What is Company Culture, Anyway?

We have been getting asked this question a lot lately; What is company culture, anyway?

When you belong to an organization, there’s usually a reason, right? Whether the organization is a business, club, or another group, something about it appealed to you, and you chose to associate yourself with it. You personally identified with it and felt like you would fit in, so you joined.

Alternatively, you may have considered joining an organization, but decided against it because it didn’t feel like a good fit. Or you joined for a time, but then decided the place wasn’t for you.

What creates this sense of belonging or not belonging to an organization is the organization’s culture. Every organization has a culture, and every culture has three components. These are the organization’s rules, traditions, and personalities.

If your company has rules, traditions, and people working together, it has a culture, and that culture affects your operations and strategy—as well as how employees and customers perceive your company.

Rules of Company Culture

The rules of an organization are the beliefs, norms, values, and attitudes that have been codified by the organization’s leadership into expectations, policies, and procedures. They tell people what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to act and interact. You typically find these rules in official documents like the employee handbook, operations manual, and statement of corporate values. Sometimes, though, rules may be “unwritten,” for example, an expectation that employees load their dishes in the dishwasher or not use emojis in communications with customers.

Rules pertaining to safety and security are typically required rather than merely encouraged, as are the rules governing general business operations, such as dress codes and time-tracking procedures. Generally, when these kinds of rules are violated, discipline ensues.

Some rules, however, encourage behavior rather than require it. Values statements often fall into this category. Employees are recognized and rewarded for exemplifying these values, but they’re not formally disciplined if they don’t happen to measurably live up to them on a given day.

Do your rules encourage behavior or require it?

The kind of culture you have as an employer will depend in large part on the kinds of rules you have. If you want a culture marked by specific values, such as honesty and respect, you need rules that tell people that these values are important and that motivate employees to exhibit them in their work. You also need to make sure that your rules make sense given the kind of culture you want to have. For example, if you want your culture to be friendly and fun, you probably don’t want to prohibit employees from chatting while they’re on the clock. On the other hand, if you want to establish a culture of strict professionalism and attentiveness to customers, then minimizing chit-chat might be a good idea.


While rules tell employees what they should do and how they should act, traditions give employees the means to work together and build relationships with one another. The traditions of a workplace are its ongoing and recurring practices. They are its conventions, customs, rituals, ceremonies, activities, and physical workspace arrangements.

The traditions of a workplace might include grand events like award ceremonies or annual retreats, but they also include mundane things like everyday meetings and standardized communication methods. When a company has meetings, for example, it brings people together and gives structure to their discussions. When a company has a peer recognition program, it provides an opportunity for employees to offer praise and gratitude. It’s through workplace traditions that people ultimately build and maintain professional relationships.

To have an effective culture, you need traditions as much as rules—and your traditions and rules need to align. Workplace problems often arise because traditions and rules are in conflict. A company might have a strict anti-harassment policy (rule), but an ineffective system for reporting and investigating (tradition). When rules and tradition don’t align, the culture becomes chaotic, and this chaos creates uncertainty, confusion, and distrust.


Let’s turn now to the third basis of workplace culture—the individuals who work there.

If you suddenly replaced everyone in a company, the company might be the same legal entity, but it wouldn’t be the same place or have the same culture, even if the rules, traditions, operations, and strategy remained the same. People matter. A lot of what accounts for the character of a workplace is simply who the people are as individuals and the free choices they make.

Everyone in the workplace has their own personality—their own ideas, perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors. Think of the employee who always has a spring in their step, the manager who regularly takes their team out for coffee, the go-getter who’s eager for a promotion, or the employees who are sure to chat about the latest episode of The Bachelor.

A culture may be rooted in core principles, but it also moves and changes. Your employees will change the culture simply by being themselves. Encourage them to improve it!

Developing Your Culture

Because your culture depends, in part, on the people who work for you, you will never have complete control over what company culture is. Nevertheless, culture isn’t something you should ignore. If your company has rules, traditions, and people working together, it has a culture, and that culture affects your operations and strategy—as well as how employees and customers perceive your company.

The kind of culture you should strive for depends on the nature of your business. Not every culture will be or should be the same, and what works well in one workplace may work poorly in the another. That said, cultures that are conducive to long-term success are typically defined in a clear manner, understood and embraced by employees, aligned with the mission of the company, and stable through times of growth and crisis. When establishing or assessing rules and traditions, keep those characteristics in mind.

In the second part of this series, we’ll discuss how to identify your company’s culture and assess whether it’s the culture you want. As you prepare for the next post, ask yourself this; what is our company culture? How would you define it?

