Companies lose $350 billion a year — and for reasons that can’t be blamed on the economy. These companies are losing money because of employee disengagement.

Employee engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization, which profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work. Thus, engagement is distinctively different from satisfaction, motivation, culture, climate and opinion. An engaged employee will act in a way that furthers his or her organization’s interests.

“How many of the employees in your company are really engaged? If you believe that about half are, you may actually be surprised,” says M.J. Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group. “According to a recent Gallup study on employee engagement, about 54 percent of employees in the United States are not engaged and 17 percent are disengaged. Only 29 percent are engaged.”

Smart Business spoke with Helms about what your company can do to have a satisfied, productive and enthusiastic staff.

Why is employee engagement so important?

When employees becomes disengaged, your turnover rate increases, which impacts productivity and the bottom line. You need to discuss strategies and tactics that build a corporate culture where employees want to be part of the team. Start with an employee survey; feedback from all aspects of the employee lifecycle can be used as the foundation for change and ongoing success.

What should be asked in an employee survey?

Some suggested questions to ask in your employee survey are:

  • Do you know what is expected of you?
  • Do you have the materials, equipment and information you need to do your job right?
  • Have you recently received recognition for doing a good job?
  • Does your employer seem to care about you as a person?
  • Does your manager encourage your development at work?
  • Do you feel your opinions or ideas seem to count at work?
  • Do you feel that your co-workers have the same dedication to their jobs as you?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • When was the last time your manager talked to you about your progress?
  • Have you had any opportunities at work to learn and grow in the past year?

Why does appreciation change everything?

Recent research has shown that appreciation is the driver behind great work. There is no greater tool for teaching, reinforcing and aligning company goals and values than employee recognition. Appreciation will help your company by ensuring that employees are receiving the appropriate training to support their ongoing development. It also links employee skills with opportunities for growth in the company, helps employees understand how their work contributes to the company’s bottom line, and gives employees ongoing feedback on their performance.

What is the ‘C series’ when it comes to employee engagement?

The ‘C series’ is 10 guidelines that should be incorporated into an employee engagement plan. They are:

  • Career: Companies should provide challenging and meaningful work with opportunities for career advancement.
  • Clarity: Managers need to communicate a clear vision. Success in life and business is, to a great extent, determined by how clear individuals are about their goals and what they really want to achieve.
  • Communicate: Strong leaders clarify their expectations about employees and provide feedback on their job performance.
  • Congratulate: Exceptional managers give recognition, which is sure to keep employees motivated.
  • Contribute: People want to know that their input matters and that they contribute to the company’s success in a meaningful way.
  • Control: Employees value control over the flow and pace of their jobs and managers can create opportunities for employees to exercise this control.
  • Collaborate: When employees have the trust and cooperation of their team members, they outperform both individuals and teams that lack good relationships.
  • Credibility: Upper management should strive to maintain a company’s reputation and demonstrate high ethical standards.
  • Confidence: Good leaders help create confidence in a company by being examples of high ethical and performance standards.
  • Connect: Your company must show that it values employees.

What else can an employer do to increase employee engagement?

No matter what the economy is like, employee engagement is imperative for businesses to survive and thrive. Here are five other ways to increase employee engagement:

  • Reduce excessive workplace stress. If employees are stressed-out, which seems to increasingly be the case in today’s work force, they cannot be engaged.
  • Address the situation by talking about it. Let employees know that you are aware there is stress in the workplace.
  • Extend a helping hand. Let your employees know that you will work with them so they can keep a healthy balance between work and home lives.
  • Think about innovative ways to reduce stressful situations. You may consider providing alternative and flexible scheduling.
  • Think about hiring additional staff. Oftentimes, hiring an additional temporary employee seems like an expensive solution to employers. However, employers can end up spending a lot of time and money should an employee begin to have additional stress and become chronically absent or require medical leave. These situations can cause high turnover rates, so it is usually better to consider hiring temporary personnel.

M.J. Helms is the director of operations with The Ashton Group. Reach her at (706) 636-3343 or

Published in Atlanta

Every business is looking for that extra edge — that one little thing that will pull an organization past its competitors and to the head of its industry.

Perhaps you’ve considered trying new and advanced technologies. Maybe you’re thinking about implementing some efficient processes. But have you thought about going back to school?

“Partnering with your local colleges and universities brings a company great service, offered free, with no strings attached,” says Melissa Hulsey, the president and CEO of Ashton. “That should get the attention of any business in this economic climate and it is a great way to describe the career services offered by many colleges and universities in Georgia and around the country.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about partnering with local colleges and universities and the value that comes from such partnerships.

