HR Strategy | By Scott Schulte,

4 Keys to Better Employee Communication

Effective communication is difficult, even in the best of circumstances. Throw in diverse workforces, remote teams, and the sheer number of communication platforms available and it can seem almost impossible.

If you’re feeling like your messages aren’t getting through, you’re not alone. Here are some key reasons why things are so complicated, and a few strategies to help.

Generational Differences

Your workforce may include 20-somethings just starting out, 60-somethings planning for retirement, and every possible combination in between.

Communication preferences are as varied as your team, and with rapidly changing technology, it can be hard to keep up with who wants what. Reaching your audience requires diversity in your message and a range of communication styles.

Key takeaway: Different populations absorb and react to information differently. One generation’s email is another generation’s text.

Multiple Learning Styles and Backgrounds

Because we all learn differently, we all need to be communicated with in different ways. Some people learn best by seeing, some by listening, and some through interaction. When it comes to communication techniques, one size does not fit all.

Diversity plays a key role here as well. Many companies are now embracing groups that may have previously felt left out, which is great! But this requires putting some extra thought into your communication approaches. You’ll want to be sensitive to group dynamics, and very careful with the words you choose and the messages you send.

Key takeaway: No one way of communicating is best for everyone in your group. You’ll need a variety of messaging tactics— and a healthy dose of sensitivity. Choose your words and methods carefully.

Competition for Attention

We are constantly being bombarded with messages: e-mail, phone calls, texting, video, social media, and maybe even a stray piece of mail every now and then. Admit it. It’s tiring just reading this list!

Getting your message through the clutter is becoming harder and harder. You’ll have to find new ways to make your message stand out. More importantly, you’ll need to make it directly relevant to your audience in order to make the shortlist of communications that actually get some attention.

Key takeaway: Make your messages direct, relevant and clear. Use subject lines to your advantage. Let your employees know how you plan to communicate with them and then follow through.

Lack of Time

Businesses are leaner than ever, and we’re all trying to do more with less. Sometimes much less. Perhaps ridiculously less. The reality is that we are rarely able to slow down enough to communicate effectively. To get your desired message to the right people, you have to make it a priority.

Key takeaway: Design your communication strategy so everyone knows what to expect. Then, take the time to communicate thoughtfully and with purpose.

Better communication is possible

Recognizing your unique challenges and making sure your communications are purposeful, strategic, and well-designed will take an investment of time. But it will pay off in the long run.

If you don’t have to constantly repeat, recap, and follow up on your messages or deal with constant mishaps and misunderstandings, you just might end up with a few spare minutes in your day.

And that’s something we can all get behind.


Running into challenges with employee communications? We’ve got answers. At Sonus Benefits, we help clients all over the Midwest identify organizational challenges and put customized solutions in place. Our goal is to take your business where you want it to go.

HR Strategy | By Sonus Benefits,



Bobbi Kloss | Director, Human Capital Management Services

In the of world of HR Trends, Bobbi Kloss’s webinar provides current information on developing a culture to best market your business and retain employees, regulatory updates, additional HR practices, the EEOC and the DOL. Educate yourself on top trends in Human Capital Management (HCM), and what should you be focusing on for your workforce needs

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  1. Developing your culture – marketing for attraction and retention
  2. How to market yourself as the employer of choice
  3. Best Practices
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Culture & Community | By Scott Schulte,

Why Employees Fail— And What You Can Do About It.

When it comes down to it, there are three basic reasons employees fail. Fortunately (or unfortunately) all of these things are within your control. Once you recognize the issues, you can work toward solutions.

When it comes down to it, there are three basic reasons employees fail.

  1. They’re at the wrong company
  2. They’re in the wrong position
  3. You’re not giving them what they need to succeed

Fortunately (or unfortunately) all of these things are within your control. Once you recognize the issues, you can work toward solutions.

Wrong bus

The concept is simple, but oh-so-true. You’ve got to have the right people on the bus in order to get where you want to go.

When someone is on the wrong bus, it’s usually pretty obvious. They aren’t a good fit culturally. They aren’t interested in where the organization is going or how they can help move it in the right direction. They don’t enjoy their work— or their work mates. None of this is good for the individual in question or the team as a whole.

