Meeting the HR challenges of agencies during the Covid-19 crisis (featuring Patrick Rogan)

How to support your team while continuing to move your business forward

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Agency leaders and their employees have fresh worries during the Covid-19 crisis. In addition to the usual human resources challenges any business faces, agencies must deal with a new wave of concerns.

In this conversation, HR consultant Patrick Rogan joined Chip Griffin to discuss how to handle a range of challenges, including:

  • How to communicate with agency staff right now
  • Handling furloughs, layoffs, and other changes
  • New paid sick leave and FMLA requirements
  • HR planning in a time of uncertainty
  • Issues to consider upon reopening offices

Resources

Transcript

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to the first ever live Chats with Chip episode. I am your host Chip Griffin. And I am joined today by Patrick Rogan of ignition HR. Welcome to the show, Patrick.

PATRICK: Thank you Chip. Happy to be here.

CHIP: It is great to have you I believe you’ve been a guest before, although not on a live edition because this is our first ever live edition. So this will be going out as an agency leadership TV episode on the agency leadership website and also out on the Chats with Chip feed. So you may be seeing or hearing this in one of those places. If you are here alive, feel free to use the q&a function in at the bottom of your screen to submit questions. And we’ll try to get to those over the course of our conversation. But we’re going to be spending some time today talking about some of the HR issues and challenges that agency leaders are facing right now because Patrick, I don’t know about you, but I hear there’s something going on out in the world. It’s not quite status quo.

PATRICK: Yeah, things are a little bit different.

CHIP: Being under house arrest is certainly an interesting environment is not exactly how I plan for 2020. I’m, I don’t know anybody who did have this in their strategic plan for the year. But we all are making the best of it. And obviously, in the agency world folks have a lot of challenges. Fortunately, you have a lot of expertise in HR challenges in the agency and professional services world. So I am very pleased that you’re able to join us and talk through some of those challenges that everybody has.

PATRICK: Sure.

Communicating with your employees

CHIP: So, I mean, let’s just let’s dive right in. And, you know, as we look at what’s going on right now, to me, the first thing is communication, right? Because, I mean, everybody’s concerned, you know, owners are concerned, leaders are concerned employees are concerned, their families are concerned. And it’s it’s multifaceted. And so, you know, to me, one of the most important things as a leader in any organization is to be communicating effectively, right. So you know, what, what communications challenges or things should that folks be keeping in mind With their teams, so not externally, but with the actual Yeah,

PATRICK: yeah. So I think you really hit it on the on the headship when you said, communicating effectively, I would add to that communicating frequently as well. And I think when we think about the audience that we’re communicating to the default is as broad an audience as possible. So lots of times we think about the people who we have on our normal team that maybe we have weekly calls or a couple of weekly calls, or we’re talking about projects that we’re working on and deliverables that are due and that type of thing. But sometimes there are other parts of the organization, maybe there’s some part time employees or maybe there’s some consultants and we’d like to bring them into the fold is a little bit as well too. It kind of gives them a sense of belonging. And that’s an area where I think a lot of organizations are doing a much better job.

CHIP: And, and I think the one on one communications are particularly important to write because a lot of folks won’t share, you know, their real concerns. If they’ve got peers sitting next to them. They really need to have that opportunity with their supervisors to be able to share what’s really on their minds.

PATRICK: Yeah. And I think being able to have those one on one, particularly as it relates to feedback is really, really important. And feedback. Obviously, there are two sides of feedback, right? So there’s a positive feedback, hey, you did a great job on this. And there’s constructive feedback in terms of, hey, this could be a little bit better next time when we do this. Why don’t you try it this way? Both of those avenues, I think resonate really, really, really well with employees and now more than ever, because people are, you said it earlier where it was a little bit more galling, a little bit more stress in the background, we need to work a little bit harder to keep those relationships going as business owners.

How transparent should you be?

CHIP: And you know, I think one of the things that employees tend to notice are clients who go away. And the data seems to suggest that somewhere in the neighborhood of about 80% of agencies have lost revenue as a result of what’s been going on the last six weeks or so. So almost every agent See employee no matter what space they’re in, has seen some loss of clients. And so that makes them worry about their own jobs and the future of the business. How transparent should agency owners and agency leaders be? And how do they find that right balance of, you know, not lying to the employees, but still trying to reassure them?

PATRICK: Yeah, I think I think being as honest as possible is key. And I think acknowledging the fact to employees that there are unknowns, and depending upon which way those unknowns go could have an impact on the size of the organization going forward, and it may impact some individual jobs. I think it’s okay to go ahead and get that out. When you say that though, I think it’s important for employees to understand that as business owners, we have a specific process that we’re going to be going through and that when we have to let go staff it is the last possible resort, because there’s a tendency, my experience when when there’s a lack of emotion, Employees are going to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. And almost always, those imaginations will be far more negative than reality. So the more we can do to kind of help them understand exactly what the situation is, what the next steps are, what the process is going to be, approximately, when we think people are going to be able to find out, it just helps remove a lot of the stress and it kind of alleviate some of those grand imaginary things that employees will dream up by fact, or at least as much information as we can give them.

CHIP: And I like how you underscored you know, being honest and not necessarily sugarcoating it. Because I hear there is a tendency for leaders owners to say, you know, don’t worry about it, everything’s gonna be okay until the last possible minute and then they’re like, Okay, well, crap. Now we’ve got now we’ve got to cut costs. So it tends to come more out of the blue from employees in that

PATRICK: scenario, right? Yep. So

CHIP: and I think, you know, having run businesses and seeing Both 2001 and 2008. And I know you’ve seen those as well, you know, my general experiences that most businesses Wait, particularly in this space wait far too long to make headcount reductions, because they, you know, that they just keep hoping that they can find a way so that they can avoid that very unpleasant outcome that, you know, nobody wants to have happen.

