The hard fact of “soft skills” in hiring decisions

In a recent meeting with a client, they were lamenting about a poor employee.  My client was very frustrated about an employee they hired a few months ago and stated “she just isn’t working out”.  She has the experience and the general job knowledge, but it’s been a real challenge. What should I do?”

The question is, should she wait and see if it gets better or let them go now? In our conversation, it became clear that the issue is not what she knows, it’s how she’s doing the job.  This employee lacks initiative, good judgement, and can’t solve problems independently.  These are examples of behavioral traits (or competencies), often called “soft skills”.  And there is nothing soft about them.  I don’t believe they can be taught to an adult employee, any more than a sense of humor can be taught.  You either have them or you don’t.  Most jobs require some or all of these behavioral traits to varying degrees.  Unfortunately it is often difficult to assess these traits in one or two interviews without some specialized testing, assessments, skilled interviewing, or other means. There are interview questions which can help to identify them, but very often, you don’t realize you’ve made a bad hiring decision until weeks later.

My short answer is to let her go, it won’t get better.  Most unfortunate for all parties.  This was not the first poor hiring decision made, and unless they make some changes, it won’t be the last.

For future hiring decisions, I suggested to my client they utilize a performance profile benchmarking assessment tool to determine what behavioral traits are found in their most successful employees in that job. This helps to create a better job profile which not only identifies the role, responsibilities and education, experience, and skills needed to perform the job, but describes those behavioral traits which are essential to success in that job.

A poor hiring decision is very costly and this is a modest investment in time and money to increase the likelihood of a good employee and solid performer.

We offer an array of assessments and surveys to help measure factors that contribute to your organization’s success.  Contact us to learn how we can help you.


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Compliance Tip #10—Is your Social Media policy too draconian?

Social media use by employees is a rapidly evolving issue. However, the concerns, laws and questions are even more challenging for employers and managers. Does your handbook state you can fire an employee for posting negative comments about their manager or the company? Can employees be terminated if they openly discuss their salary on their Facebook page?   Such words or actions could find you in court.  It’s prudent to have your social media policy and employee handbook reviewed by a labor attorney annually to ensure compliance.  For example, if you state you absolutely prohibit employees from using social media at work, or don’t allow them to comment about their employment, pay, or their supervisor,  you may be in violation of recent legal decisions.  If you’re thinking of firing an employee for venting about their supervisor on Facebook, beware!

So, what can an employer do or say?  An employer can restrict and define who may comment on behalf of the company, as well as require that those authorized persons who use the company’s social media tools completely and honestly identify themselves.

These are just a few of the salient points to alert you of the pitfalls of social media for employers.  If you haven’t reviewed your handbook or policies recently, it’s long overdue.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and California lawmakers  are very involved in these issues, so it’s important for employers to remain aware and proceed cautiously in the area of social media.


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Compliance Tip #9–Exempt/Non-Exempt Classifications: The Computer Professional

It is a good business practice to review the exempt/non-exempt classifications of job descriptions periodically. Responsibilities change, and more importantly, the laws and criteria  change.  Recently, in a job description review for a client, I found an employee who was classified as exempt as a Computer Professional was incorrect.  The position seemed to clearly meet all the relevant criteria of “intellectual or creative, required discretion and independent judgment”, and the duties matched those in the guidelines.  So, what’s the problem?  Compensation.  This is one position where the employee must be paid at least  $39.90, annualized $83,132.93 for 2013.  This minimum pay changes annually based upon the California Consumer Price Index.   While it may seem a reasonable market rate in Silicon Valley, in other areas in California, this rate is often considerably higher than the market would dictate or the company could afford. So, you have the choice of classifying the employee as non-exempt, recording hours worked and paying overtime, or risk an possible audit and fines, should the Labor Commissioner’s office find out.   For more information about classifications, check out the Department of Labor or California Division of Labor Standards. If you have questions about your position classifications,  please contact us.

