The Williamson Difference: HR Answers That Work

If You Want People to Respond, Tell a Good Story

July 17, 2018

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

A slight creaking sound could be heard as the room sat silent, waiting for the door to open. No one knew what to expect. Would lives be changed forever? Anxiety amongst the group continued to grow.

We've all found ourselves in this circumstance at some point in our life. As children, a teacher would enter the classroom. At work, the boss calls an impromptu all-hands-on-deck meeting. How about the horror of sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting for a doctor to bust through the swinging doors with a status update of a loved one?

In this story, the group was waiting for their boss. She entered. She slowly walked to the front of the room, took a deep breath, and said, "I want to tell you all a story."

Did lives change that day? Were people laid off? Were people given bonuses? Was someone on the team recognized? All are possible. We don't know the answer. But what we do know is the group's brain chemistry changed as the boss told a story; a neurochemical called oxytocin was released.

Some of you might be thinking, "Why do I care?" And that's a valid question. But, if you're a leader, you should care. If you want to influence people, you should care. And if you want to engage people in cooperative behaviors, you definitely should care–because scientists are revealing the truth about what happens to people when stories are told. "A decade ago, my lab discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key 'it's safe to approach others' signal in the brain," wrote Paul J. Zak, founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and Professor of Economics, Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. "Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others."

Everything Zak mentions is interesting. However, what we found most intriguing is the connection between great storytelling, brain chemicals, and how they work together to motivate people to help others. "By taking blood draws before and after the narrative (the story that was told), we found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis," Zak added. "Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others."

Basically, this means that the better stories we tell, the more likely people are to engage with our cause, the more likely they are to empathize with the characters in the story, and the more likely they'll be to contribute our effort.

The question then becomes: if great storytelling can release brain chemicals that motivate people to help, how do we learn to tell stories that inspire greatness?

1. Make it real.

Although many of us grew up hearing fables like The Tortoise and the Hare, real life stories (yes, those that actually happened) are more likely to resonate with people and motivate them to change their behavior. Much like a relative getting diagnosed with heart disease is more likely to make people stop engaging in negative lifestyle habits, stories of real living people are more likely to inspire positive behaviors because those stories reveal true possibility. Consider this: You're more likely to believe that it's easy to become a pop star if you've known someone who has become a celebrity. So tell stories about real people who have accomplished real successes.

2. Reveal the tension.

A great Hollywood blockbuster always has a point in the story where failure or heartbreak is inevitable. The tension in stories resonates with us because all of us feel different types of stresses and fears in our own lives. So when you tell a story, focus on the hurdle that existed for your character to overcome. Build the tension by sharing the anxiety the situation may have created.

3. Spotlight the resolution.

The resolution of your story is the reason you're sharing the story. You want your audience to reach the point where they understand that the awkward guy can be loved by the popular girl, or that the underdog can win the battle because of his cunning strategy. At work, the resolution to a great story might be landing the big client even though your competition had better services or lower prices. It might be completing the impossible project even though it seemed like any problem that could arise, did arise. For a great story, focus on the big losses to expose negative behaviors that created a losing situation, and focus on the big wins to highlight the positive behaviors that allowed the people to achieve their goal.

4. Make it relatable.

If you're telling a story of Michael Phelps winning all those medals, or Oprah becoming a media icon, or Stephen King selling millions of books, it's important to make those stories relatable to your audience. Make sure you convey to your audience that you don't expect them to win the most medals at the Olympics, or become a household name, or create financial gains that are out of this world. Be sure to explain that you're simply telling the story to inspire them to become the best version of themselves–and it's the passion, tenacity, and hard work that you want them to identify with.

5. If applicable, make it a moment of recognition.

Great stories have the ability to unlock brain chemicals that motivate people. But great stories about a member or members of an audience have even a greater impact. These are called recognition moments–when your story of intrigue, of tension, of overcoming a hurdle can have the greatest impact on motivating, inspiring, and engaging people in a cause. Try it the next time you tell a story. The results will amaze you.

