ND SHRM Swag Video

With special guests John Friend,Jenna Wilm, Josh Rock, Amber Unser, Roxanne Hanson and Stephanie Winterquist working the camera!


The HR Carnival is Visiting Dovetail!

If you’ve been around HR for any amount of time, you’ve surely seen or heard of the HR Carnival, run by friend of the show Shauna Moerke.  Well the train is rolling this way, and we at Dovetail are thrilled to be hosting an upcoming version.

On March 27th, the new carnival can be found on the Dovetail Software blog.  Some of you may know that I like to have a theme when I host, and this turn is no different.

We at Dovetail are all about sharing.  Aside from sharing the workload and the knowledge in our software, we like to share what we know and what we love about the HR community.  So we are making sharing part of our theme.

When you get your submissions ready to send, we’d like you to include a link to someone else’s blog post as well.  Something you’ve read that you really loved.  Something that made an impact on you.  Or something that just deserves more attention that it is getting.  We will post them all!

So get on the stick.  Submissions are due March 25th, and the carnival goes live on March 27th.  You can send your links to me at dlay@dovetailsoftware.com.

Don’t miss it!

HR 101 for StartUps

What does a founder need to know about HR? 

When chasing your dream leads you to opening your own business, you have a wealth of issues to deal with.  You’ll have to become an expert in operations, marketing, finance, tax law, real estate, motivation, sales and a host of other concerns.  The Human Resources function is usually not on the list, though it can derail your new enterprise as quickly as any of the others.  There are complexities that must be understood and addressed if you are to be successful, and the time you are able to commit may not be enough to handle the work of HR.  And, in many cases, that’s ok.

Does a start-up with five employees need to spend a great deal of time working on their annual review process?  Is there a need to create a training plan for each employee, or tie it back to succession planning?  Will you lose sleep over the fact that, deep down, you aren’t really sure if your job descriptions are accurate?  Probably not.  But don’t be fooled into thinking you can ignore the HR function across the board.  While the profession is responsible to get the most out of people, it is also very often the function that keeps the company out of court and the officers out of jail.

Determined to make it work on your own?  Here are a few things you are going to want to take care of.


May as well tackle the big one first.  There are a slew of laws to make sure businesses are acting in accordance with our time-honored belief that “all men are created equal.”  The women, too.  Failure to understand the implications of those laws can be costly.  2009 saw more than 90,000 charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Hundreds of millions of dollars were paid towards out of court settlements.  Why?  Because going to court and losing can be even more expensive.

Can you protect yourself?  Of course, but it requires spending a lot of time getting to know the local, state and federal laws that apply to you.  You also need to think about anti-discrimination policies, training, knowing the legalities of your own hiring process and the dangers of the wrong steps in your work environment.  Does this matter in a small start up?  That depends on how much chasing your dream means to you.  Would you rather put your life savings into that, or legal settlements for having someone say the wrong thing to the wrong candidate?  A question as innocent as, “Are you married?” can cost more than you think

What’s prohibited?  Generally speaking, there are several “protected classes” of which you need to be aware.  Race, religion, nationality, age (if over 40), gender, family status, disability and veteran status are all included.  Sexual orientation is likely to be on the federal list in short order, if not at the local or state level.  All aspects of the employment relationship, which includes the application process, interviews, hiring, employment details, pay, benefits, work assignments, training, promotions, and terminations are all subject to review.  If you plan to do any of these things, you’d be well served to understand the law or find someone who does.

Wage and Hour Laws

One of the first things to be addressed when building your team will be what roles need to be filled and what you can pay them.  There are a number of tools that give you an estimate on what a role is worth, which will set you on the right path.  But the pitfalls of being an employer go far deeper the simple pay equity.

For example, your office décor makes a difference.  Specifically, the inclusion of a Federal Wage and Hour poster, which the Department of Labor will provide at no charge.  This poster will outline the minimum wage rules and exceptions, such as employees in a role deemed “tipworthy” or those under twenty and in their first 90 days of employment.  Even if you pay far above the minimum wage, the poster still requires a permanent home in an accessible area.