How can partnering with local schools be mutually beneficial?

Employers can post their job openings to the colleges’ and universities’ websites at no cost, where both students and alumni can access them at any time. Not only that, companies can schedule on-campus recruiting visits, have access to statewide resume books and participate in career fairs. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits that employers can see from a partnership.

The students and alumni also benefit by having access to companies they may not have been able to connect with before. Thus, students can obtain valuable experience related to their majors and possibly identify and reach out to their future employers. The schools also benefit because they’re the ones providing these resources. A partnership with a college or university is truly a win, win, win situation.

How can a business work with a school to develop internship programs and mentoring?

The first step in developing an internship or co-op program is to contact the career services department of the desired college or university. Generally, an internship is defined as a job relating to the major of the participating student, that is one semester long and may be paid or unpaid. A co-op is also a job relating to the major of the participating student, but it is generally two semesters long and must be paid. A career services representative can assist in deciding what program will work best for your business. They can also assist in defining job requirements, establishing a rate of pay, if applicable, and reviewing the program for areas of improvement.

On-campus interviews and automated applicant tracking make this an easy program to implement into a company’s new hire process.

Another great benefit businesses can see is the supervisory experience that internships or co-ops can offer to full-time staff. Junior staff members can manage the internship/co-op process, giving them valuable training, again at no cost to the company.

In what ways do schools help businesses connect with the community?

Participating in career fairs is one way to connect with the community. Potential employers are invited to come on campus and present their opportunities to students and alumni. Many times the names of companies in attendance are published in local media, serving as a great free advertising source. Networking with other participating businesses can lead to new business relationships. Students are known for bringing fresh ideas and being technologically savvy, so tapping into this resource can only help a business in its community relations effort.

How can a business find a school that’s a good fit, and then begin a relationship?

Begin by reviewing what type of position in your organization would benefit from using students or recent graduates. What students bring in terms of motivation and lower cost must many times be balanced by a lack of on-the-job experience. Will your job be project-based or do you seek someone that could move into a full-time position at your company? Once a job has been identified, list the colleges or universities that produce these majors and begin contacting them to discuss your opportunities. Do not underestimate the technical college system in the State of Georgia when contacting schools. Technical colleges are very specialized in their training and offer areas of study that make students quickly available for the work force. Technical colleges also offer services like quick start and other customized training programs for businesses.

What would you tell a business leader who doesn’t see the value in working with local schools?

I would tell them that their competition probably sees the value in this resource, and may already be utilizing it. A qualified, diverse talent pool is available and waiting to be tapped into. Businesses have the opportunity to mold the next generation of leaders, they just need to take advantage. You never know, you could just find a diamond in the rough for your company.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or

Published in Atlanta

Deciding whether to promote an employee from within or hire from outside the company can be a difficult decision, with many factors to be weighed. Promoting from within allows you a significant reduction in recruitment, hiring and training expenses but does not allow you a fresh perspective or new ideas. Hiring from outside the company gives you a renewed perspective and potentially different skill sets but can result in an adjustment period for the new hire and current employees.

“You must make an honest evaluation of your company’s needs and consider if those needs can be met with current talent,” says Michelle Elson, corporate director of operations with Ashton Staffing. “Consideration of company structure and politics must also be made, as well as if internal changes would harm or inspire company morale.”

Smart Business spoke with Elson about the pros and cons of promoting from within and hiring from outside and how to make the best decision regarding hiring.

What are the pros and cons of hiring from within?

Pros include:

  • The current employee’s familiarity with the company and a reduced adjustment period should allow for a faster transition.
  • Significant reduction in recruitment and training expenses, which is a benefit for any company.
  • An increase in motivation and loyalty from internal employees, which boosts company morale.

Cons include:

  • A fresh perspective is sometimes lost if an employee has preconceived ideas or thoughts on the position.
  • A reduction in morale may occur if other employees feel slighted by a colleague’s promotion or lateral move.
  • Internal hiring reduces the size of the prospective talent pool, limiting your access to the broad experience base available.

What are the pros and cons of recruiting from outside your company?

Pros include:

  • Access to a larger talent pool, with knowledge and skills that are not currently available in the company.
  • New hires bring in a fresh perspective and do not have company-specific experience to cloud their outlook.
  • The combined experience of recruiters and access to an established pool of prescreened candidates makes an agency a good resource for external hiring.