If you let someone on your bus who clearly doesn’t belong, it’s time to gently help them off.

Right bus, wrong seat

This scenario is a little harder to diagnose. Sometimes, you’ve got an employee on staff who tries hard and is well-liked, but who is constantly struggling to meet their job goals and objectives.

It’s possible you’ve made a fantastic cultural hire only to put that person in the wrong role.

Examples of this include:

  • Hiring people for positions they didn’t apply for
    • “We really liked her when she interviewed for the accounting position, so we offered her the opening in HR.”
  • Promoting high performers into jobs they aren’t suited for
    • “He’s such a good salesperson, we made him the team manager.”
  • Adding new responsibilities that don’t play to individual skill sets
    • “Her main focus is marketing, but we needed help in IT.”

Never assume that people and positions are interchangeable. They aren’t. The absolute right person in the absolute wrong position will be an absolute disaster.

Even your very best employees can fail if you put them in a position to do so.

It’s not them. It’s you.

Of course you’re going to have the occasional hiring fail, but if you are constantly struggling with underperforming teams or employees, the problem may be on your end.

Here are some common leadership mistakes that can cause good employees to fail:

Lack of direction – If your employees aren’t clear about what they need to do, how can they possibly perform to standard? Assigning tasks in a haphazard manner will get you haphazard results.

Poor communication – Checking in the day before a project is due is too little, too late. Especially if you neglected to share said due date in the first place.

Communicate clearly and openly before and throughout a project to make sure everyone is on the same page. Once the project is complete, communicate some more. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Answer questions and make notes about ideas for next time.

Bad management – If you’re responsible for managing a project and it goes awry, you need only look in the mirror to find out why.

  • Create an atmosphere of communication, trust, and confidence, and people will naturally succeed.
  • Rely on micromanagement, fear and distrust, and you will see projects get done, but only to minimal standards. You will have effectively squashed all creativity, innovation, and project ownership.
  • Manage like a magician, appearing out of nowhere to assign projects, leaving the details hidden in your bag of tricks, and constantly looking for applause, and you will see results disappear in a puff of smoke— along with the respect of your team.

Lack of teamwork – If your organization operates in silos (or silence!) you’re setting yourself up for failure from the get-go. Teams need to work together, talk together, succeed together and celebrate together. If you’re not actively encouraging and facilitating these things, you are your own worst enemy.

But how will I know if my employees are struggling?

Sometimes, it can feel like you’ve been blindsided when a key project or employee doesn’t come through. But there are usually some telltale signals that things aren’t working, if you know where to look.

Here are some signs your employees are in the dark:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Procrastination
  • Mistakes
  • Silence
  • Resignation letters

Okay. That last one was a joke. But the cost of underperforming employees isn’t.

If this is an issue in your company, it’s time to take a good look at your HR and management processes to see what’s going on. Look for patterns of behavior among teams and projects, and commit to carving out time with top leadership to talk about what’s going on. Your employees— and your business— are depending on you.

At Sonus Benefits, we help clients all throughout the Midwest identify organizational challenges and put customized solutions in place. From tailored benefit programs to human resource management services, we’ve got you covered. If you’re looking for a corporate employee benefits consultant who is a true business partner, and not just a once a year policy peddler, Sonus is here for you.


HR Admin | By Scott Schulte,

Performance Reviews Are Dying. Should You Bring Them Back to Life?

This just in! People hate performance reviews.

Managers hate how much time they suck up, employees hate the awkward self-evaluations, and everyone hates the annual dump of repressed criticism, praise, and feedback. Throw in the added pressure of compensation adjustments, and you’ve got a regular recipe for despair.

In recent years, performance management backlash has resulted in many businesses deciding to ditch them all together. But is that really the best solution? Does the criticism and feedback just get repressed permanently? How will employees know where to improve? Will anyone ever get a raise?

Performance management processes are getting poor reviews

And the statistics are out there to prove it. According to one study, over half of employers surveyed said they don’t measure improved productivity. But that’s just the beginning.

  • 45% of HR leaders do not think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for an employee’s work.
  • 58% of organizations rated their performance management system as a “C grade or below.”
  • Only 14% of organizations are happy with their performance management system.
  • A mere 8% of companies report that their performance management process drives high levels of value. Nearly 60% said it is not an effective use of time.

