Marcia Passos Duffy

Monday, 26 May 2008 20:00

Right to the source

When a key position in your company needs to be filled, do you know how to work with a direct-hire recruiter to fill that position quickly and with the right person?

“Direct-hire recruiters need to know not only a laundry list of the job descriptions but also background information on the company, the department and the corporate culture, in order for the positions to not just be filled but be filled by the right employees,” says Ruth McCurdy, Vice President of Corporate Connections for Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston.

Smart Business spoke with McCurdy about techniques businesses can use to work more efficiently with direct-hire recruiters so they are better equipped to find the right person for the job.

What are some of the mistakes businesses make when working with direct-hire recruiters?

The problem is that often the only information given is the skills and experience needed for the job. Not much insight is given to the recruiter about the company. Many CEOs or business owners tend to look at a recruiter’s job as a transaction rather than a relationship. In order for the recruiter to bring the right person to a company, the business owner needs to spend time with the search consultant and talk to him or her about the company, its values, missions, culture and goals. This information goes a long way when the consultant is attempting to fill a vacancy.

It is even better if the direct-hire consultant talks to more than one person in the company for a complete picture. Introduce the consultant to the hiring manager and the supervisor of the department, as well.

How does this kind of legwork help the company?

Despite the high unemployment rate, it is still difficult to find great employees, particularly in specific fields. Often a key position can take months to fill. Many times, CEOs and business owners don’t realize the true cost of vacancy.

Once a CEO or business owner of the company realizes that vacancy of key positions results in loss of revenue for the company, it is a great ‘aha!’ moment and the employment process is suddenly not relegated to just the HR department. One book I recommend CEOs and business owners read on this topic is ‘The Workforce Scorecard,’ by Mark A. Huselid and Brian E. Becker, which focuses on the importance of managing human capital.

A key position that remains open will affect the overall profitability of the company. Key positions can be in the sales department, but it varies depending on the company. For example, in a chemical company the key positions are scientists; for manufacturing, it’s usually engineers; and for pharmaceutical companies, it would be research and development employees. Candidates to fill these positions are often difficult to find, so learning how to work effectively with direct-hire recruiters is very important.

What are some tips for effectively working with direct-hire recruiters to fill these key positions?

  • Be open about the position, the reporting relationships and why the job is open. The more the candidate knows about the position, the better.

  • Realize that details about salary and job description alone are not enough to get the right candidate in for an interview. The candidate is interested in the big picture. Let the direct-hire recruiter know about the company’s values, goals and culture.

  • Have the recruiter talk to employees who can tell positive stories about working for the company. Take these stories, or testimonials, and put them on your Web site for potential employees to read.

  • Ask the recruiter to take a look at your company’s Web site — and ask for suggestions to ‘brand’ the employment aspect of your business. Businesses spend so much time branding products and services but very little time branding their company to attract good employees.

  • Develop a partnership with your direct-hire consultant. Don’t think of executive recruiters as a ‘quick fix’ to a pressing problem you are having at the moment in filling a key position.

Remember that you need to be constantly thinking about positions that need to be filled. If your direct-hire recruiter knows your company and understands what you are looking for in a candidate, filling positions will happen much quicker and more successfully.

RUTH MCCURDY is Vice President of Corporate Connections at Talent Tree,, a staffing company based in Houston. Reach her at (713) 361-7555 or

Friday, 25 April 2008 20:00

A winning equation

Most CEOs and business owners continually strive to improve the quality of a business’s product or service in a variety of ways — from new equipment or technology to changes in management to employee incentives. But, quality does not come from superficial adjustments, says Louie Hendon, director of quality programs at Corporate College.

“There are two elements that must be in place if a business is to achieve quality in products or services: good leadership and good teamwork,” Hendon says. “And one goes hand in hand with the other.”

Smart Business spoke with Hendon about how business owners can achieve quality in their products or services by making some fundamental changes in their leadership style, making teamwork possible.

You say teamwork and leadership are prerequisites to quality. How does that work?

Teamwork is always a top-down approach. The leader needs to be part of the team and not just sitting alone issuing directives from an ivory tower. The CEO of Pillsbury, for example, always walks the shop floor and talks to the employees. He is truly a part of the team. It is important for every supervisor, even midlevel managers, to do this and not insulate themselves from what is happening in the team. This is not micro-managing but simply staying involved and encouraging people to think about teamwork and quality as part of their jobs. Having the leader be part of the team is a critical part to developing a team atmosphere.

