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SMEs & HR Data – The Top Ten Metrics You Should Be Tracking

A lot has been written recently about BIG DATA. And I’m not surprised. It has revolutionized the way many companies approach decision-making regarding their people in the quest to improve their bottom line. But what about the data which comes out of businesses who don’t have an army of analysts sitting in their backrooms, frantically researching the important correlations between the amount of jelly beans consumed in a day versus time spent on ‘rest breaks’*? Those who don’t have the volume of data required for this activity, and/or can’t afford to hire the skill set to do this? What about small data?

While most SMEs don’t have the same abundance of people data as the Big Girls and Boys, that doesn’t mean that predictive analytics and deriving meaning from data is totally out of reach for them either. ‘Small Data’ can be useful too; it’s just a question of cutting your cloth accordingly.

The good news is that there are lots of HR experts in SMEs around the country who love gathering data and have been doing so on a small scale for years, using it to influence decision making and track what’s working and what’s not. Sure, they may not be able to create a dashboard which looks like Joseph’s Technicolour Dream Coat. But they sure as hell know what data signals things are about to go belly-up. The even better news is that this type of data and insight is accessible to all SMEs even without an in-house expert: just work with the data you have whilst you build it all up. And go back as far as you can to spot the trends.

Start simple. And think about the things you really care about.

After some debate within the team, these are our top ten HR baseline measurements for SMEs:

  1. Time to Hire: Not to be confused with cost-per-hire (a related but distant cousin in efficiency metrics). A low time to hire affords minimum business disruption and can indicate a strong employee brand.
  2. Quality of hire: There is no one standard metric here. Productivity, cultural fit and 360 view can all play a part. A very crude way to look at it is at the end of a 6 month period (no less), answer the question “Would you hire this person again?”.
  3. Recruitment channels: In the same way the ‘ultimate’ question for your customers is “would you recommend us to a friend?, the referral rate reveals the same from your internal customers – your staff. Too high and you risk having a diversity issue, but too low, and it can indicate your people just ain’t believing in you…
  4. Voluntary Turnover (they walk out of the door): High turnover can indicate a lack of engagement, leadership and/ or poor recruiting process.
  5. Involuntary Turnover (you push them out of the door): High figures here can indicate a lack of management skills and/ or poor recruiting process.
  6. Performance issues: I use the term ‘issues’ rather than disciplinaries, as often they never get to become a formal disciplinary case. Tracking these at management level can give incredible insight into skills and expectations of staff.
  7. Complaints (aka. grievances): Starting from when these are voiced, rather than when they become responded to as a formal grievance, the number of complaints can be an indicator of engagement, organisational health and management skills.
  8. Time spent on ‘noise’: Not a traditional measure you see in many Business Balanced Scorecards, however I would argue that given how significant the time taken to discuss issues with people can be (restructures, rumblings, pay etc.), this is one you should start tracking to show how smoothly (or not) things are going in the business.
  9. Absence rates: Either as a percentage of time or a score such as the Bradford factor (the premise of this being that a high volume of short days is more disruptive to a business than long periods of singular absence), these can be an indication of the obvious workplace risks but the less obvious engagement and management skills and should be used carefully as they really only give you any meaning once you go above 12 months of data.
  10. Employee happiness score: I put this one last but for many this is the only employee score considered. A happiness score should not be taken as the ‘employee magic’ score (there are other surveys which can measure that & are the sum total of all of the majority of these metrics listed here), but at its most basic, feedback from your team should be taken at regular intervals (better to ask 1 question once a month and score it rather than 50 on an annual basis) and acted upon immediately. This builds trust and keeps the involvement high.