Performance reviews either aren’t being done well or aren’t happening at all.

Did We Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water?

There are some benefits to the traditional performance review. Having a defined process in place encourages the development of standardized practices and objective criteria for rating performance. It also helps with documenting employee performance issues, which may help prevent discrimination and unlawful termination claims.

When done right, performance management can also help build relationships, increase employee engagement, assist with talent development and succession planning, and create staff loyalty and trust.

The best of both worlds

Perhaps formal performance reviews don’t need to disappear. Maybe they just need to change with the times. A new version of the old review that aligns with your company goals and emerging best practices might just be the answer you need.

Here are some key ways you can put a new twist on employee reviews, and make everybody happier in the process.

Scrap the formal, annual review

The ineffectiveness of annual reviews doesn’t just come from the amount of pressure that builds up over the course of 12 months. Or the awkwardness of talking to your boss about performance issues while trying to eat sushi.

If you’re only assessing progress once a year, it’s going to be hard to remember key details for each of your employees. And even if your memory is a steel trap, the feedback you provide is often too little, too late. Employees don’t want critiques about how they handled something six months ago. They want real time feedback and support that can help them do their jobs better and more efficiently.

Tip: Schedule short meetings on a regular basis (quarterly, monthly or even weekly) and focus on and how you can help your employees succeed.

Take notes and summarize

The human memory is a funny thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes two people remember the same event two completely different ways.

Take notes during or right after your meetings, and send them along to summarize what was covered and any specific takeaways. Make sure both of you are in consensus, and that it’s captured in writing.

Once feedback becomes more frequent and notes are being kept on a regular basis, performance review meetings become more of a summary and discussion of feedback the employee has already been given. This conversation can set the tone and trajectory for the time period until the next review.

Give constructive criticism

It should go without saying that the point of performance management should be to review progress and make suggestions for improved performance— not to nitpick or wield power.

Addressing performance issues can be tricky, and requires some finesse. It’s natural for people to get defensive, but these conversations get easier when your employees know you’re primarily interested in helping them move forward and do their best.

Instead of showing up with a laundry list of complaints or demands, ask some open-ended questions so employees can address their own performance successes and concerns. Did you get the results you wanted? How does this work fit in with company goals? Would you have done anything differently? Are there ways management can help make these processes better or more efficient?

Address the elephant in the room

If you’re going through organizational change, a staffing issue, serious morale issues, or some other major challenge, don’t dance around the topic or make people drag information out of you. Be honest and open about what’s happening and how it could affect the company and the team.

The same goes for compensation. Companies who talk about compensation early and often can remove the taboo and the stress involved with bringing it up. Make sure your compensation policies are fair, documented, and consistent.

Schedule reviews in advance

Dropping by for an unexpected performance meeting is more likely to raise heart rates than performance levels.

The last thing you want to do is cause anxiety and draw attention away from the real work of developing your team.

If regularly scheduled meeting times don’t work for your company culture, that’s okay. Just be sure to approach performance meetings in a constructive way. Request a meeting ahead of time and let your employees know what you’d like to discuss.

Make it a two way street

Evaluating employees isn’t just about checking off boxes and letting them know what they did right and wrong.

Of course you’ll want to check in on things like schedules, workloads, projects, processes, and results. But also make it clear that as a manager, your main purpose isn’t just to grade performance. You’re also there to answer questions, listen to ideas, and provide support.

Your employees will never meet their goals if you don’t give them the tools they need to be successful. Make sure you’re holding up your end of the deal.


Running into challenges with employee performance, engagement, and retention? At Sonus Benefits, we’ve got ideas to help you address these issues and more. Get in touch with Sonus to find out what working with a true employee benefits consultant feels like.

HR Strategy | By Sonus Benefits,

6 Things That Keep HR Up At Night

If you’re in Human Resources, you know there are plenty of challenges you face simply due to the nature of your job. You also know this is true regardless of the your organization’s size, industry, or business model.

Some of these challenges are simply routine, but others can be real insomnia-makers.

