Today many small businesses can’t find employees. In fact, some have to turn down work reduce hours because they simply don’t have that human capital. Small businesses are trying to come back from COVID. They’re trying to build back capacity, and they’re not able to do it.
Another challenge is that small businesses are often competing with larger businesses that often provide more benefits. Planning is more important than ever when it comes to managing the human resources in your business.
Biz Chat Ohio is joined by Crista Bartolomucci, manager, talent acquisition and development for iDesign. Crista discusses the importance of being proactive versus reactive in your business, and also using creative solutions to attract and retain talent post-COVID.
Crista spent 10 years in the hospitality industry before transitioning to HR with Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm. At Apple Growth Crista concentrated on building an entry-level talent pipeline, campus recruitment strategies, and career pathing.
In 2017, Crista received the Greater Akron Chamber 30 for the Future Award and graduated the Leadership Akron Women’s Network Community Leadership Institute. Additionally, she served on the University of Akron Institute for Leadership Advancement advisory board and was a member of the Torchbearers board of directors.
SHRM – The Voice of All Things Work
Glassdoor Job Search | Find the job that fits your life
ERC HR Membership, Training, Consulting | ERC (yourerc.com)
Transcript of Biz Chat Ohio’s podcast 1.8: Crista Bartolomucci
Welcome to Biz Chat Ohio, the podcast bringing you big ideas for small businesses. Throughout this series, we hope to bring the best of small business news and industry trends from Ohio’s thought leaders, and just maybe something to help you run your business a little bit better. I’m your host, Cathy Walsh, Director of the Small Business Development Center at Lakeland Community College, and I’m joined by my co-host and soul sister, Gretchen Skok Disanto, Director of Lakeland Community College’s Entrepreneurship Center and business advisor for the Ohio Small Business Development Center. Hi, Gretchen.
Hey, Cathy. How are you?
I’m good today. How are you?
I’m doing good. It’s sunny outside. So finally stopped raining.
I feel like a real person. So today we’re talking about HR and I think Cathy and I would agree that the number one issue that we’re hearing recently from our Small Business Development Center clients is that they can’t find employees. And some of our clients, they’ve had to turn down work, they’ve had to reduce hours and more because they simply don’t have that human capital. And this is particularly troubling, of course, because these small businesses are trying to come back after COVID. They’re trying to build back capacity, and they’re not able to do it.
So then there’s, of course, the added challenge that the small business is competing with the larger business that may be able to provide more benefits, et cetera. So today we will talk about how planning is more important than ever when it comes to managing the human resources in your business. We’re going to talk about that being proactive versus reactive in your business, and also using creative solutions to attract and retain talent post-COVID.
Yeah, today we are joined by Crista Bartolomucci, manager, talent acquisition and development for iDesign. Crista has been in human resources for more than 10 years, focusing on attracting and retaining top talent to northeast Ohio. Crista spent 10 years in the hospitality industry before transitioning to HR during her time at Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm. She spent six years at Apple Growth focusing on full-scope HR with a concentration on building an entry-level talent pipeline, campus recruitment strategies, and career pathing. In 2017, Crista received the Greater Akron Chamber 30 for the Future Award and graduated the Leadership Akron Women’s Network Community Leadership Institute. Additionally, she served on the University of Akron Institute for Leadership Advancement advisory board and was a member of the Torchbearers board of directors.
Currently, Crista is the manager of talent acquisition and development for a global leader in housewares industry, where she spent the last four years. In her current role, she focuses on developing strategy for attracting and retaining top talent from executive-level to hourly warehouse associates. Crista, welcome to Biz Chat Ohio, Gretchen and I are so pleased to have you with us today.
Good morning, Gretchen and Cathy. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here today to talk about a subject that I’m very passionate about, which is recruiting and retaining top talent to our organization. So thank you for having me.
HR is always a topic of interest to our business owners, there’s always challenges with it, whether we’re in good times or challenging times. And there’s a lot of things we could talk about.
