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NoNews_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.


When small business owner Hillary Kelbick co-founded MKP Communications, a financial services marketing-firm based in New York City, 18 years ago, one of her key goals was to treat her employees with dignity and respect. “That’s because previously [my partner and I] worked with someone who was like an abusive parent,” she recalls. “[There was] this notion that if someone was doing well then no one else was doing well. You were only made to feel good at the expense of someone feeling badly.”


Repelled by a work environment that resembled a toxic family, Kelbick seeks to run a business that subscribes to the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. This means recognizing that employee feedback not only has immense value, but is also critical to the solution of a problem.


“Just because I’m the owner doesn’t mean I know the answers,” says Kelbick, who adds that she usually works with eight or nine salaried employees at a given time (not counting the myriad contractors and consultants hired on a periodic basis).


Case in point: In 2009, at the height of the recession, Kelbick’s business was experiencing, like many others in the country, severe financial straits. “We had a couple of years in which we lost more than we made,” she admits. “There were no secrets: people didn’t have enough to do.”


Seeking to keep her business alive, Kelbick held frank discussions with her staff, asking them for input. “I put forward the idea that everyone could take a temporary salary cut—or not,” she recounts. Her workers agreed and when business improved, their former salaries were reinstated, with bonuses added into the mix.


“I was also honest with letting them know I was getting a bonus, so I could pay them from that if there’s another economic shortfall,” continues Kelbick. By engaging her employees and making them feel they were part of the process, Kelbick not only avoided a business calamity—the closure of her business—she helped maintain positive employee morale and boost loyalty. To prove her point, Kelbick cites an uncommonly low attrition rate among her workers, most of whom she says have been with her company since its inception.


Certainly, being more “transparent” in ones’ employee communications is a solid best practice when it comes to increasing and ensuring company morale. However, some small business owners may be apprehensive about how to implement this “honesty is the best policy” due to bad experiences with past employers. What then are some takeaways that can help guide them in the right direction to secure employee buy-in?


NoNews_PQ.jpgDeliver bad news in person

Because many small business owners often have experience working in larger corporations where distant headquarters may not have regularly passed along important information about the company, some entrepreneurs may instinctively bring that same type of resistance to openness when interacting with staff. Aside from its basic disingenuousness, what makes this management style even more troublesome is that it can also blindside workers in a devastating manner.


Susan Baroncini-Moe, president of Business in Blue Jeans, an Indianapolis marketing consulting firm that frequently works with small businesses, recalls a near disastrous example involving a client’s financial hardships.


“Against my advice, the client kept the financial struggles of her company secret from employees,” recalls Baroncini-Moe “But you can't keep secrets very well in small businesses. Rumors about the company's troubles got started. Employees, assuming the worst, quickly started looking for new jobs and gave notice. Had I not come in and cleaned up the mess, my client might've lost her entire business, simply because she was too afraid to be transparent with her team.”


Keep staff in the loop when it comes to their performance

For many people, there’s nothing more disconcerting than to do a job and not get feedback except at the annual salary review. Avoid turning your business into a communications vacuum. Be proactive and fair when it comes to monitoring and assessing a staffer’s progress. It will not only help them but you as well.


Susan Johnson, owner of the Minneapolis-based Rue 48 Salon, a hair salon, is a passionate proponent of this management practice. Since launching her business three and a half years ago, Johnson likes to meet individually with her 12 stylists every 30 days for a one-on-one evaluation to discuss their performance and future goals. During these sessions, she will refer to reports that show each stylist how much product they sold the previous month as well as their customer retention rate. She says these confabs are highly beneficial to her workers who are paid on commission.


“It all kind of works together,” explains Johnson, a former social worker. “It’s teaching the stylists to take a hold of their own numbers and know what their paycheck will be next time. I explain to them when I set goals, it’s not to set goals for me to make money; it’s to make sure we survive. I don’t want anyone to lose their money.”