You don’t need to measure all of these – I have seen firms disappear up their backsides trying to cover every eventuality. But if you get into the hang of doing just a few at least once a month when totting up all your other numbers, then in just a few months time you will already have some pretty powerful insight to feed into your decision-making going forward. Wondering if that staff jolly ‘did it’ for the team who went to Tenerife? Or whether your reiteration of the vision and values had any impact? Look no further… Add in some costs around average salary (for managers and all staff) and relevant customer data and very quickly you’ve got yourself several nifty ways in which to work out how you could influence your costs and, more importantly, your bottom line.

*A joke. I have never seen such a study (although it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if there had been one…..)

Photo Credit: Analysing Financial Data by Dave Dugdale

HR Hacks: Improve Your Recruitment Process Without Strangulation

Recruitment processes can sometimes leave you tied up in knots. We’ve all been there. Searching for ‘the one’ and feeling like you’ll never find them. Being inundated with CV’s and not being able to respond to candidates. Or just feeling like you are in the never ending circle of recruiting more staff. If your organisation is okay at getting decent candidates in a reasonable amount of time that’s great. But if you are at the stage where you want to refocus, these simple steps will help to point you in the right direction – without leaving you gasping for air…..

Create A Careers Page On Your Website

  • Creating a careers page on your website can save you time and money.  You can post any job adverts on the page for starters allowing candidates to contact you directly limiting the need to use agencies.
  • You can have an FAQ page which should help to cut down on the number of applicant questions you receive during the hiring process which helps save you time. Include simple questions such as ‘How do I apply for position?’, ‘Will you contact me if a suitable alternative role comes up?’, ‘How many stages are typically involved in your interviewing process?’ and  ‘Will I receive a confirmation once I submit my application?
  • You can also include pictures of current employees with testimonials about working for your business. Better yet, embed videos with employees talking about what to expect when working at your company. Have your videos available on a company Facebook page as well if you have one.

Create A Careers Blog For Your Company

A careers blog will give candidates instant access to what is happening in your business.  Set up a regular blog devoted to all things related to careers at your company and have weekly topics such as:

  • A Day In The Life – Invite current employees to blog about what they like about their role and encourage them to be candid about what’s challenging in the job, as well – candidates want to see an honest approach.
  • Upcoming Job Fairs/Events – consider embedding videos of company events in the blog (corporate days out, exhibits, etc.).
  • Interview Tips – Offer advice on how to best prepare to interview and/or where to find out about your company’s milestones.

Respond To Candidates

How often do you tell a candidate that you will be in touch with them no later than the end of the following week…and end up getting back to them 3 weeks after that, or worse still – never?

Whilst life happens, it is completely fine to touch base with candidates just to let them know that the process has been delayed but you are still interested in their application. This is also a good time to make sure the candidate is still available despite the delay to avoid wasting anybody’s time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Test Candidates

This is such a simple one but can often be overlooked.  As an example, don’t be afraid to ask a programming candidate to write a short code, or a sales candidate to do a mock sales call or a pitch for business.  After all you need know if the candidate can deliver against what they have claimed on their CV.

Avoid Closed Questions

Go easy on the yes/no questions because you won’t learn much from the answers. Try instead to ask leading questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when….’ ” You’ll get much more useful information from candidates this way. Check out our recent article ‘The 10 Interview Questions You Need To Be Asking…’ for some great examples.

Another View Point

If a candidate has provided personal references take the time to call them. They may be biased (why else would the candidate have given you their name) but it will help if you have an alternative view on the candidate and what they have achieved in a previous role.

How To Say No

It may not be feasible for you to send a personalised rejection letter or email to every applicant who does not make it to interview but there are things you can do to lighten the load but still allow you to keep that personal touch:

  • Have different templates for the different stages at which someone is removed from the process (i.e. immediate no, no after phone interview, etc.).
  • You’ll need a rejection that lets them down gently but encourages them to apply again in the future if you think they may be suitable for another role in the company.
  • And also a template that discloses that the reason a candidate was not selected is because the position was put on hold or filled internally (at least the candidate then knows that you didn’t reject due to qualifications or experience and again, if suitable they may apply for roles in the future).

