Strengthening Nonprofit Governance & Management
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What Would Nonprofit Network Do?

  • Wednesday, March 29, 2017 12:55 PM | Jessica Chipman (Administrator)

    Jessica Chipman

    Office Manager

    Many people can relate to sitting in an unproductive meeting.  However, meetings do not have to be a waste of time. If accurate minutes are kept and clear-cut action steps are identified, then hours spent in a meeting can lead to a productive outcome. 

    Taking quality minutes at a meeting is very important. High-quality minutes are powerful tools that you can leverage to do the following

    • Help refresh memories from the last meeting
    • Offer background information for those that could not attend the meeting
    • Summarize decisions made
    • Identify goals and point out clear action steps
    • Provide organization and structure
    • Act as a historical record and may offer legal protection

    Minutes play a crucial part of a meeting. Here are key components that should always be part of your minutes:

    1)  Agenda

    Before the meeting, an agenda should be sent to all those involved in the meeting.  Having an agenda before the meeting not only helps keep the meeting on track, but also makes it easier for the note taker to follow along and take accurate minutes. The best part is that meeting minutes can be taken right into the agenda.

    2)  Type of Meeting, Date, Start and End Time

    The heading of the minutes should indicate the type of meeting being held (for example:  Board Meeting, Finance Committee Meeting, etc.). The minutes should also contain the date the meeting took place, the time the meeting started, and the time the meeting ended.

    3)  Attendees/Excused

    Everyone that attended the meeting and those that were excused/absent should be listed in the minutes.

    4)  Key Discussion Points

    Important parts of the conversation during the meeting should be well documented.

    5)  Action Items

    To-dos or outcomes from the conversation should be clearly outlined.

    6)  Motions/Approvals

    When voting takes place, it is important to keep a record of who motioned, seconded the motion, and if the vote was approved or not approved by the group. 

    7)  Time/Date/Location of Next Meeting (if reoccurring or if decided during the meeting)

    This allows everyone to know when the next meeting will take place.

    After meeting minutes are proofread and finalized, the note-taker should make sure the minutes are signed by the appropriate person (such as the secretary of the board) if necessary. Once finalized, the minutes should be sent to everyone that attended the meeting as soon as possible.

    Well-documented meeting minutes can help turn discussion into decisions, and decisions into results. At your next meeting, make sure quality meeting minutes are keptensure that hours spent in discussion can lead to a positive outcome.  

    Do you want to see a sample of meeting minutes that demonstrate the suggestions above?  Email to let us know you're interested and we'll share a resource with you! No strings attached.

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  • Tuesday, March 21, 2017 11:46 AM | Tom Williams (Administrator)

    Tom Williams

    Capacity Builder

    This is the second installment of a two-part series.  Read Part 1 here.

    I ended last week's blog post with the suggestion that if the meeting room is “safe” enough, the conversation can be about almost any topic.  As you may recall, we had been addressing our human reaction to go silent on the key conversations that can advance our organizations.  In these crucial conversations, you'll often find that stakes are high, emotions are strong, and opinions conflict.  Examples include staff performance issues, board member interactions and even charting a course for the organization to follow.

    To enjoy the benefits of a safe space, one must be aware of two conditions that must be maintained throughout the conversation: Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect.  A safe room or meeting is one in which it is clearly confirmed that those in the room have a mutual purpose and that we all seek to maintain a mutual respect during the conversation.  

    In the event that one of these conditions is put at risk, a technique the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (Patterson et al) shares is to step out of the current discussion content and directly address the condition that is at risk.  Instead of forging ahead on the conversation (despite high stakes, opposing opinions, and strong emotions) the authors suggest transitioning back to the change that took place in either Mutual Purpose or Mutual Respect. Bringing the conversation back to our Mutual Purpose or reminding participants that we want to maintain a Mutual Respect during this conversation is key to a successful conversation.  

    Once that condition is clarified, it is possible to step back into the crucial conversation.  

    As you and your group’s skills in this area improve, your ability to read the room for an infringement on these two conditions will also improve.  Identifying the risk sooner rather than later is preferred.  An inappropriate comment or even a misunderstanding of the intent of a comment can significantly reduce the perceived safety of a conversation.  Catching a conversation before it becomes unsafe can assist you in maintaining the environment where productive discussions take place.

