Weekly Wrap: Tips to Help Workers Flourish in the “Year of the Snake”

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The New Year is finally here, but really, is it possible to feel very good about being in 2013, the Year of the Snake?

Think I’m being alarmist? Well, do a little Google search on the term “Year of the Snake” and you’ll find stuff like this:

The Mayans got it wrong. It wasn’t 2012 that was going to be a year of disaster but the year of the water snake.

Snake years aren’t the best in the calendar for most; and it’s definitely the year lucky charms are going to be a must. Some zodiac animals will navigate the water snake year more smoothly than others. For most it’s going to be a very slow moving year with unexpected obstacles surfacing at the most inopportune moments…”

How to help employees flourish

Unexpected obstacles surfacing at inopportune moments? Well, the Year of the Snake doesn’t sound all that different from any other year since the recession began.

But Year of the Snake or no, the New Year has brought the usual number of predictions, suggestions, and advice for coping with workers in 2013. One of the better ones that caught my eye was from talent management software provider SilkRoad and touted as the Top 9 Ways to Take Your Employees Further in 2013.

Here are some of the suggestions that SilkRoad says will help “employees flourish in 2013.”

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  • Do talent reviews for everyone. Most companies do talent reviews to identify and develop high potentials. Why not set the modest goal of finding at least one meaningful developmental activity for everyone else? A talent review meeting, where you have a group of managers, is a much better place to do this than an individual performance appraisal meeting. Finding an assignment, a new responsibility, or a training program that helps the person stretch themselves will refresh them and demonstrate the company isn’t taking them for granted.
  • Make space by (temporarily) killing programs. You can’t do cool new stuff without getting rid of uncool old stuff. Each part of the HR function should meet to discuss what you don’t need to do anymore. If you don’t have the stomach to kill a program altogether, try giving it up just for the year. If it is a worthwhile program you will happily add it back, if no one misses it, then it stays dead.
  • Implement the secret that sits at the core of continuous improvement. What is the real secret of continuous improvement? It is that people make suggestions they can implement in their own department. Killing unnecessary programs is a good example of this sort of easy-to-do improvement. Moving equipment around or adding better lighting or color coding files are all simple things that an individual can implement largely on their own. Teach people that no suggestion is too small. Companies that embrace this approach get thousands of suggestions a year and almost all of them are implemented because people can do it themselves. It is not just the improvements that matter; implementing suggestions gives employees a sense of ownership of their workplace.
  • Get your executives on the front lines. Employees love to see the executives spending a day doing front line work. It helps them feel connected to the mission of the business and reduces unhelpful complaints about management. It will also help executives understand the issues that stand in the way of workers achieving peak performance.
  • Ask employees what they need. OK, HR is expected to have ideas on how to make employees happier and more productive. But often the best thing is just to ask employees what they need and what they would like. You do not need surveys or focus groups or a task force to solicit ideas. Just talk to people. Talk in the elevator, on the way to the parking lot, over a coffee, or in the hallway. Asking people what they think in casual, everyday chats will generate all the insights you need.

You can get the full list of the Top 9 Ways to Take Your Employees Further in 2013 by clicking here. What I’ve listed here are the best  — or at least, the ones I don’t see mentioned in many other places — but the full list is worth taking a good look at. It might give you a jump on how you, and your workforce, can avoid any bad karma coming down during the “Year of the Snake.”

Of course, there’s a lot more than how to help employees during the Year of the Snake in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • How to be a better boss in 2013. The Wall Street Journal is famous for all sorts of management advice, and although a lot of it is frequently silly and dumb, these tips on how to be a better boss this year are actually not bad. My favorites: “Practice the Hard Stuff” (not something too many managers are known for), and “Ban ‘Reply to All.’ “
  • Never fear, the IRS is on top of things. Remember all those fears about how long it was going to take to get the tax withholding tables calculated if we went past Dec. 31 with no “fiscal cliff” deal? Well, we went over the fiscal cliff by a few days, but believe it or not, the IRS managed to release 2013 tax withholding guidance on December 31 despite the dithering by Congress. Then, they updated them to reflect the congressional action on Jan. 3. And the IRS said, “Employers should start using the revised withholding tables and correct the amount of Social Security tax withheld as soon as possible in 2013, but not later than Feb. 15, 2013.”
  • Worst CEOs of 2012. A few years ago in another place, I used to award a “Stupidus Maximus” award to the worst manager of the year. I may start it up again here at TLNT in 2013, but until then, this Washington Post list of the five worst CEOs of 2012 will have to do. No. 1 on their list is a doozy — former Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn. Among other things, the company’s share price dropped by 30 percent during his tenure, and he resigned after “allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a 29-year-old subordinate came to light.”
  • Weird office environments. I’ve worked in offices where senior management confused “odd” with “cutting edge” when it came to the workspace, so these strange office environments featured recently in U-T San Diego (the newspaper formerly known as the San Diego Union-Tribune) weren’t a big surprise to me. But see if you agree with me that looking at them makes you wonder, “What were they thinking — and how does anyone get any real work done there?”
  • How the Chinese calendar baffles workers. Think workers have it tough here in America? Well, it could be worse — you could be working in China. As this story in the Los Angeles Times points out, “How does the Chinese worker kick off the new year? With eight consecutive days of work … Blame it on the country’s notorious holiday calendar, which critics say has about as much respect for weekends as it does for logic. Every year, the Chinese proletariat is subjected to a new twist in official scheduling that must take into account seven national holidays, four of which aren’t anchored by the Gregorian calendar. The results are several public holidays during the week that are essentially canceled out by forcing workers to make up for the lost production over the following weekends.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.