"It was about 9:30 p.m. one Friday night when I stopped by the office," said the boss. "Most of us had checked out for the weekend. And when I walked in the building–simply because I had forgotten my coat–I noticed all the lights were off except one. Over in the corner I saw Cassie, working hard and oblivious to the world. I watched Cassie closely over the next few weeks. She was asking for opinions and feedback. She was trying new and different approaches. And all that effort paid off. Congratulations to Cassie for great work. Her project has moved this company in a new direction and I want all of you to know how proud and honored I am to have Cassie on our team."

See, that's a great story.

David Sturt is the executive vice president of marketing and development at the O.C. Tanner Institute and the author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love. Todd Nordstrom is the director of institute content at the O.C. Tanner Institute. Throughout his career, he has been a driving force and voice of business publishing and management sciences, reaching millions of readers in print and online.

Their latest book is Appreciate: Celebrating People, Inspiring Greatness.  Check out their NYT Bestselling book Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love.

Writing Job Descriptions that Lead to Better Hires

July 17, 2018

By Samantha Spano

A job description is usually one of the first things a prospective candidate reads when learning about an open position. A well-written description weeds out unqualified candidates and attracts desirable talent. Here are six tips to help you write a great job description.

1. Describe your company's culture.

When someone applies for a job, they're looking for a way to make a living, but they're also looking for somewhere they can spend eight hours a day and come home happy every evening. Employees want to feel welcome and valued, so job satisfaction is directly tied to company culture.

Though 49% of job seekers believe compensation packages are the most attractive part of a job offer, 42% say a positive work-life balance is more important, according to a 2016 report from MRINetwork. Use your company's culture to attract candidates who are looking for more than just a paycheck.

2. Give concrete examples.

Often, job descriptions are filled with vague skill requirements, such as "Must be familiar with Microsoft Office." Those kinds of short, non-descriptive skill requirements help no one. A better example would be, "This position requires the employee to use Microsoft PowerPoint to develop presentations and Word to draft web content. May be expected to use basic Excel functions."

The more specifics you can provide, the easier it is for candidates to imagine themselves in the role. Vague descriptions lead to responses from unqualified applicants. This could increase time to hire and drain resources.

3. Avoid jargon, slang, and superlatives.

Your job descriptions should be straightforward and easy to understand. Jargon isn't standardized and different companies may not use the same language to describe common processes. Likewise, slang sounds unprofessional and may scare off unqualified candidates. Meanwhile, superlatives like "perfectionist" or "world-class" discourage candidates who feel they cannot live up to those standards but may actually be highly qualified for the position.

4. Show opportunities for growth.

Forward-thinking candidates aren't just looking for a job to fulfill their current needs, they're looking for an opportunity that will further their career. Job descriptions should show applicants how the position fits into their career plan.

5. Ask current employees to review the description.

According to Glassdoor, 61% of employees believe their job responsibilities are not the same as the expectations set during the hiring process. An easy way to avoid these types of misunderstandings is to have someone currently in the position read over the description and provide their take. Current employees may be able to provide details about specific job functions and may recommend how to make the description clearer and more accurate.

6. End with a strong call to action.

Every job description should close by telling the reader what their next step should be. This can be as simple as directing readers to an application form or providing an email where they can send a resume. Don't assume the reader will automatically know what to do, because there is no standard process.

Remember that in order to find the best candidates, you must have the most accurate and inviting job descriptions. Take the time to think about what you really hope for in your candidate before writing your job description.

Samantha Spano is a manager at JazzHR. This article originally appeared on their blog and was reprinted with permission.

The Components to Defining Your Company Culture

July 17, 2018

By Michael Haberman

In business, they say a great idea is worthless without great execution. Taking that a step further, even great execution sometimes can't salvage a company with poor culture. Brilliance alone might be able to get a firm up and running, and things might even carry on swimmingly for a few years.

But, in time, if a company doesn't focus on building the principles of a successful culture, the business will begin to unravel. With a hollow foundation, management will be leading a rudderless ship, employees will tune out, and everyone will just end up going through the motions. Indeed, what started as a fantastic idea and excellent business model will inevitably fall apart.