Acknowledge efforts of staff

This doesn’t mean you should gush over them nonstop if they’re doing well and forget you’re their supervisor. Rather, let a conscientious worker know that you appreciate his or her work ethic and the quality of their performance. But always be sincere in your language and demeanor and avoid glibness. Making workers feel that they’re important contributors to the fabric of your company and not just cogs in a machine will maintain employee morale even during challenging periods.


Don’t cloister yourself in an office

If you want to invest your transparency efforts with credibility, then you will need to show your workers you follow through on your promises.  An effective way of doing this is to work alongside your staff. Don’t barricade yourself behind closed doors in an office. Remove the silos and your workers will be more amenable to treating you with respect and opening up to you.


Salon owner Johnson agrees wholeheartedly.I will clean the toilets and mop the floors to make sure this place is up and running,” she says. “They see that and respect. It’s a lead-by-doing tactic. “


Semantics also helps. “Nobody has ever said anything about me being a boss,” she notes. “The way I refer to staff is that I never call them my employees. I say they’re my co-workers. They know I take the lead, but I do work alongside with them. I would shampoo one of their clients if need be.”


Whether your business is large or small, being upfront with employees can be an invaluable tactic to maintaining good morale. But it must be backed by sincerity and action. Otherwise no amount of transparency will help you win the loyalty and respect of your workers, no matter how seemingly well meaning you appear.

by Suzanne Lucas


A bachelor's degree is now required for jobs that used to be held by high school grads. Could this actually hurt your business?

There's an idea that the person with a degree is "better" than a person without one. Indeed, The New York Times recently reported on the relatively new phenomenon of companies hiring people with college degrees for jobs that historically didn't require college degrees. Are you doing this in your business?


If so, I have to ask, better for what? Yes, having a four year degree does show a degree of dedication. You have to pick a major, take class after class, write paper after paper and work on dreaded group projects. (Which, in my humble opinion, should be banished off the face of the educational earth unless the professor is willing to act as a proper manager, which most are not.) But, anyway, in theory you learn some things and you demonstrate that you have stick-to-itiveness. This is worth something.


But what? You also have to assume that no one enrolled in college, shelled out fantastic amounts of tuition and studied for hours to memorize the philosophies of 40 different dead people with ambitions of becoming an administrative assistant. No, they had other goals.


So, why are you looking for an administrative assistant among college graduates? This is a challenging role that is best filled by someone who wants that role. That is, someone who is not just biding time while waiting for an analyst spot to open up, or who is trying to earn money before gong to law school. What you want is an expert administrative assistant (who are hard to come by, by the way, which may explain why people are settling--yes settling--for degree holders to do the job).


Now, part of the problem is that hiring managers feel that students with high school diplomas are not as educated as they should be and, are not capable of performing these jobs. They need the maturity and extra knowledge that a four year degree brings. Which means that jobs that used to be reserved for the holder of a bachelor's degree are now given to those with a master's degree. So, in order to get the good job, you now have to shell out more money and spend more time in school.


Are you really getting higher quality employees this way? Or just more educated ones? Is your turnover at an acceptable level, or are you losing people quickly when they land something more in line with why they went to college in the first place? Granted, if you run an accounting firm and need people with CPA certifications, you need to find someone who has the degree and has passed the exam. If you need an engineer, it's likely you won't find someone who can do the work without the degree. (But you might!)


It's very easy to add a degree requirement to a job description, but stop and ask yourself it it's really necessary. And if it is, what degree is necessary? A bachelor's in a specific subject? Or are you only looking for someone who has completed a program--anything from a degree in animal husbandry to zoology will be fine? Does the work require someone with a master's degree? Why? What additional skills did this person gain in this second degree that will help your business?


You should always look to hire the best person for the job. And that may not always mean the person with the most letters after his name. It means hiring the person who is most likely to excel in that job. If possible, you want to hire someone who would be better at that job than you would, yourself. That's why you're hiring someone and not just taking the tasks on yourself.


So when you write that job description, think about the skills needed. Don't give into the trap of only hiring people with certain degrees. It takes longer, of course, to find the best person and not just the person that some university has stamped as acceptable. And, I'm certainly not advising you to not hire people with degrees. Just that you hire the right person, not the right degree.


