Monday, 31 December 2012 20:11

Making the business case for diversity

True diversity is not found in numbers. It is found in people with varying backgrounds using their experience to everyone’s benefit, says Lizabeth Ardisana, CEO, ASG Renaissance.

“What we’re trying to achieve is not actually diversity, although that’s the buzzword for all of this, it’s really inclusion,” Ardisana says. “It is one thing to say you have employees who are minorities, old, young, African-American, Latino or Asian, but you have to value those differences and use them to your advantage, not just tolerate them. That’s what it takes to be successful with diversity.”

She says inclusion adds value to companies by providing diversity of thought, access to understanding other markets and a more interesting workplace.

“If no one told me I should do this, I would still seek out people who are different than I am because it would add significant value to me and my company. Until we get to that level of understanding and position, we have not truly experienced the value of diversity,” Ardisana says.

Smart Business spoke with Ardisana about diversity and its value in the workplace.

You hear a lot of talk about diversity, but do companies follow through by taking action?

Counting the number of people you have who come from different backgrounds or putting a diversity section on your website isn’t enough. It doesn’t give you the value. You have to follow the talk with action. You have to move past diversity to a level of value in order to truly have inclusion.

Does that mean you need diversity in promotions as well?

Absolutely. You can’t just talk about it; you have to do it from the bottom up. If you’re going to embrace diversity of thought and diversity of ideas, you must also embrace it at the senior management level. Otherwise, you are not valuing it. If you’ve never promoted someone of a different background, you would be sending the wrong message to the rest of your company.

How do diversity and inclusion benefit companies?

First, you have to accept that an innovative and creative business is going to be a more profitable business and that new ideas, new capabilities and new markets all add profitability. Diversity of thinking comes from a diversity of backgrounds and cultures and that creates more new ideas and more innovation.

Additionally, if you have a reputation for being an interesting and creative place to work, it attracts better overall talent. We’re all in a race to get the best talent and you have to make yourself attractive. Look at the companies that post one job and get hundreds of applications. These companies have a reputation for innovation, for being fun and interesting. If you look at really successful companies today, they have a significant amount of diversity, or inclusion, in what they do.

Are workplaces becoming more inclusive?

It is improving. One thing that’s dramatically improved is companies are valuing age and experience, combining older employees with employees who are young and aggressive. This creates unique opportunities when they are blended together.

Diversity has to be looked at as broadly as possible and some of it is simply awareness. When I started my company, I looked around and thought about how all the people in this department look alike and all the people in this other department look alike but they don’t look like each other. We hire people we’re most comfortable with and don’t think about it. We weren’t getting the benefits of diversity and inclusion so we consciously started to think about it and took actions to practice it, and it has made a huge difference in our success as a company.

Lizabeth Ardisana is CEO at ASG Renaissance. Reach her at (313) 565-4700 or lardisana@asgren.com.

To view more about ASG Renaissance’s Diversity Services, visit http://asgren.com/diversityServices/diversityServices.asp.

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Published in Detroit

Healthy employees are happier and more productive employees, says Lisa Speaks, director of Human Resources at ASG Renaissance. A wellness program instituted three years ago has helped ASG Renaissance control health care costs, but the biggest benefits have been in increased productivity and employee retention.

“We hope we can see a decrease in insurance rates if our employees are healthier. But the other two pieces are more critical in terms of having an immediate impact on our bottom line,” Speaks says.

A 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Health showed wellness programs reduced health care costs by 20 percent to 55 percent, cut short-time sick leave by 6 percent to 32 percent and increased productivity by 2 percent to 52 percent.

“Employees spend a good portion of their waking hours at work, so the work environment can have a powerful influence on behavior,” Speaks says.

Smart Business spoke with Speaks about employee wellness programs and their benefits.

What are examples of employee wellness programs?

A wellness plan can be anything from a small health seminar held on-site for your employees to a yearlong initiative focusing on different health topics each month. For example, you might want to offer blood pressure screenings at the work site in February in recognition of Heart Health Month. The most important point is to make it convenient for your employees, so they can get the information and health screening they need without missing a lot of time away from work.