PATRICK: Yeah. And I think while you’re taking the steps to make those decisions, very difficult decisions that have to be made. I think it’s also important to look at your talent needs from a broader perspective at the same time. So yes, maybe a difficult decision has to be made, but since I’m looking at my talent anyway, a good question to ask yourself is, well, do I have the right talent Now to begin with, right? And are there areas where I should perhaps broaden it a little bit, or maybe, even though these are very difficult times? Maybe there’s some talent that I have access to that I wouldn’t Normally, and maybe in this case, I should take a hard look at that. So it’s not all negative, there might be some positive things here too. And I think looking at that glass sort of half full can be really, really helpful right now, given certain situations. Does that make sense?

Finding opportunity in the turmoil

CHIP: It absolutely does. And one of the things that I’ve been saying for the last several weeks is that rahm emanuel is someone you should listen to, and not necessarily politically, but but one of the things that he famously said during the 2008 economic crisis or shortly thereafter was never let a good crisis go to waste. And I, you know, I, it’s harsh, but I agree with the sentiment because you need to take advantage of this opportunity. If you do need to make staff changes to take a look at the whole picture and say, as you’ve said, not necessarily just what do you need to cut? What do you need what you know, what, what could you add? How do you restructure overall and so, so taking a much more broad creative view is a smarter approach than just saying, okay, you know, my bean counter says, I need to cut you know, 25,000 in costs. Let me just go Find those 25,000.

PATRICK: Right? Yeah, being a little bit more strategic about that process is really important right now.

Deciding how deep to cut

CHIP: Yeah. And if you are someone who is in a position where you unfortunately do have to cut staff, and how, how should you go about figuring, I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about figuring out what you need for the future. But you know, it, should you factor in how long someone’s been with you. It should just be skills based should just be positioned based, should you remove people who, you know, they were working on certain clients that went away, you know, what, what advice would you have for folks as they’re thinking through how to, you know, make these difficult decisions? Well, you know,

PATRICK: looking further along in the process, Chip, one of the things I always recommend when, let’s say we’ve gone through everything that you’ve just described, and we’re actually having a conversation with the employee, and we’re saying, you know, unfortunately, we need to have a difficult decision based upon a variety of reasons that that have impacted the business we have to eliminate your position and this is what that means. So The variety of business conditions are the things that you have to think about at the beginning of that process. So certainly, there’s someone skills and your need is the organization, the business, the projects, you know, what are the needs, you weigh them all together. And then ultimately, you have to make a decision that’s best for your business. And then you have the communication later on in the background. Just keep in mind, there are certain factors that are not appropriate for considering and they’re the normal things but I always like to mention them. So some of them are federal law and regulation related, some are state law and regulation related but race, color, creed, age, you know, all those things cannot be a factor. Someone who’s out on pregnancy leave being a factor in deciding whether to let someone go illegal can’t do that. So just kind of keep those in the back back of your mind. Keep it strictly to the business, you know, look at what your organization needs, now. Future? And how long can you make it with the staff that you have? Those are the primary factors you should be looking at. And things are going to work out just fine.

CHIP: And I think, you know, you’ve highlighted something really important there, just to make sure that you’re in compliance anytime you’re making staff changes like this. You know, particularly because you know, folks are, it’s a stressful time, you’re, if you’re letting people go, now you’re putting them out into a very difficult job market, because we’ve seen what has happened with unemployment numbers in recent weeks. So if this is not like, you know, you’re just, you’re the only one affected, they’ll have a fine time landing on their feet somewhere else, it’s probably going to be a while before they get picked up somewhere else. So you want to make sure that you’re not inadvertently stepping in something, or deliberately stepping in it because you’re a little little rash. So talking to an HR consultant, or legal counsel, or those kinds of things, I think is particularly important before you undertake layoffs.

PATRICK: It’s time well spent. I mean, there’s so many state and local laws now that are different You know, that impact little things you wouldn’t normally think of like, for instance, in some states, if you terminate an employee and their employment, you have to give them their last paycheck on the day you deliver the news. In other states, it could be a week in other states, it’s the normal pay cycle. So little things like that. It’s just good to get a little outside help to make sure you’re on the straight now there,

Different approaches to cutting staff costs

CHIP: right now, that makes sense. And there are there are different ways that you can to your point there about having to give that last paycheck, there are different approaches that you can take to this true to you could you could use a garden leave for example. And maybe that’s concept we should explain, but you could furlough people there are you know, you can do pay cuts. I mean, there’s there’s a gazillion different ways that you can cut costs. Let’s talk through some of them because, you know, they have their pros and cons, since I mentioned garden leave. But why don’t you explain what garden leave is, and I think it’s particularly relevant in this scenario because of the payroll Protection Program. right because that’s, that’s Basically encouraging employers to keep people for a period of time, right. But if you’ve lost a lot of business, you may be sitting there saying once once that money is up, I don’t have the money to keep paying you.

