5 Recommended Reading Suggestions

1. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.  Their blueprint for sustainable organizations includes stable core values and purpose, while strategies and practices must continually adapt to an ever-changing world. 

 2. The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters, by Peter Block.  This insightful and philosophical book challenges us to take accountability for our experience, our choices, and the meaning we create from our lives.

3.   Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review  by Garold L. Markle. A great book to reconsider how you approach the traditional performance review process. 

4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. One of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade (Gary). A beautiful tale of friendship, romance, and human spirit in the context of terror and hostage-taking.

5.    Brenda’s favorite interactive business website: BNET

Featured articles:

Contrarian Hiring Advice to Find Your Next Superstar

The Four Keys to Becoming a Collaborative Leader


5 Elements of Successful Meetings by Gary Hochman

As a consultant to managers and executives in a variety of organizations, I’ve participated in every sort of meeting imaginable. Upon reflection, there are just a few factors that seem to separate the great meetings from the average ones.

1. The Right Participants

Begin here by carefully considering who needs to be in the meeting. Too often, participants are invited so they don’t feel excluded or offended, or because they report to the meeting leader on the org chart. To engage in an energetic and purposeful meeting, participants must have a reason for attending; a point of view, a need to know, the authority to make a decision, or useful information, that will shape the topic and drive closure.

2. An Agenda Provided Before the Meeting

Sounds obvious, but agendas are the blueprints for building successful meetings. They are indispensable tools that keep meetings on track, help participants to prepare and understand their roles, and clearly define the objectives. A good agenda will also identify the purpose of each topic (e.g. Is this topic for information only or do we need a decision?). Many teams use the same basic agenda, week after week, for their routine meetings. While this practice is well intended, it misses the point. These agendas may offer an outline of the meeting, but they don’t contain adequate detail to set expectations, help members prepare, and galvanize the group to accomplish its goals. Each meeting deserves a unique agenda.

3. Facilitation

Skilled facilitation makes an enormous difference in the quality of a meeting, whether it comes from the meeting leader, the members, or a designated participant in the meeting. A facilitator pays attention to process and is mindful of the following questions: Is the group staying on topic? How are decisions made? Who is doing the talking? Who is interrupting? How is conflict managed? How can we improve the quality of our meetings? A good facilitator knows how to intervene graciously to help the participants become conscious of the process and derive maximum benefit from their meeting.

4. Clear Conclusions and Next Steps

How often have you attended meetings when the follow-through you expect does not occur? The time to fix that problem is before you move to the next agenda item. At the conclusion of an agenda topic, ask, ”So, who can summarize what we just discussed? What did we decide? What are the next steps?” You might be surprised how often members are unclear exactly what was agreed upon.

5. Opportunities For Creativity and Participation

Most meetings are conducted as a sequence of topics for information sharing, either tops-down or in a go-round fashion. The communication flow is primarily one-way, with little opportunity for members to contribute perspective, energy, curiosity, and creativity. If our only purpose is to deliver information, consider using e-mail or voice mail rather than a meeting. Management time is precious and there is little reason to convene people if we expect them to be passive. On the other hand, we can utilize meetings as an invaluable opportunity to bring multiple perspectives into the room in order to collaborate, debate, decide, and perform the real work of a team.

If you or a member of your organization wants help orchestrating more effective meetings, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We would be delighted to help. Contact Us


5 Keys to Successful Talent Acquisition

Copyright © June 2011 – The HR Matrix, llc – All Rights Reserved

by Brenda Gilchrist, CoFounder/Managing Partner, The HR Matrix, llc

1.      Culture: Know your company culture; be able to articulate it in writing. Validate your perceptions by asking team members.

2.      Talent Gap Assessment: assess what you really need; write the job description based on what you need to add to your team to supplement skills that aren’t available now or will be needed to hit future goals.

3.      Cultivate for Fit: Define your ideal fit; list the attributes and core competencies that are must haves and nice to haves to fit in your department and company culture (be real! Don’t sugar coat it)

4.      Compelling: make your opportunity compelling to the candidates. Remember: candidates are interviewing you, just as much as you are interviewing them. Use your PR/Sales/Marketing skills – even if you don’t think they are a fit. Leave all candidates with a good impression of their interview experience. It’s good for business.

5.      Critique: Plan ahead and create behavioral style interview questions that will assess the candidates past experiences as they relate to your culture, core values and talent needs. Asking well crafted behavioral style interview questions are one of the top predictors of assessing fit. Past behaviors will predict their future performance.


2011 HR Professional of the Year Award

The HR Matrix and co-sponsors PASCO and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce are now accepting nominations for the 2011 HR Professional of the Year Award. This annual award recognizes outstanding HR professionals and their innovative or strategic accomplishments.

