2012 Human Trends That Threaten Positive Workplace Culture

Companies and nonprofits are attending to their culture in greater numbers than ever.  Inspiring stories from companies like Zappos are making their way around social media circles. Further, unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that younger workers have less tolerance for the workplace shenanigans of bullies and disagreeable coworkers that others have just put up with for years.  If we could all start from the same point, employees would have a wonderful choice of working in companies where respect and quality are governing values. Unfortunately, the business climate is bobbing and weaving and a number of trends will make things worse for you if you do nothing. If you’re an HR Professional and having a hard time convincing senior management to pay attention, here are some thoughts about positive culture-busting trends.

2012 Human trends

  1. Continued, rapid business change – if you keep doing the same thing you’re losing ground.
  2. Business mistakes are publicized instantly – think Netflix, News of the World. Social media can be brutal.
  3. Increasing worker stress – financial uncertainty, care-giving, lean staff and tougher goals are weighing on employee minds.
  4. Emphasis on efficiency and productivity – employee absenteeism and presenteeism (physically here but mentally elsewhere) are working against your efforts to keep costs down.
  5. Business regulation – there is some recognition that over-regulation can be anti-business but the Healthy Workplace Bill is coming.  It’s new legislation which some conservatives will fight but it started because companies ignored brutal, ongoing employee targeting that had a direct relationship to their mental health.
  6. Workplace bullying websites abound – your employees have options for free advice of how to react to workplace bullying in your company and how to seek legal advice.
  7. Increased employee litigation – this is just a fact of doing business, if you lose touch with disgruntled employees or you aren’t listening trouble will find you.
  8. A third of employees are ready to move when economy improves – because your employees are afraid to move now doesn’t mean they are thinking about it.
  9. Increasing cultural diversity – inclusion requires preparing the ground. Employees unencumbered by things like respect and company no-tolerance stance on slurs, etc., can be brutal. Sexual orientation discrimination claims are on the rise.
  10. Employees no longer work in the same office – homes, virtual space, remote locations create challenges for creating a united workplace culture.
  11. Multiple generations working together – you’re adding generations X, Y, and Z to established workers.  Do you pay attention to culture clash?
  12. Increasing disparity between high and low employees’ disposable income – your lower-income employees are borrowing, taking money from 401(k)s, and even if they’ve had raises, medical costs and other prices have eroded disposable income.
  13. Decline in civility, everywhere – Sorry to say this but arguing, short tempers and narcissism are on the rise.  Positive culture articulation is an important counter-point.

Good Luck!!

Employee Life Cycle: opportunities to transmit culture

Pre-service (attachment)


  • Vacancy: New job is added; employee resigns or employee is dismissed
  • Job Analysis: job design/review, establishing qualifications, selecting source
  • Recruitment: Sourcing and advertising
  • Selection: Application, screening, interview, offer, acceptance
  • On-boarding: Policies, HR paperwork, receive corporate culture materials
  • Employee orientation: culture orientation, job shadowing, practice

Early service (engagement)


  • Benefits: Employee signs up for benefits and begins receiving EBT, perquisites
  • Contribution: Employee begins contributing in the real job
  • Coworker relations: Ongoing interactions with co-workers at all levels
  • Employee guidance: supervision, evaluation, engagement,

2-year mark is the greatest threat of turnover (retention)

Medium service (seasoning)

  • Experience building: training and development, re-licensing, credentialing, re-qualifying
  • Giving back: helping to train less seasoned coworkers

Long service (adaptation and flexibility)

  • Employee re-contributing: retraining, lateral transfers, promotions
  • Cutting back and giving back: part time and flexible assignments as employees “semi” retire but continue contributing and mentoring less seasoned coworkers