9 Employee Recognition Ideas for Small Businesses

We’ve all had the conversation. “Got a minute.” One of your valued teammates sits you down to tell you they are leaving.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Ugh. All that knowledge, experience, time, and energy walking out the door.

Employee turnover can kill a small business. It costs a lot of money, puts tremendous strain on the existing staff, and can be demoralizing.

How do you prevent employee turnover?

Employees not only want good pay and benefits, but they also want to be treated well and feel appreciated for their efforts. In this article, we will share some simple employee recognition ideas for you and your team

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Twelve Team Building Activities for Small Business

Your business is more than just your livelihood. You give so much of yourself to it, but ultimately, the success of your business depends not just on you, but also on your employees. Finding good people is a challenge, and so once you have them, you want them to stay. More importantly, you want them to be able to work together and to do it well. Team building exercises are designed specifically to help with those tasks. They help to foster a sense of community that employees find attractive and encourage them to pull together as a team. Here are some free team building activities to inspire employee engagement.



  1. Two Truths and a Lie

This is a classic game that everyone has played. There are many variations on how to play it. Here is one. Have each player prepare three statements about themselves, two of which should be true and the third a lie. In turns, each player will share their statements about themselves while the other players guess which one is the lie. A variation on this game is “Two Truths and a Wish.” Have players prepare two true statements about themselves and a third statement that’s not true, yet they wish were true. This is a great way to learn more about your teammates.


  1. Egg Drop

Divide participants up into teams. Each team should be given a variety of materials to use such as boxes, egg cartons, paper, tape, glue, scissors, etc. They should also be given a single egg. Each team is supposed to work together to develop a container in which an egg will not break if the container is dropped.


  1. Classification Game

Each team is given a wide variety of objects and together must determine the criteria under which to group them into families. Later they must share their methods for classification in a public presentation.


  1. Scavenger Hunt

This is another classic game and a big favorite, too. Write up a list of items and make several copies. Each team should be given a copy of the list. The first team to find all of the items and get them back to the starting point wins. To make the game more interesting, make sure some of the items are challenging to acquire and then at the end of the day, have each team share stories of the lengths they had to go to acquire the challenging items.

Scavenger hunts can even be worked into the onboarding process to help engage and retain your employees. Check out our blog post on New Hire Scavenger Hunts and download a Free Onboarding Scavenger Hunt Template on our Free HR Resources page.


  1. Watch Where You Step

Use tape to create a large shape (square, circle, rectangle) on the floor. Inside this shape lay a bunch of paper plates and squeaky dog toys. Divide everyone up into teams of two. Blindfold one member of each team. The two blindfolded players must make it to one side of the area or the other with only verbal directions from their teammate standing outside. If a player steps on a paper plate (landmine) then he must remain frozen until the other player steps on a squeaky toy. If they both step on paper plates, they are “out.” When both team members successfully cross or get “out” then it is another team’s turn.


  1. What’s on Your Desk

Each person must bring an item from his or her desk. Set a timer. Before the timer goes off, each team

member should have created a logo for their product, marketing plan, slogan and whatever else you can think of. Everyone, then, takes turns sharing their presentation with the group. At the end, the group can vote on who was the best.



  1. The Common Book

Keep a large binder or notebook available in a common area. Have pens, pencils, markers, stickers and other decorative items near the book. Members of the team should feel free to put thoughts, observations, memories of things happening in history and in the company. Once the book is filled, it can be placed where others can view it and a new book can be started. If you think it would be helpful, add prompts at the top of each page.


  1. Birthday Lineup

Have your employees lineup in order of birthdays, considering only the month and day. However, they’re not allowed to speak or write anything, only communicate nonverbally. This is an easy game that will encourage clear communication and listening to one another. To add an extra element of challenge, give them a time limit.


  1. Frostbite

Divide the group into teams. Each team should elect a captain. The premise is that the group is on an arctic expedition, but they’ve been hit by a blizzard. The group must erect some sort of shelter in order to survive. However, the crew members are all snowblind and cannot build the shelter without the captain. The captain is suffering from frostbite and cannot offer physical assistance but can only give verbal directions. Use construction materials to create the shelter.


  1. Zoom

Find the picture book “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. It should be easy as it has been published in over a dozen countries. The pictures in the book create a narrative. Give each participant one picture from the book. They may study their picture carefully but may not show it to anyone else. They may speak to their fellow participants and even offer descriptions of what is happening in their picture. The object of the game is for participants to get the pictures in the proper sequence without showing their pictures to one another. Banyai also created a sequel for Zoom, called Re-Zoom.