To qualify, individuals must be senior level HR professionals and be nominated by a c-level executive. Nominations must include a specific initiative or accomplishment achieved during the past 18 months that has had a measurable impact on the organization, such as increased engagement, improved productivity, or financial savings. We encourage you to share this opportunity with your c-level executive!

Winner and nominees will be announced at PASCO’s Annual Employment Law Conference on October 20, 2011 and on the HR Matrix website. Winners will receive an engraved award, a pass to the PASCO conference, and will be recognized with an opportunity to share their accomplishment at the conference.

To nominate someone, click here: HR Professional of the Year Nomination – online

Posted in HR Matrix News/Press

HR Matrix celebrates 5 years!

Contact: jennifer@thehrmatrix.com
The HR Matrix, LLC 707-526-0877


The HR Matrix Celebrates Five Years!

It is with great satisfaction that Brenda Gilchrist and Gary Hochman celebrate five years of a successful partnership this summer with the HR Matrix LLC, a full-spectrum Human Resources, Organization Development, and Search firm.

Co-founder Brenda Gilchrist reflected on the past five years by saying, “The HR Matrix was founded to provide customized and sustainable Human Resource and Organization Development (OD) solutions and has maintained that focus throughout our five year history. Our experience, integrity, and positive results have been integral factors in our success, and our clients value these traits.”

The two founders bring a wealth of senior HR and OD experience to their enterprise, along with employing top specialists to supplement the company’s offerings. The HR Matrix has achieved success through their custom solutions and collaborative approach in dealing with diverse client needs. Gary Hochman says, “We deal with everything from large employees overhauling their company culture to smaller companies that need HR advice and consultation. Many small companies can’t afford a full-time HR person, yet want smart policies and compliance with employment laws. We can scale solutions to help with every clients’ needs.”

HR Matrix clients range from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies that span multiple industries including manufacturing, technology, healthcare, professional services, non-profits, and the public sector. “We enjoy a lot of repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals,” said Gilchrist, “We are very grateful for that. Our reputation is strong and our name is out there.”

Much of the success of the HR Matrix is due to a growing body of research acknowledging how communication, organization design, and culture affect employee engagement, and subsequently, company success.

The HR Matrix is looking forward to another five years of growth. “We are optimistic about the future,” said Gilchrist. “We have the opportunity to work with some of the best companies in the world, including dozens in the North Bay, and are thrilled to be part of their successes.”


The HR Matrix (www.thehrmatrix.com) is a human resources, organization development and search firm based in Santa Rosa, CA. Their services include HR consulting and expertise in the areas of policy and process development, audits, compensation and benefits plan design, employee relations and risk management, legal compliance, and recruiting. Organization Development services span change management, leadership development, business process improvement, teambuilding, training, and meeting facilitation. The HR Matrix is able to scale up for complex projects, such as mergers and acquisitions, and also provide resources for smaller immediate needs, including HR advice, personnel challenges, and coaching.

Contact The HR Matrix at 707-526-0877 (PST)



Posted in HR Matrix News/Press

As Immigration Audits Increase, Some Employers Pay a High Price

Business Day
As Immigration Audits Increase, Some Employers Pay a High Price
Published: July 13, 2011


Don’t Lose Control with a PEO

Copyright © June 2011 – The HR Matrix, llc – All Rights Reserved

by Brenda Gilchrist, CoFounder/Managing Partner, The HR Matrix, llc

The lure of getting all of your employment needs met, under one umbrella and for a fee, may sound attractive—but may not be the best solution for your company. In today’s world, business owners face the challenge of maintaining compliance with complicated federal and state laws, as well as treating and managing “their human resources” and payroll programs. Is a professional employer organization (PEO) the right option?

A PEO provides outsourcing of payroll, workers’ compensation, human resources and employee benefits administration. By hiring a client company’s employees, it becomes the employer of record, and then leases them back under contract to the original employer. This practice is known as co-employment, employee leasing or staff leasing.

In a co-employment contract, the PEO becomes the employer of record for tax and insurance purposes, filing paperwork under its own identification numbers. The client company continues to direct the employees’ day-to-day activities. PEOs charge a service fee for taking over the human resources and payroll functions of the client company. Bob Reynolds, cofounder of Innovative Business Solutions, says, “PEOs grew in popularity when employers who had a bad workers’ comp experience were being hit with double-digit rate increases year after year. A PEO offered a refuge where they could essentially start over and be rated with the rest of the PEO’s employees, thus reducing short-term costs. At this time, California isn’t seeing those types of comp rate increases.”

