gas prices are $2.25 per million BTUs.  Right now gas prices are below $2.oo and are expected to remain there through 2016.  And finally, the unseasonably warm winter has made it difficult, dropping weekly shipments from western US mines to below 7 million tons compared to 10 million tons per week last year at the same time.  Year to date, US coal production is down 30 percent compared to last year.  It all has to do with basic supply and demand economics.

These recent announcements along with a series of other layoffs in Wyoming have impacted the local economy and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Colorado has also experienced a series of energy industry layoffs but they will be able to better absorb the impact since the Denver area economy is much more diverse that Wyoming’s.  Wyoming, I fear will continue to suffer.

During the summer of 2015, most of the counties in Wyoming had ridiculously low unemployment rates but now, only a few months later, the rates are significantly higher.  Wyoming is the nation’s smallest population and a sizable percentage of that population is in the energy or energy related industry. There isn’t a lot of economic diversity in the state so when the boom is on, everything is wonderful.  But when the bust is on, things get tough.  Unfortunately, I am seeing the beginnings of another bust.

Despite this dire economic news, I have to give strong kudos to Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead who quickly responded to the layoffs by deploying the Wyoming Business Council, the Wyoming Department of Insurance, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, and the Wyoming Community College Commission to help the people in the communities impacted by the layoffs.

These state agencies immediately partnered together and set up temporary community resource centers for the people who were laid off.  They quickly set up centers in Casper, Douglas, and Gillette and were opened from 10-7 on 4/1 through 4/4.  These resource centers were staffed with experts who assisted people with unemployment insurance, job training opportunities, health insurance, and community health services.

In addition, the Department of Workforce Services offices in the same three cities extended their hours to 8-7 on 4/1 through 4/4 where they were available to provide information on unemployment insurance enrollment, job training counseling, job search assistance, and resume preparation.

I love the fact that Governor Mead quickly responded to the situation and did what he could to provide help to all the people who lost their jobs.  I have found that Wyoming has an excellent organization in the Wyoming Workforce Services.  I have worked with these people often and have found them to be very professional and helpful in all of their services.  They are good people who have the best interests of the Wyoming workforce at the top of their priorities.

It’s good to see a state government marshal it’s workforce services so quickly when there is a crisis.  I applaud Governor Mead and all the good folks who work at the agencies for quickly stepping up and trying to help these people out.  I fear many will move out of the state in search of other work but I hope many will be able to find work in Wyoming.  It’s such a small state without the economic diversity of most other states.

We’ll see how this all shakes out and I’ll keep you updated as things continue to develop.

Week Seven of the PA Cycle: Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives


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Here we are at the final week of the PA cycle. Whew! It’s been a lot of hard work but also very rewarding because you’re almost done with this very important project for the company.

Although this is the final week, there is still a lot of work to be done. Dangit!

This final week is when your managers are finishing up delivering the PAs to their direct reports and finalizing their Objectives. Frankly, they should be done but in reality, there will be some managers that haven’t even started delivering their PAs.

Again, I make Wednesday the deadline day. You’ll get approx 85% of the final PAs and Objectives back in by Wednesday and you’ll need to send out a gentle reminder reminding everybody that the deadline was Wednesday. This will spur several managers to get theirs in but your chronic procrastinators, more than likely the same procrastinators from the earlier deadline week will need to be reminded several times.

Here’s a copy of the email I send out on Thursday, the day after the deadline:

Subject Line: Missing PAs and Objectives

Hi Managers,

Thank you to all who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in by the deadline of February 24! I appreciate your efforts getting them in on time.

I still have a number of missing PAs and Objectives and would appreciate getting those completed by the end of the week.


This is the first post-deadline reminder email and it thanks those who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in on time and subtly reminds the procrastinators that the deadline has passed and you need their completed forms turned in.

This week is also when it’s particularly critical for you to be organized and keeping the PA and Objective Checklist updated as soon as the final forms are turned in to you. If you don’t stay organized as they are turned in, you’ll lose track and misplace documents and emails making you look bad to everybody in the company. You’ve put in a lot of work throughout the cycle so don’t let it fall apart in the end.

Forms will be turned in to you during the week as you are doing other work and you’ll have the tendency to put them aside until later when you have time. Instead of doing that, schedule several times a day where you stop doing what your doing  and get your filing done so that you don’t fall behind or you’ll end up with a huge stack to go through later in the month. You will need to know who’s turned their forms in and who hasn’t so  you can remind those who haven’t, and remind them, and remind them until they get them turned in. The only way to know is to have the Checklist updated and current and the forms properly filed.