Another way to positively affect employee health is to schedule a day for a masseuse to visit the workplace. Stress can have a huge effect on your health, and relieving that stress may help your employees avoid catching a cold or flu that’s circulating in your area.

One popular program in our office has been healthy cooking classes, where we’ve brought in an outside professional to educate our employees about healthy eating and talk to them about what they eat and how it affects their body.

Once you have taken your first step in offering a wellness program, it’s important to continue to develop the program each year by adding new components. You always have to be looking for a new approach.

How do your determine what to offer?

Start by conducting an analysis of where your employees might have issues related to illness and disease. For example, asthma, weight management and diabetes are common areas of concern. There are many resources available through advocacy organizations focused on these health issues that can help you provide information to your employees explaining the risks and what they can do to alleviate the situation.

You also can work with a benefit broker, which works with firms that create wellness programs. For some programs, you might work directly with a wellness company.

ASG Renaissance has been recognized as one of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies and is invited to symposiums where managers hear what other companies are doing. Likewise, you can collect information from other firms that are interested in engaging employees and keeping them happy.

Are employees offered a participation incentive?

There are several insurance programs centered on wellness that offer incentives for participation. We offer the Healthy Blue Living Program. As part of enrollment in Healthy Blue Living, employees are encouraged to visit their primary care physician in the first 90 days of the plan year for a thorough health evaluation. Following the evaluation, their physician will develop a plan to help them improve their health. Because of their participation, employees are eligible for lower copays than if they do not participate. This doesn’t mean that employees have to meet their goals to be eligible for the plan incentive, they just need to take steps to improve their health.

How does encouraging employees to stay home when they are sick reduce absenteeism?

For a number of reasons, it’s better to stay home when you are sick than come into work and risk getting everyone else sick, too. You’re not as productive when you’re sick, and co-workers are not as productive because they are concerned that they might get sick, too. If loss of work time is an issue for your employees, telecommuting — the ability to work from home — may be a benefit to add to your wellness program.

How do you measure results?

Key measurements are absenteeism and work force productivity, which could be measured in performance reviews, retention rates and the overall wellness of employee population as measured by your insurance carriers.

ASG Renaissance has not seen direct savings yet in terms of health care costs. However, the rates haven’t increased as much as they were previously, and employees are getting better benefits out of their health care insurance for the same cost. The goal is to encourage prevention to avoid bigger issues down the line.

What steps should a company take to develop a program?

The key is to get feedback from your employees. There is no benefit gained by spending thousands of dollars on a workout facility that no one will use. The other thing is to take small steps. If you jump in and implement a full-blown wellness program from day one, it can be intimidating to employees. Develop a three-year plan and introduce one new initiative per quarter in year one, every other month in two year and then by year three have a different wellness initiative once a month. Have a strategy behind what you’re trying to accomplish.

Lisa Speaks is director of Human Resources at ASG Renaissance. Reach her at (248) 477-5046 or lspeaks@asgren.com.

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Published in Detroit

Years ago, conversations about keeping employees safe meant providing them with technical advice about the use of hard hats, goggles and other safety equipment, or training in safe lifting techniques, parking lot safety and sexual harassment policies.

“Today, physical safety ranks at the top the list of required training in most companies as our workplaces become ever more dangerous,” says Laurie Bradley, president of ASG Renaissance and Blue Force Services.

Recent active shooter events in Colorado, Wisconsin and Alabama, for example, bring attention to the complexities of physical safety.

“This leads us to the question of whether or not we are doing all that is possible to mitigate unwanted physical intrusion into our workspace,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Bradley about how a company can protect itself against physical threats.

How does a company establish a physical safety program?

Safety programs are not one size fits all. They need to be tailored to reflect the presumed risks of a business in a given industry. For example, banks and financial institutions need a different safety program than a car rental business. However, generically, the process is typically initiated by performing a risk assessment. This entails mapping the physical facility and identifying the areas and entry points that may need different rules of access.