  1. This Is Better Than That

Split your team into even groups, and give each group four or five different objects. Describe a situation that must be solved using only those objects. Examples would be “Your plane has crashed in the jungle” or “You’re stranded on a lifeboat.” Have each team rank their objects in terms of usefulness, and have them explain their reasoning for the ranking. Scenarios with objects that have no obvious utility will encourage more creative thinking and communication amongst the team.


  1. Turning Over A New Leaf

Lay a large sheet on the floor and have everyone stand on this sheet. This activity may be easier if everyone takes off their shoes. The object of the game is to turn the sheet over without anyone stepping off of the sheet and without picking anyone up.


Team building exercises are a great way to help employees get to know each other and learn how to work together. It is also a great way to see who the leaders in your group are. Use these free team building activities help you develop employee engagement.


What are some effective team building activities you’ve done with your team? How did they go? Let us know in the comments!

Why Employee Onboarding is the Key to Small Business Success

Every small business leader wants to get the most out of new team members as fast as possible and then keep them as long as possible. If that is the case, then why do so many companies not have a formalized employee onboarding process?

Researchers have found that the new hire onboarding process is a point in the employee lifecycle that has a tremendous impact on the long-term success of employees. As a matter of fact, many of your employees know in the first ten days if they will be looking for work in the next 18 months.


Most organizations find it challenging to stick with an onboarding program even when they know how important it is. I hear a lot of excuses such as “we’re too busy” and “we tried, but it didn’t stick.”


I am going to give you all of the resources and guidance you will need to create an employee onboarding program that you can put on auto-pilot and will have a big impact down the road.


Sound good?


What is employee onboarding?

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.


It has been proven, across large cross-sections of industries, that a formalized new hire onboarding process has an impact not only on employee performance, but also on employee retention and engagement levels.


What impact does employee onboarding have on my business?

Employee’s attitudes and experiences when they join a new company shape how productive they are at work and how long they will stay with an employer. First impressions make a difference.


Employee turnover is costly for employers and the commitment level of employees to the organization can greatly impact profitability. Being able to more effectively onboard and assimilate team members has proven to decrease turnover.

If an organization has high turnover and does nothing to solve the issue, the repercussions could be very expensive (up to two times an employee’s annual salary) in having to constantly replace employees, poor morale amongst your team, and high training costs as you continually bring on new employees.


All of these outcomes would do one thing: decrease profitability.


You are trying to remain competitive and it takes top talent to do this. When your employees are constantly changing, it becomes very difficult to get ahead of the competition.


Is there a Solution?

The effect of employee turnover on your business can be catastrophic. Therefore, it is imperative to focus your efforts on retaining top talent.

There is not one way that is guaranteed to decrease turnover, but there are several strategies that have been proven to have a positive effect on the desired outcome of decreasing employee turnover and increasing employee engagement.


By implementing a formalized employee onboarding process, you can expect to see a decrease in turnover and an increase in employee engagement. The achievement of decreased turnover is a result of the socialization process helping new employees to become a member of the “team” earlier and nurturing acceptance into the workforce as a productive member of the team.


Combine a formalized process with the right technology and you have a solid framework for reducing employee turnover and making your people more productive, faster.


Why is onboarding the key?


The new hire onboarding process has been proven to have a direct correlation to each of the aforementioned performance indicators. Companies that have formalized onboarding processes see a 60% year-over-year improvement in productivity versus those that do not have a formalized onboarding process.

The new hire onboarding process is critical as it provides a first impression of the organization to the new hire. New hire onboarding provides an opportunity to develop a relationship that can either be highly productive and engaged or “just another job.”


This relationship may enhance employees’ commitment levels which are important and should be established early on through proper new hire processes.


The formalization of assimilation and socialization of new hires as part of the onboarding process has proven to increase the speed at which these employees achieve performance milestones. 


Companies that have more progressive human resources (HR) practices such as mentorship programs and assimilation measurement should expect to see a higher operational performance from the organization.


Higher operational performance is a result of the employees feeling more “at home” in their work environment and this comfort produces greater employee output.


Research and experience point to one key event in the life of a new hire that impacts all of the aforementioned issues: the new hire onboarding process.


The impact of a properly conducted and formal new hire onboarding process impacts engagement, retention, and productivity. If you would like the full version of the guide that walks you through every step from pre-hire, to six months in, you can download the Ultimate Employee Onboarding Guide here.


Please share your employee onboarding best practices in the comments. Thanks for reading!