Cons include:

  • An increased expense to the company for advertising, recruiting and screening.
  • Potential resentment from current employees.
  • An increased adjustment period, learning of company culture, and training on specific software and products.

How can you decide which route would be best for your company and particular hiring need?

Consider the following:

  • What is your budget for this hiring?
  • Is there a viable candidate already established within your company?
  • Is your company in need of new ideas and fresh perspectives?
  • How will company morale be affected by an internal or external hiring decision?

Each company will have different answers to these questions and careful thought will ensure that an informed decision has been made. If you are on a tight budget, internal hiring would be the most cost-effective solution. An internal hire generally does not require a large monetary investment, other than a possible salary increase. Costs such as advertising, screening and more in-depth training would need to be planned and budgeted for if you choose to hire from outside the company. You also need to prepare for a training period and allocate necessary staff for either promoting from within or hiring from outside.

How can you deal with any backlash if you decide to recruit from outside the company?

Careful planning can neutralize the potential for unhappy employees. Post the position both internally and externally for a reasonable period of time, and make the job description as specific as possible. Make sure all skills, education and requirements for the position are outlined carefully. Interested employees may initially feel like they are qualified for the position, but may decide to include or preclude themselves after being presented with well-written qualifications. Be open-minded; an internal employee may be qualified and should be considered, as well, for the position. Establish trial periods, set reasonable goals and plan an evaluation at the end of the probation period. This allows you to cite an impartial process and feel confident in your decision if backlash does occur.

Bringing new people in or moving someone internally can affect company morale, both positively and negatively. You can’t control people’s feelings. You can minimize the impact by making fair hiring decisions and making sure the management team is proactive and addresses negativity with positive statements.

How do you make sure employees are well-trained and prepared so you are able to promote from within?

Cross-train and reward your talented and committed employees. Don’t let talent go to waste. You would be foolish to dismiss an employee’s initiative if he or she is interested in learning a new skill. Mentoring also establishes a culture of teamwork and preparation. Offering reimbursement and recognition for the completion of relevant continuing education classes will encourage employees to sharpen and maintain their skills.

Michelle Elson is the corporate director of operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at or (770) 419-1776.

Published in Atlanta

In this day and age, employees are coming to terms with the fact that pay increases are few and far between. Still, hard work should not go unrecognized, so companies are looking for new and different ways to reward their top performers.

A good benefits package can go a long way toward keeping an employee motivated and engaged. It can also swing a prospective employee’s decision your way — an edge any company could use in today’s competitive job market. And today, employees are looking for more than the traditional medical and dental benefits.

But, you can’t just offer the traditional medical and dental benefits. Employees are looking for more, so it would behoove a company to find out what their employees want and need — and then give it to them.

“Offering attractive and affordable benefits in addition to traditional insurance keeps employees engaged,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton. “By creating a plan that suits your specific work environment, you end up with a happier, healthier and more productive staff.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about implementing effective benefits programs.

Why are benefits so important to today’s work force?

The benefits package your company offers says a lot about the culture and personality of your business. It is important to consider three main factors when designing your plan — avoiding economic hardships for employees due to illness or disability, providing employees with some form of retirement income and creating a system of leave. Good talent demands more than a paycheck and if you do not offer a competitive benefits package, your competitors will.

What benefits are most important to today’s work force?

Even with recent legislative changes, access to health care is still the No. 1 benefit for employees. Vision, dental and disability are also highly desirable. Other standard and very popular benefits include life insurance, retirement plans, flexible compensation (cafeteria plans) and employee leave. Automating the enrollment process and ease of information regarding the benefit plan is very important to employees, as well. Offering an easy-to-use, Web-based system will bring added value to an existing benefits program.

Why is rewarding employees so important?

Rewarding and recognizing employees leads to retention. We all feel the need to be appreciated. Recognition of a job well done communicates that our work is valued and respected. This sends an important message to the recipient and other team members about job performance and a company’s ability and willingness to just say ‘thank you.’ A successful reward/recognition plan includes the ability to identify good performance by communicating expectations, immediately recognizing the performance and then giving meaningful rewards.

Rewards can be as simple as posting top performers in company newsletters or on bulletin boards. Hosting ice cream socials or having the boss serve lunch are other fun ways to reward employees. Reward wheels are also very popular. Items like a free day off, leaving early on Friday, free lunch, gift cards and free car washes are posted on a wheel that employees take turns spinning. Be creative with rewards — cash is always nice but sometimes simply appreciating the talent you have goes a long way in building employee loyalty.

