Understanding the Reality of Gender Discrimination in Performance Reviews

Posted on June 14th, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace, Workplace Culture. No Comments

The act of reviewing an employee’s performance regularly and objectively has many benefits. The assessment can help the employee gauge their progress and make appropriate adjustments to the way they approach their work. Ultimately, this can lead to a motivated, skilled and active workforce.

With this in mind, it is clear that having objective and constructive performance discussions is something every organisation should work toward. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Managers carrying out the reviews are human beings, and as such are subject to both conscious and unconscious biases. Even those who believe themselves to be completely egalitarian can still be guilty of unwitting bias based on preconceived stereotypes, as was demonstrated in a series of Implicit Association Tests carried out by Mahzarin Banaji. Often, this prejudice is levelled at women.


The impact of gender discrimination on employees

Given that a favourable performance review can affect an employee’s chances of progressing within an organisation, the issue of gender bias needs to be addressed. An employee who feels unfairly treated will be demotivated, so it makes good business sense to try and remove unconscious biases wherever possible. Hidden biases such as gender discrimination, according to Caroline Simard, the director of research at the Clayman Institute, also create “cumulative disadvantage over a woman’s career over time, resulting in lower access to key leadership positions and stretch assignments, advancement and pay.”

Despite this, it has been found in a 2015 study that only one-third of employees feel that gender equality was a priority within their organisation.


Addressing stereotypical language

Recent research demonstrates that  female employees are assessed differently to their male counterparts. This difference presents itself both in the language used to describe an employee and the quality of constructive feedback provided.

It was made clear in a 2014 Fortune article that women were much more likely to receive a critical performance review than men. The data collected for the study was analysed by a linguist, who examined both the type and frequency of the words used in a sample of performance reviews. It was found that female employees were much more likely to be negatively described as ‘abrasive’, ‘strident’ and ‘aggressive’  while demonstrating behaviour that, in men, was considered ‘confident’ and ‘assertive’. The linguist discusses how the word ‘abrasive’ was used seventeen times to describe thirteen different women. Only the word ‘aggressive’ was used in the men’s performance reviews, and this was used to praise and encourage. Interestingly, the gender of the manager was not an issue — both female and male managers were generally more negative toward female employees.


Addressing unhelpful, critical reviews

The study mentioned above also reflects the reality that when men are given negative reviews, there is generally a constructive element to be found. Should they be found lacking in certain areas, they are given clear instructions on how to develop their skills to perform better in the future. The feedback provided to women, conversely, was more negative and far less specific. They were notified of areas where they were not performing as desired, but they were not given the tools necessary to improve. Such behaviour not only does the employee a disservice, but it also guarantees that the organisation does not reach its full potential.


How HR can eliminate gender discrimination in performance reviews

In an ideal world, all biased behaviour, both conscious and unconscious, would be eliminated overnight. Unfortunately, this is impossible, but equality is certainly something we can work toward in order to ensure a fairer, better functioning organisation. It begins with addressing the issue head-on and promoting a conscious awareness regarding gender bias.

One method of tackling gender discrimination is to encourage managers to be mindful of their language. Words used in a performance review should be constructive and objective. Judgemental and emotive words should be avoided, and the review process should prioritise communication both ways. Open communication allows the employee to respond, while providing a balanced and accurate view of the situation.

In a similar vein, the HR department could benefit greatly by introducing a means of providing anonymous feedback to employees. This system enables staff the freedom to report behaviour that they are uncomfortable with, without the possibility of facing any personal repercussions. Such feedback may highlight important and concerning issues when it comes to the running of an organisation; for example, it may come to light that the staff believe that men are consulted far more regularly than women when it comes to important business decisions.

Managers should also ensure that their reviews are specific. The evaluation of the employee’s performance should be considered against agreed objectives, behaviours and values. In this way, performance reviews are less subjective and a far more fair way of evaluating performance.


About the Author: Stuart Hearn heads up a team who designs innovative performance management software. He has been working in the HR sector for over 20 years, previously working for Sony Music Publishing and co-founding PlusHR.



When to Say “No”

Posted on June 9th, by a Guest Contributor in Career Advice, Personal & Professional Development. No Comments

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or whether you’re well into it, it’s important to take on new opportunities. Joining a task force, working on a cross-departmental project, taking on a group presentation to a new client . . . things like that give you a chance to find out what you like and what you’re good at. Taking on such projects tests your will and your fortitude, especially those projects that are likely to stretch beyond the usual forty- or fifty-hour workweek.