(c) Copyright BCSPublishing 2012

Retention, Long Tenure and Employee Weaknesses

Years of the same strengths and weaknesses

A hidden challenge results from long service employees’ strengths and weaknesses.  I have, more than once, been appointed nonprofit interim Executive Director where the former director had very long service.  Say that an individual in a leadership position has weak performance areas and he/she works for 15 years.  This means there have been 15 years with this particular weakness. Here’s an example.  Maybe the director is strong in finance and fundraising but not so strong managing and dealing with people. Funding and finances are probably in good shape. But after 15 years of less than positive attention to the matters of managing people, human resource strategies and policies are probably lacking.  Perhaps the organization never hired anyone with professional HR skills.  Perhaps they did, but the professional HR person was frustrated by a leader that didn’t want to grow and improve HR practices through the years.   I’ve learned to gather information about strengths and weaknesses of the person I am replacing as a means to assess how to approach the assignment.


Long employee tenure is generally considered to be of great value. The logic is that employers invest time and money to train new employees.  There are technical matters, getting to know fellow employees to form a good team and then corporate values and philosophies to master.  The greater a position’s complexity, the longer it takes for an employee to learn the position and ramp up to competency. Reaching competency is the level where the employee’s real contribution can be realized. In the beginning the new employee is actually a drain on productivity.  At some point, they begin to add value by producing results at an acceptable level.  From a financial standpoint, the key is to keep employees after they reach the productive-results level long enough to return the original investment. All things considered, a company would be better off to keep these productive employees until their retirement.

Change is the new normal

The faster the world changes the more obsolete a given employee’s experience can become. In addition, nobody’s perfect.  Even your best long service employee comes to the job with weaknesses that may continue through their tenure. Read below for a discussion of the some of the hidden problems with long service employees.

Companies change their products, programs and services to remain competitive and to maintain profit margins.  Some lines are sold off and new ones are developed or acquired.  Even with one product line, the changes and advancements over a 25 year period would require significant re-tooling and process improvements.

In addition,  the external world changes around the company. Technologies change. Equipment and processes advance and improve. Consumer needs change and evolve. Accordingly, companies must adapt, retrain and develop employees skills to keep current.

Employees who grow along with the company, develop new/emerging skills  and perform well should be rewarded with opportunities, money or continued employment regardless of age, gender, race, etc. This is the main concept of an end-result oriented performance-based evaluation system. In addition, companies need to maintain good dialogue with all employees, particularly those who are falling behind.  Maybe they need more time to learn, maybe they don’t want to learn and change, or maybe they want to move into a more comfortable area of the company.

Status quo vs. let’s change everything

During this process of change and evolution, dynamics develop inside the company. As new employees join the company over time they come in and begin to make their own observations and changes.  This can cause conflicts between experienced, longer service staff who have built their ways of doing things and less experienced employees who have little loyalty to the way things have been done in the past.  Though it is not always so, long service employees can take offense and develop distrust.  Newer workers are seen to have new fangled ways to do things; they don’t know “how it is.”  It is not necessarily an age thing.  Plenty of young workers resist change and plenty of older workers adopt technology faster than young people. This dynamic is easily addressed with communication and attention.  The problem is that many companies are oblivious to the “camps,” choosing up sides and negative social issues that distract employees.

The key is to develop the kind of positive work culture that encourages communication among various employee groups, encourage everyone’s focus on company goals and make sure training and staff development keeps up with the times.

Ten Things Employees Want from Work

What do employees want most?

Employee satisfaction is something most companies say they want.  Few actually set a specific goal to measure or increase satisfaction.  The ironic thing is that the more satisfied your employee group is the better they will perform.  Good performance means goals are met, productivity is higher and employees are happier. All good things.

If you want your workplace to appeal to quality employees and perhaps be less hospitable to those with destructive tendencies, pay attention to this list. Studies over time have identified some variation of the following 10 employee satisfaction themes which appeal most to good performers.