This doesn't have to be you. And, fortunately, a lot of the key factors in creating a thriving culture are very simple. Here are three critical components that can help your company better define its company culture.

1. Fitting Culture to Organization

Most organizations already have some sort of built-in culture, and this (usually) is a good thing. Rather than demolish everything and start from scratch with ideas from the latest CEO bestseller, work within your means and with the principles you have already set forth; after all, you likely have instituted a good, solid framework of values and principles that have helped the company attain success. Now, it's all about defining and refining them.

Ultimately, you want to get to a point where there's an organization-wide understanding of what the company strives to be. If that means creating a competitive environment built on hitting sales numbers and quotas – and sticking around until 8 p.m. to make that happen – then perhaps that's befitting of your workplace. Then again, your company's core values might prioritize everyone leaving at 5 p.m. and offering flexible schedules that give employees a proper work-life balance.

Or, perhaps the guiding principle isn't about behavior as much as outcomes. Some of the best companies have a lot of operational diversity from department to department. But even if attitudes differ, what everyone in a leadership position – from marketing and customer service to sales and IT – demands is high-quality results.

Not everything has to be warm and fuzzy. Just because it's trendy, you don't need to follow the Silicon Valley model of filling an office with pool tables, beanbag chairs, and smoothie machines. Instead, start by understanding what your company is already about and how to accentuate the positive, stamp out the negative, and get everyone – from the shop floor to the top floor – on board with the core goals and mission.

2. Knowing Who You Are

Knowledge of self is fundamental, as coaches often preach this in sports. It's less important to have a team that plays in one specific style than it is to cultivate a team that knows what it is. If you're a hard-nosed, tough, defensive squad, play that way and make sure everyone is on the same page. Or, you can be a sleek, offensive machine that uses quickness and creativity to confuse the opponent. Either way is fine.

Some teams win with defense, some win with offense. Some teams have players who are best friends on and off the field, while others keep it strictly professional. Any option can work; you just need to understand what makes you tick and how that drives success. Discovering what you are and building toward that is the real key.

There are many ways to succeed while being yourself. One thing nobody can ever do, however, is become someone else. This isn't just a life lesson for teenagers, but an axiom that thriving companies embrace – either knowingly or just as a byproduct of the way management has developed the organization.

3. Demanding Improvement and Evolution

One final issue that world-class companies confront is complacency. Complacency can be a killer, as a lack of leadership and inability to innovate has taken down many household names – like Kodak, Blockbuster, and Xerox – despite decades of success. No matter how you define company culture, it must adapt and evolve with the times. In this vein, embracing technology is the most obvious value to instill.

Salespeople are notoriously difficult to convince. But all except the oldest and most stubborn have come to realize how lead generation and customer management tools can transform their work. Customer service reps should similarly get up to date. Management should be bringing in sophisticated call center cloud infrastructure that can make their jobs more intuitive and rewarding.

And everyone in all departments needs to understand the importance of data security and privacy regulations. With all the reputational fallout from headline news incidents in recent years, this is now mandatory for all company cultures. Beyond technology, this also means adapting to modern sensibilities. Millennial attitudes may be the butt of many jokes, but this much is clear: The younger generations of today represent the employees of tomorrow – and they simply think about work differently.

The Power of Culture

Ultimately, the key to defining company culture is sitting right there in the concept: Define. The exact ins and outs or what an organization considers important are less important than ensuring those values and core principles are clear, consistent, and adhered to over the long term. It can't just be a sign on the wall, but rather something all employees practice and preach.

Doing something a certain way – day after day, year after year – is how the greatest companies build their cultures. It won't be built in a day, but neither was Rome. Just keep working toward the ideals, and remember to evolve and adapt, much like society must do.

Understanding this and adapting to changes must be part of any culture. Few companies are run exactly how they were 40 years ago or have maintained the same old attitudes about the workplace. And you know why? Because all those that refused no longer have their doors open.

