So, What’s Your Hard Hat For?

July 10th, 2016

“Have you ever been in a workplace environment in which within days you realize you have entered a “hard hat zone” – except nobody warned you!  If you have ever spent too long in a workplace environment in the hopeless optimism that things might get better or that you can change it, perhaps it is better to avoid putting yourself into such a situation in the first place.  One sure way to beat a stressful environment is to develop a “zero tolerance policy” say “no” firmly.” Says Christina in her recent article, “How to Avoid a Toxic Workplace: Ten Warning Signs of a Toxic Boss”.

You make me want to be a better man.” Spoken by Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good As It Gets resonates in my mind as I search companies and organizations for people who are as good as it gets at every level, in fact, who are so good at improving their own performance that they end up elevating those around them.  It shouldn’t take words like Nicholson’s however, to make me want to shout, PEOPLE!! A WORKPLACE SHOULD MAKE AN EMPLOYEE…AS GOOD AS IT GETS! And if that aint’ happenin’, YOU’VE got a problem!

A recent report tells how a Court of Appeals recently sheltered an employer from tort liability after he knowingly subjected his employees to hazardous levels of toxic gases and other hazardous materials.  While employees repeatedly complained to their employer about the dangerous conditions of their workplace, explaining they were suffering from headaches, respiratory problems, memory loss, etc., the employer, (the company owner) continued to actively conceal safety violations, and run his business.

I recently received an email of someone who described her situation as feeling like she were like a gerbil in a cage, going around and around on the wheel, knowing that she had no control over the speed of the wheel; it just kept going faster and faster.  She went on to give details of how her employer’s ongoing quiet messages were making her feel smaller than what or who she was, and how he was using his position of power to make her life miserable.  As it turned out, she wasn’t alone.  Other co-workers had come forward with similar stories.  All had tried to discuss it with the employer, each of the concerns falling on deaf ears!

Clearly, workplace hazards come in different shapes and many sizes.

Each of us (whether employee or employer) come into the workplace determined to make a difference, to be special, to contribute our skills and talents and be recognized for them.  When those grand aspirations get worn away by dangerous (mentally and physical) conditions, we lose momentum; consequently, creating a lack of luster to work hard…and fit in.  This, my friends, is the telltale sign of a dysfunctional, toxic workplace!

In a recent meeting with other Human Capital executives, we discussed the matter of toxic workplaces or hazardous work environments.  It was surprising at how many of us identified that while in some cases, a toxic environment can be traced to one individual within a company or organization, oftentimes systemic factors come into play as well.  Increased economic stresses, poor management practices, consistent and unresolved conflict can serve to mask, foster or strongly reinforce toxic behavior or practices.  Indifference to the quandaries of employees faced with bullying or other abuses of power are common examples.  Identifying the sources of the problem however, is the starting point in developing a good resolution.

So here’s the good news: Fixing the toxic work environment is hopeful!  Strategies will include preventative measures like comprehensive hiring and orientation procedures, implementing performance measures, training, and peer and employee performance appraisal systems to address the issues, and of course, developing policies and procedures to build better accountability.

Support for management or business owners is equally important in working towards a positive resolution to addressing toxicity problems.  Unfortunately, employers or company owners often find themselves feeling alone, believing they have no one to confer with.  This feeling of despondency propels them to do what they’ve learned to do best…IGNORE, hoping the problems go away.  Sadly most of them are aware that there are definite bottom line costs of not addressing toxic situations, including lost productivity, high employee turnover, and legal liability if issues remain unchecked.

Being aware of the signs and open to the possibility that a toxic work environment may be developing within your company is only the first step in restoring your business back to health however.

Many companies and organizations are turning to third-party examiners to investigate the facts of the situation without any internal bias toward the individuals involved in the situation.  As well, they present their findings to management, but are not involved in the resolution.  While this may be a good starting point to recovery, a better one would be to include a third-party to investigate, AND help implement better business practices, policies, and performance improvement strategies.

The most powerful and effective role of a third-party is that of an arbitrator and coach.  An arbitrator listens to presentations made by all involved, examines any written materials or other evidence relating to a problem, and then makes a determination of how a conflict or situation should be resolved.