3 Employee Retention Strategies That Work

Finding top talent in today’s competitive market is a challenge. Unemployment rates are very low, and people have their choice of where they want to take their talents. After a long and arduous recruitment, the last thing you want to do is turn that person over six months later.

You must make your company attractive for candidates to apply, find top-tier talent, and hire the most qualified individuals. However, this is just the first step to creating a strong work force.

A recent Gallup report shows 55 percent of employees and managers are currently considering new employers. High employee turnover can cost you a lot and ultimately lead to the failure of your business. Leverage these three employee retention techniques to create a reliable, strong workforce.


Create an Effective Onboarding Program

Every new employee has an expectation to be able to settle down as soon as possible and begin working. You have a part to play to ensure your new employees don’t lose steam. You need to set them up for success from the first day of work and beyond.

Remember first impressions actually matter.

Although the new hires have been exposed to your company during the interview process, their own experience on their first few days or weeks of work can leave a lasting impression. Orientation is not a stand-alone event, but a part of an onboarding program of mentoring, interactive meetings, skills trainings, and more.

The onboarding process should help ensure your employees have a positive experience, especially during the first few days of work. Develop a process for new team members to learn about their responsibilities,, company culture, and how everyone can contribute to success. If you’re interested in learning more about employee onboarding, check out our video on 9 Employee Onboarding Mistakes You’re Probably Making.


Develop Mentorship Programs

You also need to develop mentorship programs. Pair each new employee with an experienced, tenured employee to act as their mentor. New hires can use this opportunity to learn the ropes from these veteran teammates. Encourage your new employees, on the other hand, to help the company by offering fresh viewpoints to experienced staff. You can’t discount the value of outside perspective.

Don’t forget the main role of your mentors is to guide the newcomers and welcome them into the company culture. For that reason, the mentor should not be their direct supervisor. When you set up a healthy mentor-mentee relationship, your company benefits from new ideas. The new employees also get to appreciate your objectives and work culture, all of which are critical to your company’s success.


Offer Competitive Rewards

It is becoming more and more important for people to believe they are working for something greater than themselves. People want to know how they can create not just a better workplace, but a better society with their work.

For this reason, if you don’t give your employees a purpose and clear vision, you won’t be able to retain them. However, don’t think they will work without a competitive wage simply because they have an opportunity to fulfill their career purposes.

Go beyond good salaries and health insurance to make a great impact in a competitive labor market. Here are a few ideas on how you can offer competitive rewards:

  • Paid Time Off
  • Retirement Plans
  • Bonuses
  • Recognition and Rewards
  • Student Loan Reimbursement Programs

Read more unique ideas on how to compensate beyond salary from the executives of businesses voted “Best Place to Work” in North and South Carolina.

Since everyone wants to feel appreciated for their role in your organization, put emphasis on creating comprehensive recognition and rewards systems. Make it a habit to appreciate your employees whenever they go the extra mile. Whether you do it with a gift card, an extra day off, or a sincere email, the idea is to show your employees you appreciate them and understand how their contribution affects your company. Set up rewards systems that incentivize great ideas and great performance.

You should also understand the effect of work-life balance on employee retention. Other than being a feature most employees cherish, it offers real health benefits. Burnout is real, and work-life balance is the best remedy for it. Your employees want to know you understand the significance of a healthy work-life balance. Decrease the risk of poor staff retention by encouraging employees to occasionally take vacation time or give them an extra day off.

Keep Lines of Communication Open

It’s one thing to have an open-door policy and quite another actually keep the lines of communication open. Create an environment that makes your staff feel they can come to you with new ideas, raise questions, or suggest improvements. You can create such an environment by avoiding surprises.

Whenever you want to have a more formal “1:1” meeting, plan the meeting at a mutually convenient time. Explain what you intend to talk about in advance. This shows you respect  your team members and can go a long way in increasing your staff retention rate.


During the meeting, ensure you are clear and offer easy-to-understand examples. Remember your ultimate goal is to motivate your staff to improve their performance. Be clear on what you want to improve and the reason, but make it a conversation, not a lecture.


Effective communication involves two parties; if you do the talking and leave your audience to do the listening, you will not improve your employee retention. Provide your team member an opportunity to either respond or ask questions when you raise an issue. This way, your employees will feel more comfortable engaging with you, and this may make them more inclined to make a change for the better even if they don’t fully agree with you. Schedule follow-up meetings but ensure you give them an adequate amount of time to make the required changes.