    Take note: Mutual Purpose is not a technique. You truly need to find that purpose and persuade the others it is important to you.

    Mutual Respect is a condition of continued conversation.  When one of the group perceives disrespect, step out of the crucial conversation and address it.  The entire area of respect is one of which you should be keenly aware.  While the content of the conversation may be the culprit that caused disrespect, more likely it was the perceived intent of the comment that caused disrespect.  Keep your radar at attention for misunderstood intent.  Once a person feels disrespected, it is common for them to respond in-kind.  Then the entire conversation can reduce to all parties fighting for respect.  As a leader, you must break the cycle of fighting for respect and re-establish true Mutual Respect in the room in order for that crucial conversation to take place.

    Undoubtedly, learning to create safe meetings for really important conversations takes a significant amount of effort.  However, the results of those conversations are what "unstick" organizations, allowing them to reach their full potential.  

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  • Wednesday, March 15, 2017 9:52 AM | Tom Williams (Administrator)

    Tom Williams

    Capacity Builder

    If you're feeling “stuck" and wondering why your organization isn't progressing as well as you'd like, the cause is likely the absence of a hard conversation that has not taken place.

    When I speak of hard conversations, I am talking about those in which stakes are high, emotions are strong, and opinions conflict. When we are faced with these difficult or crucial conversations (as suggested by Kerry Patterson and colleagues in their book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High), our typical human response is either silence or violence. Said another way, we avoid the conversation all together or we get into an argument. The authors make a sound case for our limited options when these hard conversations arise. We can continue to avoid them (with all the consequences), address them poorly (with all the consequences) or learn the skills to have beneficial hard conversations. Learning to have crucial conversations in a beneficial manner moves barriers out of the way, both personally and organizationally, and sets a tone for growth opportunities.

    Some samples of crucial conversations that meet all three of the above characteristics include

    • Staff performance evaluations
    • Executive director evaluations
    • Board interactions
    • Budget discussions
    • Initiating program changes
    • Charting a course for the organization to follow. 
    Avoiding these issues (you know you do sometimes) eventually leads to complications. Resorting to “violence” or even public crankiness in these issues creates more division and stalled actions. Which is probably why we so often just avoid the topics altogether.

    But addressing these situations skillfully results in clear communication, improved performance among board and staff, and stronger relationshipsall of which clear the way for tackling the mission we all signed on to address in the first place. In fact, we can actually schedule on our board calendar the date on which we will have a crucial conversation. Scheduling crucial conversations like staff evaluations, budgetary discussions, or organizational direction is a tool to assist us in keeping ourselves accountable.

    Mastering crucial conversations starts with the person we have the most control over: our self. 

    Let's go into these conversations being mindful of our intent and remaining self-aware of one another's behaviorsboth of these awareness pieces are key to avoiding missteps.

    In our personal and professional careers, we all can identify topics we avoid or shy away from, but creating a safe meeting empowers us to address all pertinent issues, regardless of the topic. According to Patterson and Colleagues, a totally safe room permits conversations on almost any topic. So you're ready to take that first step and have a crucial conversation?  Then the task at hand is creating a safe room. We’ll explore this topic in more detail in part two of this blog post next week.

    If you can’t wait till then, give me a call at 517-796-4750. 

    Want more? Click here to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and announcements.  Each week you'll get a link to the most recent blog post. We promise to respect your time and will not flood your inbox. We only send one or two e-mails each week.

  • Wednesday, March 08, 2017 12:46 PM | Jessica Chipman (Administrator)


    Jessica Chipman

    Office Manager

    Distractions are everywhere…especially in an office setting. From the sounds of phones ringing and copy machines printing to the sun shining brightly through your office window…sometimes it can be difficult to stay focused at work. 

    So what can you do to remain on task and avoid distractions?  

    Seven Tips to Stay Focused at Work:

    1.       Clean your desk. If your desk is cluttered, take a few minutes to put things away and organize it.  This will give you the space to focus on the task at hand.