When a company manager or business owner works with LPLGroup, they gain access to people management expertise!  We believe that excellent human capital management can ONLY happen within the context of a healthy company culture.  If you’ve entered the “hard hat zone” without warning, you might want to contact us!  After all, don’t you think it’s time for SOMEONE to listen and understand the ins and outs of your company culture?

Pssst….How’s The Spine of Your Business?

June 3rd, 2015

Jack took a big gulp of his coffee. He’d just been to his accountant and the news wasn’t horrific…but it wasn’t wonderful either. Jack definitely struggles with the idea of process, policy and cost recovery. (This is why I invited to him to a local coffee shop for a meeting –to discuss the details of his business.) The observant (eavesdropping) waitress left a big carafe of coffee at the table. We were going to need it.

Like many of my clients, Jack calls me when there appears to be little light left at the end of the tunnel. Phrases such as:

  • “I just lost one of my best employees to my competitor!”
  • “One of my employees tested positive during random drug testing”
  • “Policies, why do I need them (can you do that for me?)”
  • “Hey, my guys are asking for raises – what should I pay them?”

And of course there’s other issues such as employee conflict – something every business has to deal with at one point.

I looked at Jack and explained he wasn’t alone. Company owners and managers deal with any number of situations like this on a regular basis. The worst thing he could do was ignore the problem. Problems don’t work themselves out, and it tends to create “ugliness” for workers and customers alike.

Human Resources Development offer more than a quick or temporary fix to any of these issues. HR is responsible for implementing strategies and policies relating to managing people. This means to Jack – and you – that you maximize the return on investment from the organization’s human capital and minimizing financial risk. The golden rule of HR? People matter.

I watched Jack lighten up as I explained that effective human resources improve business, positively effect sales growth, sales margins, competitive advantage and averting litigation. I leaned in and said he needed to FOCUS on these 3 things:

Hire smart using effective techniques
Create policies reflecting the company and its industry.
Performance Management. Employees improve when they know what’s expected of them.

The coffee was cold but Jack leaned back with a relieved smile. He said “Harriet – OK – I get it. You’ve taken a load off my back. HR isn’t just a bunch of fluff. This is very important for my business.”

Jack’s right. Now my question for you – how is the spine of YOUR business?

Putting the Human…into Human Resources

October 12th, 2011

(Published in Womanition 2011)

For as long as I can remember, since the early days of the Personnel Department in the middle of the last century, people generally undervalued the benefits of their human capital.  I have spent the past 20 years partnering with small and mid-sized companies, helping them put the human back into Human Resources, working with them to hire smart, recognize employee potential, and increase their staff retention.

When I work with my clients, I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and begin digging into the facts of their business. Sometimes I wear a hard hat…sometimes I wear a suit…but in all cases, I deliver the know-how that will challenge them to take a hard look in the mirror.  Through consulting, coaching, and human resources development, I help my clients understand that Human Resources is about more than distributing employee manuals and placing want ads.  After all, excellent human capital management can only happen within the context of a healthy company culture!

At LPLGroup Inc., we believe in staying ahead of the game when it comes to managing human capital and improving employee performance.  We continually seek out new methodologies in conducting workplace gap analysis’ to help us determine if there are critical skill sets missing.  Then we develop the skills acquisition plan – either through training or new hires.

When it’s time to hire, we are the ideal partners to our clients, providing a unique and fast-moving recruiting and hiring process.  Once we have helped assemble their team, we maximize their success by providing the resources they need to stay sharp and productive.  the process of identifying the appropriate resources will lead to a series of important policies and procedures that must be codified and communicated to our client’s team, usually in the form of an employee information system, job description, or handbook.  Many business owners struggle with this process, but LPLGroup has the skills and experience to make it easy (and maybe even fun!)

What motivates me to work my business?  Each week I am welcomed with Thank You notes that remind me that I have opened the door of opportunity to clients and applicants.

“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” – Anonymous

What Makes A Toxic Workplace?

January 19th, 2011

January 10, 2011, 8:54 am

Jane MacKenzie Says:

What is your right if you are being bullied at work and are off on sick leave because of it. you can’t go to the boss she is the one doing the bulling so who do you go to or what can you do. She threatens to ruin my life around town.