Michael Haberman is co-founder and senior HR consultant of Omega HR Solutions Inc. His company offers HR solutions that include compliance reviews, wage and hour guidance, supervisory and managerial training, strategic guidance, executive advisement, and more. He can be reached at

Managing Workers' Compensation and Claims

July 17, 2018

By Strategic Human Resources, Inc.

If you are new to the responsibilities of managing the workers' compensation process, it can be overwhelming. There are responsibilities that both the employer and employee have in the process. Compliance laws vary from state to state, so make sure that you are familiar with your state requirements. Compliance is very important, but it's hardly the only thing that matters when it comes to true operational excellence.

It takes an integrated risk management strategy to ensure that your organization is performing safely, efficiently, and profitably. When proactive measures are implemented consistently, accountability is shared across the entire organization. Furthermore, when this is combined with a transparent process for when an injury occurs, an organization can achieve operational excellence, improve results, improve employee engagement, and the company reputation will also benefit.

The Basics

1. Outline Your Policies.

As a first step, outline the process and expectations at your company for what happens when an injury occurs at work, the medical care for the injured, and a process for completing the claims.

Topics to cover include:

  • First report of injury

  • Accident investigation

  • Time away from work

  • Accommodations

  • Return-to-work process

  • Training requirements

  • Communication methods and frequency

  • Employee responsibilities

  • Preventing injuries

2. Build a Consistent Process.

Once outlined, you need a uniform and consistent process for executing these policies and procedures. Many companies have had challenges with managing workers' compensation claims in the past because traditionally the forms were paper-based and then had to be emailed or shared on an intranet. Many companies are moving away from this due to the challenges of: consistency of information, accuracy, timeliness, and siloed information. Now companies are using incident reporting and safety software for data collection to solve these challenges.

Simply put, using technology to track the data and information makes it more easily accessible and it helps to make your programs more effective. These systems help you get the reporting and insights that you need quickly and easily to make improvements and understand your most vulnerable areas.

3. Prevent Injuries In The First Place

Much like healthcare's focus on preventive care, environmental health and safety has been adopting processes to prevent incidents. If you keep workers safe, you will have fewer accidents and reduce your workers' comp exposure. This is the secret to being successful in your role of handling workers' compensation responsibilities.

A safe workplace includes basics such as:

  • providing and using proper equipment and personal safety gear

  • identifying potential hazards regularly and resolving them quickly

  • reporting and addressing unsafe conditions

  • providing health and safety training on safe work practices

  • using a consistent process to report and investigate accidents

Not only are proper equipment, training, and processes important, but establishing a culture that has a commitment to health and safety is key. This includes creating a supportive work environment that makes everyone accountable for safety and accident prevention.

As the owner of the process, you must ensure that all supervisors and/or managers know that they are responsible for the safety of employees under their direction, as they can take an active part in preventing injuries.

Not only is injury prevention important for the health and viability of your employees, but it saves substantial costs. Costs of managing workers' compensation claims are not only the direct costs of sick and/or disability pay, but also the indirect costs associated with lost productivity, replacement costs, and overtime.

4. Technology Can Help

With anything, in order to make an overwhelming process successful, you need to provide the right tools. Easy to use software, like iReportSource, allows your workers to collect information in the field on a proactive and reactive basis. The ability to complete safety audits, site inspections, and/or allowing workers in the field to submit safety suggestions in real-time will help reinforce a culture of safety accountability. And what's easier than a few taps on a mobile phone?

Your role in managing workers' compensation is critical to the success of the business. Don't let the compliance and day-to-day requirements overwhelm you. It can be intimidating in the beginning, but there are plenty of tools that can help you be successful.

The barrier to operational excellence in safety and workers' compensation is lower than ever. What's stopping you?

A special thanks to iReportSource for sharing their insights on safety in the workplace. For more information on iReportSource, contact Nancy Koors at or 513-442-8595. iReportSource allows you to avoid complacency and to manage risk, all while helping you to reinforce behavior-based safety practices.

Strategic Human Resources, Inc., is a national full-service HR management firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Its president and founder, Robin Throckmorton, can be reached at

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