The key is to take on projects that you know you can complete. You need to feel confident that you can deliver. You don’t want to be the one who volunteers and then doesn’t carry her own weight. Whatever you take on, you have to follow through. You have to push yourself to do it, even if it means you might have to sacrifice your personal time as your work week extends to seventy or eighty hours for a certain period of time. The last thing you want is to sign up for an extra project and then be the one who always leaves early or never shows up. You don’t want to be the one who makes a lot of promises but never delivers. You don’t want to be that person.

Opportunities and risk go hand in hand, and saying “yes” to opportunity means you’re taking on some risk. Saying “no” also can be risky, even when it’s the right thing to do.

Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of volunteering for extra work. Your boss volunteers you instead, saddling you with a project or a presentation that you have little time for. Some of these projects might not be to your liking, or they might not provide you with the kind of visibility that will put you in line for a promotion. Sometimes you just know that there’s no way you can take on another project and give it your all.

So what do you do when you know the right thing is to say “no”?

The key here is to decline politely without actually saying “no.” One way to do this is to say something like, “This sounds like a great project, and I’d be happy to help. I’m working on Project X, Y, and Z right now, and so I could take this on early next month. Would that work for you?” or something like, “I’d love to work on this. Do you see this as a priority over Project A, which is due at the end of the week?” Responses like this let your boss know that you’re both enthusiastic and willing while at the same time prompting him to consider your workload and how much time you could reasonably dedicate to the project and still get the job done.

Saying “no” can be uncomfortable, but it’s often necessary. Only you know how much you can really handle. While you don’t want to be afraid to push yourself, it’s important to know when to say enough is enough—just so long as you say it in a way that keeps your good reputation intact.

About the Author: Jena Abernathy is a nationally recognized leader in human capital management, performance excellence, and organizational development. A sought-after speaker, she is a passionate advocate for women in executive and governing board roles. She has written for and been featured in a wide variety of media, including CNN, the Financial Times, CBS Money Watch, FOX Business, and the Miami Herald.  You can connect with Jena on Twitter or at www.jenaabernathy.com.

Do Employees Leave a Company or a Boss? 

Posted on May 3rd, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace, Employee Engagement, Workplace Culture. 1 Comment


There are various schools of thought on what drives employee retention.  Some expert sources like Gallup place an emphasis on the importance of the manager’s role in engaging, motivating and retaining employees.  Other sources suggest that employees rarely leave a job solely because of the boss since there are many other contributing factors such as a compelling strategy, company culture and meaningful work.

Either way, businesses of all sizes are increasingly concerned about employee retention and realizing that high engagement is critical to reducing turnover.  The best employees will leave if they’re not engaged, while the lower performers often stay.  When this cycle continues, businesses struggle to achieve results and retain customers.

According to the 2015 ADP Midsized Business Owners Study the level of concern about employee engagement spiked 25 percent in 2015 after remaining flat since 2012, with two of five midsized employers expressing high levels of concern. So how can companies more effectively engage their top talent?

Here are three tips to help deepen employee engagement and avoid common pitfalls:

1. Nurture a strong workplace culture. Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, organizational fit and strong leadership often outperform their peers and outpace competitors in attracting and retaining top talent.  Key components of a strong workplace culture include diversity and inclusion, a common purpose and a sense of community.

As stewards of company culture, HR leaders should strive to create – and actively promote – an inclusive work environment that champions collaboration and a connection to the local community.  Offering volunteer opportunities to give back to the community and employee recognition programs can help employees develop a sense of companionship leading to stronger feelings of engagement.


2. Empower employees to grow their careers. Uncertain career paths are a common pitfall that can result in low employee engagement.  Companies that keep career development top-of-mind by offering employees clear career paths, challenging assignments, mentoring programs and training to nurture their professional skills are more likely to retain top performers.  Ensure employees understand the diverse career opportunities available to them company-wide and the steps they can take to grow within the organization.  And, whenever possible, offer flexibility in how employees chart their individual career paths, such as with job-rotation programs and job shadowing.   Career growth comes from creating opportunities for employees to learn new skills and experiences.  It doesn’t need to be offering opportunities to ‘climb the corporate ladder’.  The ladder has been replaced with a lattice demonstrating the importance of lateral moves in order to grow professionally.


3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Employees need to hear from their leaders.  An absence of communication leads to a lack of trust in leadership.  Communication is critical to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the corporate strategy and how their work contributes to successful achievement of the company’s goals.  Having clarity around their company’s strategy and vision becomes the motivation for employees to make the discretionary effort that defines engagement.  Businesses that create frequent opportunities for leaders to communicate with employees – via email, Town Hall meetings, one-on-one interactions or social media help inspire trust.  Ongoing communication needs to honest, real-time, and authentic so that employees understand the bigger picture and feel comfortable sharing innovative ideas to help themselves and their employers grow and thrive.