    2.       Dress professionally. Dressing in professional attire may help you stick to business.  Here’s an interesting article from Forbes that explains how alertness is affected by what you wear.

    3.       Plan ahead. Map out your next day before you leave work at the end of your shift.  When you arrive at work the following day, you will know exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it.

    4.       Keep your to-do list at hand. Place your to-do list right in front of you to provide a visual of exactly what you need to accomplish.  It may offer that extra push to stay on track so you can cross items off your list.

    5.       Put your cell phone away. Move your cell phone to a place that is out of sight.  This will prevent you from checking it every two minutes.  Only check your phone during your breaks or lunch hour.  

    6.       Take a break. To avoid burnout, take a five-minute walk outside or just take a few minutes to yourself.  A little break may help you feel refreshed and ready to tackle your next project.

    7.       Reward yourself. After achieving an important goal, reward yourself with a cup of coffee or five minutes of browsing the Internet.  Rewarding yourself may give you the motivation to get a jump start on your next project.

    It’s no secret that workplace distractions can hinder your productivity.  By using these tips, hopefully you can stay a little more focused and accomplish great achievements.  What are some methods you use to remain focused at work?

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  • Thursday, February 16, 2017 12:27 PM | Tom Williams (Administrator)

    Tom Williams

    Nonprofit Management Consultant

    Did you know that humans are hard wired to relate to stories? Neuroscientists tell us that the brains of people listening to well-told stories fire on the same path as if they were experiencing the circumstance themselves. Likewise, if you and I are hearing the same story, our brains will fire in similar areas. There is quite a bit of science in people connecting with one another. Add to this that humankind has been sitting around ancient fires or watering holes relating guidance and requests verbally as stories for eons. (Interesting sources here and here.)

    Humans like stories.

    Stories have been ways to educate, inspire, and motivate for ages and today’s technological advances haven’t changed that one bit. In fact, we can now share stories so much faster with technology that our storytelling skills are needed more now than ever before. The great news is that storytelling is a skill that can be learned.

    I can think of many reasons a nonprofit organization would want to enhance its storytelling skills. A couple off the top of my head include:

    • Storytelling is about persuasion. Isn’t persuasion our reason for being? We want to persuade people to choose our cause. We want to persuade them that we are a priority for the use of their funds. We want to persuade them to invest their precious time being engaged with us.
    • Storytelling reinforces your data. Data about your cause can make your point and demonstrate you know what you are doing. Communicating that data in a story can assist you in connecting with the listener in ways that dumping raw facts on them just won’t.
    • Storytelling fights burnout. A good story can be a shot in the arm to reinvigorate your staff, board or even donors that may be experiencing some fatigue in the cause. It’s another way of reminding us “why” we do this.
    • Stories are repeatable. This simple fact makes them gold to a nonprofit organization. A repeatable story about your cause, your successes, your needs or your vision for the community is the tool to engage those people you haven’t met yet.

    In our nonprofit world there are at least five different categories of stories every organization would benefit from adding to their pool of stories. Give some consideration to stories you may have about:

    1. Founding. How your organization got its start…what motivated that effort?
    2. Focus. Stories can serve as a great way to get across exactly the cause you address
    3. Impact. Stories about how you make a difference
    4. People. It's about sharing real people experiences that real people have
    5. Strength. Stories can be a cool and very sociably acceptable way to toot your own horn on successes.

    Tips on becoming a better storyteller:

    • Keep it short. Long stories lose the listener
    • Keep it simple. Ultra-complex stories cause listener to mentally check out
    • Highlight people, not programs
    • Consider your audience. It’s YOUR story, but it won’t get heard if you misread your audience.
    • When you get to the end of the story, STOP. Continuing past the end, buries the point you wanted to make with the listener.
    • Practice your story telling by writing “mini-sagas.” These are stories with a character in pursuit of a goal in the face of an obstacle, written in exactly 50 words.

  • Friday, February 10, 2017 9:51 AM | Katena Cain (Administrator)

    Katena Cain

    Nonprofit Management Consultant

    There has been increasing buzz about “equity” and “racial equity” in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors and among cross-sector collective impact efforts. This is a good thing, and our nation’s persistent and rising racial and economic disparities demand it. 

