Once upon a time individual employees quit bad bosses.  Attentive leaders could notice a trend, identify the problem (i.e., the bad boss) and make decisions: coach, train, transfer (!), threaten, discipline, ignore, etc.  Of course some of these decisions led to better outcomes than others in terms of managing employee turnover and the impact of a bad boss.


Recent research tells us those bygone days may be over.  In our modern era, individual employees quit bad organizations:  whole companies with negative cultures see good employees leave.


Turnover is no longer dependent upon individual bosses who treat employees poorly.  Turnover is about what the organization – and individuals throughout the organization – do to demonstrate and support the culture described in the employee handbook or in ads directed at customers.


Answer quickly:

Can you easily match the ads you hear and see about your own organization with the behaviors demonstrated by and toward employees all around you each business day?  Is that match strongly positive?  In other words, do individuals throughout your organization ‘walk the talk?’


One key issue to consider: are there talented and productive – yet negative and toxic – individuals in your work teams?  What have you done to address the problem so that talented and productive – positive and thriving – individuals are willing to stay?


If you need additional convincing that toxicity in the workplace is more than an interpersonal conflict to be ignored or avoided, the Harvard Business School’s Toxic Workers study concluded that avoiding a toxic employee can save a company more than twice as much as the revenue bringing on a star performer can add.


It isn’t ‘just’ your Culture that suffers from toxic workplace behaviors.  It’s your bottom line.  Now is as good a time as any to:

  • Affirm your desired workplace Culture.
  • Assure every employee knows what that Culture looks like in everyday workplace actions.
  • Actively reinforce your expectations throughout the organization. No one is above Cultural workplace expectations, and everyone will be held accountable to them.
  • Announce, as you make changes in support of your desired Culture, showing that expectations are real and mean business.


A topic often raised in conversation with business owners starts with the question, “Should payroll report to HR or to Accounting?”  A flip response could be simply, Yes – or Either.


Responding more fully:

The key to deciding the question is understanding that the payroll process is much more a puzzle than a straight line.  Payroll brings accounting principles and HR knowledge together:

  • Balancing accounts
  • Wage & hour regulations
  • Knowledge of application of time off of work and other organizational practices
  • Compensation and staffing principles


Add benefit enrollment, eligibility, deductions and invoicing and the puzzle becomes truly complex.


The ability to learn “the payroll system” may not be sufficient to monitor and report critical organizational information and trends.  Strong spreadsheet, data analysis and database skills may add significant value to the payroll job. Communication skills are valuable to explain changes or errors to employees.  Vendor relationships may be important as benefit enrollments are implemented.  The ability to maintain confidentiality is critical.


The “final answer” is that payroll processing is an important function: not one to be assigned lightly or arbitrarily.  The best organizational answer is that regardless of where payroll processing fits in the organizational chart, all interested parties from all relevant functions (accounting, HR, benefits, compensation, risk management, etc) need to participate in active and frequent communication.* In this way, the payroll function can offer valued service to employees and to the organization.

Recently while looking at some papers I’d been keeping, a couple of lines caught my eye:

  • (You) should never work in a place where you want to keep your head down.
  • Unrestrained venting just transfers your stress to everyone around you and (a favorite)
  • How (you) do anything is how you do everything.


What can these reminders do for each of us as we face a new day?  How can they help us make our own day – and that of our colleagues and families – better?


Start the day with positive intent.

Whatever it takes (looking at pictures of baby animals, meditating, walking, journaling, praying) put your mind in a positive place before you get on with your day.  No excuses.  Do it.  Practice it.  Go on from that point.


Start every conversation by smiling and saying something positive.

You have the opportunity to set the tone and to help the other person match your positive mood and approach.  What better way to get any conversation started in a good direction and encourage honest dialogue?


Prevent slippage.

Be aware.  Negativity will influence each of us unless we practice, practice, practice positive habits.

Send a praising or thankful email to someone in your support network; it will remind you of the care and support you receive from others and let you acknowledge it.