There is also the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which outlines which employees are paid overtime, how much it will be and when it is due.  The FLSA also defines which roles are not overtime eligible (also known as “exempt” roles), including executives, professionals, some sales, some IT, and some administrative roles.  All of this will need to be clearly defined and recorded in your organization files in the event of a government audit.  Misclassification can cost you far more than just back wages.  Per the Department of Labor, “willful violators may be prosecuted criminally and fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment. Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the minimum wage or overtime pay requirements are subject to civil money penalties of up to $1,100 per violation.”

Not an expense most start-ups can afford.


There’s more than just an employee’s wage to be dealt with.  Employers are required by federal law to provide unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation coverage and Social Security contributions.  In some states, they must also provide Short Term Disability coverage.  These are just the bare minimums.  You are likely to need to offer a more comprehensive package to attract great talent.

Health insurance is one benefit that most workers will consider a non-negotiable item.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), recently upheld by the Supreme Court, changed the landscape significantly for employers and workers alike.  While the law does not require an employer to provide coverage, those with fifty or more full-time employees will be subject to penalties for not providing a coverage option.  This is packaged with a number of other legal complexities, the implications of which are still being discovered.  Regardless, the burden of compliance will rest on the employer to understand and execute.

There exists a range of other benefits to be considered, such as vacation, life insurance, sick time, tuition support, holidays, retirement plans, flexible schedules and more.  Your decision on which to offer and to what extent will have a major impact on your ability to attract and retain talent.


Yes, you will undoubtedly go down this path at some point.  Not all employees deliver on their promise, and some must be let go.  In a start-up, there is little room for those who do not add value.

So how do you dismiss an employee without creating a liability?  Do you have grounds for dismissal?  Are they documented?  What are your rights as an employer?

Many states are considered “Right to Work” areas, meaning either party may terminate the professional relationship at any time with or without cause.  This would imply that there is no danger in letting a poor performer go.  The truth, though, is that it has become all to common for a terminated worker to file a claim of discrimination or retaliation, claiming they were singled out because of who they are or because of other non-performance reasons.  Regardless of “Right to Work,” employers can be held liable and face hefty fines if they are not protected in these cases.

The first step is ensuring proper documentation exists, a task that begins well before the termination process.  Tracking employee performance, be it good, bad or indifferent, help create a strong foundation for weighing the merits of each person’s contribution.  If you later need to terminate a low performer, your records will support your decision.

If the decision is strictly financial, as they sometimes are, you will need to have a well-documented process for deciding which employee(s) you terminate.  Poor company performance will not protect you from discrimination claims in court.  In fact, many who put their own assets behind a start-up venture find them defending their actions in court with their home and savings on the line.

Even after termination, there are costs to be managed and duties to be handled.  In some states, a terminated employee is due their final paycheck at the time of termination.  If you have made life insurance or retirement plans available as part of your benefits package, there are rules around how those items must be transferred, terminated or liquidated.  The Continuation of Health Insurance Coverage (COBRA), which applies to companies with twenty or more employees, regulates the health benefits that must be made available to terminated employees.  Additionally, some former employees may file for unemployment benefits, which you may contest.  While it may reduce your unemployment insurance premiums, there will be a cost associated with the dispute process.  Strong documentation will help, but not having a knowledgeable partner who can navigate those waters on your behalf can cost you precious resources.

Your Employee Handbook

Just the idea of a handbook can cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  But many lawsuit outcomes have hinged on clearly defined company polices (or a lack thereof).   It is not enough to determine your stance and obligation on the issues listed above, you must document them as well.

Not all handbooks are created equal.  For many years, Nordstrom’s Department Store was famous for their handbook, composed of one rule.