What if an employer cannot afford to fully fund benefits?

Most benefits plans offered by small or midsize businesses are not fully funded by the employer. When deciding what benefits to fund or partially fund, a good benchmarking of your largest competitors’ benefits may help decide where your money is best spent. In today’s economy every little bit helps, so do not underestimate the importance of contributing even a small amount to the benefits that are important to your population.

What are some examples of nontraditional benefits?

Nontraditional benefits are as varied and unique as the companies that offer them. Unconventional examples include bringing your dog to work, a handyman on staff to assist with home repair while employees are busy at work, weekly in-office massage therapy, a full-time concierge and dry cleaning services. Some of the more popular options include offering paternity leave for new fathers. Allowing men to be at home with a new baby and take a more active ‘daddy’ role is a big deal to families. While this is becoming standard with large corporations it can set a small to mid-size business apart from others. Paid or non-paid this can put a feather in any company’s benefit hat.

On-site child care, child care discounts or a child care allowances are all great ways to assist parents with young children. Offering unpaid leave is a no-cost way to add a benefit. Studies have shown that employees will take six to nine unpaid days per year if available to them. Telecommuting and flextime also top the list of widely used nontraditional benefits. Another trend is moving to a completely performance-based model. In this situation there are no set hours, just very defined job expectations and goals. As long as these standards are being met employees can set their own hours and enjoy the ultimate in job flexibility.

How can employers help employees with work-life balance?

The first thing employers can do is survey their work force. Design a plan that is important to you and be willing to listen and make changes when necessary to keep it current. Secondly, be creative and have an open mind to new ideas. Companies can always pick a ‘beta’ group before rolling out a new benefit to the entire company. Work-life balance is more important now than 10 years ago, and the trend will only grow as the next generation enters the work force.

Melissa Hulsey is president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or

Published in Atlanta

Some employees at your company may be hiding a big secret from you: They’re legally not allowed to work for you or even in this country. Over the past several years, there has been an increase in people using sophisticated fraudulent information to secure employment, whether through false documents, false benefit applications or even identity theft.

“Unfortunately, that sophistication has made it next to impossible for employers to be sure they’re not employing illegal aliens,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. “Even companies with the best of intentions often find themselves open to fines and civil penalties if they’re audited.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about how employers can use the E-Verify and IMAGE certification programs and what to do if you find a problem with a new hire.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an online system operated jointly between the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Participating employers can check the work status of their new hires by comparing information from an employee’s I-9 form against what the SSA and DHS have on their databases. E-Verify is free, and currently, in Georgia, it’s voluntary unless you are a state agency or provide services to a state agency.

After registering, companies sign documents stating that they will post written notice in their hiring facilities; this allows applicants to know you’re currently enrolled in E-Verify. E-Verify can only be used on new hires. If a company wants to verify its current employees, it must electronically submit its payroll to the SSA via the Social Security Number Verification Service.

What is IMAGE certification?

IMAGE is short for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement between Government Employers. It is a joint initiative between the government and businesses to strengthen hiring practices in the private industry by reducing the size of the illegal work force. IMAGE certification is a free service.

How can companies implement these programs into their business practices?

Companies who are interested in E-Verify can log on to DHS’s Web site ( and register, print off a few forms and mail them in. After you’ve registered, DHS will contact you and provide online training. Once you’ve completed the training, your employees must pass an exam before utilizing the Web site.

Enrolling in IMAGE is a bit more extensive. Companies must currently use E-Verify and agree to an audit of their I-9s by ICE. Companies also must agree to submit their current payroll to the SSA and implement a few ICE-suggested programs. Interested companies may log on to ICE’s Web site ( and register for information. You may then request an in-person meeting with an IMAGE coordinator.

What should an employer do if it finds an employee mismatch?

The beauty of E-Verify is that it not only alerts you to a nonconfirmation of eligibility but it also guides you through the process. If a nonconfirmation comes back, you print a letter to the employee that lets him or her know that there has been a mismatch. The employee either chooses not to contest the results and self-terminates or goes to the local Social Security office and speaks with someone there. If the employee chooses to contest, he or she has eight days to return with proper paperwork. During the eight days, you must continue to employ that person. If he or she does not return, you may terminate the individual.

What makes a fraudulent document stand out?

Check Social Security cards carefully. Many times fraudulent documents have misspelled words, the font is different or is an irregular color. If the back of the card is blank, it is fraudulent.