At the same time, this kind of leader must also be willing to let go and allow leadership to emerge from a team. Leaders must be able to train their subordinates to take charge and own a project. Leaders need to ask themselves: If I left for a month, would the objectives still be met? The team members must be able to operate independently from the leader. A CEO who becomes a micromanager and does not encourage leadership abilities of individuals below him or her thwarts good teamwork.

Why is this kind of leadership important to creating a good team?

Because you want everyone talking the same language and working toward the same company goals — there should be no disconnect between upper management and staff. For example, if you wandered around your office right now and randomly picked an employee and asked him or her, ‘What is one goal for the company this fiscal year?’ would that employee know the answer? It is important that everyone does know the goals, and it is the responsibility of the leaders to make sure that everyone understands those goals and is on the same page.

Is this approach to quality possible for every company?

Most traditional companies operate under the idea of a strict hierarchy, with many levels of authority that are increasingly removed from the workers. Employees only hear the ‘quality talk’ from their CEO once a year, if ever. However, newer, smaller companies inherently use this leadership model because everyone — even the CEO — has to share the load.

It isn’t impossible for larger, more established companies to become connected with their employees and ‘walk the talk’ of teamwork. But the leadership does need to make an effort and, in most cases, it is a huge paradigm shift. This kind of leadership shift is a change businesses must undergo in order to survive in today’s global economy. Business owners are beginning to understand that quality initiatives are intricately tied to leadership attitude and many team-building exercises and leadership workshops have been created to fulfill this emerging paradigm shift.

Could you sum up the link between leadership/teamwork and quality?

This basic premise is the same no matter what type of company or industry you are in — service or manufacturing. Basically, it all boils down to good leadership, which is more than just telling people what to do. True leadership encourages teamwork by allowing employees to emerge as leaders and make decisions. When there is team-work, employees understand that they are important in the bigger scheme of the company and feel ownership. When there is a feeling of ownership, high quality of products and services emerge from that feeling.

LOUIE HENDON is the director of quality programs at Corporate College, which offers employers custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Contact Corporate College at (216) 987-2917.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Who can fill your shoes?

If you have an executive or senior management role, chances are you haven’t given much thought to what would happen if you suddenly had to step down from your position. Would relationships with clients continue on a good note? Would projects continue to run without a hitch? If you can’t answer an unequivocal “yes” to these questions, you are not alone.

According to a recent survey, nearly four out of 10 (39 percent) of advertising and marketing executives feel uncertain that someone in their company could fill their shoes if they had to leave. The national poll, developed by The Creative Group, a division of Robert Half International (RHI), included 250 responses from advertising and senior marketing executives from the top 1,000 largest firms in the United States.

“While the majority of ad and marketing executives in our poll reported having a succession plan in place, what is troublesome is that many still do not,” says Carrie Muehlemann, branch manager of The Creative Group in St. Louis. “By taking proactive steps, a manager's departure becomes a workable issue rather than an imminent crisis. You need a plan so that someone can step into a role without massive panic.”

Smart Business spoke with Muehlemann about the importance of creating a succession plan, and how to develop one.

What are the benefits of creating a succession program for not only advertising and marketing firms, but all companies?

Succession planning lays the groundwork for a smooth transition when a manager moves on, or in the event he or she leaves unexpectedly. It is not only good ‘disaster prevention’ in case of an employee’s sudden departure, but it is good for everyday occur-rences, such as vacation or sick leave. A succession plan helps employees feel secure that there is a plan in place for the business to run as usual, even if key personnel are missing either temporarily or permanently.

What are some common reasons companies don’t create succession programs?

Many managers are simply caught up in the present — dealing with daily activities, putting out office fires — and have trouble making time to plan for the future. Plus, the idea of creating such a plan can be daunting; who really wants to think about and create a plan to replace themselves? A better way to think about succession planning is to look at it not only as a plan of replacement if something happens to the manager, but as a succession plan for when employees are promoted.

What do managers stand to gain from succession planning?

For managers, having a trusted replacement to cover for them while they’re away from the office can relieve some day-to-day stress. It certainly diminishes the pressure of what to do during vacations or any leave of absence they may need to take. Managers can rest assured that things will be under control and handled, and work will not be piled up when they return. They also may feel better about accepting a new role —either within or outside the organization — if there is someone ready to fill their shoes.