Remember to stay current on the changes in the market and make updates to your recognition and compensation programs when applicable. What works today, might not work tomorrow. Your employees and the market are changing. Assess your employee retention strategies at least annually with the purpose of improvement. This will help you keep staff morale high and turnover rate low to guarantee your company’s success.


What do you think about these employee retention ideas? Leave us a comment below.




Are Dental Hygienists Exempt?

If you misclassify your employees, not only will you owe back wages, you will also have to pay back taxes and penalties on each quarter the employee was misclassified. You could owe even more if it was proven that you intentionally misclassified the employee.


Not sure what the difference is between exempt and non-exempt? Check out this video: Exempt vs. Non-Exempt


How big of a problem are employee misclassifications in the dental community?

Let’s take a look at a recent situation with one of our clients.


I sat down in front of the entire office. There were about nine employees in total and there was one thing that was obvious before the meeting started. They were mad. Really mad.


“I haven’t punched a clock in 20 years.” she told me.


Another employee just flat out told me I was wrong and that her husband told her they classify as exempt. She was very upset.


We reviewed the classifications of the staff and determined that none of them were properly classified. The front desk, the assistants, hygienists, all improperly classified. They were all classified as exempt and making a salary, and they should have been non-exempt.


When we helped the dentist explain this, they were not happy. Fast forward three months and they were all very happy. Why? Because if they put in some extra hours, they made some more money. They were salaried at the assumption of 32 hours a week before and would now stay and work for 35 to 40 hours a week to get a few extra bucks, not including potential for overtime.


Misclassifying an employee as exempt

Employers often think that if you pay someone a salary, or they have a certain title, they qualify as exempt from overtime and minimum wage. This is not true. Exemptions are determined by both the duties of the job and the salary test.


Dental practices seem to really struggle with this. Sometimes practices will try to lump everyone into the “administrative” exemption because they think they perform duties that are of great significance to the business.


The tricky part here is determining if that employee exercises discretion and judgement to matters of significance. Do they have decision making authority, or do they do the job as you tell them to do it?


Are dental hygienists exempt?

Many employers try to claim that hygienists are exempt under the “professional” exemption. While this is true in some cases, this is not always the case. Under federal regulations, only hygienists who have completed four academic years of study in an accredited school approved by the American Dental Association potentially qualify for the exemption.


The hygienist would also have to be paid on a salary basis and receive at least $455 per week to meet the salary test portion of the white collar exemptions.


The question “are dental hygienists exempt?” is not always a simple black and white answer.


Why is this such a common mistake?


It’s easier to pay them a salary

If you want to pay a salary, you can. You can pay your people as salaried, non-exempt. This means that as long as they don’t make below minimum wage for their hours, and they agree to the rate, you can pay them the salary, You still have to track their hours, though. You can use our online timekeeping system if you need help.


My employees like it better

The reality is that while you might get audited and get “popped” for having employees misclassified, it is entirely more likely that one of your employees will turn you in when they realize they are not properly classified.


“But, Matt, my employees love me!”


Until they don’t.


There have been a number of headlines lately about the DOL Wage and Hour Division (WHD) hiring auditors in droves to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) exempt status classification, but the reality is that people get turned in every day by their employees for improper classifications.


Improperly classifying employees leaves you exposed to issues that you just don’t have the time or resources to worry about. Take the time to determine the proper classification for your employees and pay them accordingly. You can download a free FLSA Classification Checklist from our website through this link.


How to Fire Someone with Dignity

The Bozo Explosion. It’s what Steve Jobs described when he discussed hiring “real” managers during Apple’s explosive growth phase.

Jobs said that when you hire a “B” player, they will hire another “B” or “C” because they are too insecure to hire “A” players. Next thing you know, you have a company filled with “B’s” and “C’s”, or a “Bozo Explosion”.

Bad employees can ruin your company. Unfortunately, most people aren’t sure how to fire someone with dignity, so they let bad people stay.

I remember one of my former coworkers who used to wander around all day doing nothing but complaining and distracting others. All he did was talk about the game the night before and complain about management.

Not only was his salary a waste for the company, he took other people off task and killed morale. He was a toxin.

The funny thing is that at least once a week, I talk a client out of firing someone.

Just last week I got a call about a teammate who was “not a good fit”. He went on to tell me about her poor performance and all of the things she does wrong on a consistent basis, and then asked me to prepare termination documentation.

I asked one simple question:

“Is she going to be surprised when you fire her?”

In other words, does she even know her performance is terrible? Has anyone discussed her poor performance and, more importantly, has anyone documented those conversations?

“But, Matt; this is a right to work state!”

Yes, it is also a right to sue state. And, guess who the burden of proof is on?