What companies often don’t understand about a PEO is that they give up control

What companies often don’t understand about a PEO is that they give up control. “We often see situations where clients don’t realize what they’re signing up for when they engage a PEO. After realizing their employees really aren’t theirs anymore, they become upset and the PEO will often make it difficult to transition out,” says Reynolds.

Additionally, states Brenda Gilchrist, “PEO’s may end up slotting small companies into a “50+” employer group and expect companies to comply with laws that aren’t applicable to employers with less than 50 employees. Such laws include FMLA and CFRA, which are administratively complicated and put more burden on the employer related to leaves of absence.”


Following are several key areas to consider before switching to a PEO.

If a company elects a PEO, all employees are transferred to the PEO’s payroll and the company is now “leasing back” its employees. By doing so, the company gives up control and will pay a premium.

The company loses control to select customized benefit plan designs, PEOs lure customers by stating “employees receive all the advantages of working for a small company combined with the quality-benefits and services usually offered only by big companies.” PEO clients can only get access to the PEO’s standard packaged options. In some cases, the company gives up the option to choose plans that are customized to what its employees want.

Barbara Wilson, benefits consultant and broker of record for Creative Insurance Solutions, says, “A PEO, in my opinion, is a Jack of all trades and master of none.” While PEO consultants are trained in most aspects of HR, including benefits, workers’ comp and payroll, the truth is they’re not benefits specialists. PEO sales reps typically “know” the benefits plans they offer, but have little or no knowledge about the health care industry as a whole. As a result, they cannot provide the type of professional advice and consultation a licensed broker can.

“There’s a certain restrictiveness to bundled solutions, namely that client companies don’t have the flexibility to pick the services they really need. All PEOs require clients to use their payroll administration services, accept coverage of their workers’ comp insurance and select from their benefits offerings, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.”

A PEO may not necessarily decrease the time spent on administrative tasks. The allure of “decreased administrative management” is often replaced with different processes to report changes and actions to the external PEO. Your company will still need someone internally who’s responsible for collecting and reporting data to the PEO (payroll changes, non-exempt hours, new hires, terminations, benefit plan changes, commissions, bonuses and so forth).

A PEO’s one-stop shopping fee is often more expensive than working with a company that offers unbundled services. PEOs charge a service fee typically costing up to 15 percent of total payroll (or around $150 per employee per month). This can be costly if businesses don’t fully use all of the PEO services.

If a company conducts a cost-benefit analysis and calculates the individual cost to administer all the functions a PEO offers, it will probably find it’s paying a premium to use a PEO. In some cases, employers have moved to a PEO only to learn their expectations were not met and then have switched back to a non-PEO format.

Wilson cautions employers to think about the process of termination before signing up. She states, “Termination of the co-employer arrangement can be complicated. Some PEOs make it difficult by slowing down the process of transitioning ‘out.’ The client company needs to fully understand the requirements for severing the relationship because it isn’t always simple.”

In some cases, a PEO may be helpful, such as for companies with large numbers of union employees. Otherwise, it’s important to evaluate the cost, loss of control, limited choice of benefit plans and required use of the PEO database systems and processes.

To make your decision, you can list each expense related to managing services (costs of payroll, benefits and so on). Ask the PEO to give you a breakdown of its fee so you can compare it with your current costs.

To successfully manage your company’s human resources and payroll functions, there are various options. Companies can either hire their own expert staff or can outsource all or parts of it to a human resources outsourcing (HRO) company. Use caution before you decide to put all your eggs in one basket with a PEO.

Brenda Gilchrist, SPHR is principal and cofounder of The HR Matrix, LLC, a full-service human resource, organization development and recruitment firm located in Northern California. She’s a recognized expert in human resources, a professional speaker and provides HR solutions to small-to medium-sized companies. You can reach her at brenda@thehrmatrix.com or707-526-0877 x11 (www.TheHRMatrix.com)


Commentary: Bad HR habits and the ‘tsunami’

Published in the North Bay Business Journal
June 6th, 2011 07:11am

by Brenda Gilchrist

It’s time to brush up policies, make sure key people are retained

Brenda Gilchrist

This month, June 2011, we are starting to see signs of some economic recovery. It’s time to re-evaluate your risks and determine how the recovery will impact your business.

As the job market begins to heat up, Uncle Sam is gearing up to play a bigger role in employment regulation and enforcement. The government is increasing the number of its field investigators to ensure companies are in compliance with employment rules and regulations. Hot button areas include use of illegal aliens and misclassification of workers.

Are you aware that the State of California and the IRS assume everyone is an “employee” unless they meet certain factors?

