The Williamson Difference: HR Answers That Work

Tips For When A Key Employee Moves To A Competitor

March 12, 2019

By Michael Faley

As with most things in life, you should hope for the best but plan for the worst in the event that a valued employee leaves to join a competitor. This article contains some helpful tips to keep in mind following such a move by a key employee.

I.   Stay On Good Terms With The Former Employee Whenever Possible

Once your employee announces that he or she is making the jump to a competitor, ending the relationship on amicable terms can benefit you down the road. It may very well turn out that the employee’s experience and knowledge of past or ongoing projects become critical to the resolution of a future problem or dispute. For that reason, among many others, it is better to remain civil despite the negative feelings that frequently percolate in these kinds of situations.

II.   Take Action When Things Get Ugly

Of course, though you may try, it is not always possible to maintain an amicable relationship with a former employee. Most of the time, you will simply move on with business as usual. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that a former employee attempts to pack up and take your business to the new company. This frequently takes the form of a soon-to-be former employee copying documents and computer files containing the likes of confidential client information or records concerning former and ongoing projects. If this occurs to you, it is time for action.

The law provides you with several methods of redress to prevent other businesses from obtaining an unfair competitive advantage where a former employee has taken proprietary information. Here are some of the most common lines of defense.

  • A Well Drafted Employment Agreement

An artfully crafted employment agreement with a covenant not to compete can provide the basis for a breach of contract claim against the former employee. Many employment agreements also prohibit solicitation of clients or taking confidential information. An effective employment agreement is a great tool to prevent a former employee from unfairly poaching your business.

  • The Duty of Loyalty

When it comes to high-ranking employees, always remember that the soon-to-be ex-employee has a continuing duty of loyalty while working for your company. Almost certainly, the former employee will have breached that duty if he or she surreptitiously copied confidential records and computer files during employment.

  • Trade Secret Laws

It is also illegal to misappropriate trade secrets. This can vary from state to state. For instance, the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (765 ILCS 1065/2) makes it unlawful for the former employee or their new company to misappropriate your “technical” information, “data,” “methods,” “techniques,” “drawings,” and other confidential information that are sufficiently secret to give you a competitive advantage.

  • Copyright Laws

Copyright laws may further help to protect your business interests. Copyright tends to be particularly important for businesses involved in artistic endeavors, architecture, and software development among many other fields that produce original works of authorship. Usually, the underlying copyright in any work generated for your company by the employee within the scope of his employment will belong to the company. Such laws can, for example, help stop a former employee from taking copyrighted project plans and using them to replace you on a client’s project or passing off the material in a portfolio as their own. Because registration of the work with the U.S. Copyright Office ( is required to file a lawsuit for infringement, see 17 U.S.C. 411(a), and because registration also provides the opportunity for statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, we recommend registering the copyright in your valuable works and include a copyright notice on each of the works involved (e.g., for works first published in 2019, acceptable copyright notice would read “©2019").

Finally, the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), 18 U.S.C.A. 1030, is a vital law that protects you from theft and destruction of information stored on your company’s computer system. In the event your company sustains damage or loss due to a CFAA violation, you may be able to maintain a lawsuit to prohibit the former employee from using the illegally obtained computer files. Damages may also be available under the CFAA. As a measure of cautious practice, you should have your information technology staff check all computer systems after the employee departs.

Through the use of the foregoing business and legal tools, you should be able to protect your business interests in the event those interests are threatened by illicit means. Your attorney will usually start by writing your former employee and/or the new company a “cease-and-desist letter.” However, depending on the urgency of the matter, events may require an immediate lawsuit to enjoin the former employee and/or their new employer from acting in a way detrimental to your interests.

III.        Remember the Flip Side When You Are Hiring

Similar concerns exist when you are on the hunt for new talent. Regarding the recruitment process, you should always:

  • Remember that the employee owes a continuing duty of loyalty to his or her current employer for the entire duration of employment.

  • Inquire whether the prospective employee may be subject to any post-employment restrictions contained in an employment agreement.

  • Take the time to understand whose rights may be implicated by any potentially proprietary information gleaned from the new employee, and refrain from acting upon questionable information.

In short, while a valuable new employee can certainly lead to new business opportunities for your company, you should always act carefully to avoid potential exposure to the types of litigation discussed above.

Michael Faley is a partner at SmithAmundsen LLC in the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group. Michael represents corporate clients in connection with the enforcement of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements and protection of their trade secrets, proprietary information, customer relationships, investments in talent and other valuable assets. He also handles general employment and discrimination cases. Michael can be reached at 312.455.3942 or

Unlocking the Full Potential of Employees by Establishing Trust

March 12, 2019

By Christopher Tkaczyk

Accenture (No. 61 on Fortune’s 2019 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For) has just published a new research report The Trust Imperative: Decoding Organizational DNA, in which it says that businesses are waking up to a new source of business growth–the ability to unlock the potential of their people by using new technologies to secure vast amounts of data on work and the workforce.