As you map your facility, determine and highlight the exit and escape routes, and define areas that would be sensitive to catastrophes such as fires, floods, earthquakes, bombings and utility failure. Review your procedure for the identification of authorized personnel and critique the systems used to do so, such as key card readers, biometric devices and cameras, to determine the possible vulnerabilities.

Consider the environment around your business, local crime rates, the interior and exterior of your building, and the perimeter of your space where public access is permitted. Develop a checklist as you examine poorly lit areas, trash areas that may present arson opportunities, the condition of walls and fences, and what tools or supplies that, left unattended, could be used to access the facility.

Who should be involved in the assessment?

Internal personnel, such as your security staff, may be utilized to determine and detail a current state report. Third-party security experts are often used to identify weakness or vulnerability to your operation and may be engaged to attempt to breach the security to illuminate risk areas.

Generally, annual third-party audits with corresponding training programs help ensure physical safety programs reflect the risks brought on because of current business and political environments. Security consultants can also make certain you are aware of the latest technology developments that may enhance physical security.

Companies wanting to launch and monitor a more robust program can access information through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Additionally, the Private Sector Preparedness Council has select program standards leading to certification. The process provides a framework for businesses to assess whether they comply with voluntary preparedness standards. Many of the program’s components align with the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act, which mitigates legal and liability concerns for users of anti-terrorist technologies and products.

Can we ever really be safe?

No system or security program can guarantee absolute safety. Consider that HVAC systems are not normally equipped with detection devices and can be easily accessed — a fast way to hinder a worksite would be through the air ventilation system. Preparedness is the best defense and mitigation tactic. Focus on removing the temptation to commit a crime and monitor, enforce, educate and train your staff in the procedures necessary to reduce the possibility of a physical threat.

What if a business doesn’t have a robust physical safety program already in place?

Begin the discussion on safety during general staff meetings to help raise awareness within your employee population. Walk your employees through situations and the best responses to them, such as what to do when gunshots are fired, who should call 911, what the alternate routes out of the office are, etc.

Establish a crisis management team to involve key business leaders in evaluating risk, designing and conducting on-site training, coordinating public communications, assuming command roles in an emergency and providing assistance post incident. Security programs need to be holistic and embedded in all operations of a company, not assigned to a security department.

Safety and security should begin in an employee onboarding process and carry through the lifecycle of employment as part of the corporate identity. When safety and security are closely aligned with your corporate identity, it removes some of the anxiety that can be associated with safety training. Your goal is to have informed, alert and confident employees who willingly participate in the program.

What liability might a company face for not having procedures to deal with a physical threat?

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, property managers, security firms and security and safety device manufacturers all faced lawsuits. However, there are no defining standards to evaluate disaster recovery and business continuity programs.

In a litigious environment, we create an economic disincentive to expand safety- and security-focused services. The SAFETY Act was passed to give some protection and guidelines to mitigate these concerns for providers of products or services that are used to detect, identify and defend against terrorism. Companies developing security programs should consider adopting products that follow these voluntary guidelines, demonstrating ‘best efforts’ to implement a safety program that represents ‘best in class’ as defined by the act.

Laurie Bradley is president of ASG Renaissance and Blue Force Services. Reach her at (248) 477-5321 or lbradley@asgren.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by ASG Renaissance

Published in Detroit

A projected 175,000 service members will be exiting the military in the next year. When they return to civilian life, these young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will face an unemployment rate of 23 percent, contributing greatly to the Department of Defense’s annual unemployment compensation payments of more than $900 million. However, at the same time, there are 1.7 million high-wage, high-demand jobs open in the U.S. today that match the skills of service members, representing more than $136 billion in gross wages.

“Many service members do not fully grasp the value of their training and experience in the work force and end up underemployed or unemployed as they struggle to find work,” says Laurie Bradley, president of ASG Renaissance.

Smart Business spoke with Bradley about how hiring veterans can benefit your business.

Why are veterans seemingly being overlooked in the marketplace?