In addition, a succession plan helps instill loyalty among employees who are groomed for the next step, as well as the managers who are grooming them.

What qualities should managers look for in potential succession candidates?

Strengths executives may look for in succession candidates are strong leadership skills, communication skills, strategic thinking, commitment to the company and the initiative to execute change. One thing to keep in mind is that a successor may not necessarily be the next in line for that position. It should be an employee who shows leadership abilities, is able to make good decisions, and is ready to take the next step on the career ladder. But that person — once identified — needs to be moved up to second in command in order to avoid resentment among co-workers. The successor should preferably be someone within the company (as opposed to recruiting new staff) since promoting from within breeds loyalty. Succession also flows more seamlessly from within the company since the employee already understands the corporate culture.

How can managers help candidates grow into leadership roles?

Once a successor is identified, managers need to let that person know immediately. This not only reinforces to the employee that he or she is on an upward career track, but it also offers the chance for the person to decline, if he or she so chooses. Managers may want to include protégés in strategy meetings and discussions to help them acquire planning and leadership skills, as well as a broad vision of the company and its goals. The successor should start to gain ongoing knowledge of the role for the day he or she may need to jump right in. Managers should also provide regular feedback, plus offer perks or incentives to keep these future leaders engaged and committed to their career paths and the company. A trial run, which can occur during the manager’s vacation, is a good way to assess if the successor is ready for the job.

CARRIE MUEHLEMANN is branch manager of The Creative Group in St. Louis. Reach her at or (314) 621-8367. The Creative Group (, a division of Robert Half International, is a specialized staffing service providing marketing, advertising, creative and Web professionals on a project basis.

Tuesday, 04 March 2008 19:00

Human capital

Successful companies measure everything, from the effectiveness of a marketing campaign to sales quotas to the productivity rate of a new manufacturing operation. But most companies rarely measure the people side of the equation: human capital investments.

“A business’s wealth and competitive advantages are not only based upon the hard assets it owns, such as buildings, land and inventory, but also by the knowledge employees bring to a company,” says Michael Manser, vice president of human capital solutions for Talent Tree of Houston. “Companies that understand how to measure human capital are the ones that have become the most successful companies today and will hold that success in the future.”

Smart Business spoke with Manser about the importance of measuring human capital and some simple formulas to get you started on measuring the “people power” of your own business.

First, what exactly is considered ‘human capital,’ and why has it become so important?

Human capital is the collective set of skills, dexterity, intelligence and psychological makeup and judgment of your staff.

What we have seen in the past 10 years is an increasing importance in human capital in relation to the revenue of a company. For example, when a company changes its CEO, you will see the stock either go up or down. If the CEO makes a difference in future performance, why not the vice president of sales, a CFO or a key scientist? These employees all have value and an impact on the bottom line.

It has become so important that stock analysts are now looking very closely at the movement of employees.

How can business owners measure human capital?

Employees are often not part of the financial table of the company. But there is a simple way business owners can get some basic information about the value of their human capital.

Employees can be measured in terms of productivity and efficiency. Productivity equals revenue per employee. For example, if you have 100 employees and your annual revenue is $100 million, the average productivity per employee is $1 million. Efficiency is the net income of a company divided by the employee base. For example, if your $100 million revenue business makes $10 million in net income, your 100 employees drive $1,000 net income per employee.

What can a business owner do with this information?

The interesting part is when you compare these numbers from your own business to that of your competitors. The numbers show if your employees’ performance (human capital) is positioning your company to be a leader in market share or return on investment.

Below is a real example of three publicly traded firms. Company A uses this competitive information to confirm it is achieving its desired market strategy of being the profit leader in the space. It is going to also use these benchmarks for value pricing strategies and productivity goals as it expands its presence in the coming years.

 Company A
Company B
Company C
 Rev. ($mill.)14,448
 Net inc. ($mill.)
 Net income
3.7% 1.3%
$10,885 $4,220
 Prior Year
 Rev. Growth
 ObservationsLowest productivity, but highest efficiency
 High productivity; low efficiency situationHighest margin, meaning
value proposition, middle of the pack on productivity and efficiency

 *Company A confirmed the statistics fit with their desired market strategy of being the profit leader in the space. But they are going to expand their presence in the coming years and will leverage their existing employee base to be even more productive.