1.  Interesting work content

This means interesting to employees, not what you think is interesting.  Companies must pay attention to job design and assemble jobs in a meaningful way. It’s obvious that  repetitive, boring tasks are less interesting though they might lead technically, to high productivity. Modern job design principles can strike a balance between employee needs and productivity. Finally, negotiating interesting projects and goals each year adds variety to the normal job duties. Recruitment plays an important role in job interest. Not everyone loves what they do. It’s certainly lucky when you fit the perfect candidate to every job. A good fit is when the skills and approach of the candidate matches the skills and approach required by the position.  The better the fit, the more likely the employee will find value and interest in the assignment.

2.  Advancement opportunities

This is pretty straightforward. Promotions needn’t be a huge leap to the next level of management.  It can be advancing to the position of trainer –  perhaps someone who orients new department staff. There are many ways to carve out additional or more complicated duties for those who show capacity. But when opportunity presents itself, those with the qualifications should be considered for supervisory posts or movement to the next management level. The better you can outline what employees have to do to advance, the happier they will be.

3.  Fair compensation

Compensation fairness in the eyes of employees is primarily external competitiveness – what employees think or know other companies are paying. During tough economic times, however, a living wage at the lower levels is also needed for employees to feel their wages are fair. Appropriate salary levels are driven by balancing four factors: the market, what the company can afford to pay, job duties and internal equity.  Finally, reasonable employees want to see that the best performers get opportunities for additional pay and that folks doing the same work get relatively similar pay.  Just fair, not perfect.

4.  Opportunities for enriched assignments

Enriched assignments involve a seat on a company-wide committee, planning a company outing or working on a project that exposes employees to people and processes in other departments. Good performers enjoy making a broader contribution and being a part of a new venture or project.  They also enjoy meeting new people and learning about things outside their own department. While employees enjoy this, it also develops them and makes them more valuable employees.

5.  Strong leadership

This is where owners and senior leadership staff often fail.  Employees appreciate when management decisions are clear, decisive and based upon a set of principles like:company goals, ethics, fairness and respect. When one employee intimidates management into giving them something they don’t deserve, coworkers will take notice. I’ve listened to employees explain that even though something didn’t go their way they can respect a decision based upon a worthy goal of program sustainability or long-term company survival. In addition, they trust that management won’t get drawn into unfair decisions that serve the unreasonable requests of one particular employee.  They see that management has courage and clear thinking that will sustain the organization over time. When leaders adhere to principles and apply them consistently the best employees will be satisfied. Selfish or egocentric employees will fail attempts to skew decisions toward their personal needs.

6.  To be heard by management

High performers want to feel that their ideas and concerns are taken seriously. They have good ideas and observations.  They’ve performed well for the company so the company should take a minute to hear them out.  It’s okay if you can’t resolve a problem for business reasons.  They’ll understand that.  Employees want to know that you understand and value what they’ve said. This includes less stellar performers as well. No matter how annoying a particular employee may be, it really pays to listen respectfully to their concerns, investigate issues and change things when warranted. Every employee, including poor performers have thoughts and perspectives that can be valuable and deserve to feel heard. Human respect has no exceptions.

When you treat someone disrespectfully, even someone other employees find annoying, employees will notice. You are running the business and they expect you to have more patience.Two common mistakes vex both managers and employees. One is that management listens, makes a decision and then the complaining employee refuses to move on.  They then bug the heck out of everyone by staying stuck on the issue. One good hearing is enough and then they should be told respectfully and firmly that the matter is closed. Management needs to prevent these folks from harassing coworkers about their ongoing issue.  The other mistake is from the opposite angle – writing difficult employees off and failing to listen to anything they have to say.  They can go on and on about irrelevant information and then, there it is, a disclosure of significant wrong-doing or a brilliant idea for saving money.  As a consultant brought in to deal with difficult employees I am often amazed at how an employee has been completely marginalized within a company.   You’d be surprised how often these employees are treated disrespectfully but yet they are still at work.  It is more cruel to leave these employees on the job while all around them see them has having no credibility, than it is to respectfully help them find another assignment.