Start meetings or work conversations not with the challenges to address but by sharing something positive: about life in general, about your team in general or someone specific on the team.  It sets a better tone and still lets the work get done.

Take a positive personal risk.  When someone asks how you’re doing, respond positively: “It’s a beautiful morning and I’m glad to be a part of the day.”


None of us goes to work and suddenly has no personal life.  We don’t go home from work and suddenly not have experienced that annoying situation at work.  Using these ideas just may help make each whole day as good as it can be.  Spread throughout a workplace, it’s a sure way to improve and maintain a positive Culture.


Think about these findings reported in Susan Pinker’s book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier:

  • Smaller groups that communicated face-to-face were more cohesive. There was more trust within the group, which made it easier for people to ask questions and seek help when they needed it. As a result, those groups were more productive.
  • Want to be happier and more productive? Take your breaks at the same time as your friends at work do. This boosted performance, increased smiling and made the company that participated in the study an extra $15 million.
  • When people connect— and especially when they touch each other— oxytocin is released, which damps down their stress and enables them to trust each other… A simple handshake, a pat, a fist-bump, a friendly nudge, or a high five does the trick. All evidence points to social contact lowering stress among colleagues and making a team more cohesive

What are some simple ways to build these productivity-boosting social interactions into your work place?    Consider:

  • If you’re tempted to drop a quick email message, don’t do it. Even if its efficiency is sorely tempting. Instead, get out of your work space and walk across the office. Smile and speak to the people you see.  Shake hands with colleagues who’re available.  Deliver that message or ask that question in person.
  • When you’re planning a meeting, don’t gloss over the opportunity for participants to interact. Build time for conversation, connecting and hand shaking into the agenda.
  • Missing colleagues who work remotely? Build some trust by connecting with them through a video chat.
  • Had your nose to the proverbial grind stone completing a project? Reward yourself by taking a break with colleagues.  Encourage others to regularly do the same.

Think about the productivity impact as well as the social value in these personal connections.  Think about the long-term trust you’re building in such simple ways.  Could there be better, more rewarding or less expensive ways to increase productivity and trust?

By description, a business process is a set of activities that, once completed, will accomplish an organizational goal.  Likely several processes come to mind as you consider this description: sales, marketing, finance/accounting, product development, etc.


Now think about compliance.  Rather than viewing compliance as a burden, an extraneous requirement or waste of time, instead consider the ways in which compliance, when well managed as a business process, helps accomplish a variety of business goals:

  • Affirmative Action or Equal Employment Opportunity compliance supports innovation: diversity of customers and markets supporting organizational growth
  • Selection/hiring compliance supports staffing: the right people with the right skills in the right positions to meet customer and business goals
  • Wage & hour compliance supports organizational stability and corporate citizenship: regulatory updates are managed with a reduced threat of disruption or legal challenge.


Meeting external, statutory requirements (i.e., compliance) as a routine business process:

  • Supports a culture of positive employee engagement and trust
  • Frees employees throughout the organization to focus on the business rather than on covering or explaining marginal activities or wondering where perceived gray lines may be
  • Focuses resources on planning and implementing what is or can be known and
  • Avoids the turmoil, expense and bad press of potential legal challenges.



Published statements or even correlations can be found and described  to support nearly any perspective.  It’s true that even a broken clock may be right twice a day.


Take the oft-recommended method of providing negative feedback “sandwiched” between presumably positive statements that are too often made-up or insincere.  Call the result a praise or a crap sandwich: either way it is wrong.


In an earlier writing here (“Candor in Action” March 23, 2016) the warm glow of candor was suggested as the ideal for building a team and organization.


Enter Caroline Webb.  In her 2016 book, How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavior Science to Transform Your Working Life, Ms Webb shares relevant research findings:


It turns out that research says our human brains guard against not only physical threats but also threats to our social standing, belonging, competence, etc.  Hearing negative statements about our selves or our work triggers our defenses: our “fight or flight.”


