Friday, August 21, 2009

Ready to Hire Again? Strategize Before You Advertise to Avoid Discrimination Claims (Part Two)

In the first post of this two-part series, I covered the “Pre-Hiring Checklist” and “Inadvertent Discrimination.” This post addresses the importance of training and having a consistent, reliable business practice within your hiring process.

Train and Prepare Your Hiring Committee

All of your preparations will be useless unless you adequately share the vision and guidelines with everyone who is part of the hiring process—including your receptionists and support staff. Do not leave it to chance that an uninformed staff member who may only interact with a prospect one time can slip up with a comment about something on the “off limits list.”

If you can, train everyone at one time and well before the first phone inquiries come in. If not, at least get to everyone expected to be in each step of the process, starting with those who handle phone, email, in-person and other inquiries. Make a small cheat sheet to give them at training, ideally written in “Do” language, rather than “Do Not,” to avoid planting the wrong words in their minds. Some use a two-column approach, with the "OK" list on the left, and "Not OK" list on the right. For example:

OK-------------------------------------Not OK

“Where did you fly in from today?”-----“What country are you from, anyway?”
“Have you worked in sales long?”-------“How old are you?”
“The [weather] is really [whatever]!”---“You talk like someone from Russia.”

If at all practicable, track the EEO profile of your applicants just as you do your employees for the EEO-1 report. This could be in the form of voluntary questions on the web application screen, as many now have, or in some separate form with no identifying details on it given directly to the HR officer of your organization and separated from the employment application and resume. Ideally, collect race and gender only in an anonymous fashion. Never try to guess based on surname, first name, etc.

Inconsistency is the True Hobgoblin

Finally, take extensive steps to make sure all interactions with all applicants are consistent, fair and respectful. In other words, treat everyone the same to the extent you can and document how you did. Ideally, your organization already has in place a structured, formal procedure for the hiring (and separation) process. If not, here are some considerations for standardization.

1. All job openings must be advertised by and all resumes and applications must go through one office or officer, such as your Human Resources (HR) manager. This makes it easier to keep track of the process, resumes and activity related to each hire. The right HR officer can keep you out of trouble 9 times out of 10 if he or she is part of the effort from the start.

2. All offers of employment must be issued by the HR officer. No matter who makes the decisions on start date, salary, etc., let the HR officer issue the offer letter. That way you know it goes out in a standardized form and no one is treated differently allegedly on an impermissible basis.

3. All offers of employment must be in writing. End all compensation and employment term discussions with caveats such as, “Of course, it all has to be consistent with our internal policies and practices.”

4. All letters or indications of acceptance must be given to the HR officer. Create the official “POC” for this process and stick with it. That way, you can rest assured that the employee manual, benefits enrollment forms, etc., all go out timely and consistently. The last thing you need is for a pregnant new employee to allege discrimination because her benefits were delayed when the HR officer did not “get the memo.”[1]

With proper preparation and solid execution, you will start this new economic cycle with the best new staff to help you grow beyond your goals in coming years!
Important Notes

This article is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with counsel regarding the specific laws in your area, because they vary extensively from state to state. If your employees have a collective bargaining unit, of course, other rules and limitations will apply, but the guidance above may still be within your reserved management powers if not specifically addressed in the union contract.

[1] For many of the same reasons, all notices of resignation must be given to the HR officer, all resignations must be accepted in writing by an officer of the organization and given to the HR officer and all separation agreements must be issued by the HR officer. Once you have this in place, you will regret having taken so long to do it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ready to Hire Again? Strategize Before You Advertise to Avoid Discrimination Claims (Part One)

As the economy turns the corner and business picks up in general, hiring is sure to begin in earnest. There are a lot of potential employees for your business and you should expect a flood of resumes once you advertise your openings.

Before you post the job ad, however, think strategically about your hiring plans. Employees can be invaluable assets as easily as costly mistakes. For small businesses and nonprofits, each hire is a significant investment of time and money. But each “fire” is usually much more costly. One employee with an unprofessional attitude or serious gap in ethics can ruin your reputation if not your entire business.

This two-part series of posts will address the “Pre-Hiring Checklist,” “Inadvertent Discrimination,” “Train and Prepare the Hiring Committee,” and “Inconsistency is the True Hobgoblin.”

Pre-hiring checklist

Ask yourself—or if you are large enough to enjoy a management team, have them discuss—the following questions:

1. How much contact will this person have with our customers, funders, boardmembers and or investors?
2. How important will this person be to our success in the next 6 months? What about the next 3 years?
3. How will our expectations of this person evolve during the next 12-36 months?
4. How easily will we be able to replace this person on short notice?
5. How much time and effort will we actually devote to training and mentoring this new hire?
6. If the position is one that generates revenue, how long will it take for the new hire to generate enough revenue to cover his or her entire compensation package as well as all of the missed revenue during the training and learning phases (i.e., when can we expect them to pass the “initial break-even” point)?
7. What else will we need to hire, buy, lease or divert to get this new hire up to the skill level we expect?
8. How long do we anticipate we will need this new hire?
9. What skills should the new hire already have acquired before reporting to work?
10. What off-duty expectations do we have of employees in this category?