7.  High, consistent work standards

Studies have shown that quality employees prefer to work in an organization that lays out performance and conduct standards and consistently reinforces them – through performance evaluations, coaching, supervision and structure. Employees think it’s fair when those whose work approach is successful and helpful to others get promoted and those who repeatedly demonstrate poor work approach are encouraged to move on.  Leaders afraid to apply discipline end up creating significant damage to an otherwise productive workplace – as one employee’s approach disrupts others without consequence.  Some owners have no idea how destructive this is and how much respect for them is lost when they apply performance consequences equitably.

8.  An employer with integrity/character

Studies have repeatedly shown that employees working for companies with a code of integrity and a sense of social responsibility to the community, employees and vulnerable populations are more satisfied and higher performing. Emphasizing lawfulness, ethics and fairness is very appealing to the most talented employees.  When a company puts secular/profit goals ahead of ethics you’ll fill jobs but these candidates will be individuals comfortable with that sort of atmosphere. Think: News of the World.  The most capable and high character employees will move on.

9.  An employer known and respected for high quality products/services

Employees are happiest when they work for an employer known for producing high quality products or services. There is a sense of pride in knowing their coworkers and leaders value quality and take the time to make high quality a part of the culture. Companies who produce high quality goods and services spend time ensuring everyone understands what defines quality in their business; making sure employees produce high quality results; providing feedback and measurement demonstrating when quality standards are met. We all know the companies or organizations in our local communities that are seen as taking the time and energy to produce great things. These are typically where community members want to work and where they welcome the question – Where do you work?

10.  Freedom to make decisions that will help reach company goals

This is a very successful and important strategy.  When done well, employees become more satisfied overnight. Decision-making begins at the top (owner) and trickles down.  Every position, including clerical staff have a body of problems and issues they can decide when and how to resolve. Organizations with a decentralized decision-making style promote more meaningful decisions at lower levels. Companies with centralized control have a more difficult time defining meaningful decisions for those at the lower levels.  In any event, it pays to clarify and point out what decisions each position can make and which ones you wish for them to analyze and recommend to the next level up. Employees care more about knowing what issues you want them to exercise discretion over as much or more than they want to make big decisions.  Uncertainty is one of the greatest sources of employee stress.

No one company or organization does all ten things perfectly.  Pick out which of these areas you can easily fix and prioritize the others for improvement over time.

(c) 2012 BCSPublishing all rights reserved

HR Labor Homelessness and Unemployment

I was surfing news and found someone else in HR willing to talk about the connection between Human Resource management and American social and economic policy – An interview with Karlee Weinmann published in the “Business Insider-War room, December 19th, 2011 – If You’re Sifting Through a Pile of Applications, You’ve Already Failed. 

_ _ _ _ _

“You wrote a recent post I’d like to ask you about specifically. It featured a 60 Minutes clip report on homeless families, and you called it “Tis The Season To Hire Someone.” I’m interested in hearing why you believe that.”

(Karlee’s answer) “I watch media like a hawk. I specifically watch the way that we talk about labor and we talk about workers. I think more and more, media’s catching up to reality and 60 Minutes is a good example of this. We’re starting to talk about the real impact of poverty and homelessness on our society.

One of the things that we always hear with capitalism is that labor is an expense, and we should try to minimize expenses, and we should try to maximize profitability and maximize productivity. And when business owners and shareholders make more money, there’s a value for everybody. Well that turns out not to be the case, because when we maximize productivity and we lay people off, even when the people at the top are making more money, it’s not cascading down.

Sometimes, there just is a value in employing people even if that job isn’t 100% productive or efficient. There is a value in society by employing people. It keeps people off the street, it keeps them insured, it keeps their families intact.

Even if you have a job that’s been unfilled and you can’t necessarily find someone who 100% fits the qualifications, it’s a benefit to society and eventually to you as a business owner and taxpayer to hire someone who’s a 40% fit, a 50% fit, or even a 60% fit, and just train them.”