Because employee engagement is strategically linked to retention, HR leaders need to take an integrated approach.  This includes fostering a collaborative work environment with trusted leadership, work with a purpose, and diverse growth opportunities.  Investing in employee engagement ultimately delivers benefits far beyond the bottom line with increased productivity, reduced turnover and long-term retention of highly skilled staff who directly contribute to achieving business goals.



About the Author: Emma Phillips has more than 20 years of experience leading the design and execution of strategic HR initiatives. As vice president of human resources for ADP’s Major Account Services business unit, Emma and her team focus on attracting, developing and retaining top talent, succession management, performance management, leadership development, change management and associate engagement.


The Benefit of More Women in Leadership Roles

Posted on April 28th, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace. 2 comments

Women account for half the world’s working-age population globally. However, the persisting imbalance of women in positions of power has started a debate in corporate circles about the viability of a gender quota so as to encourage gender equality in corporate positions of power. But why so much hoopla about gender equality? For one, reports suggest that more women in higher roles reflect in the form of better performance for the companies. Moreover, companies that have women in leadership roles have traditionally fared better than their counterparts during times of financial crisis, similar to the recent one. Here is a detailed account of why women leadership would work better in certain situations and how can you promote the same in your office.

A study carried out by Pew Research Center on women and leadership; there is little difference between men and women in key leadership traits like ability to innovate and intelligence, while many observing they are even better than men when it comes to being compassionate and organized.  Despite these facts, we see a very limited participation of women in boardroom discussions and at the upper management level. The story is same across all the continents, whether it is Asia, Europe and the US. In an extensive survey carried out by 20-first, a UK-based global gender consulting firm in 2014, women held only 11% of the 3,000 executive committee positions in 300 surveyed companies.


It’s good for financial performance of the company

Multiple research studies have been carried out in this direction. In 2007, a not-for-profit organization Catalyst reported that Fortune 500 companies having females as board members show significantly better financial performance than those having low female representation. The surveys took into account three points- return on sales, return on equity and return on the investment and found that companies having better female representation excelled on all the three parameters. Another major research that reports similar findings is that of DDI, (Development Dimensions International), a global talent management firm based out of US. According to DDI survey, companies that had majority of board members as women witnessed a substantial 87% better performance than their competition.

women in leadership


It’s better for the job economy, as a whole

Better financial performance of the organizations obviously leads to a better economic state where there are greater number of job opportunities, better productivity and more development.  This improved financial health will directly reflect in the number of jobs that will increase proportionally. Whether it is marketing jobs or healthcare, the industry hardly matters as long as it is working towards better gender diversity.


It’s Better for Relationship Building

We all have a common understanding that women are equipped with better relationship building skills. This is backed by research from Harvard Business Review, which notes that female leaders are consistently rated a notch higher than their male counterparts in the category of relationship building. This is obviously a good thing for the organization as good peer to peer camaraderie is essential for keeping up the productivity at its optimum level. In addition to inter-office relationships, this skill is also going to boost a company’s client satisfaction levels and help expand the business.


It’s better for Collaboration

With good networking skills comes the ability to easily collaborate with colleagues, clients and workers across teams, functions, and departments. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research agrees on the fact that women are more attracted to cooperation than men.  Men, often overestimate their capabilities, while downplaying those of their colleagues, while women are a better judge of their abilities and therefore are not averse to suggestions and help from their team members. In short, women make better team players than men.


Women are Better Communicators

While women undisputedly rule the roost when it comes to communication at personal level, does this also extend to businesses? If experts are to be believed, on the whole, women often make better communicators than men. Zenger Folkman, in their survey, also reported the same. A leader should and must have the ability to establish a crystal clear communication with his team members, clients and consumers. Women tend to be better listeners than men, and that’s what makes for a good leader.


It’s also better for men on the whole

Surprised, you might be, but gender diversity at leadership level or in the corporate in general is a good thing for men. This might sound lopsided, but there are many aspects to this argument. We could deal with them one by one.


Men have the freedom to break the norm

In the male dominated corporate world, a man’s identity is inseparably connected to his job, role and pay package. However, once the corporate world comes to term with the rising prominence of women, and their increasing participation in management decisions, this will take some performance pressure off the men’s shoulders. They will no longer be expected the default bread winner of their families, the sole earning member, who has to earn more than his spouse, and lead the family. Men can also try to be what they really want to be. They can break the stereotype and follow their passion, at least once in a while. It does give some breathing room and creates some kind of financial cushion to which they can fall back in case their plan B doesn’t work out as well.


