Our Halloween edition of Ask Me Anything features Jeff Yenzer. Jeff is founder and principal consultant of Yenzer Consulting Services, LLC.
Jeff has plenty of horror stories from his experiences as a human resources consultant for over 15 years. More than scary stories, he also has many happy-ending adventures in handling tricky business situations, managing contracts, and working with clients from all different backgrounds.
According to Jeff’s website, “Any HR Manager will tell you that they are something between a workplace firefighter and a professional cat-wrangler, and I can offer these services and the training needed to meet any issue that might arise, ensuring your business runs as smoothly as possible.”
The #ama format is adapted from a popular format on Reddit. This format allows community members to ask questions of featured innovators and influencers.
If you missed Tuesday’s #ama, no worries because we have it all right here. Dig in and don’t forget to join our Slack to make sure you don’t miss the next event live.
I’m Jeff Yenzer, founder and principal consultant of Yenzer Consulting Services, LLC. ?
YCS is a Personnel Operations and Human Resources consultation company, focusing on helping small businesses properly scale in both terms of employee count as well as morale and structure. I am a fervent believer that you cannot automate everything and at some point, most companies still need people to make them function, so I strive to focus on the *Humans* in HR.
A little bit about me: I’m a native Oklahoman, reside in Yukon, and am currently 36 years youngish. I fill my spare time with all manner of nerdy pursuits, from gaming to comics to pop culture as well as a creepy fascination with health, personal refinement, and creative problem solving. I was part of a nerdcore comedy group for nearly a decade as well as entertaining crowds at renaissance festivals before settling down into entrepreneurship and a few emcee gigs here and there. I have also been fortunate enough to be selected as a Microsoft MVP for their Xbox brand over the last 4 years…so, I wasn’t lying about liking vidya games. On the internet I like to keep things simple, so if you search for “Yenzer” it is most often me.
Now, on to the professional stuff!!
My direct experience with management and Human Resources goes back nearly two decades and has been across companies in all manner of industries; from Manufacturing to Retail, Banking to O/G, as well as technology and even performing arts, I have seen my fair share of issues. Graduating from UCO in 2007 with a degree in Interpersonal Communication, after taking a couple of 18 month breaks to be with my kiddo, I continued my pursuits in personnel management leading to my eventual accreditation of my SPHR designation. Earlier this year I also became a co-owner and board member of StarSpace46, so I am happy to talk co-working as it has become a very real passion of mine.
My entire career has been devoted to making the most ethical decisions I could, but after working for repeated companies that expected me to compromise my ethics to appease executive teams I chose to take a new path at HR by pulling myself out of the staff level and instead become an objective third party that is empowered to make the right decision without fear of being terminated. I’m like some kind of HR Mercenary…oooo, an HR Ronin!!! HRonin!!!
I would never say that I have seen everything, but I have seen more than most when it comes to what can happen in a given workday, both good and bad. I also have a somewhat unique perspective of taking a role that is traditionally held by an C-Suite employee and turning it into a comfortable small business.
Feel free to ask me for horror stories, but I am also more than willing to help anyone with their questions or concerns surrounding things that they traditionally think of as HR. I promise, we aren’t all the Angels of Death that some would think us to be…and I’m not the stereotypical stuffy kind of HR person either.
Be like Benatar, and hit me with your best shot!!!
Who does HR apply to? Just corporate folks?
Heavens no! I find that HR knowledge actually needs to be in the foundation of any company that is planning to hire or contract out any work. There are a TON of pitfalls and knowing what to watch out for will make sure your company steers toward best practices from Day One instead of trying to discover its own culture and habits bit by dangerous bit.
Though, let’s be honest, many CEOs and C-Suite members of corporations could use plenty of objective oversight as well. ?
You mention helping scale in number of employees but also morale and structure. Do you have any tips specifically regarding keeping morale up with freelance/contract employees? Especially if you don’t see them all the time but mostly correspond via email?
I would focus the lion’s share of your communications on treating them like independent adults, making sure to remain appreciative, and consistently reiterate that you are available if they need you without being over their shoulder.
Also, try to organize appreciation events like low-key lunches/dinners to remind them that they are still “part of the team”.
What is the most common problem you see in small businesses?
Hands down it is the ridiculous idea that they want to “keep things loose and fun” instead of creating rational policies and expectations. I see so many small businesses that never realize the bad habits they are creating while trying to remain “cool”.
