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by Marla Tabaka


Letting go of an employee is one of the hardest things a manager can do. But there's no use making excuses.


You know it's time to do something about that employee whose performance is consistently lacking. But, well, dealing with it feels like more trouble than it's worth.


If this sounds familiar, I have a challenge for you. Keep track of the time you spend resolving issues, correcting mistakes, and soothing the frazzled nerves of your other employees, all stemming from one underperformer. This exercise will open your eyes to the reality--it's time to pull out the chopping block.


But more often than not, small-business owners don't want to upset the apple cart. They will endure incredible amounts of frustration and hassle instead of retraining or replacing a problem employee. Of course, this simply creates more problems, because poor performance and negative attitude reach to the core of your company. It affects profit, damages reputation, and takes you and your key performers away from critical goals. It also sends a negative message to your stronger employees; superstars resent having to pick up the slack. They may even see you as weak because you haven't taken steps to change the situation.


Imagine going through an entire week without having to compensate for someone else's poor performance. And how would it feel to no longer risk conversations between this unhappy employee and a customer or prospect? Remember, bad attitude extends beyond your four walls; it reflects on your brand.


Have you been dragging your feet for too long? Alright then, stop making excuses! If any of these common excuses sound familiar, it's time for a reality check.

Excuse No. 1
I don't have the time to train a replacement.

Reality check
This belief usually stems from lack of systems and documentation. With job responsibilities outlined and step-by-step instructions in place, training becomes less time consuming and more foolproof. It also takes your business one step closer to being a turnkey operation, which adds value to your company. Have all employees create documentation as they work so you can put together an operations manual. Training will be 10 times easier, and errors and misunderstandings will decrease.

Excuse No. 2

I don't know how to find the right person.

Reality check
Your confidence will rise once you have a solid job description and documentation in place. When you understand exactly what skills and qualities are needed for the job, it makes the search less overwhelming. Word of mouth is a powerful ally. Other entrepreneurs, business groups, church communities, social media groups, friends, and neighbors are all great resources. If these don't pan out and time is short, you can even hire a consultant to locate and interview candidates for you.

Excuse No. 3
She's been with me since the beginning. I just can't let her go.

Reality check
A start-up operation often includes the next-door neighbor, a friend or family member, and some faces that you simply become accustomed to. The operation grows, and maybe that friend doesn't, the problem becoming more apparent with each passing year. How can you deal? Simple: You must separate business from your personal feelings. Most often your friend-employee is ready to move on and wants to spare your feelings as well. Open these lines of communications; you may be surprised at what you find.

Excuse No. 4
He may cause legal problems if I fire him.

Reality check
If you're not familiar with state law regarding firing employees, you should be. This is the perfect time to contact your attorney or accountant and learn the facts. When you follow the guidelines, you minimize the risk. Knowledge is more powerful than fear.

Excuse No. 5
She might take clients or confidential information with her and create competition.

Reality check
There are many opinions out there about the effectiveness of non-compete and nondisclosure agreements, but if intellectual property and client lists are involved, every employee needs to sign these documents. Most individuals don't want to risk a lawsuit when they leave a company, so they won't set up direct competition. And if you don't trust your employees, the very foundation of your business is weak. It's time for a change.



Article provided by ©Inc.

At some point in the life-cycle of any business, the owner needs to consider a change in leadership. To that end, it often makes sense to tap someone already in the company—an employee senior enough and familiar with operations to take the reins so that there is a smooth transition with little disruption. Even before that transition, having a healthy pipeline of talented employees who are leadership-ready can give your firm a distinct competitive advantage.

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when it comes to leadership development is to assume that someone who has made his or her numbers is automatically a high-performer and has the functional and technical depth to be a leader in the company. That’s often not the case, says Lisa Crawford, founder of The Crawford Group, a San Diego, California leadership consulting firm. She likens the search for internal talent to finding diamonds in the rough—you may have to dig a few layers down in the organization, and apply some techniques to shape and polish these future leaders.


While there are many assessment tools and programs on the market today, fast-growing companies may not have formal mechanisms for identifying and developing leaders, says Kelly Botto, a partner in Camden Consulting Group, a leadership development consultancy in Boston, Massachusetts. In such cases, finding high-potential candidates could be as simple as gathering company leadership with the goal of discussing performance and potential. In addition to identifying candidates that may be somewhat obvious, it’s also quite possible that other company leaders are unaware of other employees exhibiting potential. These are candidates for leadership development, as well, possibly filling new roles or being developed for promotions within the company.