Men can try to be a better parent

As more women take up careers and become an equally important financial support of the family, men can take some time off their work to be a better parent and run the family in a more involved, holistic fashion. When fathers work fewer hours per week, the family benefits, and it reduces the risk of behavioral problems in the kids that is often witnessed in children who had their fathers missing due to work.


About the Author: Saurabh Tyagi is a career and motivational author who consistently writes articles on various job related themes, including gender diversity in organizations.  He has been published on various career sites such as under30ceo.com and blog.simplyhired.comYou can follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter or visit his jobs website here.


Female Managers vs. All-Male Staff

Posted on April 12th, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace. No Comments

In the hotel industry, the housekeeping department is comprised of room attendants (100% female) and housemen (100% male). Management is typically 90-100% female. This predominantly female management team often has difficulty working with the housemen. Housemen are responsible for public areas of the hotel such as the lobby, hallways, restaurant, and lounges. They range in age from 25-62 and ethnicities include Hispanic, African American, Asian and Caucasian. Most have been employed full time for 15 or more years. Housekeeping managers are often young (25-30) and have little experience. Some have been promoted from room attendant positions while others come straight out of hospitality school having spent a year or two as an intern or junior manager.


This dynamic is not easy to manage. A lot of conflict is generated around gender and experience (Who is she to tell me what to do? I’ve been here 10 years longer), and resistance to authority (She can’t change that- for what?).  Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for women to effectively manage an all-male team:


1. DON’T try to be ‘one of the gang.’ You are not one of them, so joining them on break, or inviting them to chat in the office only creates confusion and makes it more difficult to establish boundaries and effectively lead.

DO create an authentic relationship by showing interest in who they are. Notice a haircut, new glasses, logo on a hat or sweatshirt (I see you’re a Yankees fan). This builds a connection- you care about more than just getting the job done.


2. DON’T be defensive. When you are challenged (You’re wrong. Can’t use that chemical) you may automatically attempt to assert your power and position.(Do it my way! I’m in charge) but this will only serve to escalate the conflict.

DO be clear and responsive. You’ll need to make it clear that the worker must show respect even when disagreeing with you (We can discuss this, but no yelling or accusing). Be responsive to the worker’s idea (OK, so if not this chemical, what would you use?). This shows that while you have the final say, you are open to learning from those with more experience and can admit you don’t know it all.


3. DON’T let go of your authority. It is easy to become intimidated and overwhelmed by resistant and angry men. But retreating is not an option. The group needs leadership and structure, so for better or worse, you’re it.

DO lead in your own unique style. Think about what you have to offer: enthusiasm, sense of humor, passion for the work. Whatever you have, USE IT. Be authentic and honest when you don’t know something (I’m not sure what the policy is on X. Let me check it out) and admit your mistakes (Sorry, I was late ordering the supplies you need). Acknowledge the expertise of your staff (You know a lot more about this than I do) and elicit their help and feedback (What do you think and what’s past practice?). All this shows your humanity, which is crucial to building a strong relationship.


Managing an all-male staff as a female has its challenges, but the key is always authenticity. Be clear and direct and work through whatever comes your way. This is not always easy or comfortable, but well worth the effort. Stick with it and you’ll build strong relationships and an effective team.


About the Author: With a background in social work and 2 decades of experience as a union worker, Laura MacLeod created “From The Inside Out Project®,” with all levels of employment in mind to assist in maintaining a harmonious workplace. She is an adjunct professor in graduate studies at the Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work. MacLeod speaks on conflict resolution, problem solving, and listening skills at conferences across the country.  

From Entrepreneur to Leader: 6 Tips For a Successful Transition

Posted on April 5th, by a Guest Contributor in Entrepreneurship, Leadership. No Comments

To be an entrepreneur requires a special spark, and the urge to follow your own star rather than hitching on to the wagon train that’s headed towards someone else’s idea of success.  As HR people, we’ve all seen entrepreneurs in action, maybe even picked up the pieces after them as they drive the business relentlessly onwards!   


Entrepreneurs bring focus, energy, charisma, and creativity. Part of their success comes from breaking the rules and thinking outside the box. That’s great for a solo operator because the only person who suffers when things go wrong is the entrepreneur themselves — they burn their fingers, say ‘ouch’, learn their lesson and move on to the next thing.  