Cool shouldn’t ever mean lazy or unorganized. Protect your employees as much as you would your company!
I unfortunately have a lot of friends who have worked in small scale design businesses, both in Oklahoma and Texas, and have had some very bad experiences. What should people know about their rights so that they can protect or advocate for themselves in small business settings where there is no HR team?
Unless they have someone like me to contact (shameless plug), they should make sure to educate themselves as much as possible on changing rules and regulations. The Department of Labor website is a great place to start in familiarizing yourself with your rights.
Also, make sure to remember that talking about problems and concerns is the only way to make sure they are ever addressed, so keeping quiet is only going to hurt everyone that will experience it down the road!
Knowing someone in the HR or Legal field is always a plus, so buy them dinner and pick their brain, if nothing else.
Anyone that you might know that needs this sort of help is welcome to contact me directly, I would love to answer their concerns and educate them on their rights.
Do you consult on the employee side as well?
I most certainly do!! I will happily help employees better prepare and understand their rights. I even started offering a block of two 90 minute sessions where we can analyze your resume and interviewing style, for those people looking to transition in their company or get a new job. ?
Wait, really? i might need to take you up on that….
Always here!! I’m pretty easy to find at StarSpace46 ?
Tell us more about being a Microsoft MVP!! How did that happen? I’m more of a Nintendo person, so I don’t know much about it. Does that role correlate to your HR expertise?
Haha, nice!! Well, I have been a gamer since the Atari 2600 and hopped onto the Original Xbox at launch after doing an insane amount of research leading up to the purchase. After that, I realized how great of a community there was surrounding the product, especially I beta tested after Xbox LIVE.
So, I remained one of those people online that helped new players and was always cordial, guess I was raised right. When I started building my own communities around performing arts and comedy, Microsoft began to take notice and invited me to become an Ambassador back in 2009, after a few years of that I was nominated for the MVP Award in 2014.
Actually, my HR Consultant lifestyle fits perfectly with the MVP program, as it is basically a group of professional consultants that Microsoft utilizes to make sure all of our respective communities are heard within the company.?
Ahhhh that’s so cool. Love it when hobbies and interests can grow to something more.
Have any tips for us on getting a raise or higher salary when starting a job?
And more specifically — is there a way women can know if we are being underpaid and how to close that gap?
It is always best to know someone on the inside when you are going in, but apart from that I would stress that you need to be doing research of the salaries for this kind of position in your area to give you a good idea. There are a lot of sources, and actually Robert Half puts out a really nice breakdown for free each year. Start there and never be afraid to ask around.
Once you are in the running for the position, remember that *you* are worthwhile, otherwise you wouldn’t be there. Be confident (not cocky) and be ready to negotiate. Feel free to high ball them a bit and tell them that you are “more than wiling to talk about making up the difference in benefits or perks if that would be easier for the company”.
Always be ready to at least address wage by the second or third interview by mentioning that you want to make sure you have all the information, since other offers might come down the road and you want to do your best work for the best company.
Once you get the job, remember that it is your legally protected right to talk openly to others about wages, so if you find out that you were brought in lower than usual, bring it up and be ready to walk away if you can.
Long story short, remember your worth! ?
Last place I worked announced it was “toxic” to talk wages among peers. hmm ?
Yeah, the legality of that statement is is about as stable as standing on a crumbling cliffside.
Feel free to high ball them a bit and tell them that you are “more than wiling to talk about making up the difference in benefits or perks if that would be easier for the company”
why is there no :jeff: emoji in this slack?
Haha!! I was thinking the same thing! Where ‘dat Yenzer emoji @carabell_okc ?!? ❤️❤️
you can add yourself ?
So..what’s one of your favorite horror stories?
When I was still a traditional employee, I was once tasked with finding a new receptionist for a company’s front office. The CEO and CFO were *pretty clear* what kind of person they wanted…”She needs to be a 9 or a 10, cause she will be the first thing our clients see when they walk in and I want them happy. Experience doesn’t matter, hell I don’t care if she is fresh out of high school as long as she is hot and has a nice smile and body”.
Yeah, I was laid off about a month later because I “didn’t fit in with the company culture”.
It is that sort of thing that fuels my fire to be a better professional, so that kind of mentality is never allowed to be okay with any of my clients, and I have the power to be completely objective and call out the behavior (and report it to the Dept. of Labor) without fear of losing my job.