Bad employees become even worse ex-employees. Most wrongful terminations come from resentment. When someone feels like they have been done wrong, they are more apt to seek revenge.

If you are going to terminate someone, you need to take the proper steps to reduce the risk of wrongful termination claims.

The average legal case against a company with less than 500 employees takes 275 days to resolve and carries a cost of about $125k. Do you have the time and money to not do this right?

Let’s also keep in mind that this is a human being whose world you are about to turn sideways. Whether you are firing your CFO or a drive-through attendant, people work to live. They need their job to support themselves and their family, and it is important to have empathy when you do this. It is important to know what to say when firing someone. Read on to learn more.

How to fire someone with dignity

Eliminate surprises

An employee should never be surprised they are getting fired. I can’t stress how important this is.

You should follow a course of progressive discipline that allows them to “see the writing on the wall” prior to the final cut.

By meeting with someone multiple times about their performance, documenting those conversations, and warning about the possibility of termination, you will substantially limit your exposure to a wrongful termination suit.

You can eliminate most of the concern for this happening by creating a culture of coaching and feedback. Coaching means asking a lot of questions of employees when they do something right or wrong. Don’t give them all the answers, ask and let them find their own solutions.

Document, document, document. Keep all conversations and explanations consistent across all team members. Inconsistent treatment is one of the main reasons lawsuits come about. Consistency is key.

Be prepared

Most people aren’t sure what to say when firing someone, but a little bit of preparation will save you from headaches down the road. It is hard to know what to say when firing someone, but here are some tips.

Walk in to the termination meeting with your script, notes, final paycheck, contact and benefits information in hand. It is also important to clarify how the benefits will work going forward, or who the proper contact is to discuss benefits.

Be concise with your wording and leave emotion out of it. Allow the employee time to compose themselves before they go.

The one piece of advice I give every manager or executive prior to a termination meeting is “shut up!” Once you have said what you need to say; shut up. Don’t get drawn into an emotional conversation.

Think about the logistics of the meeting and how you will handle things after it is over. When and where will you have the meeting? How will you tell the team afterwards?

My suggestion is to have the meeting in a private place and have a witness there. The meeting should last no longer than 15 minutes. Make the reason for termination explicitly clear. Allow them to speak as long as they are respectful.

This meeting is a good opportunity for the employee to get everything off their chest and establish some closure. Make sure it is clear the decision is final.

Finally, don’t ever, EVER, badmouth a former employee to your current team. This will destroy all trust and kill employee engagement. Teammates do not want to follow a leader who they think can turn on them at any moment. Even if the team is crushing the person, don’t join in. Rise above it.

Do it with dignity

Remember that while this is an inconvenience for you, it can be life-changing for the person on the other side of the table. Having to walk out to a room full of your teammates with tears running down your face is the type of memory that makes you want to exact revenge. The keys of how to fire someone with dignity are to put yourself in their shoes.

Have empathy for the person you are firing and do it the right way. Consider severance pay based on your company policy and any other assistance that the situation merits. Do what you can to help the person find a company that is a better fit when it makes sense.

It is never easy when you have to let someone go. Make sure that you are fully prepared to sever the relationship. This doesn’t just mean being prepared for the meeting, it means having all of the documentation in place to protect your organization afterwards as well.

Share some of your stories from terminations that went well (or poorly) in the comments. What would you have done differently if you had it to do over again?


Retaining Top Talent with an Effective Employee Training Program

Retaining top talent at a small business can be a very challenging feat. Every day on LinkedIn, your “A” players are being hounded by recruiters offering the exciting opportunities that only working for large companies can provide. If you do no take this seriously, you can lose these valuable employees.

Candidates state that one of the most important factors they consider when choosing a new employer is the education and development program offered by the company. In order to attract the top talent, you need to offer a high and consistent level of employee education through an effective small business employee training program.

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How to Create an Awesome Workplace

Have you ever had a job you didn’t like? I have and it sucks.

What you don’t realize, is that it can impact other people when you don’t like your job.

It made my spouse crazy because she wanted me to be happy, my friends were tired of listening to me bitch, and I was miserable to people I worked with. It was not a good time. Every day, I felt like my work didn’t matter and I just wanted to get through the day. It was a waste.

What do you think would happen if you created a work environment that made just one of your teammates more excited to come to work every day? With a focus on employee engagement, how big could the ripple effect get? We will get more into that later…

Some people on your team are miserable

If only 30% of employees are engaged, that means you have more than just a few miserable people on your team.