But to grow a business of substance, the entrepreneur needs to figure out how to work with other people. She needs to harness others’ creativity and energy rather than just relying on her own. Becoming a business leader is a whole new ball game. Here are my six tips to help those HR entrepreneurs make the transition into a leadership role:


1. Visualize Where You & Your Business Will Be

Where do you visualize you and your business will be a year from now and ten years from now? Create a picture in your mind of your successful self, dominating your market and running an awesome business. Don’t let doubts about juggling home life or anything else come in here — this is your positive vision of success and nothing should mess with it!


2. Set Goals and Stick to Them

Set yourself long-term goals, including business goals, financial targets, and personal development points. Break them down into shorter term goals so you’re always working towards achieving them. While you might be taking care of all aspects of the business in the beginning, as your business grows that will change. Look at where you will need to delegate work.


3. Let Go of Your Ego

Yes, I said it. You needed one to get  you this far, but don’t let it get in the way now that you’re bringing other people on board. It’s your business and you love it, but believing that you’re the only one who can run it will simply lead to self-destruction.

To avoid burning out, you’ll need to be comfortable sharing the responsibility of running your business. Invest your time and energy in hiring great people and training them so that they will be able to take on some of the load.


4. Hire a Great Team

Write a list of all the things that need to be done to grow your business. Tick the ones you’re good at and the ones you want to keep doing and make those into your job. Then hire great people to fill the gaps.

When you hire people to go out and represent your business, make sure they share your vision and values so they’re credible ambassadors. If they’re providing services or advice under your brand, they need to do it your way.

You know the theory, now go put it into practice! Create a company culture that you love and find others who love it too, and success will follow.


5. Keep it Flexible

Be open to working with people in different ways to meet the needs of the business. Use contracts creatively to flex the size of your team, so you keep your core costs low and bring in the right people when you need them.

You need a good network, so get out and meet lots of contacts. When you’re exploring working together, be clear about how much you’ll pay, what work you expect them to do, and how they should manage any client relationships.

Offer your associates a cut of the client fee if they bring some business to you. If you create a big enough pool of associates, you’ll always be able to call in a specialist when a project comes up. Best of all, you don’t have to sweat at the end of the month with a huge pay bill and not enough clients.


6. Remember Your Roots

Whether your roots are in HR, or somewhere else, remember what it felt like to be noticed by the top guy for doing a good job. You don’t need to understand Motivation Theory or  employee engagement measures to know how good it feels when someone says thank you. Stay meaningfully connected all the way down through your team, so that you notice when people are doing a good job. Tell them personally that you’ve noticed.

About the Author: Sharon Crooks is an HR Consultant and an expert in training business people and leaders to communicate effectively with their employees. Sharon is the co-author of a new book HR for Small Business for Dummies, which provides valuable insights into how to run a small business.

Performance Partnerships with 1on1s: Connect, Calibrate, and Coach

Posted on November 24th, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace, Leadership. No Comments


When it comes to annual performance reviews, it’s clear we’re at a major crossroads in the workplace. With 95 percent of managers dissatisfied with the process — and 90 percent of HR leaders saying annual reviews don’t yield accurate data — companies are quickly eliminating them (like GE, Accenture, Adobe, The Gap, and Microsoft already have). In a 7×24 world with an increasingly younger workforce, “annual” and “review” need to be replaced with more frequent conversations and performance partnerships.


Yet, simply telling managers to have regular 1on1 meetings isn’t a panacea. While HR executives and senior leaders are more expert at constructive coaching, young and middle managers may not be. Fortunately, 57 percent of employees prefer corrective feedback and 72 percent say their performance would improve with feedback. So even the 50% of managers who don’t want to give critique for fear of being the “bad guy” now have official license to put peoples’ success in front of the desire to be liked.


To boost your people and their performance, use a framework for 1on1s that connects, calibrates and coaches team members. Before the meetings, do two things:


First, make sure you’ve shared goals for the quarter to frame progress and priority discussions. Without clarity on what you define as success, people need to guess what matters and what the purpose of their work is.


Second, prepare for the meeting itself. Using in-person meetings to run down a list of what someone’s working on or throw more on their plate before understanding what’s already cooking is a formula for unproductive 1on1s. Instead, use weekly status reports or embrace performance and productivity apps to quickly see priorities, workload, and progress before the meeting.