What are the benefits of using E-Verify and IMAGE certification?

E-Verify almost completely eliminated our Social Security mismatch letters. It has also improved the accuracy of wage and tax reporting and ensures companies are maintaining a legal work force. E-Verify has recently implemented a photoscreening tool, so when you are verifying your employee’s right to work in the U.S., it has a photo of what the person should look like, which eliminates identity fraud, as well.

With IMAGE certification, there are several benefits, one of which is free training to your staff. You also receive a two-year respite from any I-9 audits after you enroll. If for any reason your company faces civil penalties for employing illegal workers, the good faith participation in IMAGE is considered when fines are assessed.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or

Published in Atlanta
Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

A job well done

The recession has caused many businesses to cut back on expenses in many areas, including raises. While your employees may deserve raises, you may not have the money there to provide them with monetary recognition. Despite spending decreases, it’s important to recognize your employees’ hard work through other means of compensation.

“Employees are concerned and consumed with the prospect of reduced salaries, temporary layoffs or job losses,” says M.J. Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group. “Now is the time to retain your super stars. You can attract and retain employees by offering rewards in exchange for time and effort.”

Smart Business spoke with Helms about how to recognize employees, how to keep track of employee performance for recognition and rewards, how to help employees understand the recognition tools, and how to use these tools to leverage your company during the hiring process.

What are the benefits of rewarding and recognizing your employees?

Recognition helps reinforce the actions and behaviors you most want to see people repeat. An effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate and powerfully reinforcing. When employees feel like they matter, they’re much more willing to give their all for your company.

When you praise employees, you let them know you’re aware of their hard work. You acknowledge they’ve put forth a great effort to accomplish something and you’re celebrating that accomplishment with them. It shows that you don’t necessarily need to spend money to make someone feel valued and appreciated.

How can you recognize employees for their hard work?

Employee recognition is not just a nice thing to do for people; it’s a communication tool that reinforces and rewards the most important outcomes people create for your business. You need to show your employees the value they add to the team and point out specific instances where they went above and beyond the call of duty. Recognition, such as identifying one employee each month who has gone above and beyond, needs to be a planned activity. Giving someone a pat on the back in private may make that employee feel good for a few minutes, but taking time to recognize that person during a staff meeting in front of his or her peers will extend that good feeling into days, if not weeks. This also entices others to strive for the same reward. You can even do something as simple as having a Wall of Fame in your office to post pictures of employees and their accomplishments.

How do you keep track of employee performance so you know whom to recognize?

Reward those who make a difference. Keep a personal log of significant contributions your employees make to your company from day one. For example, how they saved the company money or boosted sales, how they handled a project successfully from start to finish or how they showed leadership under pressure. Use as many details as possible, with corresponding data. Remember to base their salary increase on the contributions made to the company.

If you don’t have the funds for bonuses or raises, you may want to consider offering other incentives like flextime, extra vacation time, stock options or telecommuting from home. Even if you cannot offer your employees pay increases, it’s important to show them you are sensitive to the tough times. Find ways to help them, short of spending more money on a raise right now, but always acknowledge they do deserve a raise if the money were there. Taking that approach and working with your employees will allow you to retain and motivate good employees.

You can also include employees in your company productivity planning; you might be surprised at the ideas they may bring forward. Those employees will feel more engaged and appreciated in the company, instead of discouraged because they are not receiving pay increases. Establish criteria for what performance or contribution in the meeting constitutes employee rewards. Ask employees to come to the meetings prepared with suggestions and ideas for increased productivity for the company.

How can you help employees understand the use of these recognition tools instead of pay increases?

There is always room for employee reward and recognition activities that build positive morale in the work environment — you just have to work on these programs. For example, you could have company lunches on Fridays, or prize drawings for those employees who met their goals for the week. Or give your team members who go above and beyond a new job title. Job titles don’t always mean more money, but sometimes receiving a title means more than getting a few more dollars in the paycheck. It show that’s you’re pleased with their performance.

How can you use these tools to leverage your company during the hiring process?

Point out to the potential employee your company recognition program and show you are committed to your employees’ well-being. A well-designed peer recognition program promotes organizational values. Candidates will want to work for a company that recognizes employees for their hard work.

M.J. Helms is the director of operations for The Ashton Group. Reach her at (706) 636-3343 or

Published in Atlanta
Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

A successful game plan

Is your business going through changes? Has it recently acquired a company, merged with another business, or is it in need of some cultural adjustments to address the downturn in the economy?