Part of the reason is because it’s very difficult to translate military experience into a civilian resume. For example, an infantryman with 20 years of experience in the Army might state on his resume that he ‘operated weapons and tanks and dug ditches.’ He needs to convey these skills in terminology recognized in the civilian world of work, such as ‘supervised, trained and evaluated 35 personnel, and supported more than 2,500 troops in four countries. Core competencies include personnel management, logistics and operations.’ This will help the reviewer match these skills to possible employment opportunities that may include logistics or personnel management.

Once you overcome the language barrier, you can recognize some of the softer skills people have learned in the military, for example, being entrepreneurial, which is crucial today. Service members understand how to be part of a team and have respect for a team, which can translate to any job. They also have cross-cultural work experience and have worked in very diverse environments, traits that many employers seek. The stereotype of service members just following orders and not thinking is outdated. It’s a new military today that operates in ever-changing environments.

What are some industries that would benefit from veterans and their skills?

The skills of service members translate well into any industry. You want people who are not only able to learn a product or a service but also who have good communication skills and are adept at skills transfer. Our military really demands that people think on their feet and react very quickly, making the right choices in a very short timeframe. In the fast-paced business environment we all compete in today, that is a great attribute to have.

What are the benefits of hiring veterans from a marketing perspective?

The message of being a veteran-friendly environment is significant. Having a veteran-friendly message in your hiring materials helps improve a company’s image, because you don’t have to look far to find someone who is or who knows a soldier. It really supports a message of inclusion and speaks to the fact that a company has been thoughtful in its hiring process as it looks to source talent across a broad spectrum of potential candidates.

From a tax perspective, new rules provide for an expanded tax credit for employers that hire eligible unemployed veterans. The credit can be as high as $9,600 per veteran for for-profit employers or up to $6,240 per veteran for tax-exempt organizations.

To qualify, the employer must file a request with the local state agency for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.  This applies for veterans hired on or after May 22, 2012, and before Jan. 1, 2013.

How can companies better integrate veterans into their businesses?

Start with a great outreach program. Be clear in your hiring message and have the ability to translate military resumes to determine if you have a fit. Companies should consider installing a customized onboarding program that includes a partner or coach to help the new hire navigate the civilian employment world.

The program should be sensitive to the varying needs of veterans, including those who have only been out of the service for a few months, or ones who have been back in the market for a year or more. In general, it’s important to make sure your onboarding process includes cultural acclimatization to the civilian work force. Civilian corporate culture is not as black and white as the military and language and communication styles differ. Former military personnel can be formal and direct, whereas civilian communication styles can be much more nuanced. The U.S. military has a top-down system for making decisions, while many civilian companies have a more bureaucratic process.

Where can companies find veterans?

There are job boards and employment services that cater to military personnel in transition, such as Hire A Hero, careeronestop.org, or contact your State’s Director for Veterans’ Employment and Training (DVET).

Are there reasons a company might not hire a veteran?

Concerns range from post-traumatic stress syndrome to skills transfer and the gap between military and civilian work styles. Some employers are uncertain how to provide work site accommodations for those with physical injuries, but there are a host of resources to navigate these concerns.

Just as with civilians, you have to evaluate each person on a case-by-case basis. Employers need to spend the time in the hiring process to determine if there is a fit.

If you know that there is a pool of talent that has the skills to do the job, why wouldn’t you consider putting that to work? Those who served our country are ready to transition those skills and dedication to service into the civilian world of work. Ultimately this translates into a win for both the employer and the veteran.

Laurie Bradley is president of ASG Renaissance. Reach her at (248) 477-5321 or lbradley@asgren.com.

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Published in Detroit

The ability to attract, hire and retain talent remains a top concern for chief executive officers worldwide. While we experienced significant layoffs and cutbacks during the recession, talent and skill shortages are still very apparent. Companies need to be creative and expeditious in their search for talent. This has increased the prevalence of flexible labor and contingent workers.

