Meet Shawnna Earnest, founder of Earnest HR, and our guest for this month’s strategic partner spotlight.
In a recent interview, Shawnna shared her expertise in navigating HR challenges for small to medium-sized businesses. As a Fractional HR Solution, she excels in providing end to end HR services covering the full employee lifecycle. Shawnna’s proactive approach and commitment to core values make her an invaluable asset in helping businesses attract and retain top talent while adapting to the evolving landscape of remote work.
Thank you for joining us, Shawnna. Let us start by asking what three things every small business should make sure they have in place?
It’s difficult for me to narrow this down to three since one arear of HR focus bleeds into another and everything is connected. To start, I would recommend having employee handbook and other necessary policies. An employee handbook, when written with the company’s culture, mission, vision, and values in mind, helps to establish the foundation to which everything operates from. It supports transparency and treating all employees consistently.
In addition, ensures alignment with state, federal and local employment laws, and regulations, including EEO, harassment, leaves of absences, minimum wage, and overtime requirements.
Next, would be a recruitment and onboarding process. Defining what the company needs and then finding the person that can perform the responsibilities and fits the organization’s culture is often more difficult than we think. Having a well-defined job description, expectations, and a definition of what success looks like, is a great foundation to find the perfect candidate.
Third, I recommend a competitive benefits and compensation package. Work with a reputable benefits broker to help design a benefits plan that is competitive for the organizations industry and fits within the budget. While employees don’t necessarily join or leave solely due to benefits, if you don’t offer a competitive package, it makes it much more difficult to recruit top talent.
As a Fractional HR Solution, what are some of the valuable benefits you provide to companies who don’t have a full-time HR department?
I offer the full employee life-cycle of HR starting from job analysis and descriptions, ensuring job postings follow any state requirements, i.e. salary ranges, to onboarding all the way to off boarding and everything in-between. This includes pay audits, performance management, investigations, employee, and supervisor training, all while aligning with each organizations unique culture.
Often small to mid-sized employers don’t have the resources to stay on top of everchanging employment laws. Especially if they have employees in multiple states. I have multi-state experience and several tools at my fingertips to research and advise on best practices, as well as the experience to know when to recommend bringing in an employment attorney.
Finding the right candidate is challenging for small businesses. How do you help clients attract and retain top talent? How has that challenge changed in recent years with remote working?
To start, I support my clients by helping them get clarity on what they really need. We reevaluate the job description and ask questions, such as “Has the role changed? What does the role need to be successful? What is the definition of success in this role?” During the interview process, I work with the hiring manager to create interview questions to identify the candidates knowledge, skills and abilities, and behaviors that align with the organization’s culture.
Retention is a team effort starting with the direct manager up to leadership. Communication, setting expectations and providing frequent and timely feedback are only a few of the key factors to support retention. These factors are more important in a remote environment since a supervisor can’t just walk down the hall. It’s more of a deliberate effort to set aside time every week to reach out and have a verbal conversation on the phone or a video chat. When we are working remote, it’s easy to only focus on what is in front of us and forget our team members and direct reports.
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Can you share a specific example of how you have helped clients navigate and remain compliant with ever-changing employee-related regulations?
In 2021 Colorado passed the most aggressive equal pay act at that time, Colorado Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. This was very complex and many vague definitions regarding what an employer can and can’t do. This resulted in many conversations with employment attorneys, leaders and drilling down to what organizations are required to do. This involved a full pay audit, market analysis, and decisions regarding current staff and any appropriate compensation changes to bring employees compensation to a competitive market salary.
Next, I conducted conversations with hiring managers on how to address pay transparency in the workplace since all open positions and promotional opportunities must be posted with the salary range. The concern would be current employees upset or leaving if the posted range is higher than their salary. This is a careful conversation to discuss why the employee is at their current salary, why the posted position is higher, and what the employee needs to accomplish to achieve the desired higher salary. Managers often don’t like these conversations, however, avoiding these crucial conversations is a recipe for turnover, or, worse, a discrimination claim.
In terms of remote work, can you share how have you have evolved your interview approach to assess remote candidates?
It boils down to changing up the questions designed to dive into how the candidate works best, what communication they need to be successful, and training managers to be more proactive and connect in different ways with their staff. I recommend both phone and video interviews. A phone interview is a great tool to gain an understanding of a candidates communication skills, while still asking job specific questions, without the distraction of a video call. And, often, the candidate is a little more relaxed and the hiring manager can better assess the candidates skills and overall fit with the organization. A video call is helpful to assess the candidates technical skills and take in non-verbal signs such as body language, eye-contact and other facial cues.
Every employee works differently and expectations from managers may be different. Is it a role where they need to be responsive during business hours only or is it a role where they are free to complete their work anytime 24/7 as long as they meet the deadline, however, are available for most or part of the normal workday.
Is there a memorable candidate or project that presented a unique challenge?
Small to mid-sized organizations often don’t have the same budget as larger organizations for benefits and total rewards. Health insurance in the small-group market (often under 100 employees in most states), can be expensive since there is no ability to negotiate rates. We often must get creative to offset costs to be competitive with larger organizations. This may result in a bonus plan to enhance compensation, adding Health Savings Accounts or Health Reimbursement Accounts to help offset medical plans with a higher deductible, or providing other perks to provide other special benefits to enhance to the overall total compensation package.
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Your company’s core focus and values appear on the homepage of your website. Why is it crucial for a company to establish and uphold a set of core values? What kind of activities can help encourage employees to practice core values to align with the company’s unique vision and goals?
I view my core focus and values as my compass in everything I do, including raising my 10-year-old daughter. If I don’t approach all my clients, how I operate my business, my personal life, and being a mom, with, among other things, integrity, accountability, an entrepreneurial spirit, and have fun while I’m doing it, I don’t sleep at night. When I look to hire and grow my team, any candidate must align with these values.
For any organization, defining their purpose and values is vital for success. It’s their compass, always pointing in the right direction to achieve set goals and objectives. It’s easy to put these values on paper and then never look at them again. I recommend creating interview questions round these values as well as designing a performance management tool to have the values woven in. This can be a formal performance evaluation or informal meetings with questions designed to align with the organizations values.
For example, if entrepreneurial spirit is a value, a leader could ask “I understand XYZ client is challenging and keeps changing their mind. What can you do to think creatively, approach the problem from a different direction and find an alternate solution?” The values should be reviewed at companywide meetings, at least monthly. And an organization can use it as an opportunity to acknowledge an employee who stepped up and went out of their way for a co-worker or client that aligns with their values.
Finally, where can people find you and work with you?
Are you looking to sell your business within the next 6 to 12 months?
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We are NOT business brokers or investment bankers. We are a group of entrepreneurs who have successfully built and sold our own businesses. We recognize that one size does not fit all. Each of our business were unique, were in different industries, and sold in different economic conditions. Each had its own success and imperfections as well as reasons for selling.
That is why we start with a free, no-obligation consultation. We work with you to determine your exit planning goals and make them achievable. We also believe you should pay for what you need and what you will use. This is why we have aligned our service offering and fee structures to match that philosophy.
- Over 25 years of experience.
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