As potential leaders are identified, there are a number of proven strategies that companies can incorporate to help bring them to the level of knowledge and experience they need to reach in order to take on more responsibility, says Crawford. When companies begin to use these tactics on a regular basis, the company’s leadership practices will be grounded in a solid base.

  • Shadowing. Employees are paired with someone more senior in a role that employee may someday fill, and the two spend time together as the more senior person fulfills his or her responsibilities. Botto says that, during shadowing sessions, the employee should be watchful, taking in the actions and decision-making of the supervisor, but should also feel free to ask questions when appropriate in order to better understand what is being done and why.
  • Mentoring. Mentoring programs aren’t just friendly once-a-month lunches, says Crawford. When creating a mentoring relationship, there should be goals. The high-potential candidate should be discussing projects, performance, and goals with the mentor and getting his or her feedback about improvement. And that feedback needs to be more than superficial praise.  “It has to be more specific than ‘attaboy’ or ‘attagirl’, she says. It has to be specifically about the behaviors and performance for it to be meaningful and part of the leadership development process,” says Crawford. 
  • On-the-job training. Some high-potentials are given tasks that stretch them beyond their current capabilities. Such on-the-job training requires access to more senior personnel for guidance and answers, as well as a method of check-in to be sure that appropriate progress is being made, says Botto. This is not a case of sink-or-swim, she says. Instead, leaders should be watching closely to see how the high-potential candidate reacts to a “stretch” task and how he or she works to complete it.
  • Continuous feedback. High-potential candidates going through leadership training are often subjected to continuous feedback, also called 360-degree feedback, from supervisors, peers, and direct reports, which helps them quickly understand the actions that need improvement and adjust accordingly. However, says Botto, those who have never been through a continuous feedback process before need to be prepared and supported.  “You can’t just do a 360 and not do anything else, otherwise, you’re just lobbing all of this feedback over the fence and the poor person doesn’t know what to do with it. It can be very dangerous and have the opposite effect, of disengaging the employee,” she says.


These powerful tools are an excellent foundation for an organization to begin building a full slate of leadership-ready employees. However, the most important factor in any organization’s leadership development program is senior management itself, says Crawford. These messages need to come from the top down in order for the company leaders to inspire their successors.

Article provided by ©Inc.

by Hilary Johnson


The idea of unionization can be a scary one for small-business owners, but those fears may be misplaced. Here are things to keep in mind.

The very idea of a union
could cause some small-business owners to shiver in their shoes. Such a reaction stems from the fear that a union's collective power may force higher wages, delay work in the case of a strike, and ultimately damage the bottom line.


Several small business organizations, in turn, are outspoken in their opposition of unions.


Union-PQ.pngThe National Federation of Independent Business, for example, opposes the stalled Employee Free Choice Act, or so-called 'Card-Check' Act in Congress, which would make it easier for employees to form unions by allowing them to simply show their employers that a majority of employees favor union representation. As it stands, an employer can insist on a secret ballot election.


To be sure, small businesses have less to fret about than they did in years past. Just 7.2 percent of private sector employees identified themselves as members of unions in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares with 9 percent in 2000, and healthy double-digit numbers 40 and 50 years ago.


However, some industries showed a slight uptick in union membership between 2008 and 2009, namely in nondurable good manufacturing, and management, administrative, and waste services. And small businesses can be a fertile ground for unionization, experts say, because they often provide a more collegial environment in which to get employees together.


Still, as a small-business owner you may never have to deal with a union, but here are some things to know and keep in mind should you ever face the prospect.

What You Should Know About Unions: The History

It's worth remembering that unions weren't formed just to be obstructionist. Many of the protections we all take for granted, and employers now willingly provide in the workplace, stem from the efforts of unions. Before workers banded together and demanded fair treatment and better working conditions, some employers shirked on important safeguards, and worked employees literally to death.


For example, 146 immigrant workers, mainly women, were killed in March 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City because they could not escape from the building, in part because owners had locked the firedoors.


The tragedy brought national attention to workplace safety and set in motion many important reforms, among them the 40-hour work week, restrictions on child labor, and unemployment insurance.


And, in 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, which gives employees the right to unionize and governs how union workers interact with employers.


'You have to cast your mind back to remember why we needed unions, and what it was like for people back then,' says Philip Dray, author of 'There Is Power In A Union: The Epic Story of Labor In America.'