PATRICK: Right? Right. Well, you have a number of different options. One is, you can you can cut back on an employee’s hours, you can put them into part time status. In most jurisdictions, if it’s at least 30 hours a week, they can still be full time status, but you’ve cut some of the costs out so they’re able to keep their benefits, that’s one option to consider another option, we talked about it before, maybe you can afford to continue paying for benefits. So you want to furlough them for a period of time. That gives them some cushion, but sometimes that’s not even doable, either. And, you know, depending upon the impact on the business, then maybe you just have to do a reduction in force. In which case, you know, unfortunately, that’s the least a bit advantageous to the employee but who knows, when business comes up, you could certainly bring them back on down the road. So there are a number of different options that we have. I think the best thing to do is kind of look at your business situation first, and then figure out what can we do in terms of having the right talent to get you what you need to do to get your job done.

CHIP: Right. And it will vary a little bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, what the pros and cons are, because furloughs, for example, the rules can vary substantially from state to state, as far as you know how that gets treated from an unemployment perspective. For the most part now, in the midst of this current crisis, furloughs are being treated in such a way that you can get full unemployment benefits, but it may vary for your particular area, and you want to look at that you obviously want to look at, you know, what the impact is with your insurance policies. And you know, are they are they okay with you taking that approach? So make sure that you’ve crossed the T’s and dotted the i’s here so that you don’t think you came up with a great solution only to find out the hard way that you didn’t? Yeah, yeah. And

New paid leave requirements for small agencies

PATRICK: then you also, you may have some employees who are going to have to To go out on a sick leave, and under the families first Coronavirus response act FCRA. You know, you have some relief as an employer, if you have under 500 employees, so you’ve got 80 hours that you can get. You can provide leave to employees if it’s related to Coronavirus largely that you’ll be able to get a payroll tax credit down the road. And then after that,

CHIP: but importantly, you have to pay them now. Right. So you have

PATRICK: to pay them now. But then you get a payroll tax credit down the road. I know

CHIP: for some agencies, that’s been an issue. Yeah. Because because the money comes out of their pocket now, but they don’t get the tax credit until later. Right. It was. I’m not sure that when Congress passed that they thought it out quite as well as they should have from a cash flow perspective for a hurting business. Right, right. Because because it’s a fairly generous policy if I recall correctly, you know, for example, Simply having to take care of the kid who’s out of school, I believe will qualify you as being able to take paid leave.

PATRICK: It does. And it’s up to $510 per day, per employee up to 80 hours per sick leave. And then there’s also for that same conditions skip, for family medical leave, you get an additional 12 weeks of paid leave. And that’s up to $200 a day. So it is, you know, and if you can manage the cash flow, you do get all that back. You know, you just, it’s just going to take, obviously, a little bit of time.

CHIP: Right. And I think it’s it that is one of those things that a lot of agencies aren’t even aware of an obligation for Fortunately, I think for them, most of their employees probably aren’t aware either. So they’re not asking for it. Right. But but it’s still you know, it is something important to be aware of, because it can have a real impact on your business, particularly as a small agency.

PATRICK: So one thing first small agencies also to consider chip is that in some cases, you know, we talked about the cash flow. But in other cases, if you have a very small agency, having an employee out for two weeks of sick leave, and then 12 weeks of FMLA FMLA leave may be critical to the business. So there are rules for organizations with 25 or less employees where if there’s a significant impact on the business, then you cannot, you can elect not to provide this benefit to employees. So no one wants to be in that situation to, to, but legally, they did that for a reason. Because for smaller organizations, you know, you could very well go out of business if you have a key stakeholder who’s not going to be able to hold up there and of the work that needs to be done. So that’s another thing that you know, people should just keep in mind they have it’s an option.

Across the board pay cuts

CHIP: Yeah, I mean, I’ve run small businesses with less than 25 employees. I’ve had people go out on it, even unpaid leave and that can be very damaging. You’re to the business for an extended period of time. So, you know, it’s certainly something to be aware of getting back to the, you know, it reducing costs as it relates to staff. You know, what, what’s your view on across the board pay cuts in an organization? Is that? Is that a good idea? Is it something you should ask first you just do it unilaterally? Should you only do it if someone comes to you? What, you know, what’s, what’s your thinking on that?

PATRICK: So, I’ve seen it done a couple of different ways. The ones that have resonated the best with me, is on a sliding scale. So that your higher income employees have a larger percent than lower income employees there. There are different ways to do it. The thing is, there just needs to be consistency with the methodology. As long as there is I think it’s I think employees appreciate it. You know, if it keeps our job, it keeps our benefits. I think it’s worth consideration, but it can be a little tricky. Yeah.

CHIP: Yeah. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not generally a fan of across the board, pay cuts. I think you know, executive teams. Just want to take one yeah as sort of a morale boost in conjunction with some reductions in in headcount. That’s fine. I’m, but I’m not I’m not a huge fan of across the board pay cuts, because they, they’re not the kind of thing that really can last. But unfortunately, usually once they go into place, they don’t they don’t disappear for quite some time. And, and so it can be real damaging to morale over time.

PATRICK: I agree that the only time I’ve seen them work well is when there is a true time sensitive, specific Yes, period. And then at that point, then it goes back. But But we can’t say that with the situation that we have. Now. How long do we know this is going to last? Your guess is as good as mine?