Keeping in Touch

Staying in touch with candidates and building relationships with them over time can help improve the recruitment process and build a network of contacts for future positions. It also can save you time and money in the long time.

  • Connect with all great job candidates on LinkedIn so that you can maintain contact with them in the future.
  • Reach out to exceptional job candidates every once in a while to “check in” and build a relationship.
  • Periodically call or email employees that have left the organisation on good terms. Stay in touch with top talent that has left your organisation.
  • Periodically reaching out to candidates by emailing newsletters or press releases about significant company developments.
  • Send your top passive candidates a personal note every so many months to stay in touch.

Run An Applicant Referral Scheme

Consider running an applicant referral bonus program so that your previous applicants can earn rewards for referring their friends for other positions. This type of initiative helps you save money and time on recruiting costs.

Measure Effectiveness

Finally, you should be measuring your hiring process so you know if it’s working or not. You can measure time to fill and cost per hire as a starting point – even these simple stats will show how efficient and costly your process is.

Your Recruiting Reputation

Whether you realise it or not, the way you recruit makes a difference to your recruiting success or failure. Indeed, some candidates are willing to accept a lower salary from employers when the company’s image and candidate experience are positive. There’s real value in a good recruiting reputation and you’ll feel the consequences of a bad one. Your recruiting process needs to be focused on winning top candidates over and attracting them to your company and open positions.

Remember, that it takes time to hire the best people for your business yet most people begin the hiring process later than they should and then end up panic buying employees. Smart companies are always looking for the best talent, not just when there is a vacancy.

Recruitment today is continuously evolving and your recruiting process has to keep up if you want the kind of hiring success you need to build a productive workforce. New technology, sourcing and recruiting tactics, a changing economy and so many other variables mean that you need to constantly be reviewing and improving your recruitment processes so make sure that you don’t let your recruitment process go stale.

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Photo Credit: WIAA State Wrestling Championships by Todd Hobert

The 10 Interview Questions You Need To Be Asking To Find Your Dream Team

Making great hires is hard. So many leaders tell us that they spend hours and hours interviewing people in the hope they will find their best new employees. A great hire is a person who loves what your organisation does and wants to actively be part of the success today and in the future.

Searching interview questions will help you get to the heart of the individual differences between people. And in my top 10 list I want to highlight some of the important characteristics of great employees, regardless of the technical skills they need to do the job. I’m not suggesting you skip the technical questions needed to gauge competence. But there are common characteristics that some people have that are widely accepted as great for organisations.

1. Who trusts you at work and how do you know this is true?

It’s important to gauge quickly if the candidate is honest and trustworthy. When the person starts to discuss what trust means to them it may reveal the following… Do they talk straight? Do they demonstrate respect and transparency? Do they right wrongs and show loyalty. Ask yourself after the interview, do I trust you and will you do what you say you will do?

2. Tell me about our product/service? What are the benefits it offers our customers?

More commonly used with people applying for sales roles, this is an interesting one nonetheless for any function your recruiting for. In an SME, everyone needs to be commercially focussed. Also, this will give them the opportunity to demonstrate the research they’ve done on you as part of their interview preparation.

3. What did you learn recently that helped you work better?

The self-awareness to continue to learn regardless of experience is an important personality trait. As whatever the level being recruited for and whatever your industry, you don’t want someone who sits complacently in their role as the world moves beyond them. This question will reveal just how ingrained learning is into their working pattern: be it from taking on board feedback from others, outside meetups and interests or just tinkering with technology.

4. What has been you most significant achievement in your career to date? What made it such a success? 

They will have prepared for this one so you should expect to be impressed by their ambition and sense of ownership, not to mention getting  a sneak preview into what motivates them (when people talk about success, it comes in many guises – financial, recognition, fame etc). No wo(man) is an island however, and good candidate should recognises the efforts of others in landing a successful project and give credit where it’s due.