Contingent labor is a growing expense on global operating statements. The ability to expertly manage, control and extract maximum value from this expense can be critical to a company’s competitive positioning. Vendor management technology continues to be an effective way to better manage contingent labor. VMS, paired with an outsourcing partner or managed service provider (MSP), enables companies to obtain visibility into this complex spend category, creating a framework to more easily develop, implement and manage a competitive sourcing program. This puts the current supply chain under scrutiny and expands the supply chain to attract and retain best in class suppliers.

“Many companies simply use the same suppliers without ever looking at whether they could do better,” says Laurie Bradley, president of ASG Renaissance. “VMS allows you better data visibility and a standardized service platform to enable controls, checks and balances. Once the data is aggregated and easily accessible customized reports can be generated to better manage budgets and project expenditures through growth periods.”

Smart Business spoke with Bradley about how VMS can help standardize your contingent hiring and potentially lower your costs.

What companies are ideal candidates for VMS?

VMS is software as a service and does not require a huge capital outlay, so it is affordable to even smaller users of contingent labor. It requires time and training to install and deploy, so companies with expenditures in excess of $15 million should consider it. It is ideal for those with multiple locations and can be effective across multiple currencies. It aggregates all spend points and enables users to examine usage, cost, performance and labor trends.

Most companies that undertake this process are surprised at how much they are spending on contingent labor because there is typically not one line item identifying contingency spending. Generally, every office and plant is doing things differently. In times of recession and rapid growth, contingent users can become very creative in how they get the talent they need in spite of a hiring freeze.

How can a company get started on the process?

First, do your homework. Consider skill classifications and the types of contingent expenditures to include. This may cover temporary workers, contract workers, independent contractors and outsourced services. Due diligence should include discussions with human resources, facility managers and executives.

Once you understand what you’re spending, you’ll likely see there are pockets everywhere. Then the question becomes, how efficient is the current state? Are you getting the best value for dollars spent and can you quantify your return on investment to include the quality of your current service providers? Is there consistency and fairness in the pricing model?

Identify your suppliers. Are there benefits to leveraging business with a smaller supply chain? If you have 100 suppliers and can reduce to 50, giving each the opportunity for more business, could you negotiate better pricing? Until you know what you’re spending, it’s hard to have those conversations.

How do you begin to get your arms around it?

Start with line items where it’s clear there are contingent dollars in temporary help. You might have 300 engineers at six facilities, and you’re paying some $36 an hour and others $48 because the company has never put a full service request out for competitive bids. When you put it together, all of those little pockets add up to very significant spending.

Where do you start to standardize spending?

Many times, an MSP is selected by the company to operate and manage the VMS application on behalf of the company. The MSP institutes rate cards for job classifications and selects a supply base. Sometimes agencies that have supplied a company for years don’t make that cut. Most MSPs encourage the customer to onboard all suppliers. Then you can systematically see where you can save money.

It can be a challenge when you start rationalizing the supply base. When tenured suppliers for price or quality reasons no longer fit the contingency staffing model, they may be eliminated. This requires a well-planned communication strategy so hiring managers understand the benefits of the new process. In addition to a learning curve on technology, they now have to deal with changes in their supplier pool.

How can companies present VMS to current suppliers?

Two biggest benefits to the supply chain: access to more orders and faster payment terms. Suppliers compete on a level playing field with access to more orders, and standardized quality and performance metrics help drive out nonperforming participants.

Who should be involved in the process?

It typically starts at the purchasing level with involvement from human resources. IT also plays a critical role as system integration is a key component of success.

How can VMS benefit businesses?

The technology of VMS, with a vendor-neutral MSP, helps companies better manage contingency labor expenditures on a standardized platform. It helps suppliers gain greater access to client requirements and provides an easy way to transmit, record and manage the lifecycle of talent. Vendor neutrality reassures suppliers they are not in competition with the MSP for staffing, breeding trust and fostering a collaborative work environment. This ensures talent requests are broadcast across a diverse supply base and ensures suppliers meet client-specific quality, performance and price guidelines.