Reduce staff once if possible

CHIP: Right? I mean, that’s what that’s and I’ve said, I think that’s the biggest problem with the current scenario is the uncertainty over what’s happening. And, you know, even in some of these past recoveries, you could put a plan together and say, okay, you know, here’s, here’s how we’re going to work our way out of it. Here. You know, we don’t even know when the circumstances are going to change for most of us. So it’s up It’s very, very challenging to plan. But let’s say let’s say we, you know, we’re going through if we do decide that we need to reduce headcount. So whatever number of employees, you know, what is your guidance? Should I should I rip the band aid off and do it all at once? Should I, you know, if I know, like, I have to do 10 employees, do I do that now? And then kind of say, Okay, well, you know, in two or three weeks, I’ll figure out if I need to go further. You know, let’s talk through a little bit sort of how you do it strategically big picture. And then I want to talk a little bit about how you handle the individual meetings themselves. For sure, an important topic that most agency owners just don’t have to deal with. Yeah,

PATRICK: yeah. So we talked a little bit earlier about the importance of understanding the business reasons why you may need to make a change in your staffing and I think the more analysis and time you put there, you’re going to get good results in terms of how this ends. But in general, I recommend if you can have one action that involves staff over a very long period of time, that is the best part. goes. The last thing the most demoralizing thing for staff is if you have one person, their positions eliminated one week, and then three weeks later another one, it becomes death of 1000 cuts, and it just becomes very kind of morale. A real real morale downer in the workplace and employees just kind of hate it. So I would say, do your analysis up front, you know, get your get your numbers where they are figure out you obviously you have to make some assumptions, make the assumptions, make a call, and then you know, you can at that point honestly say to him, Please, listen, I’m fortunate we’ve had to take this action. These are the positions that have been impacted. Unfortunately, the as of this date, these individuals are no longer with the organization, we’re going to do all our best to help them land somewhere else. We’re confident and hopeful that we won’t have to make this decision again in the future. But based upon what we can see right now, these are all the actions we’re going to take. You can say that with an honest face, and that’s going to go a long way with sass. A little bit more comfortable in very uncertain times.

CHIP: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely great advice. Because you really don’t want to be in that situation where you are just kind of you keep cutting away at the confidence of the team. And everybody’s wondering, you know, is today the day that I go, you know, so the more that you can take care of it all at once, at least given what, you know, obviously, unforeseen circumstances happen, but based on what you know, today, so, you know, my advice is typically cut a little bit more than you think you really need to Yeah, you know, it’s it’s better to err on the side, particularly right now, because there’s, there’s a lot of talent that’s out there now, unfortunately, unfortunate for them, fortunately for the employers, right. So you know, you’re going to have a much easier time adding people back than you are a few you know, you let 10 people go now and then you find out you have to let two people go in a month and three people go after that. That’s just, you know, overestimate what you need to trim in order to be healthy. And I think you’ll be in a better position and I know it sounds almost heartless to say it, but it’s it You have to as an owner, as a leader, you need to think about the survival of the organization first, right? Because if you do something to protect a small number of employees, you may end up harming the whole employee base by your your inaction today.

PATRICK: Yeah, you know, it’s it’s a much easier decision and a much easier process to go through to let 11 employees go this week. And two weeks later, offer one of those employees a job back, then they’ll let 10 employees go this week, and then two weeks left, one more go. That that’s devastating.

CHIP: Right. And I think you know, agencies really need to be thinking about this because they have by and large lost revenue, they are by and large, at least trying to get the PPP money right there. You know, so they’re in a position where they’re, they’re not letting people go now because that’s the condition of getting loan forgiveness that or not, yeah, you’re smart to hold on to those people. But you also you don’t want to wait until the VPP money runs out to then decide that you need to reduce headcount. Take advantage of the this breathing room that the VPP is giving you, and make the appropriate changes, let people know, you know, you 10 people, when the PPP runs out, we’re going to have to let you go. So you’re basically using the government’s money to pay them their severance in the form of a garden leave type situation, right? You know, you’re, you’re, you’re being as gentle and as kind of those employees as possible, right, not putting the business in a bad place by waiting to the last minute to deal with it.

PATRICK: Yep. Yeah. And, and by being flexible like that, you will open yourself up to a little bit of risk, because if an employee knows they’re going to be leaving, eventually, maybe they check out a little bit earlier. That’s a risk. But you know what everyone else saw how fair you were correct. And, and that counts for a lot as well, too.

How to handle layoff conversations

CHIP: Absolutely. So now let’s talk about the the meetings themselves and I, you know, I’m sure we could do probably a whole hour you know, with guidance on, on how to actually have a layoff type meetings with individuals. But, you know, let’s talk about some of the basics. You know, is there is there a better time of day day of the week to do it? You know, if you’ve got multiple people to lay off, and not enough team members, not enough leadership team members to actually perform those actions, and how do you sequence it? And, and obviously, it’s a little bit different now because nobody’s in an office for the most part, right. So normally, you have the issue. Everybody’s in the office, everybody can see. Right now, on the one hand, you don’t have that, but you do have everybody will, you know, instant message each other right away or texted well, right away. So how do you how do you handle the meetings themselves?

PATRICK: Yeah. So it’s important that they be handled First of all, as professionally as possible. You generally want to be brief, don’t apologize. The situation is a situation. You know, we need to have a difficult decision. We’ve reviewed we’ve talked about it in our meetings all along. We’ve had some challenges on the business side, and as a result of that, your position is being eliminated. As what or maybe not what we’re going to be maybe we can help you out placement or whatever going forward, you kind of lay it out, you give a pause, you let them kind of digest. Keep in mind that how an employee respond to that piece of information

PATRICK: is probably going to be a surprise to you. Because it’s not often that you’re going to see that employee with that amount of stress, and how people operate under stress that there’s normal style of behavior. There’s stress style behavior, you never really know what that’s going to be. So keep in mind, the employee may be shocked even though there should be no surprise everyone knew this was maybe going to come it could it nine times out of 10, the employee is going to be shocked. Sometimes they’re going to be mad.