    Many groups are applying an “equity lens” to look outward at social problems and solutions, disaggregating data and seeking to differentiate opportunities and services to reduce disparities. 

    But our organizations and collective efforts must begin by looking inward, using an “equity mirror” to examine our own composition, culture, and policies that reinforce and perpetuate societal disparities.

    To do equity, we must also be equity.

    This is a great article from Council of Nonprofits about moving beyond conversation to meaningful action. Take a look and see if your organization is implementing any of the suggested steps here.  

    Want to have a conversation about how to make progress?  Reach out and we can make a plan.

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  • Thursday, February 02, 2017 10:29 AM | Regina Pinney (Administrator)

    Regina Pinney

    Executive Director

    This may surprise you, but I want to thank the current political climate.

    It has made me – and us – better.

    What a wonderful world we live in. I have witnessed a surge in civic participation illustrated by the recent marches in Washington and around the world, by the larger crowds at my local City Council Meetings, and by conversations within my circles that are smarter, more passionate, and with more calls to action.

    I am seeing an urgency to engage in a larger conversation about what kind of society we are building. The discord and dialogues – some productive, some not – in social media have been inspiring. More people are doing research and fact checking – more people are critically thinking and forming their opinions based on evidence.

    I am witnessing a resurgence in the role of authentic journalism to strengthen democracy and good governance.

    Nonprofit Network has a long held belief in the power of diversity, we define diversity broadly, with intent to allow all people a seat at the table.

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN in 1948, Article 19, says, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

    General S. Patton once said “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

    The value and strength of decision making actually increases by having difficult conversations where we all begin at different points and have respectful conversations and dialogues that lead us to a consensus.

    In collaborative work (let’s face it – what work is there besides collaborative work?) We believe that if you move slowly and allow everyone a chance to participate in the conversation and come to a consensus, that decision will, in fact, be the best one. But this process requires people to be willing change their mind and allow information to alter their path. We must be open to influence.

    This is not easy.

    But here are seven skills from the Center for Adaptive Schools that will certainly help.Take a look through this list and ask yourself how you can thoughtfully promote and encourage each of these skills in your interactions with others. Really, right it down. Identify one action for each skill.

    The Seven Norms of Collaboration

    1. Pausing

    Pausing before responding or asking a question allows time for thinking and enhances dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.

    2. Paraphrasing

    Using a paraphrase starter that is comfortable for you – “So…” or “As you are…” or “You’re thinking…” – and following the starter with an efficient paraphrase assists members of the group in hearing and understanding one another as they converse and make decisions.

    3. Posing Questions

    Two intentions of posing questions are to explore and to specify thinking. Questions may be posed to explore perceptions, assumptions, and interpretations, and to invite others to inquire into their thinking. For example, “What might be some conjectures you are exploring?” Use focusing questions such as, “Which students, specifically?” or “What might be an example of that?” to increase the clarity and precision of group members’ thinking. Inquire into others’ ideas before advocating one’s own.

    4. Putting Ideas on the Table

    Ideas are the heart of meaningful dialogue and discussion. Label the intention of your comments. For example: “Here is one idea…” or “One thought I have is…” or “Here is a possible approach…” or “Another consideration might be…”

    5. Providing Data

    Providing data, both qualitative and quantitative, in a variety of forms supports group members in constructing shared understanding from their work. Data have no meaning beyond that which we make of them; shared meaning develops from collaboratively exploring, analyzing, and interpreting data.

    6. Paying Attention to Self and Others

    Meaningful dialogue and discussion are facilitated when each group member is conscious of self and of others, and is aware of what (s)he is saying and how it is said as well as how others are responding. This includes paying attention to learning styles when planning, facilitating, and participating in group meetings and conversations.

    7. Presuming Positive Intentions

    Assuming that others’ intentions are positive promotes and facilitates meaningful dialogue and discussion, and prevents unintentional put-downs. Using positive intentions in speech is one manifestation of this norm.