This new data can help them create and scale new business opportunities. But Accenture says that just because companies can use this data does not mean they always should. “Ethical and data issues stand in the way,” according to Accenture. “If businesses fail to act responsibly, they will lose the trust of their employees and, as a result, suffer a loss of revenue growth. But if business leaders act responsibly, they can elevate both trust and financial performance.” As much as 12.5 percent of future revenue growth ($3.1 trillion) is at stake as a result.

This aligns with the research conducted by Great Place to Work, which found that among Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2019, an average of 87 percent of employees say they trust their employer when measuring them on credibility, respect, fairness, pride, and camaraderie. Furthermore, companies appearing on the 100 Best Companies list also see more than 3 times the quarterly stock performance of their less-inclusive peers.

Among the key findings from Accenture: While more than six in 10 C-level executives (62 percent) said that their organizations are using new technologies to collect data on their people and their work to gain more actionable insights – from the quality of work and the way people collaborate to their safety and well-being – fewer than one-third (30 percent) are very confident that they are using the data responsibly. The report is based on qualitative and quantitative research, including global surveys of 1,400 C-level executives and 10,000 workers across 13 industries.

According to Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer, “At a time when companies are using newly available workforce data to drive greater value, responsible leadership is the key to building employee trust. Trust is the ultimate currency–it’s the path to innovation and fuels growth by unlocking people’s potential.”

Read Accenture’s full report here. To learn more about ways that your organization can measure employee experience, as well as learn how to have your company be certified as a great place to work, visit

Christopher Tkaczyk is the Chief Content Officer at Great Place to Work and a former editor at Fortune and Travel+Leisure. His new podcast series, Better by Great Place to Work, will launch this spring.

How a Cultural Audit Can Elevate the Onboarding Process

March 12, 2019

By Lilith Christiansen

Only 44 percent of employees believe their employer does a good job bringing new talent into the organization. Strategic onboarding seeks to solve that issue by moving beyond automating paperwork. Instead, it delivers a personalized journey that transforms new hires into fully functioning, integrated members of the team. Today’s onboarding approaches should provide clear expectations in terms of behavior and interaction with management, customers, and other employees.

Strategic onboarding is made up of four pillars: cultural mastery, interpersonal network development, early career support, and strategy immersion and direction.

Cultural mastery is a critical component, but one that often gets overlooked. Providing employees with a sense of formal and informal norms and how to thrive within them enables new hires to fit in quickly. New hires need to understand the ins and outs of company culture in honest and authentic ways, or else businesses risk losing them.

The challenge for many organizations is defining their culture. There are a few questions that can help start the process: What’s the “real and true” story? What’s changing as the organization grows and evolves? Are there any hidden perceptions that need to be unearthed? Are there any old traditions that need to be carried forward? Is the organization aspiring to build a different culture than exists today?

To find out the answers to these questions, organizations can execute a cultural audit. At its core, a cultural audit is a simple, three-step process that includes asking, documenting, and analyzing. Each of these three steps plays a critical role in understanding and establishing an organization’s culture.

  1. Ask. Conduct business leader interviews and use employee surveys and focus groups to get a sense of what all individuals across the entire organization feel are the core tenets of the company culture. Each level in the organization likely has a different take based on their day-to-day experiences.

  2. Document. Take the results of the surveys, focus groups, and interviews and document the corporate values, unconscious expectations, daily behaviors and practices, perceptions (even myths!), and anything of potential value that helps paint a picture of the culture.

  3. Analyze. Once the data has been collected and documented, examine it carefully to identify factors that are consistent as well as differences between sources. See if the data aligns with current strategies. Look closely to see if perceived, actual, stated, or desired cultures emerge. In particular, take note of areas where there is a disconnect between the aspirational culture and the way the organization currently functions.

By completing a cultural audit, organizations will get a firm sense of their culture–both where it excels and where it needs improvement.

Take Action

Learning and defining an organizational culture is the first step toward integrating cultural mastery into a strategic onboarding program. To bring the culture to life, organizations must demonstrate how it supports business strategy to positively impact outcomes. Some approaches:

  • Short videos from current employees are a great way for new hires to get a real sense of the culture in an authentic way.

  • Assigning a new hire a buddy at the peer level provides an opportunity for the new employee to learn the culture from a peer in an easy, low-pressure way.

  • Hosting a recent new hire panel discussion by bringing in two or three new hires who have been in the organization for between six and nine months is a good way to communicate actual experience.

  • Provide managers with discussion prompts to talk about culture and even compare and contrast the company culture with the new hire’s former employer.

  • Social events are also a good way to encourage opportunities for new hires and existing employees to get to know each other and share personal experiences that illustrate the culture and the “unwritten rules” of the organization.