5. Tell me about a project that didn’t succeed. What happened and how did you recover from the setbacks? 

This is their chance to show their grit and determination in the face of difficulties. Again, they should be expecting this one too. Those that chose to reveal a true challenge as opposed to a soft/faux one (“I was just too much of a perfectionist”!) are the real keepers. Likewise those who choose to play the blame-game here, should be quizzed on this a little more closely.

6. What was the most productive team you worked with? Describe them to me and what made you so effective.

Weadle out what role they played in contributing to the team’s success and their part in steering the outcome. Probing around any past team conflict situations will help you gauge how harmoniously they work others.

7. What standout strength do you possess that makes your colleagues love having you on the team? What is your ‘kryptonite’ or the thing that drains your energy?

All small business need to have a tight team, with a balance of strengths and weaknesses. Questioning here will help ascertain if the individual is the right ‘fit’ for your team.

8. Tell me where you feel you made the most contribution to your business? 

Slightly different to ‘your most significant achievement’, this question allows you again to tap into not just technically skilled they are, but how aligned they are to the businesses they work with. Particularly if they work in a traditionally termed (and I am loathed to use this term!) back-office function.

9. Tell me of a recent major change you have had to cope with. How did you adapt?

This opens up the level of change people consider to be just part of life vs something pretty major.

10. What would you change about the interview process so far?

The interview process is a 2 way street. This is an opportunity to find out how you can make it better. Their answers will also show how obserbant they are and how engaged in they are in the process.

A final thought

No ‘wacky’ questions listed here I’m afraid. Trying to predict someone’s future performance on the basis of a few questions is never going to be easy, but I’m afraid it won’t be made easier by asking them ones such as “What purpose do eyebrows serve?” (a genuine question I have known someone to be asked – and no, they weren’t going for any medical role!) or “How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the US each year?” (Goldman Sachs – allegedly).

Whichever questions you choose to use, expand on them with further probing questions. Way back when I was hiring graduates for a bank I was taught to always use the STAR (Situation, Task, Actions they took and Results) questioning technique to get to the nitty gritty of what role someone actually played in a given situation. It’s not foolproof and is something many graduates are taught to prepare for now, so can occasionally just yield some well versed answers, however it’s a useful probing technique for anyone when you feel someone’s answer doesn’t  quite stack up!

Photo Credit: Job Interview by World Relief Spokane

HR Horrors: Managing Absence Without Being A Jerk

Most people get that everyone is going to have the occasional sick day here and there: after all, we’re only human. And most people don’t even pay attention to the reasons people give when they do go off sick on such an odd day. Which is lucky, as most individuals prefer to communicate this state in a very general text or email stating just plain generic ‘illness’….

But Ministers at a recent Health, Work and Wellbeing summit hammered home the core statistics of how this impacts UK businesses like yours: 35 million working days are lost through sickness at a cost of £12bn. Not only that, but The Work Foundation asserts that “there is no doubt that the health of the UK workforce is getting worse”.

So given these stats – quite depressing in their own right – how do you minimise the impact of sickness in your business. And how do you manage it when the occasional sick day starts to become noticeable and before you can say “ What? Again?”, you’ve got someone who’s clocked up so many sick days that you’ve lost confidence in their ability to actually be there to do their job. I mean, you likely want to be a good boss, but you also just simply want your team to be there to get stuff done.