Is this the human resources department’s role — rather than financial department — to analyze these statistics?

Yes, HR departments should step up, present this information and take a more strategic role in driving a company’s growth. The CFO wil not traditionally show human capital performance metrics as a formula in the financial statement. HR can drive strategy by sharing benchmark data with executive teams and utilizing these financial measures to drive performance standards, and determine staff size relative to market goals.

In today’s sophisticated and competitive landscape, we need to ensure we are strategically maximizing every capital investment. These basic human capital measures serve as a bridge between HR and finance, giving CEOs a comprehensive perspective on performance and how it impacts their strategies.

MICHAEL MANSER is the vice president of human capital solutions for Talent Tree, based in Houston. Reach him at (713) 361-7303 or by e-mail at

Sunday, 24 February 2008 19:00

Beat the downsizing blues

It seems as if every day brings more bad news about the economy. As you watch the approaching clouds of recession, you may wonder if an economic downturn would mean having to downsize your work force.

“Laying off employees is probably the worst task a CEO or business owner must face,” says Ryan Matusik, Business Consultant from the Employco Group, a human resource outsourcing company in Westmont, Ill. “It’s never easy to let employees go, but the pain can be lessened by following what I refer to as the four ‘Cs’ of downsizing: confidentiality, compliance, consistency and compassion.”

Smart Business spoke with Matusik about how these four Cs can help you prepare for the worst-case scenario.

What is the first thing you need to do to prepare your company for layoffs?

The first ‘C,’ confidentiality, is important in order to prevent rumors of an impeding layoff leading to speculation as to who will be laid off. If employees learn of an impending layoff before it is official, employees that you want to retain may leave to pursue other options. It is important to perform due diligence and assess the entire situation among appropriate parties before making an official announcement to staff. It is crucial that all parties involved in the decision-making process respect the confidentiality of the matter.

Be mindful of compliance issues — the second ‘C’ of downsizing. Meet with your lawyer, human resource professional and other trusted advisers to make sure that you are in compliance with all federal and state labor laws. It is important not to single out a particular group of workers and risk violating equal opportunity laws.

Consistency, the third ‘C,’ comes into play when deciding which employees will be terminated. Do not let emotions play a role in the decision-making process. This decision should be based on past performance and skill set of each employee. This should not be a difficult process as long as your firm has kept up-to-date performance evaluations for all employees.

How should you position the layoffs to your employees?

The fourth ‘C,’ compassion, is important when addressing staff with the unfortunate news of a layoff. The way you treat employees who have just lost their jobs reflects not only on your company but also on you as a business owner.

Losing a job is an emotional experience for workers and their families. You, as a CEO or the business owner, need to be empathetic to your workers’ situations and offer support — however limited that may be.

And what ways should be considered?

There are actually many things that even a cash-strapped company can do to lessen the pain of a layoff.

Provide a severance package. This may not be possible depending upon the financial state of the company. However, even the smallest severance package shows your appreciation for the worker’s service to the company.

Provide a useful information package. Include pertinent information about the layoff, including any monies due to the employee, such as vacation or personal time not used; benefits, such as how long the employee is eligible and where to apply for COBRA coverage; and unemployment information.

Provide help in job seeking. Be proactive in directing former employees to local job fairs, resume-writing organizations or outplacement services.

What can you do to minimize low morale among employees after the downsizing?

You need to give your workers an open and honest assessment — through verbal and written communication —about why the layoffs took place. After discussing the reasons for the layoffs, outline steps you are taking to remedy the financial situation. You also need to outline positive steps the company will take to increase revenue, such as landing new accounts or launching new products.

Explain the business plan to the staff and set a goal to reassess the new plan in six months or a year’s time. Keep open lines of communication with your current employees on a weekly or even daily basis regarding the status of the company. The key is to be honest and consistent in your message.

RYAN MATUSIK is a Business Consultant with the Employco Group (, a division of The Wilson Companies. Employco handles human resource outsourcing for 400 small and medium-sized Midwest companies. Reach him at (630) 286-7356 or

Tuesday, 29 January 2008 19:00

Under your wing

Entry-level accounting and finance professionals are rarely taken under a mentor’s wing, a new survey suggests. According to a poll developed by Accountemps, a specialized staffing service for temporary financial professionals, the majority (58 percent) of the 1,400 CFOs polled said that it is uncommon for newly hired employees to be matched with mentors, either formally or informally, within their organizations.