Kind of through the hire, retire, fire, topics. And then maybe get on to some other things as well and pick your brain on that. I’d like to start out of course with the candidate shortage, what would you suggest that small businesses do to ensure that they have the workforce they need to recover from COVID impacts?
This is a very hot topic right now in the HR community for all organizations. So this isn’t just a Cleveland issue, an Ohio issue, it’s a nationwide issue. And a lot of small businesses especially, are really struggling asking those questions, how do I find these employees? How do I keep these employees?
And I think one of the keys right now is to be creative with your approach to this. What can you do within your scope to be able to influence your employees to stay with you? A few things that come to top of mind with this is right now, if you don’t have the financial resources, really focus on your culture. What is the culture within your organization, and how do you market that culture outward? What are your employees saying about you as an employer? Those are really some keys to attracting people.
You know, statistically speaking, employee referrals are an amazing source for finding new talent. And through employee referrals, as I mentioned statistically speaking, they end up staying with you longer and being a top performer. So that’s a great one. You could offer an employee referral bonus. If it’s monetary, that’s great, if it’s not monetary maybe it’s something in the form of an additional paid day off or lunch for the office, whatever that might be. That’s a great source.
Another way is think differently about how you’re spending your dollars right now. For example, if you’re spending a lot of money in overtime, can you change the shift hours to reduce that overtime? Temporary labor is kind of always an option but right now that’s even pretty sparse and of course, the markup is very high.
As I mentioned, just think about how you spend your dollars, and can you spend them differently? Do you offer an annual bonus that maybe you could take the allocation of those dollars and use them differently throughout the year, whether that’s through a retention bonus right now. A lot of employees want that instant gratification, especially the generation that’s coming into the workforce right now.
And the other thing that is an extreme hot topic as it relates to the workforce right now is remote work. Prior to the pandemic, our company had zero remote work. We could not work from home. It wasn’t really an option. And then well, March of last year we had no choice, right. So we are a virtual workforce now and most of us do work from home. So if you have the capability to do that and to offer that flexible work and that remote work, I think that will really help you attract and retain your employees.
Next, is something that we’re hearing a lot about in the news is the great resignation. What do you think small businesses can do to minimize the impacts of this or on the flip-side, is this something that maybe could be good for some small businesses, and could they leverage this, what’s going on? What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, the great resignation keeps me up at night. So I don’t know who coined this term but it’s kind of a scary term that they’ve coined in our HR community but the great resignation is happening. Fortunately, we at iDesign have not seen that right now. However, I think with the increased number of vaccinations happening and people getting more comfortable with making a move, in 2020 people just weren’t sure what was going on in the world and in the economy. So even if they were thinking about a job change they really didn’t make a job change, right.
So you could look at this as a positive or negative. Sometimes turnover is a good thing, right? It’s positive, whether it’s an employee that you’ve been having some performance issues with, whether it’s bringing somebody in with a different perspective or a different skill set into that role. So those are a few positives that are coming out of this great resignation.
But a way to manage this is transparency is key. Especially right now coming out of the pandemic being transparent of how the organization is performing financially, where are you in the marketplace, what’s your plan to move forward? I think the less employees know, the more that they make assumptions and guesses and that’s really when those fears start to build and then they become thinking of those doubts, and then that’s when they start to look. So I think number one, being transparent is key.
I think the other thing is communicating the stability of the organization and how the organization moved throughout the pandemic. One piece that I’ve often heard as I interview gosh, hundreds of people every month. And one of the big things that I’ve heard lately is they’re looking because of the way their employer treated them throughout 2020.
And there’s nothing wrong with communicating the positives that an organization did during 2020. Or if they weren’t able to do something, why they weren’t able to do it, whether it was they couldn’t provide a bonus because they wanted to keep everyone employed or whatever that might be. Like I said, being transparent with your employees is key right now.