Of course, there is a direct link between happy, healthy employees and the quality and quantity of their output at work and evidence suggests that promoting a happy healthy workforce – including paying attention to the physical environment, creating a supportive sense of community and giving autonomy to people – not only improves people’s performance but also reduces the amount of time people will be off sick. But these are things which be a longer term fix. When you’re the one in receipt of the text or email from someone explaining they won’t be making it to your client meeting or project finale, no amount of chat about Wellbeing Strategy is going to stop your initial reaction being some akin to “Arrggghhh…”

So if you find yourself in this situation:

  1. Take a deep breath: just breathing deeply puts you in a calmer and more receptive mood…
  2. Acknowledge that you have received the message, assume it is genuine ( or suspend any form of disbelief you may harbour that it isn’t) and wish them a speedy recovery
  3. Dust off your own sick policy and take a read to refresh your own memory. Chances are, it will say that anyone off sick need to let you know that they are sick, what the illness consists of and when they are likely to be back. If a reason hasn’t been given, make a note to follow up.
  4. Gather up the information given from any previous communications the individual has provided to get an accurate record of how many days they have been off, what the dates were, as well as any reasons given. It might be that when you take a look at the data you realise that really, your own imagination is exaggerating the time off they have had. But it will also help you spot any obvious trends you can discuss with them when they return if there are any in evidence.
  5. Once they do return (and for the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume they do..if they don’t, then that’s a whole other ball game I’m afraid) ask to speak to them in private
  6. During this meeting – a.k.a the Return To Work interview in HR circles – ask how they are feeling and outline your concerns over the amount and/ or frequency of their absence using the data you’ve gathered in point 4. above. Doing it this way not only helps objectify your point of view, but also serves as a reminder to the individual of their own sickness pattern if they’ve forgotten (and many do).
  7. Ask if there is anything the individual feels could be an underlying cause to all of these periods of absence. At this point, it becomes harder to template your response – an individual might unleash a florid explanation of other things happening in their life or conversely just be very factual – but don’t forget to listen as well ask what they think they can do to help improve their attendance moving forward.
  8. And the end of the meeting, re-cap on anything you have agreed, including any steps they are going to take and any additional support you can provide. And then agree a period you are going to review this over.
  9. Follow it all up in writing. Doing this doesn’t make you an a***, it makes you sensible. And it doesn’t need to be in a physical letter either. Email is fine and far more natural.
  10. And finally. Try and avoid paying statutory sick pay for every instance of sick leave. There may be no statutory obligation to pay above this – however recognising that sometimes people need help when they are sick goes a long way to creating more of a sense of support in your team.

Most sickness is genuine and so treat it as such – but in the unlikely event that you suspect someone really is trying pull a fast one on you, addressing it head on and highlighting that you are monitoring any time off goes a long way to knocking it on the head.

Out of all of these points listed above, it’s Point 6 – actually having a conversation about your concerns over the sickness – which is the one which people most often stumble over and avoid. Often hoping that things will improve if they ignore for long enough or simply because they feel too awkward to address it directly. But there are no laws you are breaking in doing so – although I would counsel not being too brash in the words you choose – and taking another route, such as burying yourself in policy wording  rather than using genuine language, telling someone that they’ve breached their sickness ‘allowance’ or taking any action that penalises someone without talking to them first (I’m talking sick pay, verbal warnings etc). Now, that’s being a jerk..

Photo Credit: the scream by Mark Tighe

How HR Can Save You £££s

As an HR professional I could write for hours about how I believe that HR can save your business £££’s but of course you would think that I am biased……and you’d be right. But that is because I have seen the impact of HR in a variety of businesses and the real value that it can add if you have the right team in place.

The first thing most business owners think of when they are deciding whether to hire HR for their business is cost – a valid concern. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a small investment up front can lead to substantial cost savings in the long run.

The majority of HR professionals will understand that as a small business you will want to keep expenditures to the bare minimum. And believe it or not there are actually some ways HR can help you save some money.

Here are some of the ways they can help:

Direct Recruitment Processes

Believe it or not, it is not unusual for companies to spend huge amounts of money in the process of hiring new personnel from advertising to recruitment agency fees. And as you will know, a great deal of time and effort is spent finding the right people for your business (and this time will be costing you money too if you are sifting through CV’s/meeting with endless streams of candidates).  All of this can be handled by HR – meaning that your time can be better spent elsewhere. HR will be able to advise you on where best to place adverts, how to lower your costs when recruiting and how to effectively sift and interview candidates to increase your chances of finding ‘the one’!  Your HR team can also train your staff on how to interview effectively and get the best from candidates during the recruitment process.  This takes the pressure off one individual and creates a more cohesive approach to recruitment which is good for you, your employees and the candidates.