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

 Even this iconic rule, however comprehensive it seems, is now augmented with others.  While it is a great basis for your operation, you are legally at risk if you don’t take the time to be clear regarding the basics of your operation.

This is not to suggest, of course, that your first hire should be a full HR team.  On the contrary, start-ups often find exactly what they need (at a price they can afford) by outsourcing their HR work to a consultant or freelance professional.  This allows them to know their fledgling company is protected, while investing their capital in other ways.  It also brings an entrepreneurial spirit to another aspect of the team, which in many ways further the culture of the start-up business.


From The Archives: Metric Waste

I’ve been working on a project to create standard processes for the global HR community with my organization for the last two years or so. One of the questions that always comes up is around measurement. How do you measure adoption rate of the processes? How do you know when people aren’t using them? And what are you going to do about it if someone doesn’t want to use them?

We’ve developed a self-assessment to see if a location is aware of the processes and if they are using them, as well as gather their feedback. But we are after more than compliance, we are after the usefulness of the processes and improvement opportunities. We can record adoption rates from there, if we really want to, but it’s all based on self-reporting, which we all know can be spotty at best.

More to the point, though, the question is why would we care? Because we would only want to invest the time and effort into measuring and reporting if it was important. Isn’t it important to know if our process are being used? More and more, I’m convinced the answer is no.

Standard processes are, in most cases, a building block toward something else. In our case, they are pre-work for an HRMS and self-service implementation. We will build upon the basic framework with regional/country adaptations that outline the changes needed for local laws, and then build out the technology and tools on top of that. The use of the standard processes is, to me, secondary. If it were the end goal, then it would certainly warrant reporting. But as an intermediate step, I’m not so sure.

As I’ve said before, new processes/tools/widgets are only going to be successful if they are better than the old version (or at least are perceived by the user to be better). If our long term deliverable, including those systems and tools, aren’t better than the manual way of doing work, we will have failed, and no one will use them. If we do present a new system that is an improvement, people will flock to it. And then the measurement of that interim point isn’t as important.

Trying to measure the success of an intermediate step is, I think, a distraction. Feedback is good, of course, but should be gathered in the context of preparing for the next step. More importantly, trying to measure usage of a manual process would be far more resource intensive than it is worth. And once you know that, why would you spend any more time working on it?

If we are building a system to the needs of the user, it should be their feedback (or lack thereof) that should matter. So keep your communication lines open, listen to them, and give them what they need.

Honing your BS Detector

Papa Hemingway once said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.  This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”  It doesn’t matter if you are a great writer, a hack writer, or have never written so much as an email, that shit detector is one of your most valuable tools.  I won’t pretend to be an expert on reading body language, facial micro-expressions or detecting changes in breathing or skin temperature from across the room, but there are a few sure signs that the person with whom you are conversing is completely full of shit.

1) Non-committal answers

No one likes a soft response.  And most people give them when they have nothing else to say.  But answering a question without saying anything is a skill that all good bullshitters will deploy without thinking twice.  Professional athletes are the best at this.  Listen to any interview Ozzie Smith ever gave during his playing days.  You’ll hear phrases like “one game at a time” and “try my best to help the team.”  He worked really hard to say nothing.  There’s a reason for it.

2) Long, meandering response to a simple question

We’ve all had to tap dance around a topic, and try really hard not to say what we were thinking.  Once you’ve done it, you can tell when your conversation partner is doing it, too.  And just like you, they are doing it to avoid saying something they either can’t say or just don’t want you to hear.

3) Answering a question other than the one you asked

Ever asked one question, only to get a wealth of knowledge about an unrelated item?  You may get plenty of information, though you may not care about any of it.  But with this “accuracy by volume” approach to conversation, the true bullshitter often gets away with saying nothing by saying a lot.

4) A straightforward answer, followed by a hedge

This is the most frustrating of the bunch, I think.  You’ll get an answer, think you’ve made progress in your search for meaning, only to meet with a “at least, as far as I know.  But that could change.”  Then, once their bullshit is uncovered, they have the benefit of plausible deniability on their side.