Then use your 1on1 meetings to help you team members achieve their best with this framework:


  1. Start with “how are you?” Instead of a token opening, really listen to the response. Connect simply as humans to set the stage for coaching and constructive feedback. People are more receptive and engaged when they know you care about them.
  2. Ask whats in their way and how you can help. Help people resolve priority conflicts so they can increase their impact. Get roadblocks out of their way so they can deliver the results you’re expecting. This doesn’t mean doing their job, but rather removing obstacles outside the sphere of their responsibility.
  3. Sync on performance, alignment, and engagement level. If you’re not talking about alignment, you can’t expect it! Your employees want to perform well and be on the same page with you, so be open and compare your perceptions. Letting people know where you think they are in terms of their performance and contributions to work helps them move up and forward.
  4. Uplevel to longer range goals. Use the time together to help people think above the “action item” level. They’ll find it rejuvenating and be able to make better decisions day to day.
  5. Coach for career growth. Help your employees get to the next level by deepening their skills and competencies. What’s the next step they can take and what will you do to help them get there? Follow through on the help you commit to providing and you’ll foster great loyalty and have a lasting impact on their career.


Leading people is more important than ever as business gets faster and more complex, but leadership is far from dictatorship. Leaders at all levels must excel at setting clear goals, coaching people to their highest level, and creating a culture of high recognition and accountability. These are the essential elements of performance partnerships within high achieving teams; 1on1s create the conversation around these ingredients that enable leaders, teams, and each member to contribute their best.



About the Author: Deidre Paknad is CEO and co-founder of Workboard. She shapes its product strategy, customer engagement model, and thought leadership efforts. With decades of experience leading enterprise and startup teams on strategic pursuits, Dedire is passionate about providing tools and insights that help leaders engage their teams in great achievement. 

Deidre is a serial entrepreneur and has founded and led several companies. As CEO of PSS Systems, she and the team created a new market category and inspired deep customer loyalty from ExxonMobil, Citigroup, Travelers, Novartis, Wells Fargo, and many other large enterprises. The company was acquired by IBM in 2010. At IBM, Deidre was Vice President of a fast-growing global business improving information economics for IBM’s enterprise customers. She has been recognized by the Smithsonian for innovation twice and has more than a dozen patents. You can connect with Deidre on Twitter, LinkedIn, or learn more on the Workboard website or blog.








Reimagining HR’s Role As a Key Business Partner Can Lead to Career Advancement

Posted on October 8th, by a Guest Contributor in Personal & Professional Development. 1 Comment

Editor’s Note: The following is the final installment of a three-part series featuring influential women from Paychex. Part I of the series kicked off on Sept. 22 in conjunction with American Business Women’s Day.


I’m a big believer that professional development is the basis for achieving success in almost any field, and HR is no exception. It’s important to assess your own strengths and opportunities to determine what competencies you need to master in order to advance to the next step, and then execute an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that is targeted to help you achieve your career goals.


Over the course of my career, I’ve made it a constant point of emphasis to be self-aware of my performance in areas that I consider to be key competencies in my current role and the next role that that I aspire to attain. This has enabled me to develop an IDP that leverages my strengths and close my gaps through actions that provide me with valuable exposure opportunities, hands-on experiences and continued learning. My philosophy is to invest in yourself because the ROI is priceless.


Business leaders today know that their employees are the driver of business success. While employees are valued, many business leaders rank human capital as a top challenge. This presents a huge opportunity for HR practitioners to add value to their companies and grow as professionals, if they can help their organization reimagine HR’s role as a key business partner. Here are some key competencies that can help you tremendously in achieving that goal:


Functional knowledge and expertise. The field of HR is extensive and continues to advance and transform. It’s vitally important to stay abreast of the field so that your knowledge – and practical application of that knowledge – is modern and relevant. Having strong functional knowledge and expertise better equips you to quickly align HR and business strategy.


Business acumen. Understanding the big picture and the ability to look out the windshield at what lies ahead are critical. Having strong business acumen will result in the aptitude and knowledge to become a more critical thinker and capable problem solver. Developing business acumen involves being keenly aware of the economic and social issues that are affecting your company, staying close to emerging industry trends, your companies competitors,  and truly understanding the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) of your organization. When all of these things come together, you’re in a position to diagnose a business problem and offer a strategic solution that will drive business outcomes and your company’s success.


Executive disposition.  It’s more than about what you know. It’s also about how you perform in your role as a HR practitioner. You want to be viewed as a leader not only in your profession, but in the organization as a whole. HR practitioners have a really unique opportunity to develop relationships that are both cross-functional and cross-hierarchical. When doing so, it’s important to convey an image that’s consistent with the vision and values of the organization in order to be an effective advocate for the company. You want to exude a demeanor of poise and confidence, especially in times of change, ambiguity, or stress. It will command respect and reassure others within the organization – from front line employees all the way to the C-suite.