“Mentoring is one of the best ways for a business to get a new employee up to speed, but it is a practice that is rarely implemented in business,” says Melinda Alison, St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International, the parent company of Accountemps.

Smart Business spoke with Alison about the reasons businesses should put a mentoring program in place and the benefits it can offer a company.

What are the benefits of a mentoring program, from both from the mentor and protégé point of view?

For the newly hired, having a mentor within the company is a wonderful way for the person to feel secure, supported, and guided on what it takes to be successful in the organization. It also helps employees enhance their own skill sets, which makes them more valuable to the company. For mentors, it allows them to hone their own leadership and communication skills. It is also a huge form of flattery for top workers to be identified as strong employees who are good role models. What this means to the business, ultimately, are happy employees who are, in turn, loyal employees.

Why aren’t more companies providing mentors to entry-level staff?

The best explanation is that the benefits of mentoring programs are not yet on many businesses’ radar screens. It is not expensive to implement a mentoring program, but it does take time and planning.

What steps need to be taken to create a mentoring program?

Identify the employees’ needs. What do your newly hired employees need? Some might need a mentor on technical aspects of the job. Others might need help on communication or leadership skills. Identify the categories of employees that need mentoring. Often, it’s not only new employees who need mentoring. See if mentoring can reach other areas of your staff, such as administrative or newly promoted managers.

Identify the mentors. Don’t pair an employee with his or her supervisor — this does not make for a comfortable mentoring situation. Instead, find employees in another area of the company who have proven track records in managing or coaching employees. The mentor does not necessarily have to be in a leadership role, but, instead, should be a person who has characteristics that you want other employees to learn and emulate.

Get a mentor agreement in writing. You might want to contact your HR department for help on writing up a formal agreement. Identify a timeline for the mentor program with specific goals and objectives.

Track success. Discuss the mentoring program at monthly management meetings and share success stories with the rest of the company.

What can professionals do to find a mentor when their employers don't provide them, either formally or informally?

Some employees who are very career-focused and want to move up within the organization will sometimes seek out informal mentor opportunities on their own. Professionals may need to be proactive in their search and give potential mentors good reasons for wanting to spend time with them. Networking with industry-specific organizations can also pinpoint mentors outside a company.

No one person knows it all, and it's perfectly acceptable to work with more than one mentor at a time. Perhaps one individual might help you hone technical skills, while another provides management expertise or industry knowledge. An experienced mentor can also provide insight into areas that aren't taught in school but are essential to career success, such as office protocol and how to handle sensitive situations. Your number one priority should be to maximize what you can learn from a mentor.

Employees — both those in need of mentoring, and those that feel that they have the capacity to become mentors — should discuss the benefits of formal and informal mentoring opportunities with their supervisor or HR department.

MELINDA ALISON is the St. Louis regional vice president of Robert Half International ( Reach her at (314) 456-6574 or

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

The new skills

In the past, the human resource department was often viewed as the paper-pushing, policing and hiring/firing arm of a company. While these tasks still remain important in order for businesses to run efficiently, the character of many HR departments is changing with the times, says Kenyon Mau, training consultant with Corporate College, based in Cleveland, a training center for businesses in Northeast Ohio.

“Human resource professionals, by necessity, are becoming more customer-centered,” says Mau. “They are becoming employee advocates, trainers, recruiters, coaches and consultants to management.”

Smart Business spoke with Mau about why this change occurred and how business owners and CEOs can best utilize the HR department to recruit and retain employees.

Why is the role of HR changing?

In the past, people stayed with companies longer — sometimes for their entire careers. So, the role of HR consisted of form-filing, record-keeping and generally depersonalized tasks to keep employees records and payments orderly. Many HR departments in companies still operate this way. However, the trend is to better utilize the HR personnel to interact more with employees and their concerns and problems.

This trend has happened for three reasons. First, many companies have — out of economic necessity — ‘flattened’ themselves, creating less layers of departments, so fewer people are around to do this kind of employee-counseling work. Second, HR departments have become more efficient because of technology. Lastly, the hiring environment today is very competitive, so HR often needs to step in to help recruit and retain talent.