    -From The Center for Adaptive Schools (Dolcemascolo and McKanders, 2013)

    When a person – or, better yet, a group – adopts these seven skills, as the aggreed rules for behavior, then big things can happen.  Hard conversations lead to progress and a group of people with different perspectives can reach consensus. 

    Seek consensus. Influence the conversation. Be influenced by others. 

    Move that needle forward.

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  • Thursday, January 26, 2017 10:04 AM | Jessica Chipman (Administrator)

    Jessica Chipman

    Office Manager

    Nonprofit Network

    Recently, I read an article about the importance of leaving the office on time. The article emphasized the value of being present for special moments with your family and friends, while reminding readers that work can be a never-ending process. So how can you efficiently utilize your work time in order to get home at a decent time to your loved ones?

    I rely on my Outlook calendar to manage my time at work, keep me on task, and get me out the door at the end of the day. 

    Below are a few tips I to help you do the same:

    Seven Tips to Manage Your Calendar

    1. Block time in between meetings. Did you schedule five back-to-back meetings in a row? Be realistic with your time. Remember that meetings tend to start and end late. Blocking a half hour on your calendar before and after each scheduled meeting allows buffer time in case a meeting runs late. It also provides you an opportunity to mentally prepare for each meeting.

    2. Account for travel time. When scheduling a meeting or running an errand, be sure to put travel time on your calendar. This will help give you a visual of how much time you actually have available and booked. It will also help remind you when to leave.

    3. Hold dates. When trying to schedule a meeting with someone, don’t forget to hold all potential meeting dates that you offered on your calendar. You don’t want to double book yourself or forget that you offered that date later on. After a meeting is confirmed, go back and delete all of the other dates that you held.

    4. Be protective of your time. When planning a meeting it is important to provide options to others, but not too many options. If you have too many holds on your calendar it makes it difficult to plan other tasks and meetings. As a general rule when trying to schedule a meeting with someone, offer no more than three dates and times. (A good resource to use when planning a meeting or event that involves multiple people is Doodle.)

    5. Identify priorities. Identify tasks that you have to get done this week. Try to estimate how long the tasks may take and put important tasks on your calendar.

    6. Schedule your hardest task at the peak of your day. What time do you feel most energized and ready to tackle tasks? For me it’s usually around 9:00 AM or 10:00 AM. Try to schedule your most difficult task at the time you are feeling most awake and energized.

    7. Take time to breath. Remember not to overbook yourself. Sometimes you may just want to block time on your calendar to breathe, de-stress, and catch up.

    By using some of these tips, hopefully you will be able to plan and use your work time more efficiently allowing you to get home to your loved ones.

    What are some tips you use to help manage your work calendar? Share them below!

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  • Thursday, December 15, 2016 1:32 PM | Regina Pinney (Administrator)

    Regina Funkhouser

    Executive Director

    Do you know that all nonprofit board members have three legal responsibilities to the organization they serve?  Let's break them down.

    1) Duty of Care

    The the duty of care describes the level of competence that is expected of a board member. This means that a board member needs to exercise reasonable care when she makes a decision as a steward of the organization.

    2) Duty of Loyalty

    This is a standard of faithfulness. A board member must give undivided allegiance when making decisions affecting the organization. She can never use information obtained as a board member for personal gain. instead, she must act in the best interests of the organization.

    3) Duty of Obedience

    This requires a board member to be faithful to the organization's mission. She is not permitted to act in a way that is inconsistent with the central goals of the organization. A basis for this rule lies in the public's trust that the organization will manage donated funds to fulfill the organization's mission.

    Implied: Duty of Transparency

    Board members must document and exercise due diligence. This is reflected in your meeting minutes, which should be available to anyone who asks for them. By making governance information publicly available, you encourage transparency and accountability.

    Need help applying this to your own board service? Call today.

  • Wednesday, November 16, 2016 1:23 PM | Regina Pinney (Administrator)

    Regina Funkhouser

    Executive Director

    The new overtime rules for employees come into effect on December 1 of this year. Are you ready?