 5) Really big, really technical terms

Anyone who litters their conversation with irrelevant jargon or prodigious verbosity can be  almost assuredly full of shit.  Or a Wharton graduate.  Or both.

 So, what can you do about it?

Nothing.  Mostly, anyway.  Sure, you can try to trap them in written communication, but there’s no reason to think they will be more forthcoming.  You can ask for clarification, but they aren’t likely to suddenly decide to give you the information they have so carefully suppressed.  More than likely, if you call them on using tactic #3, they will switch to tactic #5 and hope you don’t notice.

As an HR practitioner, of course, you’ll see more of this than most people.  More shit gets slung at HR than any other profession, on topics that range from why Dave missed work to Betty’s third grandmother dying this year(six in the last two years, if you are counting).  People managers are known to sling a little as well, of course (“I did all my performance reviews on time!  The computer must have lost them!”), as well as the occasional executive (“This is the last round of layoffs, for sure”) and candidate (“Counter offer?  No, I can’t see accepting a counter offer from my current company, even if they offer one.  It’s not about the money, I really want to work for your organization!”)

Your best defense is to hone your detector so you can tell when the bullshit is being flung in your direction, and then learn to duck.

Accidental HR

There are those among us that do not belong. They are in the field because, as much as we don’t want to admit it, they couldn’t cut it elsewhere.

They aren’t bad people. Maybe they don’t have the experience to work in Operations, or the degree to work in Legal, or the acumen to work in Finance. But they have bills to pay, so they come to HR and do the best they can. They may start as an admin, become a coordinator and work their way up to generalist after a few years. These people are HR jobbers, but not career HR. Yes, there is a difference. And I’m betting you all know someone that fits the description.

The bad news is we all suffer because of them. Just like one dishonest garage turns every mechanic into a crook, one bad HR person can ruin the perception of the function. They have fallen into our laps, and they aren’t likely to leave anytime real soon.

The good news is we don’t have to keep suffering. These are our people now, and if anyone knows development, it should be HR, right? Sure, we suffer most of the time like unshod cobbler’s children, but these are the people who desperately need our help. Unless they are developed and can contribute, we aren’t likely to reach escape velocity in our profession any time real soon.

If each of us took the time to reach out to one person, we can start changing the face of HR. Be it a minimally skilled HR jobber or a new HR person who is still looking for direction, we can be part of shaping their world, their skills, and their future. We owe it to them, and we owe it to the profession. After all, if we can’t develop ourselves, what hope do the rest of the business have?

I Hate HR People

I said this on a call last week, and the HR person got offended. That’s ok with me. I’m not taking it back.

HR people are small minded. The can’t see outside of their own cubicle into the world around them. They write dress codes, they send out emails about “fun events this weekend!” and plan holiday parties. They can’t read data beyond headcount. They don’t read books. They don’t read magazine. They might read comics, but only the ones in the newspaper. They read the newspaper, but only USAToday. They are happy to be the ones to bring bagels to the staff meeting. They don’t push back on leaders making bad decisions. They send out mass emails to chastise everyone when one person makes a mistake. And if you ask them a question, regardless of whether or not they know the answer, they will talk…and talk…and talk. And then talk some more.

But you know who I like? Professionals who work in HR. Smart, talented people who handle complex business issues. Pros who know how to analyze data, rebuild a process and read a financial report. Pros who also know how to mentor a teammate, coach an executive through difficult personnel decisions, and run an investigation. Pros who can simultaneously represent the rights of an employee, the needs of the business and the demands of a leader. Pros who can look that leader in the eye and tell them know, even the CEO.

There’s too many HR people in HR, and not enough professionals. But its getting better. I’m excited about it.

(By the way, another method of spotting the professionals are the ones who work to improve their knowledge and be part of the growing professional community by attending conferences and reading insightful blogs. So chances are you one of them.)

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