What kind of skill sets do HR managers need in order to effectively step into this new role?

Human resources personnel need to be some of the more versatile employees of a company. They not only have to be completely computer-savvy with systems and databases to track employee information, but they also must have many soft skills to interact with employees. The HR manager also must be willing to take a leadership role in implementing changes in a corporate culture. These people skills and leadership skills are paramount for a HR manager to be able to recruit and retain employees.

How can HR managers have an influence on lessening the impact of the talent shortage in their companies?

The first person in a company a prospective employee meets is most likely the HR manager; the attitude of the HR manager toward the candidate can make or break the candidate’s decision to work for a company.

In the past, HR and hiring managers had a ‘what can you do for us’ attitude with job candidates. In this new talent-shortage environment, businesses that are successful in recruiting are asking prospective employees: ‘What can we do for you?’

This paradigm shift is important for several reasons. First, the generation that is coming into the work force now has a very different take on work than the previous post-WWII generation; members of this generation don’t expect to stay at a job for the duration of their careers. Many of them know that there are plenty of opportunities at the moment and, therefore, tend not to be as loyal as their predecessors, and many expect companies to offer life-balance benefits, such as flex-time, telecommuting, etc.

The conversation that needs to happen between the HR manager and the prospective employee is very different than the conversation in the past. It is more of a two-way conversation and a partnership.

What is one question an HR manager could ask a potential candidate that would reflect that shift in attitude?

One question an HR manager who is screening potential candidates could ask, along with the other important interview questions, is, ‘What will get you up in the morning, other than a paycheck?’ Listen very closely to the answer. The answer is very important because it reveals motivation. That answer could range from feeling engaged, being creative, making a difference, having good co-workers, getting good training, etc.

This information could then be passed on to the hiring manager, who could then implement some kind of a goal and incentive plan if the candidate is hired.

How could the HR manager help to not only recruit but also retain employees?

The No. 1 reason people leave jobs is not financial, but because of conflicts with managers. The HR person can be instrumental in helping resolve conflicts by acting as mediator and counselor. The employee often will not go to the manager with concerns but will go to the HR department for guidance.

The troubling fact is that if an employee is not happy, he or she will leave — and will do it in a heartbeat because there are ample opportunities elsewhere. But, an employee will think twice about leaving if the business cares about the employee’s concerns and is willing to take some kind of action to help create a better work environment. That is where the HR department can step in to fill that gap and help influence retention.

KENYON MAU is a training consultant with Corporate College,, based in Cleveland, which offers employers affordable, cutting-edge and custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach Mau at (216) 987-2925 or

Sunday, 25 November 2007 19:00

Temporary services make cents

While many business owners consider using temporary service workers for primarily traditional support functions — such as receptionists, secretaries and assistants — a new breed of temporary services firms has emerged that can help businesses overcome worker shortages in a variety of specialties and higher-function roles.

“Temporary firms are now highly specialized,” says Rob Wilson, president of The Employco Group, an Illinois-based human resource firm. “This opens up a whole world of time and money savings opportunities for a business.”

Smart Business spoke with Wilson about how businesses can best use temporary employees to help improve their bottom line.

Could you give an example of the types of specialized temporary firms that are available today?

There are temporary firms that specialize in placing workers with experience in manufacturing, accounting, nursing, IT, engineering, marketing and even executive roles, such as CEOs or CFOs. The places in which these workers are placed also range widely from offices to hospitals to industrial and construction sites.

Why is there a demand for such a wide range of temporary workers?

Typical reasons why businesses need temporary workers include the short-term vacancy of a full-time employee for vacation, maternity leave or medical leave. There has also traditionally been high demand for temporary workers in industries that are cyclical, such as retail or assembly work.

But with the uncertainty of the economy, the high cost of health care for employees and the current talent shortage, the reasons for hiring temporary workers have changed. Temporary workers are now hired for long-term staffing solutions. This can save a business money because the onus is on the staffing firm for the employee’s taxes, health care, hiring and firing.

Where are you seeing the biggest growth in temporary service placements?

Businesses are demanding more accountants, IT workers and engineers, and hospitals have an increased need for nurses. We’re also seeing a high demand for companies that need workers to help them start up or shut down a division or help a business make the transition to relocate to another part of the country. In these cases, these temporary executives can stay at a business for two months or two years.

