Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Employee Retention: It’s about Much More than Money

Want to keep your best employees? Keep them happy.

First, of course, that means offering a competitive salary and benefits. But there’s another, equally critical factor: the work environment. You must recognize and encourage the vital contributions employees make by creating a place they enjoy coming to every workday.

It’s simple, really. Employees who feel appreciated produce more and higher quality work, which leads to more satisfied customers.

We like to think we know a little something about this, and it seems others think we do, too. Next month, Scheibel Halaska will be recognized as a Top Milwaukee Workplace by The Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee.

The winning companies have demonstrated a commitment to fostering an exceptional work environment, promoting a positive work/life balance, providing comprehensive benefits and supporting professional development opportunities for their employees.

A few ways you can follow suit:

1. Allow a flexible work schedule. Accommodate the occasional need to work from home or attend medical appointments without repercussions. When employees know their families are taken care of, they can focus on their work without worrying about the family.

2. Organize fun, team-building events. Poker tournaments, tailgating and a ballgame, a boat trip on the water, an afternoon at a restaurant. These events help rejuvenate employees and show them they’re valued, while strengthening relationships among co-workers.

3. Consider more than the typical benefits. Benefits packages shouldn’t stop with the norm—medical, dental and vision coverage, as well as a 401(k). Examples of enhanced benefits include flexible spending accounts, maternity and paternity leave, employee stock options, profit sharing and personal time off (PTO).

Be creative, and do what suits your people. They’ll notice the effort, and they’re a lot more likely to stick around.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Facebook as a Reference Check? Be Wary.

Social media are increasingly on companies’ radar screens, and rightfully so. Opportunities abound to connect with customers and understand what’s on their minds. You should be exploring the possibilities.

But what about this trend toward visiting social networking sites in reference checks?

On the surface, it might seem to be a good idea. Cultural fit is a critical factor in the success of a new hire, and a Facebook page may shed some light on whether someone would be compatible. Or so the thinking goes.

However, do the personal details, opinions, pictures and jovial nonsense you might find online about a job candidate really represent who that person is—let alone have any bearing on his or her job qualifications?

Say you’re considering hiring a recent college graduate, the kind of recruit you’ll need to replace retiring baby boomers. Then you find some drinking-party photos posted by the candidate. Pretty typical stuff for the demographic. Nevertheless, based on the photos, you decide that person isn’t company material.

You may have just discounted a talented, reliable worker. And you may also have put your company at risk of privacy and discrimination claims.

OK, maybe not privacy. It’s called social networking, after all. However, if there’s any way it might appear that you eliminated the candidate based on the way he or she looked (i.e., skin color) or what he or she believes as you learned online, then you’re on shaky legal ground.

Given the rising impact of online social networks, you’ll be reading a lot more in this space about social media issues and approaches. For now, however, with respect to reference checks on social networking sites: proceed with caution.

Friday, July 11, 2008

How to Approach the Google-Eyed Audience

Last week, we talked about how tech gadgets and constant connectivity are stifling creativity. What if we take that idea a little further, and assert that all the time we spend online is just plain making us dumber?

That’s the crux of the argument Nicholas Carr is making in a new article in Atlantic Magazine, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

You may know Carr from such books as “Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage.” He’s no stranger to sweeping statements that challenge conventional thinking about technology. But the new Google piece may prove to be less controversial—because few people disagree that we’re approaching information quite differently in the Internet age.

Google’s instant-gratification search fits in so well with our “multitasking” culture. Its fast-acting algorithm makes it easy for us to jump from info nugget to nugget, taking little nibbles along the way. In an everyday context, this process has replaced the traditional, more painstaking approach to research: scouring the card catalog, poring over a textbook, listening to a lecture—activities that require full engagement over long periods.

But does that really mean we’re getting stupider? Or just losing the ability to concentrate on a full novel? In actuality, the latter seems to be what Carr’s getting at in his article. We may no longer be capable of delving into broad issues, but other skills are becoming more important.

The most marketable skills now include quick comprehension, deductive reasoning (sometimes to fill in the gaps that used to be filled in by reading in greater depth) and, most importantly, clear, concise communication skills.

It’s a different kind of intelligence, for sure, and marketers need to be able to roll with it. The longwinded whitepaper has been fading for a while now. To grab today’s audience, it’s more important than ever to hammer away at a single, focused idea.

Maybe we need to approach the challenge like the Professional Bull Riders (that other “PBR”): Keep the audience along for the ride for at least eight seconds, and you’ve got a winner.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Multitasking: The Enemy of Ideas

Why are you reading this? Couldn’t or shouldn’t you be doing something else?

If you’re like many of us, you may already be doing something else right now, in addition to reading this post. Responding to emails, perusing networking sites, firing off a text message, twittering, talking fast on your mobile.

A good column in the current BtoB Online calls attention to this issue. We euphemistically call it multitasking, but it’s often more like “going through the motions.” All this connectivity is putting us into a weird trance.

It’s not only unproductive; it’s uncreative. For anyone in the business of ideas—and aren’t we all?—this is something to be concerned about. Think of the old saying, “a jack of all trades and a master of none.” Try to do too much at once, and you end up doing nothing of value.

Communications technologies tempt and distract at every turn. But they aren’t going away. Although it’s odd for a blogger to tell readers to tune out the Internet for a while, it’s still good advice. (Next week, we’ll explore how that might even raise your IQ and reading comprehension skills.)

When was the last time at the office that you shut your door—if you have one—and, more importantly, shut down your computer and various handheld tech gadgets for any length of time? These days, to get creative, to really get into it, we probably have to put it on the calendar and set a reminder. Commit to an hour or two per week, maybe, to start.

Go ahead. Just for a few minutes. Put down the mouse, back away slowly, and let the ideas flow.