When our brains are focused on fighting or fleeing, they’re not equipped to also help us listen rationally, respond graciously, conduct sound reasoning, control our behaviors, etc.  Ever taken a trip to the beach in your mind or imagined punching the person delivering that sandwich to you?


Further, our brains are more sensitive to threats than to rewards, and they like specificity more than concepts.  We are wired to remember the negative, specific feedback we’re hearing: not the fuzzy niceties.


Put these research findings together and learn:


  • Avoid disguising or pretending to hide negative feedback “in between” broad, non-specific positives.
  • If there is useful criticism to offer, plan the conversation to offer it.
  • Be specific, candid and kind.


You certainly do not want those who have dined and learned the bad sandwich to think – when you begin to commend them for good work – here we go again la-la-la or worse, to brace for the meal of correction and miss the encouragement feedback you intend.


Thinking ahead to plan a conversation in this mindset and with this approach will help you be heard.  That conversational environment will contribute to productive, trust-based relationships even – or maybe especially – when two parties don’t initially agree.

The Road to Abilene (aka the Abilene paradox) is Dr. Jerry B. Harvey’s 1974 parable about a family trip to Abilene.  In that classic story about the results of group think, members of a family make a miserable trip across the hot desert in a car without air conditioning just to eat bad cafeteria food.  They could have stayed home enjoying conversation and cool drinks in the shade.


This group think paradox brings to mind a statement attributed to Malcom Muggeridge, “Only dead fish swim with the current.” The quote brings other pictures to mind and Muggeridge is right.  In hundreds of scuba dives, one has seen that it is the healthy fish who face the current, looking for food and moving around the reef.  Bigger fish find their healthy places in bigger currents.


Now create for yourself a mind picture of the mission of the Giraffe Heroes Project: to move people to stick their necks out for the common good: to do the right thing for others (my emphases).


What a contrast!


With these mind pictures formed, let’s reinforce some principles:

  • In the next meeting in which an executive says, “It would be great if…”, stop and think.
    • Your organization pays you, as it does other manager/leaders, to think.
    • Thinking is the valuable process.
    • Not valuable is taking that long hot trip to Abilene and finding only misery at its end.
  • Teachers who told you in school that if you had a question, others likely had the same question were right.
    • Ask the question(s).
    • Be the hero who sticks her neck out to focus everyone away from ‘going along to get along.’
    • Help your colleagues confirm that the idea supports strategy; that critical resources are available; that timing is good. Or, help everyone avoid misery.
  • Don’t participate in the ‘watching and hoping.’
    • Challenging ideas, asking questions and matching plans with strategy are valuable actions that focus organizational resources and lead to creative, productive solutions.
    • Helping everyone succeed and avoid misery is each leader’s opportunity and challenge.


Paraphrasing Jim Collins, going along to get along is not why your butt is in that manager/leader seat on that particular bus.  Swim healthy against the current.  Be a giraffe.

What if you are a manager and you hear one of your employees say he is having trouble getting to work on time every day because of some medical appointments?  Dare you ignore the remark?  Is it a trigger to start an intentional conversation with that employee?  If so, how hard could that really be?  Turns out, it can be painstaking, and it can be critically important.


This employee may have just begun the critical conversation (aka the interactive process) required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  The requirement for an interactive process is unique to the ADA.  The process can be difficult to start, to do well and to maintain.  Both the individual with a disability and the employer are required to communicate in good faith regarding reasonable accommodations, once conversation has determined that there may be performance issues related to a disability.


In your conversation provide the employee an opportunity to explain the reason that an accommodation is required due to a medical condition.  From that point, explore every potential accommodation that is suggested.  Remember that under the guidelines, an employee does not get to demand one, one particular or even “the best” solution.  Neither is it good practice for a manager to enter the conversation with preconceived notions about the employee, the medical condition, limitations or potential accommodations.  Books have been written and court cases decided when either party tries to draw a proverbial line in the sand.  It may be useful to invite the employee to complete an initial questionnaire to help him prepare for a conversation with you: to collect his thoughts and generate some creative options.