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I love the way she thinks!

For the complete article, read more at: Business Insider

Policy Governance (R*) Renewed Interest in Sensible Implementation


John Carver’s Policy Governance © model of nonprofit board governance enjoyed some acceptance in the nonprofit community in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Many organizations embraced the model whole-heartedly and most of these nonprofits continue its use today.  The “Carver” model is a set of abstract concepts with a complexity causing others to attempt full implementation and to abandon it in frustration  A 2003 survey of 15 local nonprofits in Southern Maine found that all were using at least some of the 14 concepts of the Carver model.  Those who used the most concepts indicated the greatest satisfaction with their experience.

More recently, nonprofits are taking a second look.  Having to document standards and policies has been offered as a barrier to full implementation of the model.  Today, nonprofits understand that these tools are necessary to conduct business for many reasons, not just Board Governance – practice standards and risk management, etc.  Some organizations who went to extremes with very detailed written policies, executive limitations, and programming standards are re-grouping to see if a broader, more strategic focus might serve the organization better today.  A few are looking at the model for the first time.

Guiding themes

The guiding themes of the Carver model jive nicely with modern standards of management and accountability:

  • Accountability for public trust;
  • Clean, clear delegation of authority;
  • Strict boundary maintenance between Board and staff, with monitoring; and
  • Efficiency use of Board member time devoted to organizational oversight.

These themes echo the accountability measures addressed by Sarbanes-Oxley (Corporate and Auditing Accountability and Responsibility Act of 2002) – another reason for a second look as recent changes in the IRS 990 incorporate the specifics of this Act for nonprofits.

How the model can help you?

The greatest benefit of the model is its emphasis on community accountability.  Carver’s original writings were aimed at adapting a governance model from the for-profit world to nonprofits.  In doing so he stressed accountability to “owners” – shareholders in for-profits and the community-at-large in nonprofits.  Nonprofits must be accountable to the community first to stay true to their social mission; and second in my view, to ensure the effectiveness of services through outcome measures.  The model focuses board discussions at the strategic level and provides a tool of “nested sets” to help board members monitor the appropriate level of discourse.  It is human nature to delve into operational details.  Nothing irritates a talented CEO than listening to board members discuss the color of the paper.  A great advantage to maintaining clear boundaries between Board and staff through the CEO is that this is attractive to high-performing CEOs.  Finally, setting out clear standards for organizational success, board operation, and CEO performance are essential for all nonprofits to measure their own progress toward goals.

The  challenges?

The model is complex – with 14 separate concepts – requiring some type of Board and senior management training and orientation and an “inside champion” to guide implementation.  Another challenge is that it requires refinements in a number of different areas: policy development, board standard/goal-setting, etc.  As mentioned above, some note the requirement for written policies as a drawback while I see it as a requirement in a few key areas to maintain consistent quality and lawful practice.  It’s just good business.

The benefits?

The Carver method is a nonprofit board governance model, only.  It is not a nonprofit operational management model.  In order to be successful today nonprofits need a variety of governance tools to be sustainable:

  • A board governance model;
  • Sound programming that reflects a community need and drives the organization toward achievement of its mission;
  • A qualified, committed board and qualified and capable CEO;
  • Operational management tools and strategies to guide the CEO and staff;
  • Sound human resource mechanics;
  • The Will and the Means to hold staff accountable;
  • Business efficiencies through technology and procedural means;
  • Adequate funding and sound use of financial and physical resources;
  • Sound, regular long-range and operational planning;
  • Quality assurance mechanisms; and
  • Community support.



* ® Policy Governance: The authoritative website for the Policy Governance® model is found at www.carvergovernance.com

Report of Nonprofit Survey Results, Benoit Consulting Services, October 2003, Falmouth, Maine

Nonprofit Governance: Practical Tools for Building Boards, 2nd edition, © Benoit Consulting Services, September 2007, Falmouth, Maine (purchase the book)