Generally, what kind of worker or executive decides to only take on temporary assignments?

We see individuals with a lot of experience who have retired after 20 or 30 years of service. These people are usually collecting retirement benefits or pensions. What they want is to supplement their retirement income — but they don’t want to commit to a part- or full-time job.

Other younger temporary workers consider themselves more like consultants than ‘temp’ workers. They do not want the constraints of a full-time job and consider themselves sole proprietors.

What, then, is the difference between hiring a temporary executive and a consultant?

Bigger companies usually have a stable of consultants that they can contact whenever it is needed. However, the small-to-mediumsized company often does not. It is very time-consuming to find the right consultant for a particular job, particularly if a company does not have a human resources department. Using a specialized temporary staffing firm gives a company the benefits of tapping into talent that is available immediately. And, if the person is not the right fit, there is no firing involved; the temporary agency can replace that person with a better fit.

What questions should a business owner ask a firm when trying to make a selection?


  1. Does the firm have a specialty or specialties? Do these specialties match up with your needs?



  2. Can the firm provide personnel who are familiar with your type of industry or the specialties you are looking for?



  3. How well can the firm source these people for you?



  4. Does the firm have multiple candidates it can send?



  5. How well-documented are these employees from an immigration standpoint?



  6. What are the costs — are they competitive with other staffing firms?


How can using a temporary service firm help a business save money?

Typically, a business will pay a staffing company within 30 to 60 days. So, instead of paying an employee each week the business has the benefit of keeping cash longer — thus improving its cash flow. The business is also not responsible for paying the temporary employee vacation, sick time, disability, health care, 401(k) or other benefits.

ROB WILSON is president of The Employco Group (, a division of The Wilson Companies. Employco handles human resource operations for 400 small and medium-sized Midwest companies. Contact Wilson at (630) 286-7345 or by e-mail at

Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

A little levity

Employees love a boss who has a good sense of humor and, according to a new survey, most bosses already have a funny bone. Ninety-seven percent of professionals polled felt it is important for managers to be able to laugh at themselves or at difficult situations; and 87 percent of workers surveyed said that their supervisors were, in fact, witty.

The survey was developed by Robert Half International — the world’s first and largest staffing service specializing in accounting, finance and information technology — and included responses from 492 full- or part-time workers 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments.

“The bosses most people enjoy working with know how to laugh and look at the lighter side of things,” says Lisa Morgan, branch manager with Robert Half International’s Akron, Ohio, office. “It’s not only the wittiness that people enjoy, but it is the fact that a sense of humor makes you more approachable and personable.”

Smart Business spoke with Morgan about how work and humor can mix and how levity can be used to build rapport with staff and ease stressful situations.

Why is it important for a manager to have a good sense of humor at work?

If you think of the times when you had to be around a dour-type personality, you already know how difficult it can be to work with someone who never cracks a smile. Approaching someone who is always serious can be difficult. Subordinates are less likely to approach this type of manager to express ideas or ask questions. It is much harder to build rapport with staff if a manager never laughs. Frankly, these people are missing out on a lot of great exchanges with their employees because they are not as approachable as the more lighthearted bosses.

What does a ‘good sense of humor’ in the workplace mean?

When you are defining a ‘sense of humor’ in a boss, it is not someone who is always clowning around, has a roster of good jokes or is always quick and witty. Not everyone has those talents, or is a natural-born comedian. But, a manager with a good sense of humor can appreciate humor in situations or laugh at others’ jokes or humor. Often, a boss can show a good sense of humor without even saying a word, but by simply laughing at a good joke. Bosses with a good sense of humor also laugh at themselves or poke fun at their own foibles.

Can humor be taken too far?

Yes, it can. Managers need to be very careful not to make one person the target of all the jokes. It is okay to make fun of situations or yourself, but not any one person in particular.

There is also a time and place for humor. While injecting a humorous comment in a tense situation is often a welcome relief, there are times when humor is inappropriate. For example: During a serious performance discussion, or in a crisis situation when quick action is needed. The bottom line is that if humor hurts someone, you have crossed the line.

Also, the primary function of the work-place is to get work done. So if someone is cracking jokes all day, he or she is probably not very productive.

Would you consider sarcasm a form a humor that’s appropriate for the workplace?