The best way to address changes within a business is to gather the best and brightest members from each department to work on the crafting and implementing of new goals.

“High-performance teams help create business game plans that make sense and address the big picture,” says Jim Scholes, Vice President of Human Resources for Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston.

Smart Business spoke with Scholes about the advantages of creating high-performance teams and how to create such a team in your own business.

What are some of the top scenarios where it would be wise to create a high-performance team?

A major change in organizational culture, such as a merger, acquisition or a decision to take a business to the next level; new product or service offerings; new corporate direction, such as taking a business nationwide; budget cuts, downsizing or poor economic times; and major capital expenditures or changes in funding or revenue stream.

How does creating a high-performance team help a business get through these challenges?

By including key leaders from your company’s departments, it is more likely that the team will understand and act on the bigger picture. Working collaboratively this way helps to promote cooperation and commitment and, in the end, will improve the quality of a product or service because everyone has ‘bought in’ to the changes.

It also creates common goals that are agreed upon and make sense to the team’s members, which helps it work collaboratively toward those goals.

Using the high-performance team approach, by the way, isn’t an indication that the company is in financial trouble or under stress. It is a great technique to use whenever the company is undergoing any kind of change — even positive change, such as a new marketing image, or a new product or service offering, or during expansion. A high-performance team can be assembled and come in quickly to effectively put a plan together that is more creative and addresses many more different elements than plans made with only C-level executive input.

What does a high-performance team look like?

It is a small group — from about seven to 12 people from all levels of the organization, from the hourly front desk employee to the CEO. It should also include leaders from your sales, marketing, human resources and finance departments.

The team, however, needs more than good will and a desire to get things done. It should also include a coach or a moderator who has experience building high-performance teams and has the tools and knowledge to move the team toward its goal. The coach can be hired from the outside or be an internal employee with this kind of experience.

What are some other key components to a successful high-performance team?

The participants need to understand what the shared goals are and the desired end results. The team shouldn’t be created privately or in secret, since the rumor mill in your organization will form its own assumptions — often not positive — if employees are not told the truth. Communicate openly with your employees about why the group is being formed and the desired outcome. This will generate good will and will avoid rumors that can be counterproductive to your goals.

What happens once the high-performance team has reached its planning goals?

Then the CEO has to decide if the company needs a separate team for implementing the goals. The implementation team can consist of the same members of the planning team, but keep in mind that sometimes implementation requires a different skill set. Once the goals are met, the role of the high-performance team is not over. Today’s business world climate requires constant improvement within an organization. The team’s work is never done and it must meet periodically to tweak and improve its goals.

What are the downsides to not creating a high-performance team to address challenges or changes in a company?

Well, you can bet your competition is creating these teams and benefiting from it. With our economic circumstances at the moment, you can be sure that there will be fewer businesses when we come out of the other end of this economic crisis.

Companies that create these kinds of teams and tap into the potential of their entire work force will be the ones, I believe, that will survive.

JIM SCHOLES is Vice President of Human Resources at Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston. Reach him at (713) 789-1818 or

Published in Houston
Saturday, 26 July 2008 20:00

A growing resource

U.S. staffing firms employ almost 3 million people per day across all industries, according to a survey conducted by the American Staffing Association ( This vast work force can provide a pool of talent that can be tapped into by businesses to fill a variety of part- and full-time jobs — from secretarial to middle-management positions.

“Tapping into this resource allows a business to ramp up at a moment’s notice,” says David Lemoine, Regional Vice President for Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston.

Smart Business spoke with Lemoine about the steps you can take to select the right staffing firm for your business.

In what industries/jobs do staffing firms typically specialize?

The main categories are as follows:

  • Office and clerical

  • Accounting and payroll

  • Engineering

  • Information technology

  • Nursing and health care

    Light industrial (jobs such as forklift driver, picker, packer)

  • Skill craft workers (such as manufacturing plant workers)

  • C-level executives

Staffing firms can sometimes specialize in two or three of these areas. But it is rare that a staffing company can provide qualified employees for all these positions. Often, a business may have to rely on more than one staffing company for all its needs.

What are the steps to consider when selecting a firm?

Your human resources department can go through these steps. For smaller firms, this responsibility can fall to the general or office manager.

  1. Meet face-to-face with representatives of the staffing firm. This is important to start developing a relationship with the firm and for its representatives to get a good understanding of your business and its culture.

  2. Get references of current customers. Ask current clients how the staffing firm has helped, particularly with customized solutions to unique problems.

