Can you make it simple?

photo of women at the meeting

A couple of years ago, I worked with a Director of Human Resources for a group of small businesses. She had asked me to come in and develop training for her management team. As I was doing my intake, I asked, “What do you want your managers to be able to do when the workshop is done?”

“To Manage,” she said with a sly smile. “Seriously, I want them to have the tools they need to be better managers.”

“You just have to keep it simple.”

As a person who managed, studied and taught management, I understood the ask. Supervisors and Managers are busy people. They have departments to run. Budgets to produce. Metrics to track. Although essential for their jobs, managing people can seem far down on the list of responsibilities. Adding complex practices to their already overflowing workload doesn’t work.

I needed to find a way to keep it simple.

Fast forward a year. My business partner, Chuck Simikian, and I were discussing creating a resource for all those individuals who dealt with “Human Resources” for their company. Chuck and I travel the United States consulting with small business owners, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, office managers, and Human Resources Professionals. We knew there was a need for a resource to help these individuals make the right employee management decision. However, everything on the market was complicated or complex.

Like the managers I described above, the individuals we had been working with had a myriad of responsibilities and were already overburdened with responsibilities. They didn’t have the time or energy to learn employment law and the best way to implement it in their organization.

I was talking to an office manager in my introductory Human Resources course. She was overwhelmed. She had just been assigned to handle the human resources responsibilities for her organization, and quite frankly, she didn’t know how she would add it to all the other things she was already doing. She was smart, business savvy, and knew her industry but was concerned that she might fail.

It was for her and all those other individuals handling employee issues that I knew that if we were to create a resource, it had to be simple enough yet, powerful enough to guide them to make the right employee management decisions consistently.

I didn’t know if it was possible.

Chuck, however, remembered reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. In the book, there is a paragraph where Dr. Gawande questions whether checklists can help in complex situations like employee management. He spends the rest of the book proving that checklists can be a great solution, even in complex situations.

What I like about checklists is that if used, they can overcome our fallibility as humans. Think about this, for over a hundred years; humans have had the power of flight. And the planes we are flying today are one of the most advanced pieces of technology on our planet. Yet, pilots continue to use a checklist before they take flight, and the question is why.

Not because of the planes but because the pilot is human and fallible.

We are all fallible, and checklists guide us to consistently do our job well. Chuck and I thought this might be the solution we were looking for. Chuck had already started experimenting with checklists as a Director of Human Resources and later in his business as a Human Resources/Management Consultant. And they had been working well.

So now that we knew the format we wanted to use, I felt strongly that it couldn’t be just a checklist; for those individuals who needed more information or wanted to dive deeper into the topic, we needed to make sure we provided the necessary resources.

Finally, the resource guide was taking shape. Each checklist would have the checklists and definitions of HR speak, legal concerns, and resources the user could tap into.

Over the next six months, we created over 70 checklists that would be invaluable to the small business owner, entrepreneur, non-profit leader, office manager, and human resources professional. Anybody that has HR responsibilities within their company.

We simplified the employee management process so that individuals with little or no management or human resources experience could use our resources and make better employee management decisions.

But would it work?

We sent our draft to five individuals with human resources responsibility in their organization and asked them to use it, and then we waited.

Waiting is truly the hardest part.

We let about six weeks go by to see what they thought.

We were blown away by their responses.

“I use it every day.”

“This is a must-have for all small organizations.”

“The tool is perfect for various situations and can be used as is or customized to fit your unique situation.”

“I wish I had this to help me navigate the challenging and routine HR Requirements throughout my career.”

They also gave us constructive feedback about particular checklists, formatting, and grammar issues. Nothing that wasn’t hard to fix.

Our last step was the design of the resource. We wanted more than anything to have it be interactive, where the user could check off the checklist. I reached out to one of my friends, Peter Cronin, who runs Cronin Creative with his wife.

“Can you make our resource guide interactive?” I asked.

Short answer Yes. We talked about design, how we wanted it to look and how we wanted the user to interact. They got our vision from Day One, and Karen – Peter’s wife – got to work. Over a couple of months, we went back and forth until we got exactly what we wanted.

The day it arrived in our email boxes was one of those proud moments. I called Chuck and said, “We did this. We created this.”

And it all started with the question, “How do we create a powerful yet simple process for individuals who have human resources responsibilities so they have the confidence to make the right employee management decisions?”

But we aren’t done yet.

Bill Gates said, “The mission at Microsoft is a computer on every desk and in every home.” Our mission is to have our resource guide in every small business and non-profit in America so that the leaders have the confidence to make the right employee management decisions. And avoid costly mistakes.

But I need your help to make this happen.

Here are three easy things you can do to help me.

  1. BUY THE BOOK: If you are a small business owner getting Human Resource right is critical. The book is available here and will soon be available on Amazon.
  2. LET PEOPLE KNOW: Our resource guide was designed for small business owners, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, office managers, and human resources professionals but benefits anyone who must manage employees.
  3. ENGAGE US TO SPEAK: Chuck and I travel the country, leading workshops focused on managing employee performance, staying compliant with employment law, creating best HR practices for small businesses, and developing strategic plans to propel your organization forward. We would be excited to be your next speaker or podcast guest to talk about how best to manage your human resources. Click here to email me directly to start the conversation.  

 Best Regards

John Thalheimer

The Team at HR Stories – where the lesson is in the story.