Examples of reasonable accommodations range widely and may include equipment, leaves of absence, changes in work schedule, job reassignment to an available and suitable job, restructuring of nonessential job functions, modified workplace policies, etc.  Often, the best accommodation involves a little creativity from both parties and need not be costly.  In one situation, a yoga mat and time to stretch throughout the day was all an employee needed to address a chronic back pain issue.


The interactive process does not end with the first conversation.  Periodic follow up with the employee is good practice to maintain productivity and engagement and to ensure that any accommodation is effective.


Internal resources include knowledge of requirements of the ADA, the business and the employee’s role in it and good job descriptions.


Outside resources such as the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and the U.S. EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (October 27, 2002) may also be useful.

  • Be aware of the ADA and its requirements.
  • Maintain job descriptions that focus on essential functions.
  • Train managers to have effective conversations: to ask questions about reasonable accommodations and not about the medical condition or disability.
  • Meet and converse periodically with the individual and document the conversations.
  • Repeat as necessary to assure any accommodation continues to be effective and reasonable.

It’s been said that the longest journey begins with the first step.  The same may be said for organizational staffing.  The question then becomes what the first step may be:


As a business owner, briefly and quickly consider each of your employees.  How many of them would you, right now, be excited to retain?


If the answer isn’t a quick, “every one of them,” you may have started the journey of staffing.


If you need convincing regarding the value of staffing (selecting and intentionally retaining employees who fit your organizational culture, who are in roles that fit both them and your organizational culture and who treat your customers and each other well) consider:


Research by Dylan Minor of the Kellogg School demonstrated that a rare 1% superstar performer could bring an extra $5,300 value to an organization over the work of an average employee.  Replacing a toxic employee with one described as average created cost savings of $12,800.


Good staffing decisions do not stop at the hiring/selection decision.  Managers need to be aware of the impact of employees’ conduct and performance on others.  Each individual’s conduct can influence the behavior of everyone in the work group and can impact customers.


As you consider managerial options to address potential toxic or less-than-average employees, keep in mind that discharge may be an extreme – and unnecessary – solution.  An employee demonstrating toxic behavior may perform better given a new challenge or new opportunity.  Candid conversation (see the post on this site in March 2016) may lead to mutually positive results, avoiding the disruption and cost of turnover and building loyalty and trust.


  • Are you confident in your interviewing/selecting skills and those of individuals who make these decisions?
  • Are you managing the performance of all of your staff: superstars, average performers and those who may be toxic?
  • Do you and your managers have skills necessary to achieve your staffing objectives?

The spectrum tracks questions often asked by organizational leaders.  In the next several comments here, we will visit some of those issues.  Today –


Can we change an employee’s pay rate?


This question nearly always arises when the anticipated change is a reduction.  It seems the question fades to moot when the change is an increase.  Consideration is important regardless of the direction of change.


The short answer:  Yes, you can change an employee’s rate of pay.  You can increase it or you can decrease it.


The longer answer:


When pay rates are evaluated, leaders do well to consider a variety of factors:

  • Market competition
  • The relationship of (base) pay to the value or contribution of a job to the organization
  • Internal equity: relative pay rates across organizational levels, locations, jobs, etc., in terms of the skills, experience, education and other factors contributing to the value of the position.
  • Applicable external requirements (including but not limited to) state requirements to provide:
    • Written notice of pay at the beginning of employment (i.e., at hire)
    • Written notice any time a pay rate is changed.


Under these circumstances, a general announcement of a broad pay change (e.g., an X% across-the-board change announced at an annual meeting) would be insufficient.


Some states’ requirements are more specific and clarify that pay rates may be changed if an individual is notified of a change prior to performing work at the new rate.


Of course it is critical that any rate of pay complies with applicable minimum wage and overtime pay requirements: federal and/or state.


Overall when considering pay rates, it is good practice to be mindful of current applicable forces: internal and external.


As noted in prior ‘spectrum’ writings, things change: external regulations, organizational expectations, needs and practices.


Information and ideas are not offered or intended as legal advice.