PATRICK: Sometimes they’re going to be like, so what are you’re saying, I mean, I have this project, I’m working on it like they’re in it’s called denial. Well, you kind of have to make sure they really understand and be supportive. Let them know what next steps are. And you know, it should really be about a five minute conversation.

CHIP: And you should have all the paperwork ready, right going into it. You shouldn’t. This is not something where you have the conversation, then you get the paperwork together afterwards, you should have it. I mean, obviously, it’s not gonna be in person again, but you know, you’re emailing it to them during the conversation during the conversation, you should be sending them a letter that outlines everything that you’ve just discussed.

PATRICK: You mentioned timing, always better in the morning. Think about it from the employees perspective. As soon as I find out that their position is ending, they want to look at finding their next position, if you let them know at five o’clock in the afternoon, they can’t call any headhunters, you know, they can’t call their network everyone’s done for the day, you know, make it early in the day, early in the week, just and

CHIP: now they can’t even go to the bar.

PATRICK: Yeah, that’s right. Oh, wonderful. Then you’ll get a really nice email. And then if it’s going to be multiple individuals, just do them is you know as in as quick a time period as you can obviously text messages are going to start flying. There’s nothing you can do over that you really have no control over that situation it sort of is what it is. But you want to get the word out there as quickly as possible. They’re going to have to be like this conversation right here, either zoom or whatever means you have of connecting with people. That’s that’s the only way we can connect right now. But

CHIP: certainly, I mean, since you can’t do it in person, which is always preferred radio video is the next best it is as opposed to just you know, a phone call or something like that. And by all means, never do it by email or text, or no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no matter what it takes, get them in a voice to voice situation. It’s a lot easier now to do that, because all conversations are taking place that way, right. But you know, don’t don’t think you’re getting the easy way out by doing a mass email or something.

PATRICK: So impersonal and you know, it’s organizations still do that. And it blows my mind. Yeah. Because it is just not the way people like to be.

CHIP: Well, I mean, people people, generally speaking don’t like to fire people. They certainly don’t like to lay people off, you know, particularly if they’re, it’s through no fault of their own. So it’s, it is challenging, I get that. But that’s that’s not an excuse. Okay, so we’ve had the meeting with the individuals, you know, now we should bring the whole team together, right and share with zactly, what’s taking place on it, it’s done that we’re, you know, we’re not going to keep going,

PATRICK: right. And that should be done in a video conference, if at all possible, because you want to let everyone have the message at the same time they need to see in your eyes, when you describe the process that you went through to make those decisions. They need to see in your eyes that you really did, like, reading doesn’t really cover, you know, and they and they need to know whether you’re sincere or not about you think that this is where we need to be from a staff perspective, or I just took a stab in the dark here. Maybe we’ll be having this conversation again next week. Hopefully not. Right. So keep in mind when you’re having that conversation, you may get some anxiety from your other staff because obviously what are they going to be wondering what’s this going to mean for me right now? workload going to increase it’s a is it going to double is my position now in jeopardy, you know, keep in mind, they’re going to have all those thoughts flying around in their head and you want to do your best to kind of calm things down and set them at ease. You know, there’s going to be a little bit of survivor’s remorse, you know, in in in that conversation, there might be a little bit of shock. As much as you think that people should understand these things are coming. The reality is, it’s always going to be a surprise.

CHIP: Right. Right. And I think it’s particularly important to to make sure that in your messaging, you’re respectful of the employees that you’ve had delay. And unfortunately, this is a lesson that gets lost quite a bit because I think there’s a tendency for some managers to overcompensate and say, Look, don’t worry about it. We’re going to be okay that, you know, they were our lowest performers anyway.

PATRICK: Oh.

CHIP: And actually, I just saw this earlier this week. a holding company executive, publicly said publicly said the People were letting go our lowest performers. I mean, it is the absolute worst example of management that you can set ever, because now anybody who’s let go from that agency, it looks like they’re just terrible employees. So that’s and the reality is layoffs typically are not that even most run of the mill terminations in good times are not necessarily that they were low performance. It may just have been the wrong fit for Yes, absolutely. And so I think you really need to go out of your way to be respectful because, first of all, you never know where those employees are going to end up, they may end up at a potential client of yours in the future. So sure, you don’t want them to bear you ill will but more importantly for the rest of your team. If you start bad mouthing, departed employees, they’re going to wonder what you say about them.

PATRICK: The character of an organization is determined by how you handle the situation when times are tough. So the conversation you have with that employee is going to be leaving the conversation you have with your staff. They are all definitions of the character of your organization. Little bit of pressure. But I think it’s important to recognize that’s where the rubber meets the road.

Performance management amid the crisis

CHIP: Yep. All right. Well, we’ve we’ve talked enough about sort of the painful things that you have to do with employees to reduce headcount and costs. Let’s talk about some of the other realities that we have in our organizations from an HR standpoint right now, one that comes to mind is performance management of your team. Yeah. And, you know, because they’re, their KPIs are probably out the window. And I likelihood, you know, every whatever goals you set as an organization or with your individuals back in, you know, November, December of last year, odds are people aren’t going to be able to hit them, right? Depends on exactly what they were, but chances are, it’s gonna be difficult to hit them. You know, people are now working remotely. So you know, the way that you manage has changed a bit. So let’s, let’s talk about some of those challenges. Let’s start with, you know, sort of the basics of performance management goals, objectives, KPIs, how should you look to it, should you throw them out and start over, should you Say look for right now, we’re just focused on getting through month to month and you know, we’ll give you a continuous feedback, but we’re not going to worry about specific objectives, how you How would you handle that?