January 10, 2011, 10:16 am

workrelationship Says:

Janie, It is very difficult to offer advice without knowing more about your situation. However, you might talk to your human resource rep to see what can be done about the problem. You might also go to your boss’s boss but I would not do this without carefully considering the potential ramifications and getting a second and third opinion from trusted colleagues who know your situation.
January 18, 2011, 12:41 pm
Harriet van Staveren Says:

Hello Janie,

I agree that it is indeed difficult to offer advice without knowing more about your situation. Depending on where you live however, you may find that discussing your matter with local authorities will be helpful. Not only will they inform you of your legal rights, they will be able to refer you to other organizations or groups for help and/or support.

As a self help, I recommend the book, Toxic People, by Lillian Glass. Dr. Glass not only helps people identify the toxic people in their lives, but also provides techniques for successfully dealing with them.

I have worked as an HR Consultant and Business Coach for 20+ years; my experience is that bullies cloak themselves very well and are unfortunately, difficult to “catch in the act.”

Having said this, I must also add however, that unless victims are able to examine their own reactions to the bullying, they may not be able to ACCURATELY identify the inappropriate behaviors inflicted on them… and as you know, without being able to identify the behavior (exactly), you hardly stand a chance of being heard.

To that end, educate yourself, and seek help outside your workplace. Sad to say, if that doesn’t work, you may have to change jobs.

A Bit About Bragging

December 2nd, 2010

A young businessman had just started his own firm. He rented a beautiful office and had it furnished with antiques. Sitting there, he saw a man come into the outer office. Wishing to appear the hot shot, the businessman picked up the phone and started to pretend he had a big deal working.

He threw huge figures around and made giant commitments. Finally he hung up and asked the visitor, “Can I help you?”

The man said, “Yeah, I’ve come to activate your phone lines.”

“It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” —Babe Ruth

Spend a few afternoons at a coffee shop or local café and you’ll come out being more informed about your community than you might have ever imagined! For an entire week of (slight) eaves dropping and people watching, I discovered that people who confidently promoted themselves; bragged about their ideas, their businesses, or their organizations were all around me! I was stirred by the amount of business emerging…all…while stopping for a java. Who knew??

I pleasantly listened in as the lady on the one side of me described how she’d won a recent election for Chairperson at a local NFP Organization. (She spoke with such loud enthusiasm…everyone in the cafe benefited.) On the other side of me were two middle-aged men, confidently bragging about how they’d won over their fellow employees to agree to a four-day workweek (sharing their particular version of the benefits of working longer hours.) I encountered the immodest repertoire of three separate recruiters selling everything from cars to lipstick. By the end of the week, I had to ask myself, would I…could I brag about my business and myself? After seeing the results? Absolutely!

Dan Tudor, author of Top 5 Ways to Effectively Brag About You and Your Program tells us what bragging does…

“It’s a momentum changer. It’s the x-factor in recruiting. It separates coaches who have a passionate vision of where they want to take their program from those that are content with just “holding down the fort”. Guess which coach a teenage prospect and their parents are going to be drawn to more often? But in my work with college coaches, I know that the majority of you would bristle at the idea of “bragging” about yourself. ‘There seems to be something just not right about doing it…something unprofessional… something that is just plain wrong.’

I’d agree with you, to a point. There’s a right way, and a wrong way, to brag about you and your program. Because it’s so important that you do it for this next recruiting class, here are five of the right ways to effectively – and professionally – brag:

  1. Show unapologetic confidence. Recruits have a very short window with which to judge you and your program. Sometimes, it isn’t so much what you say but how you say it (both in the way you construct your messages to them, as well as your tone). Confidence is the professional form of bragging. It isn’t necessarily verbalizing “Look at me, I’m the best!”; rather, it is that look in your eyes, the confident tone in your voice, and the read-between-the-lines message that says, “If you come to my program, you’re going to have a GREAT athletic career.” Do you regularly show unapologetic confidence to your recruits? How?
  2. Define yourself, and make your program stand for something. With this generation of recruits, it doesn’t pay to be all things to all people. One of the things that we’ve outlined in our two recruiting guides for college coaches is the importance of speaking in a certain way to them, both with your voice and your written words, that define who you are as a coach and what they would be a part of should they decide to come to compete for your program. You and your program need to define what you want in an athlete, how you compete, where you are going, and what role that athlete is going to play in your program. Have you defined yourself and developed an identifiable “brand” for your program? How?
  3. Use strong, consistent language. When you present a message to your recruit, it needs to reach out and demand interaction from them. It needs to tell them exactly why you’re the best choice, and precisely why student-athletes like them excel under your leadership. When we’re building recruiting plans and messages for our clients, one of the things that we factor in is consistency…a weekly message that lays the foundation for future conversations, and the use of language that strongly demands a reaction from them. The results are usually outstanding, and the same kind of message architecture can work wonders for you as well. Do you use strong, demanding language in your letters and emails, and are you doing it on a consistent basis?
  4. Don’t blink. One of my clients “blinked” last week in the face of an apparent defection by a verbally committed recruit. What we perceived the prospect doing was “testing” the coach to see what the reaction would be if they didn’t follow-through with their commitment to the program. The coach in question berated the athlete for even thinking of switching commitments, and criticized the other school. That’s the wrong approach…don’t blink! Project the confidence that we were talking about earlier: Our client should have complimented the other program, said that they understood the last minute jitters, and then calmly laid-out all of the things about their program that originally attracted the athlete to the idea of verbally committing to them in the first place. That communicates to a recruit that you are confident in where your program is going, with or without them on board. In effect, you are non-verbally bragging to them! When pressure situations arise, do you “blink”? Are your actions telling an athlete that you are desperate for them?
  5. The MOST effective form of bragging? When other people do it for you. Your current players, your alumni, the parents of your past and present players, your athletic director, the strength and conditioning training staff, your team academic advisor, local TV and newspaper reporters, Internet bloggers…there’s a seemingly non-stop list of potential third party references at your disposal. And you know what? They are all better at bragging about you than you are! Why? Because it’s not you saying how great you are, it’s someone else talking about how great you are based on their personal experience with you. It’s powerful. That’s why according to our research, your recruits want to spend so much time with your team when they take campus visits: They want to be around a group of people who they can ask, “So what’s Coach really like?” Getting written testimonials, and ensuring that your team is happy with their life on your team, is absolutely the best form of bragging in the world of college recruiting because it’s the most believable in the eyes of your prospects.

So, don’t be afraid to brag. If you do it the right way, it will turbo-charge your recruiting message in ways that are going to really make you happy!”

Human Resources have evolved from the previous “Personnel Department”. If you are a company owner with employees (or without), or a start-up entrepreneur… join my Facebook Group: HR eHall. This closed group offers support and Q&A’s to business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs.

See you online!

2010 Womanition Magazine, Pg. 47

September 27th, 2010

Coaching my clients to pursue their business dreams requires dedication, planning and groundwork. Helping them understand what their accomplishment will look like, what they will need to do to get there, is their starting point to reaching their goal.

If someone asked me what I attributed my expertise to, I’d have to say…parenting! Although education certainly offered the base to efficiency and protocol, being a mother to three daughters offered more learning than any textbook or lecture could have provided.

According to a recent global business leader’s survey of more than 300, both men and women think that women make better leaders, and that women with children make the very best business leaders. Parenting is now popularly viewed as a means of propagating skills that are transferable to the workplace; especially those dawned in life, family, and work. Ask a mother about the similarities between managing a family team and a business team, and she’ll tell you. “Put together an all-encompassing atmosphere where each person involved has a clear role and a defined purpose that contribute to the final outcome; above all, communicate well, and make everyone heard.”

The belief that businesses fare poorly in economic downturns is a common misconception, but not necessarily true; stably run businesses will hold their own during difficult times Looking back, I recognize the importance of keeping in touch with my accountant and my banker. After all, who better to offer knowledgeable advice to helping you through rough times? Assessing fixed and variable costs kept me ahead. Keeping my overhead low and providing fixed time frames to my clients, assured them that they were getting the best bang for their dollar! My clients are my lifeblood in any economic climate; when I treat them well, they in turn do the same.

My greatest business accomplishment was my first client. (A first client is like a first love: it’s the one you do the most for, learn the most from, and the one you get up extra early for!) When my first client called me to tell me that his staff disliked him, and that his business was being sabotaged from the inside out, (and literally, it was) I was intrigued! I knew there was a fix, and it was mine to deliver! Now, twenty years later, I can honestly say that my accomplishment in resolving company and staffing dilemmas like my first client’s, (who, by the way, now operates a sound, well functioning business with dedicated employees and a climbing bottom line) and working with new business startups has given me the ability to do the work I enjoy!