Each question can easily lead to more as you explore the long-term and short-term vision for both the ideal and the worst-case disaster hire. Once the pre-advertising analysis is finished, make sure your job description matches the answers, then draft your advertisement.

Inadvertent Discrimination

As you think through the job expectations, be careful not to develop a physical image of the candidate. Focus only on skills, qualities and capabilities OTHER THAN age, gender, race, national origin or religion. Unless your position fits into a very limited set of exceptions [1], it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of the employment process on the basis of the following, and questions about these topics are OFF LIMITS:

-> Birthplace
-> Ancestry
-> Culture
-> Linguistic Characteristics that may indicate some protected status
-> Religious Beliefs
-> Gender (including actual and potential pregnancy)
-> Age
-> Physical and Mental Disability

Even though very small businesses may not be covered by the federal laws, it is generally a wise practice to behave in business as if you are covered by them because one day you may be. Some states have equivalent laws and many government contracts require compliance even if the business falls under the size limits. For Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the minimum size is 15 employees. For the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the minimum size is 20 employees. Those employee numbers only have to occur for 20 working weeks in the current or previous work year to put your organization under their umbrellas.

To be continued in the next post...
Important Notes

This article is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with counsel regarding the specific laws in your area, because they vary extensively from state to state. If your employees have a collective bargaining unit, of course, other rules and limitations will apply, but the guidance above may still be within your reserved management powers if not specifically addressed in the union contract.

[1] A good list of these exceptions and the various anti-discrimination acts is available on the EEOC web site.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don’t Follow; Filter! Sifting Through Twitter's Vast Ocean of Information

Almost every day I see notice that one or more new Twitterers have chosen to “follow” me. The ones that catch my attention, though are those who follow over a thousand others. The first thought that comes to me is, “do they even read those Tweets? How can they possibly make sense out of thousands of 140-character messages every hour!?”

Whether or not you are an experienced Twitterer (or FaceBook user) with hundreds or thousands of followers (or “friends”), you know, of course, that it would be a full time job to do so. But the truly experienced Twitterers (translation: been on Twitter more than 60 days and have posted at least 100 Tweets) knew a few tricks that you may find helpful.

Tip #1: Twitter is incomplete

The simple interface gets you hooked. Yet, beyond sending out a Tweet or two, there is so much more you want to do but cannot find inside Twitter’s web interface. By design or by accident, the basic Twitter screen is one avid users outgrow rapidly.

There are some partial features new to the user interface, but they are themselves incomplete. Case in point: search. Twitter Search was apparently intended for other software developers to use, and until recently, was only available on another web page. Advanced Twitter Search is actually quite useful, but you still have to know where it is to use it.

With the basic search field on your Twitter home page, you can put in terms and phrases—yes, even including those fantastic hashtags—and get a quick list of Tweets with that term or phrase. You can even save your searches. Unfortunately, there is no “logic” feature to allow you to construct queries above exact match searches. Twitter has a simple tutorial for using Search to find people here.

Another feature that is missing is the ability to categorize your “Follows.” If you follow Congress, your favorite news site, product recalls, weather updates, your friends and a few companies who sell products you adore, all their Tweets are blended into one murky river of short messages. Twitter alone does not help you out here. For that, you need to read Tip #2.

Tip #2: Tools!

For a free service, it is astounding how many developers have built equally free software or constructed free-to-use web pages to expand the ways people can use Twitter. These tools are divided into two categories for simplicity: general Twitter usage tools and Twitter Search tools.

The venerable reference guide from way back in 2007, “Twitter Toolbox,” is still available online to give you a summary of over 60 tools to help Twitterers Tweet more effectively. Most of them are actually web developer tools to help others incorporate the power of Twitter in their web pages. A better list for users is OpenJason’s “100 Twitter Tools.”, posted earlier this year.

You can also get ideas for useful tools from those you follow. Each Tweet typically names the service or software the Twitterer used to post the update. Bing or Google the name and test them yourself. That is where I found TweetDeck and Seesmic, among other tools I use.

For searching, there are separate lists of suggested tools that will guide your quest for the perfect way to find needles in the world’s most dynamic information haystack. Ari Herzog did a fine job with his critique, “6 Twitter Search Services Compared” a few months ago. Loren Baker outlined “9 Twitter Search Apps: Better than Twitter & Google” for the Search Engine Journal. There are likely many more lists of suggested tools out there.

Tip #3: Be careful what you wish for!

After you master the Twitter basics and settled on some tools, you are ready to begin sifting through the ocean for tiny plankton. Businesses may want to keep on-going searches for their company and product names. Politicians may want to watch for “mentions” of their opponents’ names and Twitter account names. Students can set up searches to keep track of trending discussions on current events or famous people. Prospective travelers can watch for discussions about their dream destinations.

There really is no limit--which is a problem of its own. You can easily over-do the searching and monitoring to the point where you are overwhelmed once again. In that case, go back to Tip #2 and find a new tool!
UPDATE: After publishing the above article, I found this helpful slideshow, thanks to a post on the "Small Business CEO" site: "Small Business Trends Radio has recently launched a slideshow showing readers 10 Ways To Build Twitter Followers."