Improving Your Employee Retention

Another area where companies lose altogether too much money is when an employee resigns. Quite often it has nothing to do with the actual job itself but other factors that seem to displease and drive them to look elsewhere.

Now, I’m not saying that HR have a magic wand and can instantly stop employees leaving the business. But they can certainly impact your employee turnover figures dependent on what the reasons for leaving are (that leads to another way HR can save you money……exit interviews can be invaluable and provide you with statistics and details on why employees are choosing to leave the business any re-occurring themes and issues can be addressed). Whether it’s planning and implementing short training sessions or meeting with employees one-on-one to discuss their personal needs in terms of job satisfaction, these are examples of activity HR can do to keep employees happy within their role within your business.

Remember the cost of training new employees for any position within the company can be exorbitant, so it is imperative to keep employee turnover to a minimum.

They Can Save Your Skin If You Get Sued

One of your worst nightmares is probably getting sued by a disgruntled employee. HR can help to mitigate your risks by ensuring that small issues and problems don’t snowball. Admittedly, we can’t protect you from everything. But we can provide a common sense approach to situations that will keep you within the lines of the law.

They Can Help You Motivate Employees

If an employee is under-performing, HR can give you tips to motivate them, and advice on how to manage the situation.  They can guide you on how to set targets, and if the employee does not meet the expected standards they can help you deal with any issues quickly to avoid any further impact on your business.

Strategic Place On The Board

When it comes to the strategic direction of the company, HR can also play an important role. HR should have a place at company board meetings so that they can keep board members informed about the state of the employees within your company.  It’s been said countless times before but employees are the most important resource in your company, and having a representative from your HR department sit on the board will allow for the employee point of view to have a strategic say in how the company is run.

Policies And Procedures

Yes, I know it’s boring but, HR will be able to put in place for you all the policies and procedures that you require.  As a minimum you must have legislative regulations in place and follow these (for example disciplinary procedures and the right to be accompanied) As a small business the reality is that it only takes one individual to raise a case against your company and it can have devastating effects on your business if a claim is successful.  

In the same vein, having consistent guidelines for your employees avoids those time consuming conversations where you haven’t been consistent.  Don’t make life harder for yourself, the right policies will avoid the ‘that’s not fair’ scenarios which only take away valuable time which is better spent on running your business.

Not Enough For You?

Numbers talk. HR has a wealth of knowledge and tools when it comes to metrics and will be able to show you in black and white, the financial worth of HR.  As a business owner you probably see numbers as a straightforward, proven record of value add to the business. Reporting on key metrics like workforce productivity, recruiting costs, and retention, and creating specific goals and meeting them are sure-fire ways to show how HR are adding value and it will allow them to deliver continuous cost savings to your business.

Predict The Future Company Needs

While no one has a crystal ball, the beauty of HR data and analytics is that they can help predict the future of your company’s personnel needs. The amount of critical data that flows through the HR department can help direct future development. By keeping tabs on productivity and determining how many and what kind of new employees the company will need to hire in the near future and well beyond, HR can provide the kind of forethought that will allow your company to not just survive but thrive in the changing markets to come.
If you enjoy HR tasks then ‘go get ‘em’! However, if you think your role could be better served providing vision, leadership, and helping your team be successful then maybe you should consider the services of a seasoned HR Professional. Here at theHRhub we offer a cost effective online solution: Expert HR advice, software, contract templates, comprehensive library and community forum – straight to your mobile or tablet. It’s like having your HR department – but without the price tag. Find out more here


Photo Credit: Adding To Piggy Bank by OTA Photos