As a seasoned HR professional, you may have developed other, more colorful, language to describe these particular situations, but suffice it to say they are definitely not the things you want to find on your desk, in your email, or pacing the hallway outside of your office. Nope. These are the issues that not only affect you at work, but can also creep home with you as well.

At Sonus Benefits, we work with tons of HR professionals. Over time, we’ve gotten a good feel for the kinds of problems that keep them up at night.

The good news is that you’re not alone. These same issues are keeping your competition up at night, too. The companies that prioritize these problems will be among the first to solve them, and benefit from having done so.

As you plan for next quarter or next year, it’s good to be thinking about how you can improve in these areas:

1. Retaining and engaging employees

No surprise here: Turnover is a problem. And an expensive one.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee tenure is shrinking, especially among younger workers. While the overall median number of years employees stick with their employer was calculated at 4.2, younger employees (age 25 – 34) had an average tenure of 2.8 years per job.

As workplace demographics change, so do employee priorities. Today’s workers care about company culture, work/life balance, and company commitments to good causes, as well as base pay and stellar benefits. Companies that get intentional and creative in these areas will have an edge when it comes to keeping their employees happy— and keeping them around.

2. Recruiting the best talent

This, of course, is the flip side to number one above. Most companies have realized that it costs them less to retain and train their current employees than it does to constantly seek new ones. Still, growth requires an influx of good talent, and that talent seems to be increasingly hard to find.

Recruiting talent in this environment requires much more than placing job ads or asking for leads from your LinkedIn network. It also takes good programs for assessing potential talent, strategies for marketing to the right talent pools, and an attractive compensation and benefits package.

Coming up with a comprehensive onboarding procedure will ensure new hires get to their peak potential quickly and become familiar with your organizational culture and processes.

3. Developing future leaders

According to findings from Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2017 report, 74% of North American companies see leadership as one of the most important issues facing business today. Many organizations are desperate for leaders who are more agile, more diverse, and more digitally savvy.

Still, it’s not clear that organizations are able to develop leaders fast enough, nor do they have the “bench strength” to ensure continuity of leadership. A lot of this has to do with the fact that leaders often have job-specific skills but lack leadership-specific skills in the areas of communication, coaching, and influencing others.

Many HR departments realize this but are afraid to be proactive in fixing the problem.

According to research from Deloitte:

  • Only two in five leaders build talent in their organizations,
  • Only half of all leaders drive change and innovation, and
  • Only three in five leaders execute and achieve results through their people

Companies who want solid, effective leadership structures should focus on establishing a culture of leadership, collaboration, and a more strategic partnership between corporate leaders and HR teams.

4. Battling resistance to change

HR is often fighting battles on two fronts. Employees can be resistant to changes in the workplace, and securing management support for HR initiatives and systems can be a real challenge as well. The issue here is psychological: People tend to prefer stability and comfort over change. But the business world is steeped in change. There is no way around it.

There are literally thousands of articles and hundreds of books written about change management, but a classic article from a 1969 Harvard Business Review issue summarized the problem well.

Most resistance to change is not resistance to progress or technology, but resistance to the social changes that come along with those things. The solution to managing change, then, is to look for vendors who don’t just sell the next-best thing, but are experienced in managing the internal changes that “new” brings.

5. Managing benefits and perks

There has been a lot of experimenting with benefits in the past decade: employee health insurance, wellness programs, retirement plans, disability insurance, paid vacation time, subsidized training or school tuition, and a massive number of “on campus” perks.

According to a survey by OfficeTeam, a full 23% of HR professionals felt that managing these programs was the most challenging part of the job.

Not only is managing benefits and perks a challenge, but HR professionals often take the fall if and when there is a problem. There might be pressure from upper management if a benefit is seen as too expensive or underutilized. On the flip side, there might be pushback from employees if a benefit or perk is changed or taken away, or if there is a problem utilizing it.

Be sure to consult with organizational leaders and secure their buy-in on each aspect of your benefits package before implementation. Once your offerings are in place, clear communication about what they are and how to use them will help demonstrate value and create realistic expectations. Partnerships with outside vendors who can help share the management burdens may also be helpful.

6. Stress…about not achieving the above

There will always be new talent to recruit, employees to engage and retain, leaders to train, and benefits to manage. Even when you’ve got great systems in place, there’s always the worry of the unknown. What might happen next month? Or next week? Or in the next 10 minutes?