The Twitter Tango and Stiletto Heels

June 3rd, 2010

According to the ever-popular Wikipedia, Social Media has become the new “tool” for effective business marketing and sales. Through popular networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, we are able to reach more consumers, build, socialize, and connect with friends, relatives, and employees.

“Harriet, meet Social Media! Social Media, meet Harriet!” Oh my goodness! For me, taking on all this new technology is like trying to walk on stilettos! High heals? Really? WHO can wear them…and why, why, WHY? (As I digress ) I mean, you can’t run in them, they’re no good on gravel sidewalks, you can’t curl up in a chair with them, and you can’t dash through the store with them. (In fact, the last time I tried, I…well, let’s just say I counted six cross bars, twenty lights, two left over ceiling tiles from the last renovation, and a few unmentionables that probably shouldn’t be hangin’ from the ceiling of a grocery store.)

On the other hand, heels do make legs look longer and more attractive, they do compliment an evening gown, four extra inches to one’s height does help find a place to sit at the local cafe (5’9” plus 4 ). Heels aerate grass; puncture hardwood floors (a great reason to bring in the boys from Absolute Hardwood ); and of course, they make for great self-defense weaponry. Sandra Bullock runs in heals, Penny Jennings can run to the back of her shop at Minute Man Press…wearing heals.

Ok, ok, ok; I’ve got it, I’m done digressing! Here’s what I’ve learned: Presently, Facebook has over 150 million users; LinkedIn has more than 34 million and Twitter 4.4 million plus. And while there are thousands of social networking sites out there, a pecking order has emerged. (Keep in mind that pecking orders are like fashion trends; it doesn’t mean things won’t change in a few months…much like shoes and of course, the height of a heel ). It appears that (for now) many business owners are focusing on the Big 3 -Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.

Oh oh, a conundrum emerges. I’ve arrived at the social networking dance, but I haven’t figured out the Twitter Tango yet. (I’ve got my heels on, but I’m not getting the hang of the dance steps!) The vocabulary is daunting! Tweets. Peeps. Re-Tweets. Bogs. Splogging. Vlogging. Social media is certainly transforming the way I communicate. Each time I type a comment in Twitter, I understand it’s called a Tweet. When I’m communicating with people on Twitter it’s called Tweeting (not Twittering). If I want to have a private message with someone, then I Direct Message them. Lastly, I discovered the benefit of shorthand when updating Twitter, Facebook or my LinkedIn status. For instance, “u” for “you” and “r” for “are” – mostly because I’m limited to 140 characters. And of course, when something’s worth laughing about, LOL seems to do the job.

During my browsing, I did come across a list of some of the less popular words of this new-founded vocabulary. I thought they were creative, and perhaps worth mentioning:

  • Anonoblog: A blog site by an anonymous author(s).
  • AstroTurfing: A faux grass roots push to promote a product, service, or idea.
  • Crowdsourcing: When an organization harnesses the efforts and skills of those outside of the organization to volunteer content.
  • Deciprocity: Saying or doing the wrong things which results in a chronic decrease of friends and followers.
  • Dooced: Losing your job as a result of your blogging. Coined by the author of the popular site, Dooce, who was fired after venting about her company.
  • Folksonomy: Collaborative tagging, or social indexing; the collective use of tags to categorize content.
  • SOB: Successful and Outstanding Blogger (this definition is a vast improvement over the original).
  • Social Capital: The benefits received from a positive reputation and strong relationships in social networks.
  • Splog: Fake or spam blogs often used solely for the purpose of back linking and affiliate sales.
  • Vlog: Blog containing primarily video posts.
  • Socialationship: A mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship established by networking online.

Social Media certainly has my attention; I’m ready to go with it. Contrary to the Stiletto heel that place a large amount of force into a small area, through RSS web feeds, I’m able to apply a small amount of force that reaches a large area. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Bloggers watch out, ‘cause here I come! I’ve put on my heels, and am ready to dance.

About LPLGroup Inc.

LPLGroup Inc. is a global human resources and business consulting company based in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. We focus on making change happen by offering practical business advice and assistance in creating effective HR systems and successful management processes.


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