If you’re a HR practitioner who may not yet have these competencies mastered, don’t fret. Simply make a pledge to your professional development by formalizing your IDP and making it a priority. That commitment will pay huge dividends, both for yourself and your organization.


About the Author: Leah Machado is the director of service for HR Services at Paychex, a leading provider of integrated human capital management (HCM) solutions for payroll, human resource, insurance, and benefits outsourcing services. She leads an organization with over 500 HR practitioners who provide HR outsourcing services to 32,000 Paychex HR Services clients with 880,000 worksite employees.  Leah’s career spans over 22 years in the retail, restaurant, and HCM outsourcing industries, and includes HR practitioner and leadership experience.




Four Tips to Help You Excel in Talent Acquisition

Posted on October 1st, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace. No Comments

Editor’s Note: The following is the second installment of a three-part series featuring influential women from Paychex. Part I of the series kicked off on Sept. 22 in conjunction with American Business Women’s Day.


Much like many other business functions, the world of talent acquisition is evolving at every stop. Mining for, finding, hiring, and maintaining top talent can be a challenge, but it’s an attainable feat if you play your cards right. Building a track record of effective and meaningful hires will not only contribute significantly to the overall success of your company, it will likely result in your escalation up the talent acquisition ladder.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that I believe can help you to excel in the world of talent acquisition:

  • Know your business inside and out. Make yourself an expert on how your company functions, what you’re selling, and how the company makes its money. Becoming familiar with things like the value prop your sales team is using or future company goals can help with that understanding. With that in mind, don’t ignore the competition. Are you losing talent to competitors? If so, find out what’s driving them elsewhere. It goes without saying, but knowing what sets your company apart from the competition can pay huge dividends.
  • Understand today’s market. Talent acquisition has evolved to become more about marketing than ever before. The ability to fully grasp your company’s image and culture are paramount, as is channeling those sentiments to prospects through a variety of ways that include everything from social media engagement and good old fashioned word of mouth. Some of what we do today could be looked at as re-recruiting current employees. Make them feel good about where they work and understand what makes it such a great place to work. Finally, be creative, relatable, and strategic in everything you do – writing job descriptions, social media posts or replies, and everything in between.
  • Accept that data is your friend. Understanding and applying metrics is an opportunity to shine. If you can wrap your brain around the numbers and use that knowledge as insight into the hiring process, you’re almost guaranteed to save time or money or both. This goes from company-specific data from something like the results of a recent employee engagement survey to drilling down into the habits of prospects in a certain area or age group. For example, if you know recent college graduates are more likely to search for jobs via LinkedIn, targeting of that age group should reflect that fact. If you’re looking to fill a customer service position, you might favor Monster.com over CareerBuilder.com. In addition, data has the ability to reveal how many calls, candidates, and people you need to look at to make a hire. Track those trends and use the information to your advantage.
  • Develop and maintain fruitful partnerships. When it comes to succeeding in talent acquisition, this might be the most important point of all. Establish and nurture partnerships with marketing, hiring managers, TA specialists, and other key players within your company who have the ability to reach and influence prospects. When it comes to marketing, consistent messaging is key. You don’t want to be telling prospects one thing on Facebook and a completely other thing within a formal job description. A solid partnership can ensure that both are on the same page. A good relationship with your company’s hiring managers and TA specialists is of particular importance. At different times and for different reasons, it results in your ability to influence them to look at internal talent, talk to them about the talent that is needed for the future, and identify candidates that will grow and stay in the organization. Maintaining these healthy relationships will help tremendously in forecasting the future and optimizing the talent planning process as a whole.

As I mentioned, it’s an exciting time to be in talent acquisition. The opportunities to excel exist, and it’s up to you to be mindful and take advantage.


About the Author: Jody Stolt is the director of Talent Acquisition at Paychex, a leading provider of payroll, human resource, and benefits outsourcing services for small- to medium-sized businesses. Since joining Paychex four years ago, Jody upgraded the applicant tracking system to Paychex’ own MyStaffingPro™ to streamline processes, enhance the candidate experience, and increase recruiter efficiency in supporting nearly 4,000 hires and 22,000 applicants annually. Jody’s career spans over 25 years in recruiting, workforce planning, and strategic human resources at companies including PAETEC/Windstream Communications, Skillsoft, and ER Associates, a private HR consulting firm.