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Compliance Tip #8—Access to Personnel Files

As we all know, current employees have the right to inspect and copy personnel records relating to the employee’s performance or to any grievance concerning the employee. However, there are certain documents which may be excluded from the file by law, and employers should always be mindful of documents in each employee’s file.

Effective 1/1/2013, a new law effective greatly expands California law relating to inspection of personnel files.  The new law clarifies both current and former employees’ rights to inspect and copy contents of their personnel files. The prior law had been unclear as to the rights of former employees right to access their files.

Prior to 2013, an employee did not have an absolute right to copy the entire personnel file, but only documents s/he had signed relating to their employment. The new law allows current and former employees, or their representatives, to have a copy of the contents of the file if they pay the actual costs of copying.

The law also details where and how the records must be made available, including copies, what information can be excluded or redacted from the file, and penalties for failure to comply. The law lists employee rights and employer obligations.

Should an employee wish to inspect their file, they may request to do so in writing to the appropriate person, generally Human Resources. This law now applies to past employees as well as current. In addition, the records must be made available to the requesting employee within 30 days from the date of request (or up to 35 days if mutually  agreed upon).

An employer is required to keep all employment records for three years after an employee terminates.

(This is offered as a heads-up on what may affect your HR practices and is not intended to be legal advice. For more information on your specifics, please contact your labor attorney.)



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Doing what we’re good at is good business

Strong evidence suggests engaged employees are higher performing employees, they identify with the mission and vision of the company, and understand how their role supports that mission.

Gallup recently reported a strong relationship between employees utilizing their strengths and heightened employee engagement.  Seems like common sense to me.   This also applies to you personally.  If you’re personally feeling burned out or disengaged at work or in your life, reduce some of the tasks you don’t like or just aren’t good at, and add more activities you really enjoy.  Simple, but not always easy.  Start with a couple of things and you’ll be surprised how refreshing it can be.

Employees are eagerly hired to do a job by the manager because of their strengths, capabilities and experience.  All too often, duties change and the employee is tasked with activities which may not be aligned with their strengths.  Two typical outcomes–one, the employee doesn’t  do as well as someone who IS good at that task and probably wouldn’t mind doing it, and second, resentment and frustration build, often leading to disengagement  and declining performance in other areas.  It’s a downward spiral which can be mitigated if someone’s paying attention.

A few simple steps

  1. The manager should ask the employee what they consider to be their strengths, what do they enjoy doing (often the same).  Then together they figure out a way for the employee to do more of those activities  and less of what he or she feels they aren’t good at.
  2. The company on a regular basis surveys the company with a brief Employee Climate Survey which identifies issues, what’s working and what’s not in a meaningful way.  Engagement can be improved and situations remedied once the indicators are identified.
  3. Take action sooner than later.  There are so many simple, easy remedies to situations which will enhance the employee’s engagement, improve productivity, and make your organization a happier  place to work.



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Compliance Tip #7–San Jose Employers Minimum Wage Law

Voted into law in the November 2012 election, this new law impacts all employers with a facility in San Jose.  Employers with no facility in San Jose are not subject to this law. It designates the minimum wage paid be $10.00 per hour for any employees working more than two (2) hours per week. (Note:  California minimum wage is  $8.00, but that may vary by city laws.  California law does not allow employers to take tip credits against employees working at minimum wage. )  The law also states that this minimum wage is now subject to automatic annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index.  In addition, all San Jose employers are required to post a notice regarding this law and compliance, and are required to maintain personnel/payroll records for four (4) years.

For more detailed information, here’s a 2013 San Jose Minimum Wage Ordinance Fact Sheet.

This is not to be considered legal advice, just a heads-up,  to keep employers informed. 


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Compliance Tip #6—Changes in the Mandatory Notices for Employers

As in past years, there are several changes effective 1/1/2013 in the notices CA employers are required to post.   Every employer is required to post such notices in a visible place for all employees, such as a break room, hallway, etc.