This, of course, is the second Deadline Week in the cycle and it’s much more work intensive than the previous Deadline Week (week three) because you have a lot more moving parts.  You are having hard copies of the PA and Objectives turned in to you which need to be scanned and saved to the appropriate electronic files we set up during week three.  Remember that in week three, we established electronic files for each manager. Under each manager’s file, file the final PAs in folder named Final and the final objectives in the folder named Objectives.

Once you are done with the scanning and electronic filing, the paper copies need to be filed into the employees personnel file, if you use paper files.  If your personnel files are electronic, you’ll file them electronically.

It’s also very important to formally thank everybody for all the work they did during the cycle. Your managers dislike this process and if your organization is typical, people are never thanked enough and a sincere thank you will go a long way.

I usually send out the thank you email sometime the week after the deadline week and thank the entire management team for their work and efforts on the cycle. The email I sent out and described earlier in this post thanked them for making the deadline and reminded those that didn’t to get their forms turned in by the end of the week. This one is thanking them for their work and efforts and provides another opportunity to remind the procrastinators they are late.

Here is a copy of the email I send out:

Subject Line: Thank you and closing out the 2015 PA and Objective Setting Cycle


I want to thank everybody for their excellent efforts in successfully delivering the 20XX PA and Objective Setting Cycle! I know it’s a lot of hard work and something very few people look forward to doing. But it’s an important part of our jobs as we take the time to formally discuss and evaluate the asset that makes everything else work in our organization, our human capital.

Thank you to all those who completed and turned in your PAs and Objectives by the due date of 2/24 (or shortly thereafter!).

I will be sending out emails this morning to those managers who’s PAs and/or objectives I’m still missing. I would appreciate getting those completed and turned in to me ASAP so I can close out this year’s cycle.

Thanks again,

This email gives you a chance to remind everybody that you understand that nobody likes doing PAs and Objectives but that it’s a very important part of their jobs. It also reminds senior management of the importance of their Human Capital and that without the people in the organization, there is no organization. And, finally, the last sentence  reminds the super procrastinators to get their completed forms turned in and that I’ll be sending them a personal email with what they have missing.

I recommend that you email the procrastinators so you have documentation that you’ve communicated their tardiness. Although I prefer face to face or phone conversations, I’ve found the emails are more effective and provide cover if you are ever questioned why there are missing forms in the future – you will occasionally have those who never get this done no matter how hard you try.

Well crew, we are finished with the PA Cycle series. There are seven weeks to the cycle and I hope I did a decent job of explaining the mechanics of each week.

In future posts, I will go into detail of how to write an effective PA and how to establish employee objectives. I touched on some of this in the Training Week post and when I explained  the PA and Objective Setting forms but I need to go into more detail to properly tie out the PA cycle.

Week Two of the PA Cycle: Writing Week for PAs and Objectives


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Now that the training has been completed, as I discussed last week, it is time for the supervisors to start discussing objectives and writing the PA for each of their direct reports. I am including a copy of the forms in today’s post.

I spent the past several days dinking around with the forms and made some pretty significant updates from what I regularly use and really like what I’ve come up with. I can keep tweaking this and that but I’m to the point where just I need to get this post written and podcast recorded in order to get both published by Sunday.  So the form may need some further revision in the future.

So here goes.

I have both the Objective Setting Form (OSF) and Performance Appraisal Form (PAF) on a single Excel workbook.  The OSF is the first tab since it is the first document that is to be filled out at the beginning of each year and the PAF tab is the second document since it will be completed after the year is complete and the employee will be evaluated on the objectives established in the OSF earlier.  Also, the forms are tied together and have formulas that transfer information from the OSF to the PAF so you don’t have to re-enter information.

How to fill out the Objective Setting Form:

Page 1 – Cover Page

First, change the logo at the top to your logo and the date in the header by replacing the two XX in the title to the current date.

Second, enter in the employee’s name and title, the manager’s name and title, and the current date.  This information will automatically transfer to the PAF.

Third, read the instructions!  I know, nobody ever reads instructions but I have them anyway and they are important.  This blog post is pretty much is an expanded version of the instructions on the form.  You will need to make sure your managers read these so they understand how to properly fill out the form.