By knowing and communicating an authentic cultural story, new hires can plug into the true culture, helping them succeed and increasing the likelihood that they stay with the organization.

Lilith Christiansen, Vice President, Onboarding Solutions brings more than 20 years of consulting experience to SilkRoad, having established a reputation as an industry expert, author and speaker. At SilkRoad Lilith Christiansen leads a team dedicated to partnering with SilkRoad customers to develop world-class strategic onboarding practices and programs that transform their employee experiences and drive business outcomes. The onboarding solutions team helps organizations build better employee experiences and drive retention by connecting all the onboarding experiences throughout the employee lifecycle. Prior to joining SilkRoad, Lilith served as Vice President of the Organizational Development Practice group at Kaiser Associates, co-leading deep analytical and business performance perspective projects to help leading companies succeed against organizational development challenges. She co-authored the best-selling business book "Successful Onboarding." It one of the first books to outline methodologies for creating strategic onboarding programs on a global scale to unlock hidden values from talent bases.

AI Can Influence Diversity and Inclusion (for Better or Worse)

March 12, 2019

By Ben Eubanks

Last month news broke that an AI-powered facial recognition technology used by law enforcement was actually biased against, well, pretty much everyone other than white men. This news hit the public like a slap in the face, but it’s something I’ve been seeing behind the scenes for some time now. Artificial intelligence as a technology isn’t good or bad – it just is.

AI, at its core, is like a toddler. Over time it learns and can improve its capabilities, but it isn’t smart enough to know the context and impact of its decisions in most cases. If we use it properly and with care, we can improve outcomes. If we use it carelessly, we can hamper our efforts and limit success both for our people and for our organizations more broadly.

In my book, “Artificial Intelligence for HR,” I talk about how employers can leverage AI technology to hire, develop, and engage their people, helping them to achieve the best results. Today we’ll explore some of the insights from my research to make this conversation more concrete and actionable.

Negative Effects of AI

When you think about the negative impacts of artificial intelligence, your mind inevitably goes to something you’ve probably seen in a science fiction movie but the AI that I’m talking about today is less overt in nature.

Artificial intelligence algorithms are now being used for everything from child welfare to recidivism rates. If incorrect data are used, or if the algorithm has an underlying bias, then the results could be disastrous for those on the receiving end of the decision.

Within the workplace, AI can cause flaws in recruiting decisions, causing employers to avoid hiring qualified women and minorities. Amazon was courageous enough to come out last fall and share its own challenges with this process. Though some have disparaged the company for its results, I believe sharing the cautionary tale is a laudable act on the company’s part if it helps other firms realize the challenges that may exist.

Positive Effects of AI

At the same time, the positive opportunities presented by AI simply can’t be ignored. In a recent podcast interview with IBM’s Distinguished Engineer Lisa Seacat Deluca, she explained to me that the best way to create unbiased algorithms is to have a diverse team creating the software. This prevents groupthink and helps the team to think through outcomes for a variety of diverse individuals, not just a single group.

Let’s look at a few use cases for how AI can help in the workplace:

  • Uber uses an algorithm to set pay rates and schedule shifts for drivers, which allows it to cut the gender pay gap by half of what it is in the open market, improving pay equity for the more than 2 million drivers across the globe.

  • Unilever utilizes automated assessments and asynchronous video interviews to find talented, diverse college graduates to join its team. Moving away from a purely human-driven approach has increased diversity and candidate satisfaction.

  • Last fall I coached a startup in the HR Technology Conference “Next Great HR Tech Company” competition. The firm uses a chatbot to consume employee feedback surveys and performance review data to help coach managers on their individual performance issues, developing them into better leaders. If we developed all leaders, including diverse ones, then we would see more representation in the C-suite than we do today.

As you can see, the value in having an unbiased approach can lead to better outcomes on a range of factors, including diversity. That’s because machines are really great at certain things, but they’re terrible at others. That’s where humans come in.

The Core Human Skills of Work

When we look at history, every time automation has happened the resulting jobs are more human than the ones before them. We automate the more “robotic” components of the job, leaving it fundamentally changed. This means jobs will continue to shift into more human components, and soft skills will become key traits for employers to develop and seek. In researching dozens of sources, I found a core set of skills that we need to prioritize as employers so we don’t get tackled from behind by this algorithmic era.

Those skills include compassion, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity. I share more about them in this article, if you want to learn more, but it’s essential that we look for ways to develop these skills in ourselves and in our teams. Work is an essential component of being human, and these core human skills will set us apart from the AI, algorithms, and bots for the foreseeable future.

Ben Eubanks is the principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, where he oversees the development of research, assets, and insights to support HR, learning, and talent vendors across the globe. He can be reached on Twitter at @beneubanks.

This article was originally published at (formerly Globoforce)

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