American Business Women’s Day Celebrates Both the Accomplished and Aspiring

Posted on September 22nd, by a Guest Contributor in Business and Workplace, Career Advice, Personal & Professional Development. 1 Comment

Today, we officially celebrate national American Business Women’s Day. The date coincides with the September 22, 1949 founding of the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA). The strides and accomplishments of women in businesses all over the United States have been monumental, giving us the opportunity to recognize the day’s intent all year long.


To put things in perspective, in 1949 no woman had reached the Chief Executive Officer title at a Fortune 500 company. The most recently published list counted 24 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. That’s a record and one that will certainly be surpassed as barriers continue to be broken.


Similar to many business executives – male or female – my path didn’t start out with the intent of becoming an officer of a Fortune 1,000 company. As a matter of fact, I didn’t fully realize that level of leadership was within reach until much later in my career.


Women are breaking barriers left and right every day. While I don’t necessarily view myself as a trailblazer – there are plenty of other women who fit that bill – here are some quick tips to keep in mind when starting down the path to executive leadership:


  • Keep your options open. I went to school for computer information technology and worked in that field for a time at General Electric. Eventually, I was asked to lead a specific program for the GE Aerospace business that involved recruiting on college campuses, hiring, training and compensation. This really sparked my interest in HR. GE sponsored me to get my graduate degree in management from Purdue University, and I officially transitioned into HR. The moral of the story here is just because you earned your degree in or began working in one field doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Keep your options open, especially in the earlier points of your career.


  • Step outside your comfort zone. Research has shown that women may not be as willing to take on something very new or different as men. Step outside your comfort zone, and you might find that you’re very successful in that area. During my time at Bausch and Lomb, I realized I wanted to take my career to the next level. I knew I had the drive, passion, and work ethic to make that happen, but I also knew there were some necessary skills that I didn’t own at the time. I then purposefully took a role in compensation and benefits knowing full-well they were both areas of expertise I would need to add to my repertoire. I knew nothing about either area, which made it scary and completely out of my comfort zone. It was a very challenging time, but that cross-functional move taught me what I needed to know to further advance my career.


  • Develop business acumen. It’s one of the most important competencies for an HR professional to have in their back pocket. HR’s purpose is to ensure the company has a workforce that’s capable of driving the business goals. To do that, you need to understand what the overall business goals are, the financials, the operations, all aspects of the business. Then you can determine how HR will contribute to achieving those goals. Be proactive and strategic in developing HR initiatives that will drive the future success of the company.


  • Always be on the lookout to learn new things and have new experiences. Change is constant, and accelerating at a rapid pace. It is critical to keep learning and growing to stay relevant.  Look for projects, change jobs or functions within your company or change companies. I did that a few times in my career and it worked to my advantage.  Not only do you gain valuable functional experience, you also develop agility and leadership skills.


  • Don’t let anything stand in your way. I grew up with two brothers and a dad who didn’t discourage me from getting my hands dirty with him and the boys. Those experiences encouraged me to look at men and women as having the same level of capability. A good part of my career was spent working in male-dominated fields. In fact, I’ve only ever had two women bosses. I worked my hardest and did my best and went for what I wanted. I never thought of myself as a woman leader, I am simply a leader.


  • Surround yourself with good people. This may go without saying, but form meaningful relationships both at work and at It will do wonders for your productivity and happiness. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook once said, “The most important career choice a woman will ever make is who she marries.” This could not be more true to life. My husband has been incredibly supportive of my career, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. Surround yourself with people who share your goals, values, and motivations.


  • Never stop networking. It’s absolutely critical to stay connected with people. My first two jobs in the HR industry are the only two I landed through traditional ways. Every position since then – especially the ones later in my career – happened due to a connection and recommendation. I am still connected to people at every company I have worked for. It is a great way to learn about best practices and find out about career opportunities.  Also, LinkedIn makes networking easier than ever.  Make sure your profile is up to date and you are connected to the right people.


Most of these pieces of advice ring true for aspiring male or female HR executives. But it’s American Business Women’s Day, so let’s take a pause to reflect upon and celebrate how taking these steps could help the businesswomen around us advance.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com


About the Author: Laurie Zaucha is the vice president of human resources and organizational development for Paychex, Inc., a leading provider of human resource, insurance, and benefits outsourcing solutions for small- to medium-sized businesses.  In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of human resources, organizational development, and the company’s award-winning training department. Laurie boasts more than 20 years of experiences as an HR executive. Previous positions include vice president at Bausch & Lomb and senior management positions in HR for Footstar, Inc., Starbucks, and Pizza Hut. Laurie has a master’s degree in management from Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind. and a Bachelor of Science degree in computer information technology from Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.