If you don’t believe the studies showing that only 30% of people are engaged at work, close your eyes and picture 10 people from your company sitting around a table for a meeting about an important work initiative.

There will be three people on one end that can’t turn it off. They are “in it to win it” and always willing to do what it take to get the job done. There will be another few that are prepared, but are still talking about the incredible game last night. Then there will be a couple who roll their eyes at everything said who just can’t wait to get out of the meeting.

While we can all picture that situation, the fact that gets lost on employers is that the 30% of employees whom are actively engaged outperform the other 70% by over 200%.

Stop and read that again. 200%

Not to mention, when you let one of those people from the 70% go, it is going to cost you a lot of money to replace them when you look at recruiting, training and time lost.

What kind of place do you want to work at?

I am a blessed man. I have an awesome job and an awesome team around me. Collectively, we work hard to create the type of place that we want to work in. We have all had jobs we didn’t like and know how to avoid creating that type of environment.

In November of last year, we had our first annual “ERG Executive Summit.” We gathered several clients and friends together to learn from a panel of executives from “Best Places to Work” in the Carolinas. I interviewed the panel on what makes their company such a great place to work.

What we learned was fantastic and I am going to outline their answers below. These are the participants that sat on the Executive Panel:

●      Tony Perricelli, Partner, Scott and Company

●      Shawn Regan, CEO, Rhythmlink International

●      David Dunn, CEO, VC3

●      Matt Telmanik, CEO, CCS Construction Staffing

●      Tom Pietras, Shareholder, Bauknight, Pietras, and Stormer

The wealth of knowledge and achievement on this panel cannot be overstated. These gentlemen represent hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, industry awards, multiple Inc. 500 awards, and multiple Charlotte Fast 50 awards. Most importantly, they have all been voted a “Best Place to Work” in either North or South Carolina.

For the record, this was a totally self-serving act. I wanted to pick all their brains and steal their ideas, but it gets weird if I ask each of them 25 questions in a row over lunch.

A Bad Boss

How big of an impact can one bad boss make?

One of the members of the panel talked about how their company went from regularly placing in the top ten on the “Best Places” list to ranking last out of the companies selected. The became the worst of the best.

He mentioned that they were provided the data to analyze from the employee surveys and concluded that the bad surveys all stemmed from employee engagement and happiness levels in one department.

One bad boss took them from a top ten “Best Place to Work” to the worst on the list.

Vision & Mission

When I asked the panel if they were intentional about creating their culture, there was a unanimous and resounding “yes” spoken. The panelists mentioned that not only were the culture and employee engagement efforts intentional, but it was a primary focus of the leadership teams. They did this by keeping the vision and mission in the forefront for their team.

What are some of the ways they kept the vision top of mind?

Shawn Regan from Rhythmlink International mentioned that they “put the moonshot on the wall.” Their “moonshot” goal is visible to the team and reviewed every quarter along with their quarterly and annual goals.

Nearly every executive on the panel mentioned the importance of regular team meetings where progress is shared amongst the team. David Dunn from VC3 discussed how they are fully transparent with their team and this helped them in both the good and the bad times.

Hiring Practices

There were several great tips that came up when discussing hiring practices. Everyone agreed that until they had the “right people on the bus” it was not possible to be a “Best Place to Work”. Improving employee engagement started with hiring.

“When we learned how to hire, we could fire.”

-Shawn Regan

Here are a few of the tips from the panel:

●      Find passive candidates: David Dunn mentioned that the key to hiring “A” players for them was finding passive candidates. They use a LinkedIn recruiting account to recruit people who weren’t necessarily looking for work.

●      Ask the hard questions: Tom Pietras and David both made mention of the importance of asking the hard questions during the interview process.

●      Hire slow / fire fast: Matt Telmanik talked about how they are slow to hire and quick to help move someone on to the next stage of their career if it is not a good fit. Too often people hold on to team members that are not a good fit for longer than they should. This does more harm than good for both the company and the employee.

●      Make sure the culture fits: Tom Pietras talked about how their culture is not a fit for everyone. They are very careful during the hiring process to find people that are not only talented, but a good fit for the team and work environment.

●      Train the entire company on how to hire: Shawn Regan shared that everyone at his company knows how to hire. He stated that once they had a good hiring process, it made everything easier because it enabled them to weed who those who did not fit with the culture.

●      Onboarding is crucial: Employee onboarding should be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Matt talked about the importance of following up with employees after 30 days to ensure they are happy and that the job aligns with their expectations.