  3. Make sure the firm is stable and credible. Do not select a firm that has just started in the business. Make sure there is low turnover internally so that you can ensure that you will have continuity with representatives.

  4. Have the firm give you a checklist of what it provides with its services. Some important elements include: background and reference checks, social security verification, drug screening, workers’ compensation certificates, standard terms and condition of contract.

What are some red flags to look out for when selecting a staffing firm?

The biggest red flag is when a staffing firm competes solely on price. The fact is that costs — and profit margins — are pretty much the same for all staffing companies. If a staffing firm is coming in at 15 percent less than its competitors, you bet they are cutting costs and making shortcuts somewhere, such as not providing drug screenings or background checks.

What can a business owner do if the firm is not the right fit — or the people they are sending are not a good fit?

This is why it is important to take time with the staffing company on the front end. If a fit isn’t right, you need to call the staffing company right away and have the employee replaced.

You also need to have a conversation about what went wrong and why. Was there a miscommunication? How did the staffing company miss the mark? Was more training needed? Did the employee not have enough experience? You can opt to give the staffing firm another chance to correct the situation. If the same mistake happens again, you need to move your business to another firm.

What distinguishes an average staffing firm from one that is superior?

Many businesses don’t really understand what a staffing firm can offer. They believe staffing firms exist to offer short-term solutions to pressing employment needs. But businesses need to realize that the best staffing firms can provide a wealth of advice that is outside the realm of simply filling a job slot.

For example, firms can provide a wealth of reporting statistics, such as how much a business is spending on overtime (and if the money would be better spent in hiring more employees) and the cost of vacancy. The key is to mine the firm for this information; a representative can often help a business uncover problems involving human capital issues, such as high turnover rates. This opens up possibilities for business owners to understand their business at a deeper level, and make human capital decisions based on the numbers, rather than instinct.

DAVID LEMOINE is the Regional Vice President for Talent Tree (, a staffing company based in Houston. Reach him at (713) 473-5518 or

David Lemoine
Regional Vice President
Talent Tree

Published in Houston
Wednesday, 25 June 2008 20:00

A good match

The days of finding the right job candidate by simply taking out a classified ad in your local newspaper are over. Today, serious job recruiters must attend networking events, surf the Internet’s job boards and actively participate in business and social virtual communities, such as LinkedIn, in order to root out the right candidate.

“Businesses need to build a good employment ‘brand’ and use the best recruiting techniques to woo candidates,” says Ruth McCurdy, Vice President for Corporate Connections at Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston.

Smart Business spoke with McCurdy about some of the top recruiting techniques business can use to rope in top talent.

What are some of the assumptions businesses might make about recruiting talent that is counterproductive to finding the right candidate?

In fields where companies are vying for the same candidate, it helps to get creative. There are many good workers looking for jobs but who may not be in a competitive industry. Many of these people can be retained. College graduates with little or no experience are often excellent candidates for many positions. In this market, business leaders need to have flexibility and look more at the candidate’s ability to fit into the corporate culture and his or her ability to be trained.

Another opportunity that is often overlooked is passive job candidates — that is, people not currently in the market for a new job. In the right circumstances, these workers can be persuaded by a new and better opportunity. That’s where a company’s strength of its ‘employment brand’ comes into play.

Can you explain how a business develops an employment brand?

It is similar to a marketing brand, which companies already have. Look at Google — it has a strong employment brand. The company has been in the press enough so that the average job candidate has heard about the perks that come along with working for that company and what the corporate culture is like. Employment branding is a mindset that changes a business owner or CEO’s thought process about recruiting: It is not about filling open positions but about constantly selling candidates the idea of working for your great company. This is done effectively through positive stories told in word-of-mouth networking — either in person and online — and through your company Web site. It is important to have a recruiting page on the site for this kind of information. A business needs to put as much an emphasis on getting the right people in the door as getting customers.

In addition to developing a strong employment brand, what are other top recruiting techniques businesses need to use?

  • Employee referrals (with incentives given)

  • External referrals (through networking)

  • Continuous online sourcing (job boards and other business networking sites)

  • Posting openings (online and off)

Could you tell us more about online recruiting?

Businesses need to actively engage in social and business networking sites because people who are connecting online know people who are looking for work. Some networking sites have job boards and others have subgroups for job networking. It is the same idea of networking in a community, such as a Chamber of Commerce gathering or an industry event, except broader. The Internet allows businesses to open up to the entire world and connect with potential job candidates. Plus, many of these sites are free.