And another part of this managing the retention of your employees is employee surveys. What do they want? And how can you provide that to them within the constraints of your business? But the key if you’re going to do an employee survey is to actually take action from that survey so that you build that trust with your employees.
I’ve got a couple of follow-up questions on that, Crista. Firstly, transparency, I’m in total agreement with you. What do you think is the optimal way to communicate what is going on with the business? I mean, obviously, there’s lots of communication channels and we can send email, we can have meetings, we could push down through different departments. And it probably depends on the business, yes but I mean in your opinion, what do you think is the best way to be transparent and communicate what’s going on with the business to employees?
Great question. I think the best way to be transparent and what we do at iDesign is hearing it directly from the source. So whether it’s the owner of the organization, whether it’s the CEO, or whether it’s the president, that person in that leadership role that’s running the organization, having them have the conversation with the entire employee population. We do something called a town hall where our CEO, it’s virtual now but our CEO will get on a Teams call and he talks to all 200 of us. And I think that’s really where you build the trust. And when they’re starting to trust what you’re saying and they can see that transparency.
That’s great, thank you. And then one more question on the surveys you mentioned. I know a lot of employees may not feel comfortable saying exactly what they feel. Is this going to come back to me, could there be repercussions of this? I’m sure you know what I’m trying to say here as the HR professional. So what would you recommend, like would you recommend having a third-party do that to be most effective? Or how do you guarantee a safe environment for somebody who wants to provide feedback and might be concerned about it coming back to haunt them?
Yeah, and that is really a true fear. We even at iDesign we have a great culture and we do employee surveys and we provide feedback. And still, you even have some people that are like, oh, not comfortable sharing my total complete thoughts. And I think with that confidentiality will be best with that one. So an anonymous survey.
You can do them yourselves. There’s free tools out there, Survey Monkey is one of them that’s completely anonymous when a respondent responds to your survey but if you’re looking to do an annual employment employee engagement survey I suggest using a third party, absolutely. Number one, it takes the question out of if it’s confidential or not because it’s executed by a third party. So there’s really no question on if it’s confidential or not because the organizations, all they get are the end results. So absolutely, I would recommend a third party if you want to do a full-dive into an employee engagement survey.
For me, I’m thinking back to people that I personally know who’ve resigned over the past year. And I think communication really was the top problem, not listening to maybe what the employee’s concerns were about coming back to work or change in how they were doing their work, not listening, not wanting ideas, not listening. And then not communicating. Just saying well, OK, we’re coming back, so see you Monday. And not getting their questions answered. You know what I mean? Like that communication is so important because if you’re not sharing the truth, people are going to make up their own truth. And then go with that.
That’s probably not what’s going on but even if it is, let them know that you know that that’s the problem and you’re handling it as an owner or a manager of a department. But having said that, we do know that from time to time there are situations where an employee is not performing in an acceptable manner, isn’t showing up when expected, or is disrupting the work environment in a very counterproductive way. How should an employer handle these situations and when is it best to pull the plug and let them go?
This is a tricky one and no matter how long you’ve been in HR, how many times you’ve done it, making that final decision and that final call is never easy. I think a few things to help in this process to help identify if it is the right time to exit an employee from the organization is number one, having a clear and concise job description written for that person. If you have a clear and concise job description written, you have something that you’re then able to hold them accountable to. If it’s a performance issue, you want to document those performance issues, document it with the employee and with the manager, with an HR representative if you have one. If not, with another leadership member is perfectly acceptable.
The other thing is as it relates to arrival to work on time, attendance. Having progressive discipline for that is really key, especially when you’re talking about unemployment, if you do have to exit the person from the organization but having progressive discipline could look something like they have a first written warning, they have a second written warning. On step three they’re suspended without pay for three days and step number four is termination. That’s just one example, you could have two steps in the process but whatever process you do have for progressive discipline, the process needs to be documented and it needs to be followed and it needs to be consistently followed and applied the same way to each person throughout the organization.