Fourth, is an explanation of the Performance Ratings.  HHHR uses the flowing five point rating scale.

1 – Unsatisfactory. Performance did not meet expectations.  Immediate Improvement is required.
2 – Needs Improvement.Performance met some requirements and expectations.
3 – Met Expectations. Performance met requirements and expectations.
4 – Exceeded Expectations. Performance exceeded requirements and expectations.
5 – Outstanding. Performance consistently exceeded very demanding expectations.

Finally, is the signature box.  This is not to be signed until the objectives have been discussed and agreed upon by both the employee and their manager.  This box is locked and must be filled out by hand.

Pages 2&3 – The Objectives

Here is where we get into the beauty of the process and determine each objective and their weighting.  The first box on page two is where you weight the Core Competencies which are found on page two of the PAF.   This is where the manager and employee determine how important the employee’s core competencies are.  They can be as high as 80% for a new inexperienced employee who has a lot to learn on the basics of the job or as low as 20% for a very experienced high performer where the core competencies are second nature.  When you decide the weighting of the Core Competencies, fill in the white box with that percent.

The next three boxes are for objectives.   Three objectives are the maximum that should be established for a year but there can be as few as one.  It all depends on the employees job description and their experience and competence.

Generally, nonexempt employees will have a higher weighting for the Core Competencies and one or two objectives with small weightings and exempt employees will have lower weightings for their Core Competencies and two to three objectives with higher weightings.  Note that I said “generally”, it all depends on the employee and their job.

For each objective, there is a box to fill out a brief description of the objective.  If you need more space, you just need to unlock the worksheet (the password to unlock is below with the links to the docs) and make the cell larger.

Next, are the Measurement Standards for each objective and a space to describe how the objective will look if  1- Unsatisfactory, 2 – Needs Improvement and up to 5 – Outstanding.  The text you put in each of these boxes automatically transfers to the Objectives section of the PAF.  Go ahead and look, pretty cool, huh? When these boxes are filled in, fill in the weighting which also automatically transfers to the PAF.  Of course, the weightings of the Core Competencies and the Objectives must equal 100% which is calculated at the bottom of page three.

Once the form is filled out and the objectives and weightings are agreed upon by both the manager and the employee, print it out and both sign.  Both should keep a copy and the original given to HR for the employee’s file.

How to fill out the Performance Appraisal Form

Page 1 – Cover Page

First, like the OSF, change the logo and date in the header.  You will notice that the Employee and Manager (Evaluator now) name and title have transferred over.  The only info that needs to be filled out is the Eval Period.

Second, you have to again, read the instructions.  I know, I know, but that’s the only way you’ll be able to complete the form correctly. Again, this blog post is an expanded version of the instructions.

Page 2 – Core Competencies

In this section, carefully read each Core Competency and it’s description and select the appropriate performance rating (1-5) for each by clicking on the cell and using the drop down.  I tell my managers to start at 3 – Meets Expectations as they consider each of their direct report’s Core Competencies and think about whether their performance is better or worse and score accordingly.

The sum of the scores you select will calculate at the bottom of the page.

Pages 3&4 –  Performance Objectives

Next are sections for the Core Competencies and the three (or two or one) Objectives which transferred over from the OSF. The Core Competencies score, rating, and weighting are all already calculated and transferred over so you don’t have to do anything here. For the Objectives, all you have to do here is select the appropriate performance rating (1-5) by clicking on the cell and using the drop down. The weighting also transferred over. Enter your comments about the objective – explain to the employee why you gave them the particular score for each objective.

Page 5 – Evaluator and Employee Comments

Finally, there is space to make Evaluator Comments. It’s very important that your final comments are consistent with your ratings and should clearly express the Message that you decided on when you were writing the PA. This is where you summarize the employee’s overall performance for the year and explain what they did well and what they need to do to improve for the upcoming year. The Employee Comments box is for the employee to fill out by hand, if they have comments, after you deliver the PA.

Well, that’s it for the Writing Week of the PA and Objective Setting cycle.  Next week I’ll cover off on Deadline Week!

Below are the links to the OSF and PAF for Managers, Exempt Non-Managers, and Nonexempt employees.  Like the training document I posted last week, you are free to use and modify as you see fit for your needs.

Managers: 20XX Manager Objective and PA Form

Exempt Non-Managers: 20XX Exempt Non-Manager Objective and PA Form

Non-Exempt: 20XX Non-Exempt Objective and PA Form