PATRICK: So the process part of performance management, I’m advising my clients take a breather on that, focus on lots of communication, lots of feedback, you know, making sure that things are getting done the way they need to be done the the old fashioned way, I think, you know, focusing on competencies and mid year reviews, and year end, appraisals and all those kind of things, which there’s a whole school of thought in terms of how much value they add anyway, but I really wouldn’t focus on those process things right now, I would focus a lot more on the communications, I think that’s where their value is going to be. And I wouldn’t get too hung up with some of those things. Certainly, at the end of the day our employees have to perform, but we need to recognize as managers, that there’s a lot more Non work related information we’re gonna hear dealing with our employees and we’ve ever heard before. And we might as well just get used to that, because that’s just the way things are for a while and you know what, it’s going to get better. But when we get into the whole Well, you know, KPIs where we have that it’s like, really, I’d recommend just put that off to the side for a little bit. I think it’s probably not what we need to focus on right now.

Being a manager of a suddenly remote workforce

CHIP: I think that makes it makes a lot of sense. Take a deep breath and focus on the things that you can more or less control, which is very much short term right now. Yeah, not get wound up over some of that. That other stuff. As you look at traditional managers who are now having to manage a remote workforce, and a workforce that’s used to coming into the office, now working from home and not only working from home, but working from home where, you know, the kids are probably cooped up with them in many cases, or for younger employees. You know, they’re there with roommates. We’re also working remotely in a cramped living room. setup in a department? Yeah. How, as a manager, how should I be looking at managing the the day to day performance of my team? You know, what tips would you have for someone who’s had to shift to this new role?

PATRICK: This is kind of tricky chip, because I really don’t believe in a cookie cutter approach here. I mean, in general rule of thumb, we should be communicating more than we generally would because of the situation as it is right now. I get that don’t leave people out. Make sense, but everyone has jobs to do and work that needs to be done. And if we’re on the phone all day on conference calls, how are we going to get anything done? You know, it’s kind of a catch 22 there. The other thing that complicates it is when we look at our employees, depending upon the individual there are going to be different needs with human contact, and some employees you know them they want to chit chat, you know, they want to socialize and they’re stuck in a in a house maybe by themselves and the more interaction they Have the better. So with some employees on your team, maybe you have a little bit more interaction, because you know, that’s what they need. Other employees are really focused on just getting the job done. You know, they want to minimize the conversation because they’re working on something they want to get it done. They want to get it done, right. So give them a little space, like maybe they don’t need to participate on all the calls, maybe they can, you know, and have some one on one conversation with them. Because you know, when working with them, that’s going to kind of resonate a little bit better for them. So from a management perspective, my experience has been, the managers who are best managing teams in the office they’re face to face are just as good managers on remote teams because they have the people skills to know that poor employee a has different needs employee B, and I’m going to adapt to each one of them to get things done more effectively. So managers who are most effective seeing everything getting done and micromanaging every step along the way, are going to have a horrible time with the remote workforce because they can’t see anymore, you know. So right being that first manager I think is going to go a long, long ways and understanding the individual needs of your staff. And your flexibility, I think is really, really important.

CHIP: Right. And I think as we said early on in this conversation, and as you’ve just touched on now, you need to make sure that you’re still having your regular meetings with folks. So you don’t necessarily need to lard up their schedule. But if you if you’re having a regular one on one, with your direct reports every week as you should, right, you certainly need to make sure you don’t let it go by the wayside if you let it go by the wayside because you were in the office and you saw them every day. First of all, tell you even in the office, that’s a bad idea. You should still have scheduled one on ones even if you see someone every day at the watercooler and all that it’s not the same, right, having that schedule, but certainly right now, make sure you’re having those scheduled one on ones, make sure that you don’t let the team meetings go. Because people do need that feel some sort of connection to each other.

PATRICK: You know, I’ve also seen a lot of organizations they’ll do like every other Friday, they’ll do a virtual happy hour, and then maybe they’ll do like Bingo, or I have one client, they have a meditation, I know a yoga expert, who they are in a park. So they’re in an area where they can, they can be in a park for one thing, and they’re just the social distancing. And they can do yoga. Another one, there’s like a, they go to, it’s interesting, they go to a park, and they do meditation in their cars. So they’re in the park setting. And then they have a person talking to them on the phone, you could see the person but you can see the trees and everything. And somehow that works for them. Sometimes you have to be a little bit creative, but those are things I think that organizations are starting to do a little bit more just to kind of help those who are sort of socially starved.

CHIP: Right? And I think finding creative solutions is a good idea at this point in time and, you know, try it and if it doesn’t work, you know, take the feedback and move on. You know, but you know, for the most part you’re not going to cause too much harm with these experiments. But you know, to be careful there, there are certainly lines you can cross right in these experiments, but for the most part, you should be okay. But you The flip side and you talked about I think the managers who are having the greatest difficulty right now the micromanagers, the people who’s just you know that the control freaks who need to know everything that’s going on I’ve seen in some agencies folks are trying to implement new tracking, you know, we haven’t done time tracking before, but we’re going to do it now. Or we increase the frequency of our video check ins just to make sure that you’re you’re there. I mean, that’s a terrible idea right there. This is not the time to put in new big brother type monitoring, or even little brother type monitoring, it’s you need to show that you trust your team in this new environment.