According to the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement office, “there is no set definition of the term ‘independent contractor’ and as such, one must look to the interpretations of the courts and enforcement agencies to decide if in a particular situation a worker is an employee or independent contractor. In handling a matter where employment status is an issue, that is, employee or independent contractor, DLSE starts with the presumption that the worker is an employee.” Labor Code Section 3357.

The DLSE website states, “Employers oftentimes improperly classify their employees as independent contractors so that they, the employer, do not have to pay payroll taxes, the minimum wage or overtime, comply with other wage and hour law requirements such as providing meal periods and rest breaks, or reimburse their workers for business expenses incurred in performing their jobs. Additionally, employers do not have to cover independent contractors under workers’ compensation insurance, and are not liable for payments under unemployment insurance, disability insurance, or social security.”

All employers should be aware of the myriad of consequences of misclassification of employees including:

  • Stop orders and penalty assessments pursuant to Labor Code section 3710.1;
  • Liability for overtime premium, meal period pay, and other remedies available to employees under the Labor Code and Orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission;
  • Exposure for tort liability for injuries suffered by employees when workers compensation insurance is not secured (LC section 3706);
  • Exposure for unfair business practices (B&P section 17200);
  • Tax liability and penalties;
  • Criminal liability (LC section 3700.5)

Where exempt vs. non-exempt employees are involved, this continues to be a never ending issue of confusion for most employers. The State of California and the government assumes that most staff is “non-exempt,” unless the position meets certain FLSA criteria to be deemed as “Exempt.” The FLSA criteria can be confusing for some positions. Back wages and penalties for misclassifying employees as “Exempt” can be financially devastating to employers.  Here are some cases resulting in misclassification of “Exempt” employees:

  • Wachovia Securities Wage & Hour Litigation, $39 million. Employees claimed they were denied overtime pay and other wages.
  • Veliz v. Cintas Corp., $22.75 million. Delivery drivers claimed that Cintas misclassified route drivers as exempt employees in order to avoid paying overtime.
  • Conley v. Pacific Gas & Electric, $17.25 million. Employees alleged they were improperly classified as exempt employees and were denied overtime compensation and paid a salary rather than on an hourly basis.

Another hot button issue to be aware of is a phenomena called, Resume Tsunami. After the Depression and previous recessions, there is a historical trend that reflects “voluntary turnover” increases as “unemployment” decreases.

As the job index market heats up, a “Resume Tsunami” effect starts to happen. It’s predicted that employers will be flooded with resumes. During the recession, most employers required employees to work harder. Staff worked longer hours, had fewer support staff and took on more responsibility. Some employers cut pay, froze increases and reduced benefits. It’s predicted that 65 percent of your staff is starting to dust off their resume and plan to or are currently seeking employment.

What are the costs of turnover?

Finding 1: The average cost to recruit and train one employee is estimated at 2.5 times an employee’s salary.

Finding 2: U.S. businesses spend over $200 billion annually recruiting and replacing their employees.

To find out whether you need a retention process, answer yes or no to these questions:

  1. I identify the jobs in my organization that have the highest turnover and investigate why.
  2. I conduct post exit interviews 30 to 90 days after an employee leaves the organization to find out the real reason the employee left.
  3. We hold our managers accountable for turnover in their department.
  4. We reward managers for high retention of high-performers in their department.
  5. A part of every meeting is dedicated to staff retention and morale.
  6. We have an excellent orientation and onboarding program for new employees.
  7. We go out of our way to communicate with our employees.
  8. We make sure our managers have training to develop an engaged workplace.
  9. We conduct engagement surveys and immediately start to address issues
  10. Our performance management system inspires high-performers (you make sure your forced distribution models, merit and rating system aren’t backfiring on you).

If you get more than two no’s, you need to start thinking about your internal retention efforts.

Action items:

  • Make employee satisfaction just as important as customer satisfaction.
  • Focus on building engagement with your employees at work.
  • Start measuring turnover and associated costs. Get in front of the turnover. Don’t wait to address it after the recession ends.
  • Continuously evaluate and improve processes. Does your performance management system motivate high-performers; get rid of traditional performance evaluations and compensation systems that erode your retention efforts (most do.)
  • Do internal satisfaction/engagement surveys to see what managers and employees want more of and less of.
  • Identify how your employment practices differ from your competition.
  • Hold managers and supervisors directly accountable for retention in their respective departments.


Brenda Gilchrist, brenda@thehrmatrix.com, is a human resource professional and cofounder of The HR Matrix, llc. She is recognized as one of the top leaders, innovators and visionaries in the North Bay. In addition to leading The HR Matrix, Brenda is an adjunct professor at Sonoma State University Executive MBA (EMBA) program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, a master’s degree in Organizational Dynamics from University of Pennsylvania.