Some of these changes include:

  • Updates to the Discrimination and Harassment notice.
  • Updates to the PDL and FMLA/CFRA/PDL notices (Notice A and Notice B).
  • Updates to the Workers’ Compensation notice reflecting new workers’ compensation reforms recently approved by the Division of Workers’ Compensation. (Implementation of workers’ compensation reform measures will continue during 2013. As a result, there are potential additional mandatory changes after January 1, 2013.)
  • Changes in the Cal/OSHA notice.
  • Changes in the Employee Polygraph Protection Act notice.
  • Due to federal court cases, the NLRA posting requirement remains suspended until further notice.

An excellent resource for getting the most current posters is the California Chamber website store.  The time to order them is now.

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My Holiday Perspective—The Unplanned and Mr. Rogers

This month is extremely busy as we close out the business year, try to finish those annual goals, and plan for the coming year.  And as we all know, there is much uncertainty in the world today.  It’s that uncertainty which challenges our planning.  However, it also offers surprise and excitement.

Reflecting on the past year, I’ve experienced loss and disappointments, but I also had many interesting experiences, unexpected opportunities and met new people, all unplanned.  Isn’t that fun?  How about you—did you have some unexpected, enriching experiences?  Far too often, we look at what wasn’t done or completed.  We forget to notice and appreciate the unexpected moments which added color, meaning,  and pizzazz to our life?

As a country, we are still reeling from our most recent natural disasters and human tragedies, which cast a shadow over our holidays.  In the immortal words of Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Let us all take comfort in seeing the heroes and generosity of the human spirit.  I see this everyday heroism and generosity in our local community, with our clients and their volunteerism and charitable activities.

I encourage you to reach out to others, and be a ‘helper” to those who may need,  share the spirit of the holidays and then be sure to leave some time unplanned for those happy surprises!

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Compliance Tip #5–Background Checks–New form effective 1/1/2013

By now, most employers are aware of the value of conducting professional background checks. It costs a little up front, but can save thousands by avoiding a bad hire. Although background checks are not legally required, if you do them, you must comply with applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations.  If you are not now doing background checks, I highly recommend you begin to do so immediately.

Effective 1/1/2013, employers are required to use the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) new Corrected Background Check Forms.  Click for Employer information regarding CFPB forms. This form also includes a model “Summary of Your Rights” sheet which employers must provide to applicants as part of the background check process.

For years, I have worked with and highly recommended A Matter of Fact.  They provide a menu of services for background checks to employers to ensure they get just what they need.   They also have a great website with valuable free information for employers.  Cost effective and easy to access, they offer a paperless online order entry and applicant interface system.

Make it a new year’s resolution and part of your hiring process to do background checks if you are not already doing so.   Believe me, it is money well spent!

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Compliance Tip #4–Written Sales Commission Plans

Effective January 1, 2013 in California, CA 1396 requires that all commission agreements must be in writing.  Here’s are some highlights of key points.  (Obviously not intended as legal advice, so consider this a heads-up to take further, more detailed action.)

Any employee hired to perform work for commissions in CA must receive a written contract, detailing payment and calculations of the commissions.

This law covers exempt “outside sales employees” and certain retail employees, as well as  non-exempt commission-based employees. (Because commissions are included in the calculation of the regular rate of pay for overtime, calculation of overtime for non-exempt employees must include commission payments.)

A commission is defined as “compensation paid to any person for services rendered in the sale of such employer’s property or services and based proportionately upon the amount of value.”

Reasonable, well defined criteria must be detailed. This would include how commissions are earned, recovery of commissions if sales are returned, or employment terminated.

The employee must receive and sign a copy of the contract and an acknowledgement must be returned to the employer.

These are just a few of the requirements.  For further information or questions, feel free to contact us at Cypress Ridge. We’ve been designing and documenting sales commission plans long before it was legally required.  It just makes good business sense.


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