Like the insomniac who can’t sleep because he’s awake and fretting about not sleeping, stress itself can become a major cause of worry. And this constant anxiety can take its toll. All the more reason not to go it alone!

If your broker isn’t helping you get buy-in for your organization’s employee benefits or improve your HR and business processes, you should be asking why. And if a convincing answer isn’t there, it’s time to find someone who can be a better partner.

After all, your competition is facing the same challenges. You shouldn’t let them be the first to solve them.


Running into challenges with employee engagement, turnover, and retention? Struggling with benefits administration and compliance? At Sonus Benefits, we’ve got ideas to help you address these issues and more. Get in touch to find out what working with a true employee benefits consultant feels like.

HR Strategy | By Tom Murphy,

Why Bad Job Descriptions Are Dangerous

A great job description performs several important functions. It provides appropriate criteria for new hires, structure for current employees, and a basis for conducting performance reviews. And yet how many of us have worked in positions with outdated, inadequate or non-existent job descriptions?

Just about all of us.

Why are job descriptions such a challenge?

One of the challenges of keeping up with job descriptions is growth, both at the corporate and individual level. When business is booming, we often put the focus on production over process. We expand our teams rapidly, while telling ourselves we don’t have time to document all of the details. We’ll get to that later.

Meanwhile, when we hire the right people, they naturally tend to grow their positions over time. Once they have the basic job down, they start learning new skills and taking on more responsibilities.

And while this kind of professional growth can keep the team and leadership happy, it can leave individual job descriptions looking pretty sad. HR Managers may also be quite sad when the time comes to fill a position that no longer has an accurate description attached to it.

What happens if you let things go?

In addition to making it harder for your Human Resource team to recruit the right people, inaccurate job descriptions make it difficult to assess employee performance and determine appropriate compensation structures. On occasion, it could even lead to litigation.

Accurate job descriptions help promote proper FLSA job classification, facilitate ADA and OSHA compliance, and reduce the risk of company liability issues.

How to stay on top of job descriptions

If regularly updating job descriptions isn’t making it to the top of your weekly or monthly to-do list, try conducting an annual job analysis for each position in your organization. If this idea strikes terror in your heart, don’t worry. By no means do you have to analyze all of your positions every January or December.

A more manageable approach would be to use employee anniversary dates. With each passing year, ask your staff a few key questions about their job functions and how they may have changed.

Examples of Job Analysis Questions:

  • What are your major job responsibilities?
  • Which of these take up most of your time?
  • Has anything changed in the last year?
    • New tasks?
    • Tasks you are no longer responsible for?
  • Which of these responsibilities are most critical? Least critical?
  • What specific skills and tools do you need to be good at your job?
  • What education and/or personal qualities are necessary to be successful in this role?

Instituting the process will help you maintain an accurate record of each position in your organization, and establish the skills you need to look for when recruiting and hiring. The bonus here is that you can also tie this exercise in with any self-evaluation and/or performance management processes you have in place.

Don’t wait… Update!

Now is the perfect time to ask yourself, “Are our job descriptions out of date?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to get to work. Help your job descriptions help you. If they’re well-written, accurate, and up to date, they’ll deliver.


Is your employee benefits broker also a compliance consultant? How about a trusted business partner? Are you confident your policies and processes are doing what they need to ensure that your company—you’re your employees— are healthy and productive? As Sonus Benefits, this is what we do for St. Louis employers every single day.

HR Strategy | By Sonus Benefits,

WEBINAR: HR Trends – 3/8

To register for this webinar:
Password: HRT0308

In the ever-changing world of HR Trends, Bobbi Kloss presents current information on non-traditional benefits, LOA practices, EEOC and the DOL. Educate yourself on top trends in Human Capital Management (HCM), and what should you be focusing on for your workforce needs


  • Learn the trends
  • Identify their workforce needs
  • Understanding the value of knowing the mission of the organization and how to work the trends to continue to engage the workforce in the mission.


March 8, 2017

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm  Eastern

11:00 am to 12:00 pm Central

10:00 am to 11:00 am  Mountain

9:00 am to 10:00 am  Pacific