    The first thing to know is that if you didn’t think this rule impacts you – it does. Nonprofits are obligated to comply with the new rules. Nonprofits are complex and the rules will be applied differently depending on your organizations budget size. But know this for sure – at least one of your employees will most likely be impacted by these new rules. If your employees work a regular 40 hour work week and never work more than that, you can rest easy – you may need to reclassify employees, but your budgets most likely won’t be impacted. Click here for specific details about how this new rule might impact your nonprofit organization

    A significant amount of lawsuits against nonprofits are because of employee related claims: sexual harassment, wrongful termination and wage-and-hour disputes. If you don’t understand and accommodate these new changes, you are increasing your legal risk.

    Let’s begin with definitions:

    An EXEMPT employee means that the employee is exempt from getting paid overtime pay for any hours over 40 in a week (nope – not 80 hours in a pay period. 40 hours in a week.)A NON-EXEMPT employee means that the employee is not exempt and their employer must pay employees overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

    By the way – did you know that comp time is not actually a legal “thing”? Flex time within a pay period is legal and acceptable. Comp time, meaning I work 50 hours this week and you add 10 hours to an imaginary account and I get to take 10 hours next month or next summer, is definitely not a legal thing.

    So first, starting Dec 1, exempt employees must meet the following criteria:

    1. Is paid at least $47,476 per year (or $913 per week – prior to Dec 1, the amount has been $455 per week)
    2. Is paid on a salary basis
    3. Performs exempt job duties

    The salary requirement does not apply to certain professions that pay on an hourly basis, including physicians and schoolteachers

    Don't Forget to Review Employee's Duties

    Most organizations have only been concerned with the increase in wages. But this new rule highlights some common no-no’s that nonprofits might also need to address.

    Do you know what exempt job duties are? Many nonprofits that I work with use the salary test as the only test to determine if an employee is exempt or non-exempt. I would encourage you to ensure your job descriptions, regular duties and culture also support the these requirements:

    As a rule of thumb, exempt employees tend to perform relatively high-level duties with respect to the company's overall operations (regardless of job title). The FLSA breaks this out into three main categories: executive, professional and administrative.

    Exempt Job Duties: Executive 

    An employee is exempt from FLSA rules as an executive if he or she regularly performs all of the following:

    • Supervises two or more other employees
    • Primary duty of the position is management
    • Has genuine input into other employees' job status (hiring, firing, assignments, etc.)

    This determination is made on a case-by-case basis, as each duty leaves room for interpretation. As a rule of thumb, an employee working exempt executive duties is "in charge" or considered "the boss."

    Exempt Job Duties: Professional 

    Exempt professional employees include lawyers, physicians, teachers, architects, registered nurses and other employees performing work requiring advanced education or training. These typically are intellectual jobs requiring specialized education and involving the use of discretion and judgment. This exemption does not include skilled trades, mechanical arts or other work that does not require a college or postgraduate degree.

    This exemption also includes creative professionals such as writers, journalists, actors and musicians. Typically, such jobs require imagination, talent and some unique contribution to the employer.

    Exempt Job Duties: Administrative 

    This exemption is for employees whose main duties involve the support of the business, such as human resource staff, public relations or payroll and accounting. 

    As a rule of thumb, administrative employees do not directly produce what the company sells; however, they are at a much higher level than those performing simple clerical work.

    The FLSA defines exempt administrative job duties as follows:

    "Office or nonmanual work, which is directly related to management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers, and a primary component of which involves the exercise of independent judgment and discretion about matters of significance." [emphasis mine]

    I heard a lawyer recently say that if your employees work mainly by following policies, they aren’t using independent judgement. And, if your employees are being micromanaged and can’t use their own discretion, you are forfeiting their exemption, regardless of job description.

    So – what now?

    • Determine how the new rules impact on your business.
    • Conduct an audit – if you had exempt employees, determine if it is more prudent to increase their wages or pay over time. If neither are an option, limit work weeks to 40 hours. (This includes time employees spend at home answering emails and phone calls!)
    • Develop a plan – Should you increase budgets? Should you consider hiring more staff? Should you revise your compensation model?
    • Look at the impact of technology – Requiring employees to track their hours will help you in the long run. What kind of time and attendance reporting systems do you use now and are they adequate?

    Still have questions?  Give us a call.  We're here to serve you.

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