Article provided by ©Inc.

With spring around the corner, both businesses and college students alike are thinking about summer internships. Small business owners love interns because they not only provide an extra pair of hands, but they are lively, eager to learn and can offer a fresh perspective oSteve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngn the day-to-day running of a business.


That said, it can be tricky to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship for both you and your intern. You of course want your intern to learn and contribute, but you also need to be sure that your business continues to run effectively.  When you decide that you want to hire an intern, keep in mind these dos and don’ts of the hiring process that can help you each get the most out of your respective experiences:


Do hire like it’s a job. An intern should be more than just an extra pair of hands, so you need to hire your intern as if you are hiring another regular staff member. Be thorough and careful about whom you bring in. You want someone trustworthy who fits with the culture of your business.


Do create a valuable experience. Back in the day, I was a member of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs— a full-time, nine month, graduate-level experiential leadership training program that rotated internship opportunities. The best internship I experienced was my time with a local labor leader, where I shadowed him throughout his daily meetings and negotiations. The worst one I experienced was my time working for a media company, where I was put into an empty office with nothing to do for three weeks.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


If you are fortunate enough to find interns who want to work at your office for little pay, then make it worth their while. They are typically very capable and eager to please. Use that. Give them real work. Let them sit in on meetings. Give realistic assignments for their skill level. Don’t just give them busy work that renders them unable to learn.


Don’t forget to give your interns proper training, supervision and a mentor. Interns don’t work out when they are given little or no training, supervision or feedback. You have to help them help you and often, the best way to do that is to assign a mentor to the intern. Having one point person give direction and march 5 pull quote.pngmentor the intern makes the intern feel secure, and also gives you a way of ensuring that he or she is getting their work done properly and on time.


Do make sure to include some play. Most college students are not yet used to the 9 to 5 grind, and typically have more down time during their normal day. By including some fun into their experience— maybe an afternoon at a ballgame or free tickets to a local concert that you sponsored— the internship can also infuse your business with some energy.


Don’t lower expectations. A good intern wants to be challenged and wants to impress. Let them.


Bringing in interns might be a little more work than you expect, and it might take some time for each new intern to settle into his or her role.  But, the experience is rewarding for both yourself and your intern if you offer them an exceptional experience.  And who knows— maybe they’ll spread the word about how great it is to work for you!


Are you planning on hiring an intern this summer? Share your thoughts below.


About Steve Strauss


Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss

You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

YoureHired_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


Earlier this year, Dan Wolf, owner of the Keller Williams Realty Group in Anchorage, Alaska, realized he needed to hire an office manager to help run his four-person real estate office. He wrote up an ad, poured through a stack of resumes, and began interviewing the most promising candidates.


Within a few weeks he was certain he had found the right person for the position and brought her back in to discuss salary, hours, and to offer her the job. “One of the things I made sure to tell her was that I wanted someone who could commit to the job for at least two years,” Wolf says. “The next day I got a call from her saying that her husband was probably going to be transferred in less time than that, so she couldn’t promise me the two years. I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack. All this work and preparation and just when I thought I had the right person, I found out she couldn’t take the job.”


Ask any small business owner to name a few of the duties they dislike most, and chances are interviewing job candidates ranks right near the top. It’s not that entrepreneurs are, by their nature, withdrawn or anti-social. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, say human resources experts. “Most small business owners are hiring based on an impression, not an assessment, of the person before them,” explains Lynne Curry, founder of The Growth Company, a human resources and training and development company. “They start talking to the candidate and establish a rapport and they think that because there is this warmth between them, this must be the right person for the job.”


Clearly, that’s not always the case. So what are the best and most effective ways to interview a job candidate? And what questions yield the most useful information? The experts we spoke with distill the process down to three basics: be clear about the duties of the job you need to fill; ask open-ended questions; and spend more time listening than speaking during the interview.