PATRICK: You do and you have to give him space, particularly those who really need this space. So many times that, you know, I get, I get a lot of work where, you know, we have a manager, we have an employee who’s doing now what they were doing before, and the manager wants to help me manage a performance problem because he or she’s not getting the number of reports they now want or there’s something added that isn’t being done. And it’s like, wait a minute,

PATRICK: the same work is getting done now as being done before, right? So why is there a problem

and you know, and you have to kind of like talk them through. And that really is another example of the situation.

Making something a problem that really wouldn’t have been a problem before. And managers need to be adaptable and recognize that and a little bit more flexible on their side and just kind of back off a little bit.

CHIP: And I think the flexibility is important too. Because, you know, folks do have different home situations. They’re, they’re being affected by that differently. People are affected differently by being cooped up all the time. There are some people who are, frankly, even thriving on it that I’ve talked to, they’re like, this is great, you know, I don’t have to really deal with people in person. It’s fantastic. You know, the, but then there are the people who are just out of their minds. Yeah, going crazy. And part of it depends on the jurisdiction and how strict The rules are about, you know, what you can do outside of the home. Right. You know, certainly employees have additional potential challenges. If you If they have health risks or family members in their household have health risks, you know, so how do you support employees through the various challenges that they may be having now that are not necessarily directly performance related, but certainly end up impacting performance over time.

PATRICK: A lot of it is just having the conversation, you know, asking the question, how are you doing? How do you feel about that? What’s your situation? You know, can can we help you? What can we do better to support you? those kind of questions go a long way. You know, but we, you know, as we start to transition back to the office, there gonna be some challenges we’re going to face. And, you know, I think we’re going to need to be asking the right questions of employees without asking the wrong questions. So for instance, you know, if someone has a medical problem that will put them in a high risk category, you can’t ask them if they have a medical problem. But what you can do is you could check every employee’s temperature as they come into the building. I mean, there is no rule of thumb, if you do it consistently, it’s generally going to be okay. If you target certain populations, it’s probably not going to be okay. But we have an obligation as employers to make sure we keep our employees safe. And those are high risk status, you know, we want to pay attention to

Re-opening offices

CHIP: that that’s a great transition to probably the last topic that I really want to make sure we cover which is, you know, going back to the office, because this is, this is very much on the minds of the agency owners I’m talking to right now who have physical offices, and and they’re starting to, you know, as the stay at home rules are being relaxed in a lot of different places. And, you know, it is sort of a hodgepodge. So not everybody who’s listening to this is going to be in the same situation, right? But everybody is sort of at least starting to think about, well, what does it mean to reopen my office and you’ve touched on one important area from an HR perspective, which is being able to put measures in place that protects the whole team so and federal regulators have basically said there is a fair amount of latitude And they’ve issued some guidance that that says that it’s okay to take employees temperatures, it’s okay to ask them, you know, if they’ve traveled to somewhere where there is, you know, a high rate of infection, it’s okay to ask people to stay home if they’ve traveled around, you know, so there’s, there’s a lot of additional leeway that employers are being given. You, obviously, as an agency leader need to think through how much of that leeway Do you want to take advantage of? And you know, what kind of rules do you want to put in place for your own team? Right, and there’s, obviously there’s the, there’ll be the legally mandated things you have to do, but then there’s a whole

PATRICK: wide area of things that you can do that fall within that. So you just want to make sure that you know, you don’t fall into a situation where you’re doing what’s legally required. But you know, reputational Lee, you’ve put your, your team and your organization in a bad space because perhaps you haven’t been taken some of the safeguards that you could easily do simple things. You know, start thinking about personal protection equipment that employees are going to need when they’re back in the office, start thinking about social distancing. You know, the having employees working on the same long table is probably not going to be a workable solution, you know, in the new world with, you know, how do you get that six foot social distance? You know, having some inexpensive plastic barriers up are things that you can do to really protect your employees in this new environment. We don’t have all the answers right now. But as a business owners, we should be thinking about that right now. And getting some of those peepees you know, if you want to start ordering them now would probably a good time to do that.

CHIP: Yeah, it because some of these things are going to take a fair amount of lead time to implement, so you want to start thinking them through. I think in general, I can say most of the agency owners I’m talking with are not they’re not in a rush to reopen their offices, right. nor should they be because for the most part, most agencies can work pretty effectively remotely. You know, there’s no doubt that some of them work better than others. office setting but, you know, if you’ve got the flexibility to delay that, that date, you’re probably better off even though it means you’re paying rent or a mortgage on space that you’re not using, which is I get it, it’s painful financially. But at the same time, imagine the pain if you bring people back too soon and, and end up in a bad situation. I think caution is is very much advised. And the more time that you think through the The more you can put the right solutions in place. And you

PATRICK: should also be thinking about what types of reasonable accommodations if they’re requested by your employees you think you will be able to make which will allow the businesses to get done?

CHIP: Right. And I think the reasonable accommodations are going to be particularly important because it It appears that in most places, schools will not be reopening until the fall, and most most summer camps in most areas look like they’ll be either cancelled or substantially modified, which means anyone with young kids is going to have challenges. Yep, certainly folks who have health issues themselves are again, you know, at risk people in their household that they’re potentially exposing, they may be uncomfortable coming in. So I, I think you need to be prepared for that. But I also think you need to be working now in collaboration with your team to start thinking these issues through. So don’t, you know, don’t sit in your own home, you know, maybe with a couple of other executives or an outside consultant, trying to think through it, engage the rest of your team and talk with them. You know, what, what do you think? Do you Are you anxious to get back to the office? Would you rather wait? what suggestions do you have for how we can make the office a good place? They’ll come up with some good suggestions, but more importantly, they’ll feel involved, you know, tool which will help deal with some of their anxieties? Absolutely. Absolutely. And that involvement

PATRICK: will have a direct relation on their anxiety level being lower, and instead of being a victim, that can be part of the solution.