And back to those performance issues, if you have documented the performance issues, the performance issues are still persisting, I think the next step would be a PIP, which is a performance improvement plan. So it’s something that we tie it back to the job description, it’s clear, actionable items with end dates. And you check in with the employee once a week to see how they’re moving along their performance improvement plan if they’re making progress. If they’re not making progress, that needs to be documented.
The idea of a performance improvement plan is in the end they improve as an employee. If they’re unable to meet the performance improvement plan, you have then done everything, you’ve provided the clear expectations, you’ve provided guidance, you’ve provided ways that they can improve and goals in how to improve. And if they do not meet that I think that’s the time when you can make the final call to exit them from the organization.
It’s never an easy thing to do, even if you know it’s the best thing for the organization long term.
I mentioned earlier, Crista, how we wanted to make sure that we touched on strategic HR planning. Let’s talk about that now, what value does strategic HR planning provide to a small business, particularly now given the situation that many small businesses find them in after COVID?
Yeah, great question. You know, I was in a training several years ago and the trainer referred to kind of planning in HR the same way as when you get married, you don’t just want to marry whomever but you have to interview the person, you have to get to know the person, you have to be proactive rather than reactive. And that analogy has always really stuck with me.
And I think strategic HR planning is key. You’re driving the organization forward and people are key in being able to drive the organization forward. You had mentioned proactive versus reactive. And as you’re planning throughout the organization being proactive rather than reactive also builds transparency and trust as we talked about earlier. So a few keys to proactively planning that will help you be successful. Number one is your compensation strategy. So looking across the organization to ensure that you have fair and equitable pay practices amongst all of your employees within the organization that’s proactive, whether you need to make adjustments to those compensations, move forward with doing that.
Another piece of proactive planning is succession planning. And oftentimes in a small business you have someone that has been with you for years and years and they’re producing and they’re great and then all of a sudden they’re like you know, I think I’m ready to retire. And we haven’t taken the time to plan who’s going to be the person to fill that role.
There’s a activity called the nine-block strategy and the nine-block strategy looks at the organization overall and it identifies who in your organization is a top performer. And through that exercise, you’re able to identify who might have potential to take those folks’ roles when they’re ready to retire. And in identifying that maybe you put a two-year plan together, a three-year plan, so that you can train and educate that employee so that they can get the knowledge and skillset and the institutional knowledge that that person has before they’re ready to exit the organization. So I think those are some keys.
On the nine-block, and I think the last piece that I have to say about kind of proactive planning and strategic HR, is culture. Everything ties back to is the employee happy, fulfilled, do they have challenging and meaningful work and do they want to come to work every day? So really focus on building an intentional culture. How do you as a small business define that and what can you do in order to drive that forward?
I’m going to kind of put you on the spot here but I have a question for you, when you talk about compensation strategy, do you have any resources where somebody could go and look and see what the market is paying for a particular job skill?
Yes, so there are paid and then there are sourced information for compensation. Sourced information would be something like your Glassdoor, where you can get information. That information is self-reported by the employee and it’s kind of pooled in a way. I caution that if you use a source like that it tends to be a little bit higher as far as where the salary ranges fall.
If you use a paid source, Salary.com has a paid feature to theirs where you can receive compensation information. ERC which is the Employees Resource Council out of Cleveland, they have resources to where they will provide compensation studies for you. They’re at a charge but they will provide the compensation studies for you or you can also use a third party to do a compensation analysis for you.
Do you have any success stories? I mean, we’re talking a lot about different strategies and things that businesses can implement but is there a success story that comes to mind that would show the power of effective human resource planning?
