Latest Thoughts and News From Sera Business Advisors

Are You Ready? 3 Keys for Kicking off 2018 the Right Way

The new year is here, so let’s kick it off right!  Now is the ideal time to reflect on improving and re-engineering business infrastructures.  Your personal life may include New Year’s resolutions and recommitments, why not use this same approach when managing business?

As we return to the office, let’s all spend time focused on our business frameworks.  Our national unemployment rate (4.1%) is the lowest it has been in 17 years and predictions are that it will fall even lower in the New Year.  With low unemployment, employees may become restless and want to test the market to see what’s out there.  Job definitions, associated compensation and prospective employer relationships will be judged and evaluated.

Are you ready?

Here are 3 areas where Leaders can make renewed commitments:

  1. Refresh job descriptions (or maybe even write them) – All too often, job descriptions are written, then put on a shelf. Instead of being a living document, they become the forgotten communication tool.  Job descriptions are important for communicating essential functions, establishing minimum levels of education and experience, complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act and so much more.  They play pivotal roles in job accommodations, leaves of absence approvals, worker’s compensation claims and litigation.  Job descriptions help identify the right candidate profile and lay the foundation for appropriate compensation.  Jobs change with the ebb and flow of business, so it’s important to keep descriptions current and relevant.


  1. Renew compensation – As jobs evolve, so do compensation structures and plans. Following a job description refresh, new or expanded responsibilities may be uncovered.  The newly defined job should be analyzed against market to determine if a corresponding base pay adjustment is appropriate.  Incorporating variable pay (discretionary compensation contingent on performance or results) is also emerging as a compensation trend.  In a tight labor market, it’s important employers stay competitive by paying market rate for high demand employees and retaining A+ players.
    NOTE:  A compensation best practice promotes the review of compensation information data and structure every 2-3 years.


  1. Revamp feedback – We have fallen into a rut. It’s called the Annual Performance Review.  Rather than talking “at” our employees one time each year, why not instill an ongoing, interactive feedback conversation?  Resolve to have purposeful one-on-one career development sessions.  Talk about performance.  Ask for the employee’s input.  Help prepare them for what’s next.  But remember… if a conversation wasn’t written down, it never happened.  Please document accordingly.

It’s game on, Leaders!  Best wishes for a great 2018!


Is Crisis the Brand of Your HR?

Trailing considerably in the polls, a Bolivian presidential candidate turns desperately to the services of a troubled, but talented, political strategist for help. After several misfires to get her candidate back in contention, she has an epiphany. “Our brand is crisis!” she exclaims. On a dime, she turns the campaign into one that persuades voters her candidate is the safest choice in a very unstable environment.


This, of course, was not a real election, but the synopsis of “Our Brand is Crisis,” a recent film starring Sandra Bullock. Yet, it probably feels all too real to anyone practicing HR.

Who doesn’t feel like your brand is crisis!

We often hear the battle cries for HR getting “a seat at the table” or being seen as a “business partner,” but typically these campaigns fall short. Why? Because all too often, HR execs are consumed putting out fires and responding to emergencies. There’s no time to be strategic.

Let’s back that claim up with some research. A recent study looked at the four major roles that HR practitioners have to fill. They include:

  1. An Emergency Responder – a firefighter who focuses on issues management, reacting to events/issues and resolving them;
  2. An Employee Mediator – a judge and jury who solves problems and manages conflict;
  3. An Operations Manager – a construction contractor who puts the game plan in motion and analyzes and develops new strategies as situations evolve; or
  4. A Strategic Planner — an architect who plans, innovates and designs for the future, hedging risk along the way.

Guess which one usually gets the most attention?  You got it, the emergency responder. In our experience, about 50 percent of an HR practitioner’s time is spent in reactive mode, dealing with the crisis of the day. Meanwhile, only about 5 percent of their time is dedicated to designing for the future and thinking strategically.

Instead of a seat at the table, we usually find ourselves with a seat on the Titanic!

So, how do we transition the HR field from a brand of crisis to a brand of strategy? Consider these tips as a starting point.

Find your balance.  It doesn’t matter if you are a one-man-band or you have a fully-staffed HR team at your disposal. You must be intentional about changing your own reality. It starts by winning the day. Be proactive and purposeful with how you spend your time. Find ways to commit bandwidth to strategic pursuits. Examine where your time is spent. Look for opportunities to balance your work, as well as opportunities to improve your internal processes and procedures.

Plan with the end in sight. See the big picture. This is particularly important in talent management activities so that you properly address priorities such as workforce planning, engagement management and succession planning. Being a forward thinker requires you to connect the dots across the organization. You must anticipate future problems and hedge the domino effect. (See our recent blog for more info.)