CHIP: Right. And some of these things, as you said, are going to take time if you’re ordering tea, that’s gonna take some time. Yeah, to get it. If you’re looking at having more Hand Sanitizer around or disinfecting wipes or any of those kinds of things, that’s going to take some time, you may need to spend some time if you’re in a shared office environment, you may need to work with other tenants and landlords to coordinate on your approach to shared areas. Sure. So there’s a lot of things that you really need to make sure that you’re carefully thinking through. So that you, you end up giving the best possible scenario for your team.

PATRICK: Speaking of shared environments, I know there’s some specials going on now with a lot of the vendors in those spaces. So if you feel like you do need to get your employees together in the relative near future, you might want to think about asking what kind of specials I’ve gotten a few calls myself, right.

CHIP: Well, and you should, you should be thinking through, you know, all of the big picture things like things that you never really even think about, like cleaning of your office, right? You need to be talking to whatever cleaning service you’re using, and figure out what what are their plans Right, you know, and if you want to do a deep cleaning or something like that, you know, what is that going to cost? Can you even find people who will do that? I know some agencies are looking right now to secure deep cleaning of their offices before they reopen. And first of all, that’s not cheap. Right? And secondly, it turns out that kind of things and a lot of demand right now. So yeah, you need to be thinking through that. I mean, most of us, you know, we’re, we were happy if someone collected our trash at the end of the day, you know, cleaned up the crumbs in the break room. And, you know, it looked like if they had, you know, maybe dusted once in the last half century. But, you know, now you really don’t have to give a lot more thought to some of those cleaning practices. I think

PATRICK: you are and

you know, where you’re going to have your employees located, you know, the building may may have an agreement they have in place, you know, like as you’re potentially going to go back to your same place or go somewhere else, how they answered those questions and figured out those problems could be a key factor for you in terms of where you want your employees to come back to.

CHIP: Right. And I know a lot of agencies are using environments like we work and, and those organizations have been coming up with their own policies, right? I know they’re in the process of communicating some of those to their, their members. And that may or may not work for you. So you’ll need to figure out, I mean, I was talking with one agency leader recently, and we work had given them some new guidelines for the space that they use, and they’re like, well, that’s just not gonna work for us because we couldn’t get our whole team in. right for us, if, if we’re going to bring people together, we want them all together. So they would have to look at either a substantial expansion or something else. So you need to make sure that you’re you’re talking these things through and, and figuring out, you know, what is the right approach for your team going forward? Right. You know, there are some people who think that this is the this is the advent of everybody being virtual and remote. I don’t think that’s the case. But I think it is certainly going to change the way agencies are approaching, you know, where their team works, how their team works and all that.

PATRICK: As this wrapped up as it says, Spin chip, I think there are some things we can take from this that we can use in the future. So for instance, you know, this conversation that we’re having over zoom, you know, I think there’s a place for this in a little bit bigger prominence than we’ve used in the past. And, you know, I guess it’s been disruptive. But I do think there’s some good things that are gonna come out of this as well, too. We still have a little bit more to learn, but it feels like it’s going to work out okay.

Final words

CHIP: Are there other words of wisdom or things that you think agency leaders should be thinking about? As we’re as we’re sort of going through these disruptive times? You know, what should they be keeping in mind that we haven’t already addressed in this conversation?

PATRICK: You know, the one that sticks out for me and and I say this with my clients and and their employees, when I’m helping them through issues is just take a breath, just relax, you know, understand that the anxiety that you may be having with your employees or in your work situation, Might have its roots somewhere else. And sometimes, you know, just kind of taking a step back, it’s okay to kind of pause a conversation and pick it up. And another day, sometimes after a night’s sleep, it looks totally different. You know, I think everyone’s really trying to do the best I can right now. And, and kind of taking taking the leadership role to kind of step back a little bit and understand a little bit more before kind of jumping to conclusions can be

a good step in the right direction, I think.

CHIP: Yeah, I think the advice to sleep on things is is particularly prudent right now, because we’re all I mean, you know, no matter what level we’re at, in an organization, we’re all feeling some level of stress. That’s not normal. Yeah. And, and so, you know, we need to make sure that we’re making clear headed decisions as much as possible. So, you know, I’ve been advising people it, you know, ideally, you sleep on it overnight, but at least go out and walk around the block if you’re still allowed to do that or Yes, pace around your basement or, you know, whatever. Do something to take a little bit of time to clear your head before you make any important decisions or before you say things that you can’t take back, you know, in the course of talking with whether it’s employees or clients or vendors or whatever, so yeah, you know, I think that’s fantastic advice. Great. Well, Patrick, if someone is interested in learning more about ignition HR, where can they find you?

PATRICK: on email? It’s Patrick at ignition HR comm or by phone, I’m in Maryland. You know, check out ignition HR dot com as well.

CHIP: Perfect. And we’ll include all of that in the show notes for this episode and for this webinar replay. So, Patrick, I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken here to be the first guest on the first ever live Chats with Chip episode. I think there’s a lot of practical advice in here for agency owners as they try to figure out how to navigate the HR challenges in the current environment. And hopefully, it will help them make sounder, clearer decisions in their own businesses.

PATRICK: Well, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CHIP: Thank you, Patrick.