The fact that unions have lost some clout these days is more a product of poor marketing on their part, rather than evidence that they've outlived their usefulness, insists David R. Levinson, an employment law attorney in Washington, D.C.


'Frankly, it's gotten to the point where a lot of people don't understand what a union does. But they provide a valuable service, in giving employees legally enforceable rights, rather than employment at will,' he says. 'People like to have a say in their jobs, and unions are a very effective way of doing that.'

What You Should Know About Unions: The Law

Even if you're sure unionization is unlikely to occur within your small business, it's critical to know the governing law, so you won't misstep should your employees approach you about it.


The National Labor Relations Act, enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), states that an employer can't interfere with the process of unionization once employees have begun it. That would be considered an unfair labor practice.


Other examples of unfair labor practices include threatening employees with firings or reduced benefits if they join or vote for a union, or participate in the process of forming or joining one. Employers also may not threaten to close the company if employees unionize.


Employers should be careful not to question employees about union support, or treat pro-union employees any differently.


If you start to hear scuttlebutt about a union, it's worth talking to your lawyer about what to do, and what not to do.


There are plenty of examples of employers who may have tried to prevent unionization, sometimes to their chagrin.


Consider Regis Corp., an operator of about 10,000 hair salons based in Minneapolis. In late October, the NLRB brought charges against the company, alleging that executives forced employees to sign pledges promising that they would not sign union cards in the future, threatening them with blacklisting if they did so.


The directive allegedly came not only from managers, but from the chief executive, who issued the warning through a DVD. A hearing on the case is pending.


Other parts of the National Labor Relations Act restrict unions, stating that they cannot force employees to take up the cause, and they may not discriminate against certain union members who are critical of the union, or those who refuse to join.


An employer has the right to ascertain that the union that is coming forward for recognition truly represents the employees, with a minimum interest of about 30 percent. Under current law, employers have the right to refuse to acknowledge a presentation of union cards, and to insist upon a secret ballot election, which is intended to ensure that no employee is coerced into joining the union.

What You Should Know About Unions: Contract Negotiations

If a small-business owner decides to recognize the union immediately or if the process of unionization moves along as a result of a secret ballot election, negotiations between management and employees must take place, so that a contract can be agreed upon.


By law, the negotiations must consider the terms and conditions of employment, including wages, benefits, and working conditions.


However, in part because unions are less powerful than they used to be today, union reps are now far more likely to work with management to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement when it comes to the details of working conditions, and what type of employee does what sort of work, for example.


'It's more and more common these days for unions to be flexible and willing to work with companies to create a better workplace,' said Richard Hurd, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.


Also, remember that depending on the business you're in, the union you deal with may not be the behemoth you imagine, but a decentralized, small organization. And, there are many flavors of union negotiations and contracts; it doesn't have to always be adversarial, according to Eve Weinbaum, director and associate professor at The Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


'People talk about unions as if it's a monolithic entity, and it's really not true, all the more so if you're talking about small business,' Weinbaum says. 'There's a huge range. A contract can really mean whatever you and the employees want it to mean.'


Once a contract is in place, it usually has a term of about three to five years, but that term is up to negotiation, as well.


When renegotiations come around, they are a 'fairly standard process,' says Cornell's Hurd, 'with both sides reviewing what happened under the existing agreement, and looking for places where they might want to make changes.'


When there is a conflict or grievance, especially at a small business, the issue is usually handled rather informally, with discussions with the person who has the complaint, the union representative, and management.


Especially with small employers, management is 'likely going to have some personal interaction with the representative, to find a way to work things out,' Hurd says.

What You Should Know About Unions: The Trade-offs

If you, as a small-business owner, are approached by a union, large or small, recognizing it might not be the worst thing for your business. There are trade-offs – the cost of doing business may go up, but in addition to keeping employees happy, you may be able to appeal to a whole new target client: the broader union and union supporters.


Some small employers have found it's worth the trade-off in expense to know that employees are content and feel listened-to.


'When unions are formed, what is most likely to happen, is it reduces conflict in the workplace,' Weinbaum says.


Management may also find that the structure helps set in place clearer thinking about jobs and responsibilities.


A small-business owner 'may well become better at management,' Hurd says. 'It forces them to become more systematic. Unions can be a burden, but they can actually also encourage employers to be more careful abut how they organize work.'



Article provided by ©Inc.

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