Define the job functions

Gene Fairbrother, president of MBA Consulting Inc., a Dallas-based firm specializing in start-ups and small business issues, advises entrepreneurs to put the job description in writing. “Before you bring that first person in for an interview, take the time to write down a detailed job description and the exact duties that position requires,” he says. Most small business owners don’t do this, Fairbrother explains, which means they spend the first 15 minutes talking and trying to describe the position on the fly.


And as you’re preparing that detailed written description, be realistic. Doug and Polly White, co-founders of Whitestone Partners, a consulting firm based in Midlothian, Virginia, recall once advising a client who ran a scrap metal business. “When he was looking to hire we made sure he was clear that the position required the employee to work outside in all kinds of weather, rain or shine, and that it was a dirty, nasty job,” Doug says. “If they can’t live with that, then they’re not going to be a good hire.” A less dramatic example would be the duties of a receptionist or office manager. If you expect him or her to wash out the coffee pot at the end of the day, make that clear. Not doing so—or springing it on a new employee once they get settled in—just breeds resentment.


YoureHired_PQ.jpgAsk the right questions

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of candidates to meet with in person, make the most of your time. According to the Whites that means asking open-ended questions that go beyond the resume. For their book, Let Go to Grow, Doug White says the couple interviewed over 100 small business owners who readily admitted that interviewing was difficult and furthermore, that they weren’t very good at it.


As a result, most of them spent the majority of their time doing what Polly calls the “resume review interview.” Says she: “You’re not going to gain much insight in an interview by going over someone’s resume job by job. You’ve already had a chance to look at that document. Ask questions that get beyond the resume.”


For instance, she recommends asking open-ended questions and then the follow up. “If you ask someone to describe his or her biggest accomplishment in life, don’t just stop there,” she says. “Ask why and ask for details. If will give you valuable insight into what that person values.”


And don’t be afraid to get specific, advises Doug. For example, if you’re hiring an office manager who also needs to have bookkeeping skills, it’s perfectly fair to ask them how a $10,000 sale would affect both the income statement and the balance sheet. “A person interviewing for that position should be able to answer a question like that on the spot,” he says.


The one caveat to all this: hiring entry-level employees. Here, behavior, not experience is what matters most. “I always tell our clients, when it comes to entry level employees, ‘Hire behaviors. Train skills.’” Polly explains. “When someone is just starting out as an employee in a small business—a cashier, or a stock room person—you want to know if they’re going to show up on time, have a good work ethic, and are honest. If those are there, the skills can be taught.”


Speak less, listen more           

Once the interview gets underway, resist the urge to monopolize the conversation. Yes, the story of how you started your company may be fascinating, but you’ll gain little insight into a potential new employee while regaling them with anecdotes of your early days. Instead, concentrate on listening. “I can’t stress this enough to small business owners: keep your mouth shut during the interview,” says Fairbrother. “You should be listening 75 percent of the time and talking only 25 percent.”


If you’re hiring an accountant ask questions about the candidate’s facility with an Excel spreadsheet—and then be patient enough to listen to the answer, he says. If it’s a sales position you’re hiring for, ask the candidate to describe how he or she would go about sourcing new clients. “Then let them explain fully and ask for details,” Fairbrother says. “It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re not the one doing all the talking.”


That’s certainly the lesson Dan Wolf learned. Once he realized he needed to start the interviewing process all over again, he sought some outside human resources help and was much more discerning during his next round of interviews. “I’m a realtor, so it’s my job to relate to people, to try to make them feel comfortable with me right away,” he says. “I saw that doing that during a job interview is actually a detriment to finding the right employee. We weren’t meeting for a cup of coffee. I’m hiring them for a job. Once that was clear, the process became a lot easier.”

QAdavidlewis_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

As president of the 12-year-old OperationsInc, a Stamford, Connecticut-based company that offers HR solutions and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses, David Lewis is an expert when it comes to dissecting employment issues, particularly sick pay policies. In light of the recent flu outbreak, considered one of the worst to hit mainstream and corporate America in years, this topic has a special timely resonance. Recently, Lewis talked with business writer Iris Dorbian, where he offered up a few tips on how small businesses can institute an effective sick pay policy that both maintains productivity and respects employees who are genuinely ill and not faking it.