Oh. My. Word.
Do shows like Mad Men stress you out?
Haven’t watched it, mostly for that reason. I get that it was a different time, but that crap still goes on so it would probably put me in a poor head-space…as much as I love Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks.
You mentioned that the worst thing small businesses can do is be too “cool.” Can you elaborate on that? I tend to be a laid back person and I’m used to a laid back work environment. I always struggle with HR questions bc my go-to is just to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been in HR sessions at my day job where people explain to me why this isn’t the right path, but it’s still tough for me. Would love to hear more of your thoughts on this as @emilysmart and I grow our business and maybe eventually transition into being employers ourselves.
Also it seems that “cool” rather than other benefits/structure is the way a lot of agencies attract their top employees around here – can we have both?
Often “too cool” refers to companies that don’t see a good reason to create policies, procedures, or even a handbook that gives detail on where employees and the company stand on issues. This creates huge liabilities down the road if someone has to be terminated or there is any kind of an audit.
For a while in the tech industry the company Valve published their employee handbook to the public, which was essentially a nice onboarding/day1 document but did absolutely nothing to protect them or give employees any knowledge as to what their rights were. This was circulated as the “go-to, cool way to do business by a really successful company” instead of an idea of how showcase your culture, along with a well thought out source of policies.
I fell for that.
You can ABSOLUTELY still be fun and cool while making sure that employees as well as the company are protected. I like to think of it as demanding that glass not be used in a sandbox, the lack of the glass isn’t hurting anyone and the sandbox is still just as fun.
You just have to be purposeful and creative when designing the rules that your company will live by, and be detailed enough that they hold up if they go to court. Past that, foster a great culture by being fun as as well as responsible. ?
Ah, so you’re saying that you can be “cool,” but you need to have things written down too. For example, I work at a day job where we have very clear policies on vacation days, etc, and those policies are generous and then my boss is even more lenient with the policies than the company dictates. Versus I have a friend who works at a smaller company and there just is no published rule on vacation time, so she is always subject to her boss’s whims when she wants to take time off. So, like, write them down, and then it’s okay to be more generous than the policy requires.
When is a good time to hire a first employee. And do contractors make good first employees?
A good time is hard to nail down, but as soon as you are encountering regular work each week and have more than enough capital to keep someone on for the long term. Hiring an employee is a commitment to their livelihood and you should never posit your company as ready for them until you can ensure that they will not have to be laid off (especially in their first year).
You can’t tell the future, sure, but always be transparent; if you are a start-up then address that in the interviewing process so that you are hiring someone that is ready for what could be a short term job if things don’t pan out.
Contractors often know *how* the work can be done, but the transition can be a tough on for both the individual and the company as more control is given to management in exchange for security.
This is a long discussion, as the strategy is all too often on a case-by-case basis. ?
What one to three “rules” would you tell people to abide by regarding HR? Like, “if you take nothing else from this conversation, understand that you need to do this and this and this, and too many people don’t realize that.”
1. Always Be Ethical.
2. Your company is nothing without your employees, and they don’t grow as professionals unless you challenge them. Reward them accordingly and they will cherish the time they spend at work as much as the time they have at home.
3. Plan for every possibility, then very little can surprise you. If you can’t think of anything else, then ask someone who might know more. Surround yourself with people that know more than you in other areas, so that the foundation is stronger for it.
Bonus: Save some money and hire trusted consultants until you are ready to build your team. ?
All right everyone, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to everyone but they are piping in music to get me off the stage, better jet before they bring out the hook!
All of you are welcome to find me online if you have any additional questions or just want to chat.
Similarly, if you know of anyone who might need my services, please direct them toward me, contact info below!
Everyone have a devilishly delightful Halloween and a most glorious Samhain!!
Be excellent to each other, ‘til All are One!
Loved this one. Thanks @carabell_okc and @consultyenzer!
^ when you put your notebook on your keyboard and start writing. ?
@consultyenzer I have a late question. Hypothetically, if one wanted to wear a tiny witch hat, but thinks one’s coworker is offended by Halloween / witchcraft, what are the ramifications? Are there HR ramifications? Asking for a friend.
I always maintain that communication is the best policy.
I would tell your friend to wear the hat and speak directly to the fellow coworker when you arrive, telling them that your feelings on the matter are just as important as their’s, so you are finding what they hope would be seen as a compromise. ?