What is your people strategy? A guide to Human Resource development

By Jennifer Shelton

Human Resources has been one of the more prevalent topics among businesses I’ve talked with in Whatcom County over the past eight months. Employers have had questions about hiring and managing employees, dealing with difficult employees, compensation, and providing incentives.

I would like to share some of my thoughts on human resource best practices and list the human resource programs currently available to employers in Whatcom County.

At a recent business book club meeting on the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, the main takeaway for employee management was to determine your distinct way of doing business and performing daily operations in your business, and to teach your employees that this is the way we do it here.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, emphasizes business owners need to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. The right people are those employees who can help take your business to the next level.

Some of my SBDC colleagues and I agree that If an employee isn’t motivated in your business, perhaps they should be working in a different company. Employees that are engaged are the ones you want.

So how do you engage employees successfully? Most employees like to feel they a part of something exciting. They are proud to be part of the culture of a growing company, one that is fully meeting customers’ needs or contributing to a greater cause or winning awards. Engaged employees clearly understand what is expected of them and how they can contribute to the bigger picture of the business purpose because the business owners/managers have communicated these things well.

These two short videos provide some of my favorite examples of creating culture in a business.

• Guy Kawasaki, Make Meaning in Your Company: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQs6IpJQWXc

• Tom’s Shoe Drop, Argentina 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L83A-wbgMZM

Years ago I managed 12 employees in my coffee shop. Quickly I began to notice what area of daily business each of them naturally gravitated toward, and I put them in charge of that department. This concept of ownership was reinforced during my time at Microsoft. When we left a staff meeting, we ‘owned’ the tasks that were assigned to us. Leadership was expected.

Management, operations, human resources, marketing/sales, accounting, finance, and technology are the seven main functions of every business. Despite each small business owner’s unique style, I always encourage them to have one person or an outsourced partner ‘own’ each of those areas in their business. That person will be responsible for leading, managing, and growing each function.

Taking care of your employees is another best practice. They are the face and the operation of your business. Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, insisted on offering health care to part-time employees because he grew up watching his father work in a labor career without ever having health care for himself or his family. During my time at Starbucks I experienced his transparency as a leader, and it created a lasting sense of loyalty among employees.

Here is a list of current human resource programs for business owners to take advantage of:

Health Insurance Partnership: If you have fewer than 50 employees, don’t currently offer health insurance, and if at least half of those employees are low-wage (under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, approx $21,600/yr.), you could be eligible for a new Washington state program called the Health Insurance Partnership.

For this program, businesses must pay at least 40 percent of their employees’ premiums rather than the standard 75 percent in the small group market. Sole proprietors are eligible for this program. To apply, business owners should work with a broker who has received training in the Health Insurance Partnership.

Employment Securities Shared-Work program: I have heard many employers say that this program has allowed them to retain their employees when they otherwise would have had to lay them off. Under this program, full-time hourly workers’ hours can be reduced temporarily 10 to 50 percent and receive partial unemployment benefits to replace a portion of lost wages.

New jobs tax breaks: There is a new tax credit up to $1,000 for each qualified employee a business keeps for at least a year and whose wages are not significantly reduced in the second half of the year. Also offered is a 6.2 percent payroll tax exemption on the employer’s share of Social Security tax on wages.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit: Employers can reduce their federal business taxes by up to $2,400 for each new adult hired from a category of people that traditionally need the most help finding jobs. The tax credit is $1,200 for each summer youth hired, $4,800 for each disabled veteran hired, and up to $9,000 over two years for each qualifying welfare recipient who is hired.

Customized Training Program: The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) pays the costs upfront for customized training. The business repays the cost interest-free while being able to claim a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the cost of training their employees.

WorkSource NW: They can serve as your business HR department. At no charge, they will recruit and screen applicants based on your job description. If you need information on salaries and compensation, check out their labor market information.

Improve employees’ computer skills – for free. The Washington State Employment Security Department has contracted with Microsoft to offer more than 1,000 different online courses to Work Source customers. From first-timer to computer professional, you have the opportunity to go as far as you want. For more information call (360) 671-1660.

Jennifer Shelton is the director of the Western Washington University Small Business Development Center, which offers no-fee advising to existing business owners on all aspects of business growth.

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