ID: As an HR professional/expert, what are some of the current trends and/or developments you see when it comes to SMBs' sick pay policies? Are they doing anything now that perhaps wasn’t done before?

DL: For a certain category of those businesses, which often tend to be more blue collar-oriented, they are being forced—and I do mean forced—to provide more comprehensive sick time policies than in the past. I’m referring to [new mandatory paid sick time laws] in the state of Connecticut and in major cities like Seattle and San Francisco. The idea of having a mandatory sick time policy [is increasingly becoming] more common based on state law and maybe on federal law.

So you have companies that traditionally had not paid you if you didn’t show up for work because you were sick now being forced to offer some minimum number of paid sick days. And then for the rest of the country, you have a bunch of [health] issues in the last several years where more small businesses are starting to formalize policy and offer paid sick time as a way to make their employees feel better about the company.

The majority of businesses in the white-collar space already offer some type of sick leave benefit. The standard is about five days of sick time [per year]. That’s not to say you won’t find more generous packages. [These can] range from more days to the ability to carry the time over and bank it, all the way to the point that you’ve got some trendier firms making the decision to offer unlimited sick time.

ID: What’s the cost of “presenteeism”? How does it impact productivity in the long run?

DL: Hugely. We have 5,000 subscribers to a newsletter and we put something out three weeks ago that talked about the importance of employers reaching out to their employees to remind them that being noble and dragging themselves to work while being infected with what’s being described as the worst flu ever is not doing anybody good. We have a couple of clients who lost 40 percent of their staff for a week because of the flu—40 percent of a small business’s workforce is just devastating.

[Unfortunately], it’s very much a mixed message out there in the business community: you’re allotted five paid sick days, but please note that if you use most or all of them it will be used against you when measuring your performance and dedication to the company. Of course, a policy’s message is never really communicated that way, but that’s what a lot of employees feel in terms of how companies respond to employees who wind up being out sick.

QAdavidlewis_PQ.jpgID: So how do you combat presenteeism and do it in a way that’s both favorable to the employer and employee?

DL: I think practically speaking when employees come to work while they’re sick they’re going to be likely spreading what they have to others in the workplace. Also, it’s probably going to be a less productive day for that individual who’s not operating at 100 percent. You have to look at the practicality of it for your business: if people who are feeling ill are compelled to work, see if it’s possible to have them work from home. In this day and age, more positions in the workforce can be performed at a remote level; if the person is able to do the job from home, then it’s even a dumber move to allow them to come into the office. Let them work from home. Get them a Skype account and have them participate in meetings through Skype where they’re not going to spread germs to others when they cough, sneeze, or shake hands.

ID: Based on your knowledge and experience, what would be your best practices to small businesses seeking to institute an effective sick pay policy?

DL: We advise our clients to provide their employees with five paid sick days a year, but don’t allow for carryover—have it be a “use it or lose it” policy. Never make it so rigid that if they have to take more than five days that it results in the person’s pay being docked or worse. Now the people who abuse it, the people who are faking illness or using it for vacation time—those people should be disciplined up to and including termination.


Look at it from the perspective that five days is a fair number. If your policies are written correctly in your handbook, they’ll always provide you, as the employer, with optimum flexibility to deal with situations on a case-by-case basis.

The big challenge here is that for some employees you’re not going to want to offer that option. For some employees you might view the sick time they’ve taken as excessive or questionable. You just have to be careful about how selective you are because you can put yourself in the position where you look like you’re being discriminatory in some fashion against some group of people by doing that case-by-case thing. And you don’t want to get yourself in the position that in an effort to do the right thing for certain employees and discipline others you wind up with a lawsuit or some type of complaint from a state or federal agency.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and interviewees.  You should consult a qualified HR professional to assist you in developing and implementing sound personnel policies and practices.

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