I think sarcasm is a dangerous form of humor. The problem with sarcasm is that there could be a problem differentiating what a person’s sarcastic comment means, and that uncertainty can put people off. When a person uses a lot of sarcasm, others often don’t know when that person is kidding or serious. So, I would stay away from sarcasm.

Do you have any advice for the overly serious manager?

Our survey indicated that 87 percent of employees said that their superiors had a good sense of humor. For the 13 percent of those bosses with little to no funny bone, I would suggest that they lighten up a little. This doesn’t mean they have to start cracking jokes, but maybe start small by simply smiling at a joke made by a co-worker. You can find humor in almost any situation, and a mutual joke helps a manager build rapport with someone quicker — and helps to gain respect.

LISA MORGAN is the branch manager of Robert Half International in Akron, Ohio. Robert Half International has more than 350 staffing locations in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at Reach Morgan at or (330) 253-8367.

Thursday, 26 July 2007 20:00

Qualities of business leaders

Good old-fashioned honesty continues to be a highly coveted trait for leaders in corporate America. According to 31 percent of chief financial officers polled in a recent survey, integrity is the most important quality for a business leader to possess, followed closely by experience and communication skills.

The survey, developed by Robert Half Management Resources, the world’s premier provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis, was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

“Integrity — in both managing assets and managing people — has always been important in business,” says Cecil Gregg, president of the Southwest District of Robert Half International. “But in today’s environment, it is not only important for a CFO to be honest, he or she also must able to communicate that integrity.”

Smart Business spoke with Gregg about the importance of the interrelationship of integrity and communication skills.

Why is it important to not only be honest but be able to communicate integrity?

The corporate scandals of the recent past have underscored the need for sound corporate practices and transparency in financial reporting. Financial executives must have not only the technical expertise and knowledge to do this correctly, but they also must be able to effectively communicate complex concepts to other people from many walks of life — from investors to board members and the general public — in language that everyone can understand. Communicating openly is the key to motivating and inspiring people, as well as fostering trust.

Many of the CFOs who have risen through the ranks have excellent communication skills, and frankly, those that have experience and integrity are much better positioned if they are able to communicate openly to others. For those assuming the CFO role, it has become a prerequisite that these leaders are competent interacting externally with investors, analysts and the media, as well as internally with key leaders and staff.

Employees also look to their leaders to practice what they preach. Anyone can say the right thing, but an honest leader’s actions back it up.

How can the lack of communication hurt a CFO’s perceived integrity?

Without frequent communication, honest actions can sometimes be perceived as dishonest — either by employees or by outsiders looking in. Actions may be misrep-resented or misunderstood if they are not openly discussed.

For example, take the scenario of a corporate buyout when decisions need to be made about the acquired company’s leadership. Evaluations about the acquired company’s employees are usually made behind the scenes — and naturally, should never be discussed or publicized. But there are two sides to every story, and those that are shut out of the buyout most likely will not have positive things to say. Before that happens, however, good leaders with integrity will come forth and explain why key leadership moves were made or not made. It takes a leader with strong integrity, experience and communication skills to walk that fine line of explaining reasons without damaging anyone’s reputation and sharing the wisdom of the decision made to key stakeholders.

The key is to keep communication open and decision-making transparent, because in the long run, the more insiders and outsiders know about how a company operates, the more comfortable people feel about the integrity of its leaders.

It sounds like the role of the CFO has become more complex over the years.

The CFO’s job has definitely become more demanding, particularly with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and more complex financial reporting requirements. CFOs also have more paperwork and administrative duties than in the past. At the same time, the demand to communicate this information is intense. CFOs need to understand more deeply and feel comfortable that their company is operating in full and transparent disclosure.

What are companies doing to effectively groom accounting professionals to assume today’s CFO roles?

Offering a mentoring program is certainly an effective way to do this. Many firms have implemented or enhanced their ethics training for employees. Those fresh from colleges and business schools are more aware of ethics because of the corporate scandals. Some companies are also assisting professionals with tuition reimbursement for CPA or MBA degrees, as well as attaining professional certifications.

CECIL GREGG is president of the Southwest District of Robert Half International, and is based in Houston. Reach him at (281) 296-2812 or by e-mail at A division of Robert Half International, Robert Half Management Resources has more than 140 offices throughout North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at