Using other techniques, such as the Google alert tool, can be a wonderful source of information. For example, you can set an alert for ‘layoffs’ and the name of your industry or field, or even a company, to get the heads-up on when candidates will be entering the job market. You can also set key words for what you are looking for in a candidate’s resume. You will be amazed at the kinds of valuable information you get in real time.

What about the good, old-fashioned classified ad?

It used to be that classified advertising was the end all, but this way of looking for candidates has become very expensive and, frankly, not broad enough. Research has shown that most job candidates go to their computer first when they are looking for work.

Recruiting for the right candidate today has to be intentional and strategic, and using more than one method is the best way to do this. Businesses have to be proactive — not reactive. A proactive approach will build a candidate pool for when you are ready to recruit; the old reactive approach always leaves businesses scrambling to fill a slot.

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

Published in Houston
Wednesday, 26 March 2008 20:00

Worker diversity

Aone-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit today’s age-diverse work force: The generation gap between the youngest and oldest workers in some workplaces can span more than 40 years. On one end of the spectrum, there’s the 20-something who is fresh out of graduate school or college and is seeking flexible schedules or work-from-home options; on the other end are the employees nearing retirement.

“A company might have four generations of workers at one time,” says Kathi Crawford, Vice President of Human Resources for Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston. “Each generation comes with its own set of values, needs and attitudes, and vastly different expectations on communication styles and work expectations.”

Smart Business spoke with Crawford about how managers can best understand and meet the needs and priorities of each generation — from the younger Generation X and Y to the middle-aged baby boomers to the older Silent Generation.

What is the most pronounced work style difference among the four generations?

The most glaring difference among the generations is the preferred method of communicating with others. Those in their early 20s, known as Generation Y, have had technology in their lives since they were very young. High-tech tools, such as video-conferencing, are second nature to them. Generation X — those in their mid-20s to late 30s — is also very comfortable using e-tools, such as e-mail and text messaging. Baby boomers who did not grow up in a high-tech world still prefer face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations over electronic methods of communicating, as does the Silent Generation — those over 62.

What are the other differences among the generations that can be challenging to managers?

Each generation has a different approach to how it views the workplace. The Silent Generation tended to conform and not question authority; 95 percent of this generation, by the way, has already retired, although some remain in high-level positions. The baby boomers — the group that is now running most companies — tend to very optimistic and idealistic. They are typically overachievers and work long hours.

Generation X and Y are very different from the preceding generations in that they are much more concerned about their work-life balance. Perhaps they learned from their parents how difficult it can be to have a high-powered career and raise a family. The younger generations do work hard, but they are extremely careful to maintain a good quality of life outside of work.

How can managers help bridge the generation gap?

Managers need to be cognizant of the age gap of the audience when making a presentation, running a meeting or creating incentives for an employee. For example, a baby boomer might be motivated by a bonus, but a member of Gen X may prefer more vacation time.

It is also important that the generations take time to learn each other’s communication styles. Gen X and Y workers need to learn how to conduct face-to-face meetings and when to pick up the telephone rather than send an e-mail. This training can easily be accomplished through coaching, a method to which Gen X and Y employees are very receptive. That said, it is also important that the older generation work to incorporate more high-tech communication tools in the workplace, such as video-conferencing for clients or employees in remote locations.

Those employees in Generation X, in particular, come into the workplace with a lot of confidence and perceived ideas about how things work. Baby boomers or the Silent Generation must resist the urge to micromanage these young workers and instead help them along through mentoring and by gradually increasing their responsibilities. Remember, Gen X and Y are very sensitive about the work-life balance and are motivated by companies that respect that.

As the baby boomers retire, how important is it to change corporate culture to accommodate the needs of Gen X and Y?

It is very important because there are less people in this newer generation who can step into the shoes of the baby boomers as they leave. The competition for talent in Gen X and Y workers is already fierce, with talent shortages creating voids in certain industries such as IT, finance and engineering. It is the responsibility of the baby boomer and Silent Generation to transition their knowledge to the Gen X and Y workers and groom them for succession and leadership.

Companies can begin to do that by looking at the best practices used in other businesses in their industry. Business owners and managers should also seek support from their human resources departments and training and development professionals to help them facilitate and coach their staff about generational differences.

KATHI CRAWFORD is the Vice President of Human Resources for Talent Tree, based in Houston. Reach her at (713) 361-7315 or She is also serving as 2008 president, Houston Chapter, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Published in Houston