Yeah, this is– the example that comes to mind is reactive and then proactive but in the middle of last year our sales nearly doubled. And we did not have a process or a dedicated person that would support all of our hiring needs in the warehouse. So I kind of got tapped on the shoulder and my boss said, you’re doing a great job with recruiting in the office, do you think you could find hourly warehouse associates? And I kind of just stared at her through the computer screen and I’m like, I don’t know but I am willing to try. Let’s give this a try and see what will happen. We needed a lot of employees. We have two warehouse and distribution centers and gosh, there’s at least 200 folks within those facilities. So we needed a lot of people.
And I kind of jumped right in and I said OK, time out, we need to kind of get the house in order before we can move forward. So we put a process in place for working with third parties. We put a process in place for requesting staff and the requests of those staff were based off of the volume of orders that we were receiving. I started going into the facilities to truly understand what the roles were that these folks were going to be performing so that I could correctly communicate that outward.
We started doing direct hiring, which we had never done before on the warehouse side. So before just throwing up a post I really wanted to think through once these candidates start to apply and we get this flood, how are we going to manage it from there? Who’s going to be interviewing, how are we going to bring them into the organization, how are we going to bring them in safely– at that time masks were still required– so how do we bring these folks in to our environment safely?
So we started to develop those strategies of direct hiring. We started offering pay incentives for our employees. So I did jump right in but I took what I’d done in the office and I applied that to our warehouse setting as well.
That’s a great story.
Yeah, it is.
Thank you for sharing your story.
Absolutely. You know, could be saying, well, we were caught a little bit off guard but I think everybody’s been caught off guard in the past year regarding a lot of things, so.
Yeah, there’s no policy and procedure on how to handle a pandemic for HR professionals. There might be now but there wasn’t.
There will be now.
I hear you.
Would you mind sharing with us what you think are some popular misconceptions about HR that you think small businesses need to be aware of and make sure they keep on their radar, so they don’t fall into that trap?
Yeah, this question made me laugh and I had said this to a coworker the other day and she was astonished but I think a popular misconception is anyone can do HR. As an HR professional, I have my SHRM certification. And I think a big thing with HR is experience. It’s experience of how to handle employees, how to manage employees, how to teach and coach and develop employees. So I think the biggest misconception is anyone can do HR.
And we often find when some type of legal issue happens is really when that’s put to the test because it’s assessing the risks and compliance of the organization. And so oftentimes when a legal matter does come up is really when they identify that having someone that’s skilled in those practices is really going to make a difference in the outcome.
Excellent. So Crista, thanks so much for being with us today. And we have your website here, that is idesignlivesimply.com. And we’re going to make sure we put that into our show notes when we get everything live. Are there other online resources you can talk about for small businesses who want to make sure that they’re staying up to speed on major HR trends and approaches, do you have any thoughts about that?
Absolutely. SHRM is one organization, the Society of Human Resource professionals that offers lots of support to small businesses. Your local chamber also offers a lot of support to small businesses, a lot of local chambers right now are hosting job fairs, whether they’re virtual or in-site, so there’s another place to be able to get some resources and potentially find employees as well.
Thank you for letting us pick your brain a little bit about human resources. It’s a challenging topic right now. So I think the things we talked about today are going to be very helpful for people. Need to start thinking about things in a little bit different way.
Thank you both very much.
This podcast is made possible by the Ohio Small Business Development Center and Lakeland Community College. Stay up to date with the latest podcast episodes by signing up today at bizchatohio.com to receive our latest shows and premium content delivered right to your inbox. And visit bizchatohio.com for the latest blogs and freebie content.
Or look for Biz Chat Ohio wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify, and please subscribe so that you don’t miss an episode. We would really appreciate it. If you have a business question or an idea for an amazing guest or business topic email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to learn more about the SBDC at Lakeland, please visit our website at lakelandcc.edu/sbdc.
Our center offers no-cost business advising in areas of business planning, access to capital, marketing, and other business topics. We’d love to hear from you. If you are joining us from outside the northeast Ohio region you can visit America’s sbdc.org to find a center close to you nationwide. Thanks for listening. Join us next time for another great episode of Biz Chat Ohio.