Know the business. If you want to set down the firehose, you have to flex your strategic muscle. This means you have to be smart about the business. You need to have an enterprise AND industry view. If you don’t understand the ins and outs of how your company operates, as well as the business environment that is impacting it, how can you expect to shift into a more strategic role? In other words, approach your job like a CEO.

Embrace data. Being data fluent is the secret sauce for success. Today, data is king.  It’s the language of your leadership.  It’s the basis for major decisions throughout your company.  You must track, understand, think, speak, write and be knowledgeable in data to bring forward effective HR strategies that benefit the business.

These keys help end crisis mode. By leveling up your competencies, you can transform your Human Resources approach from hair-on-fire to calm, cool and collected.

I don’t know about you, but I’d vote for the proverbial table over the Titanic. I’m not buying what Sandra was selling. Neither should you!


Is your HR brand Crisis? If so, how do you rate your department in terms of balance, forward thinking, business savvy and data fluency? 



Business, Strategy, Management, HR

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: 3 Things to Avoid

I’ve heard the term “shoulda, coulda, woulda” as an episode title of a TV comedy, as part of an NFL kicker’s interview where a game winning field goal was missed, and even during a political news conference!

We can all think back on our lives and remember a time when things may have turned out differently if we prepared, responded, or delivered differently.  We all have a “shoulda, coulda, woulda” experience.

Mistakes and missteps are inevitable. They are just part of life, and part of business.  But have too many “shoulda, coulda, wouldas”, and you may find yourself saying one of the following in your next leadership meeting:

  • “We should have enforced our work-from-home policy, then overtime would be under control.”
  • “If we properly trained our employees on the use of this machine, numerous injuries could have been avoided”.
  • “I would have consulted our attorney had I known this employment issue would end up in court.”

Smart organizations, and strong leaders, are not only skilled at minimizing mistakes, but also looking at the outcome of a plan or project to avoid the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” scenarios.

Before you, or your team, make the next big decision, consider these 3 things to avoid the regret of “shoulda, coulda, woulda”:

1. Take a Time Out. We are all going in so many directions we sometimes feel we don’t have the time to stop and think through a decision or choice.  But you do!  In all areas of life, you make time for the things that are important to you.  Sacrificing accuracy for speed, or quality for quantity is just not worth it. Use your head.  Yes, there are deadlines and circumstances that call for an immediate response, but there must be balance.  The time you take today may save you time, money, and resources tomorrow.  Pause, take a breath, talk to your people.  You will be glad you did.

2. Run the Traps. When faced with a decision, I like to “run all the traps”.  By this, I mean going through an intentional “if this / then that” analysis.  Think through scenarios, risks, rewards, potential outcomes and the associated resulting consequences.  Process through known information, then step back and ask, “What am I missing?”  The time for surprises is early in the process, not after the fact.

3. Consider the Dominos. Even minor decisions have a domino effect, so always expand your perspective. Discuss decisions with your team, consult other stakeholders, think about business operations, ask questions. Consider the downstream impact before you finalize a decision. If you don’t zoom out and consider all perspectives, you risk missing something important.

Honest reflection on your “shoulda, coulda, woulda” experiences can help you avoid making the same mistake twice. I’ll leave you with a real-life example.

A large, growing medical practice decided an employee survey was a good idea. The physician owners and management group wanted insight on the employee perspective. In a few weeks, a culture survey was pulled together, administered and the results came in.  The Docs and Leadership were expecting glowing comments and results, but instead they got raked over the coals and received a big wake-up call.

Why? They didn’t pay attention to the signals employees were already sending.

They “shoulda” paid attention to the work environment and thought through the survey idea. If they adequately ran the traps and anticipated the results, the team would’ve been better prepared for the inevitable outcome. When turnover is high, employee morale is low and patient demand is up, what do you expect? Of course, survey results were harsh!

Leadership “coulda” paid attention to metrics, performed a market study on compensation or created opportunities to show employees appreciation. If these things happened, they “woulda” realized pay was well below market due to a recent industry shift, and employee engagement was lacking due to an overstretched, understaffed clinic model.

The survey was beneficial because it did give leaders what they were looking for…the employee perspective. It also prompted conversation around the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” lessons they learned and how to adjust going forward. Hard lesson, but well done.


Is your organization bogged down in the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas?” How does your culture ensure strategic decision making is part of your business operating norm?


Connecting the Dots – How HR Can Eliminate Confusion, Chaos and Costly Mistakes   

Every executive knows how critical it is to break down siloes, to connect all areas of the business and ensure alignment across the organization. We call this process “connecting the dots.” I think we can all join hands and agree that companies need to ensure consistency in their messaging, business objectives and operational delivery models to ensure success.

So, why is it that most organizations struggle with the left hand having no idea what the right hand is doing? Why is it so common to see companies wrestling with disconnects and discrepancies?  If connecting the dots is really a business imperative, why are so many organizations only providing lip service to it?

Read more…