Laurie Bradley is president of ASG Renaissance. Reach her at (248) 477-5321 or lbradley@asgren.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by ASG Renaissance

Published in Detroit

Becoming an employer of choice can help a company attract and retain the brightest employees, best its competitors and build a reputation as an excellent employer.

But it takes more than just saying it. Instead, employers have to prove every day that they value their employees, says Brendan Prebo, executive director at ASG Renaissance.

“An employer of choice is a company that has practices in place that promote a healthy, forward-looking and encouraging environment for its employees,” says Prebo. “Employees are looking for employers that allow them to think outside the box, that present a clear vision of where they want to take the company and provide employees with proper training for the job to hire and retain the best people. As a result, workers choose that employer when presented with other choices of employment, self-employment or retirement.”

Smart Business spoke with Prebo about how to become an employer of choice.

How can a company begin to develop its brand to become an employer of choice?

First, it’s important to realize that becoming an employer of choice is a strategy, not a tactic, and it needs to be a strategic imperative. The traditional view of HR is that it is a support function. But really good, really progressive companies — the ones that highly skilled, talented workers want to work for — have taken a new view of HR. At these companies, the head of HR sits at the table and is part of developing the strategic direction for the company.

Becoming recognized as an employer of choice requires a companywide effort, and companies must start internally. This means recognizing that their employees are their most valuable resources. Therefore, employers should take a close look at what is not working within their company before beginning to do any external marketing. At the same time, employers can’t be all things to all people, so it’s important to focus on the things that are important to your top performers.

It’s also important to communicate to employees the company’s goal of becoming recognized as an employer of choice so they understand the importance of this designation to the overall success of the company, and they can support the company in its efforts.

Employers also need to be consistent in their message and how they present it. Potential employees will be looking at an employer’s website, and its Facebook and LinkedIn pages. They perform online searches, so if you have a statement on your website that says you value diversity, you need to make sure that is represented in your brand.

What kinds of things help an employer attract and retain the best employees?

Employees are looking for exciting and challenging work; career growth, learning and development; great people to work with; a good relationship with their supervisors and peers; and a company that values its employees. Compensation is an important factor, as well, but money as a motivator only creates short-term results. You may be able to attract a great employee by offering that person a large salary, or keep an employee who might otherwise leave by offering that person a raise. But money is a short-term solution.

For lasting results, you need to look elsewhere. That means providing employees with meaningful work, encouraging them to take risks and think outside the box, having a clear vision of where the company is headed, providing employees with proper training for their jobs and setting and clearly communicating performance expectations that align with the company’s goals. It also means encouraging employees to continue to learn and develop their job skills, providing good leadership at every level and taking the personal needs of employees into account by offering flexible work schedules.

What are the benefits of doing these things to become an employer of choice?

Companies that are recognized as being employers of choice have an advantage in attracting and retaining the best talent. They have a more productive, motivated and committed work force, which directly benefits their customers and their brand, enhancing their competitive position and helping to build a sustainable business.

Highly skilled talent is very much in demand, and jobs in areas such as engineering, software development and project management are tough to fill. Employers need to become an employer of choice to attract that highly skilled talent, not just someone to fill a seat.

What would you say to employers who say they don’t need to worry about this, and their employees should just be happy to have a job?

The days of command and control are over. If you have an aging work force, you may still be able to function that way, but younger workers are not going to stay with that kind of employer. Also, employers can’t afford to have unhappy employees anymore. In today’s world of social media, word travels fast, and potential employees are more knowledgeable than ever about which companies are the best ones to work for.

In addition to the loss of benefits the companies can realize by becoming an employer of choice, companies can also harm themselves by letting dysfunctional work environments go unchecked. Uncooperative, unmotivated and unresponsive employees harm companies in two ways. First is the poor performance that results, but more important is the fact that they affect everyone around them, causing your best employees to leave for better-run and better-managed companies.

By becoming an employer of choice, you will create an environment where your best employees will thrive and that will attract the best and brightest in the market.

Brendan Prebo is executive director at ASG Renaissance. Reach him at (313) 565-4700 or bprebo@asgren.com.

Published in Detroit