Education & Training

Just behind a competitive wage, millennials rank excellent training and development programs as one of the most important characteristics of an attractive employer. Here is what the panel said they use to keep their education program competitive:

●      Utilize outside resources: Several panel members mentioned that they used outside resources and classes to educate their team. Tony Perricilli shared that they partner with a national alliance group to get access to resources to aid in employee development.

●      Provide mentor/ buddy programs: Mentor and buddy programs were not only mentioned by several of the panel members, but they are proven to help in the engagement and retention of employees.

●      Put training in employees’ hands: Tom Pietras mentioned at his firm, the employee is responsible for creating their own annual learning plan. This creates ownership of the process for the team member and helps hold them accountable.

●      Allow employees to teach: By giving your team members the opportunity to teach the rest of the team about skills and processes they possess, you will build confidence in the employee, bolster their knowledge, and educate your team. This is a huge win on all fronts.

●      Do away with formal reviews: David Dunn mentioned that they no longer do formal performance reviews, but they do frequent 1 on 1 meetings with team members. The speed of information has made the annual review old news.

●      Plan for the future: Tony mentioned that they have partners from various stages in their career, which allows the succession of the senior members of the team with focus on who will fill the chairs when someone moves on.


Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought, you would be willing to take a pay cut to be happier in your job. You are not alone. Money isn’t the biggest motivator for more than a third of the workforce.

36% of employees would give up $5,000 a year in pay if it meant being happy/engaged in their work. 

Everyone on the panel agreed that while they need to be competitive on the wage scale, they were not trying to be the highest paying organization in their field. They wanted to highlight all the other areas we are talking about to attract top talent to their company.

How do the best compensate?

Here are a few of the unique ways the best in class compensate beyond salary:

●      Career planning and development: Not only do they help people to plan, but they also provide resources and compensation for gaining knowledge.

●      Pay overtime to exempt employees: This policy was one that several people talked about stealing after the Summit. Tom made mention of how his firm pays salaried exempt employees overtime to reward them.

●      Rich PTO policy with flexibility: Providing people with time away and making sure they take it is important in retaining talent.

●      Onsite fitness facility or gym memberships: This keeps your team happy and healthy so they can be a complete person.

●      Free stocked fridge and snacks: When things get stressful at work, knowing there is a fridge with goodies or some chocolate to munch on can provide a much-needed boost.

●      Beer in the fridge: You know your team. Can they handle a fridge full of beer? If so, by all means offer it.

●      Incentives: The panel talked through examples of times they sent the team home after a half-day for goals hit, provided team bonuses, prizes for contests, and much more. Incentives can keep morale high.

Culture – How to Improve Employee Engagement

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

-Peter Drucker

As mentioned earlier, all the executives from “Best Places to Work” said the development of their culture was intentional.

Culture is not something that can be accomplished with a poster on the wall. You need to live, eat, and breathe your mission to get your team on board.

What are some of the ways these companies created a culture that people want to be a part of?

●      Flexibility: This comes in a variety of forms from schedules, to working from home, to type of work assignments.

●      Doing the basics very well: Matt Telmanik made an excellent point about how his team and culture is not flashy, that they just do the basics very well and consistently.

●      Have substance to what you do: Shawn Regan mentioned how important it is that there is “substance” to what you do and that your team can see the impact you make.

●      Give your team the tools to be successful: This applies to both hiring and doing their job.

●      Treat everyone the way they want to be treated: The Golden Rule. It’s as simple as that.

●      Games and incentives: We heard about all kinds of games like team trivia and sales contests. A few organizations offered onsite fitness training. Nearly everyone made note of how important it is to have fun.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

So, what difference does it make if you create a better place to work? Should you care?

Think about this. What if one of your employees is miserable. He goes home at night and is miserable to his wife, who is miserable to the kids, who go to school and are mean to other kids, who go home and are mean to their parents, and on, and on it goes…

This might seem like an over-dramatization, but it’s not that far off.

Now think about what happens if you create the type of place people want to work:

●      Our economy gets better

●      We attract more talented people to the area

●      We create more jobs

●      We thrive together as a community

●      We give more to people in need and create opportunities

Doesn’t that sound a lot better?

Start today. Do something simple for your team from the list above that creates a better place to work. You never know who you will impact.

BREAKING: New FLSA Overtime Regulations Postponed

In a shocking 11th-hour victory for small businesses everywhere, a federal judge in Texas granted a preliminary injunction against the FLSA overtime rule on Tuesday.

The December 1, 2016 implementation date of the Final Rule is postponed and employers need not adjust salaries upward in order to continue to claim exempt status. The injunction is nationwide and applies to all states, even those that did not join in the lawsuit.
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