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76 Posts authored by: Touchpoint

WelcomeHome_Body.jpgby Jen Hickey.

 

Since 9/11, the U.S. has deployed the largest number of active duty and reservists since the Vietnam War. Of the more than 2.3 million deployed (with over 760,000 National Guard and Reserve), about half have left the military (with about 640,000 Guard and Reservists deactivated). And over the next few years, it’s expected that even more soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen will be returning to or seeking civilian jobs. For small businesses, filling the boots of those citizen soldiers during sometimes multiple deployments of a year or more has had its costs. But keeping the lines of communication open before, during, and after deployment can help ease their transition back into the workplace. There are also legal and logistical factors a small business must consider if temporary help has been brought in during those deployments.

 

When Frank Strong, a career reservist, got orders to deploy to Iraq in October 2005, he was one-third of the marketing team at Tysons Corner, Virginia based Managed Objects, a $30-million software company of 100 people at the time. “As soon as you get notification of deployment, you’re obligated to let your employer know,” explains Strong. “so they can make the necessary adjustments.”  Before he left, Strong’s co-workers had a party for him and bought him an iPod. While his employer brought in help during his deployment, his position was open when he returned, as is required by law.

 

According to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), employers are obligated to reinstate uniformed services employees who have been deployed to the same position or one that is commensurate in responsibility and pay, as well as continue health benefits for up to 24 months. And depending on the length of deployment, returning uniformed services employees may be entitled to leave time before having to return to their civilian jobs. Returning service members are also entitled to any promotions and/or salary increases that may have occurred during their absence, as well as reinstatement of health benefits if they chose to use military health plan during deployment.

 

Including training leading up to his deployment, Strong was gone for about a year and a half, returning in the spring of 2007. But he kept in touch with his employer, exchanging emails with his boss at least monthly. “He’d keep me updated on what’s going on with the company,” recalls Strong. When he returned, Strong met with his boss and visited the office to let everyone know he’d be returning. “It’s important to show your face and let your employer know you’ll bet back,” notes Strong. “But employers should also encourage their employees to take the full time they’re allotted after their service, because you need that time to visit family and friends, arrange housing and get your life in order.” Upon his return from Iraq, Strong took the full 90 days he was entitled to before returning to work.

 

Louie Keen has employed several active-duty military, Reservists, National Guard, and veterans, as well as their spouses, at his three small businesses in St. Robert, Missouri, home to Fort Leonard Wood, the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Support Center, which trains up to 90,000 military and civilians each year. “When I hire someone, their family becomes part of the organization,” explains Keen. “Our soldiers are protecting our country, we try to do that for their families while they’re gone.” Keen keeps in contact with spouses and invites the families to company events and holiday parties. “It gives soldiers peace of mind knowing their families are being treated the same way while they’re away.”

 

WelcomeHome_PQ.jpgFor employees in key jobs gone for long and multiple deployments, Keen offers them comparable positions at the same pay until they get themselves acclimated. “For positions that require a lot of training like bartending, they’ll work the back of the bar for a while and then I’ll give them some bartending shifts once they’re back up to speed,” says Keen.

 

Social media and the Internet have also made it easier for Keen’s deployed employees and customers to stay connected. “Many friendships develop at our businesses,” notes Keen. “Connecting through our Facebook page gives them a sense of home while they’re away.” Keen also stays in contact with his deployed employees’ unit commanders or senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs), who can assist with sending care packages to deployed soldiers and help with transition after deployment. 

 

By the time he was deployed again in April 2011 as part of a multinational peacekeeping force sent to Egypt, Strong had moved onto Beltsville, Maryland-based Vocus, a cloud marketing software provider. It was much easier to stay in touch with his employer this time around, as Internet access was more readily available. “The technology was far better than in Iraq,” recalls Strong. “I was able to stay up to date real time through Twitter and the company’s web site and spoke to my boss about once a month.”  Like at his previous employer, Strong was placed on an unpaid leave of absence during his deployment, However, Vocus also offered to make up the pay differential between his higher civilian salary and lower military pay and continued to match Strong’s 401(k) contributions, though the company was not legally obligated to do so. Strong recommended his employer for an award through Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense agency created in 1972 to improve cooperation and understanding between National Guard and Reservists and their civilian employers.

 

For those small businesses that can’t afford to extend benefits or pay, they can still sign a statement of support for their Guard and Reserve member employees through ESGR, which also offers USERRA training in conjunction with the Department of Labor (DOL) and compliance assistance for employers.

 

“The military has gotten a lot better at taking care of soldiers once they come home since the early days or Iraq,” says Strong. Still, adjusting back to civilian life can be difficult, particularly for service members who have been deployed to combat zones. “If I see someone flipping that switch a little too quickly, I make sure they get some counseling,” notes Keen. “But the military has trained them to be that way in combat, so it takes some time to undo that.” In the 11 years since the start of the War on Terror, Keen has only had to let go two employees in 2004/2005 after their deployment for behavioral issues. “The transition usually takes a few months,” says Keen. “But the difference between 2006 versus 2012 is enormous with regard to how the military is helping to re-integrate the soldiers after their tours.”

 

To help with the transition, Strong recommends entrepreneurs open up the communication lines as the pace of adaptation at small businesses is often quick. “Have a conversation about expectations, metrics and goals, if the job description has changed or new responsibilities have been added,” Strong advises. Also, it might help to become familiar with resources like Military One Source, and the Center for Deployment Psychology’s free online training course in “military cultural competence,” which will also help increase employer sensitivity to some of the issues that their part-time military employees face during and after deployment.

 

Life after the military for new veterans

The Costa Mesa, California nonprofit Working Wardrobes, recently received a federal grant to launch its VetNet program, which offers veterans a much broader array of career development services and industry training and offers education to employers on how to recruit, train, and retain qualified veterans. “Having served veterans among our general population for the past seven years, we discovered that much more needed to be done to address issues unique to their situation,” explains Jerri Rosen, founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes. “Particularly in that transitional period after leaving the military.”

 

“Many veterans are very young, having enlisted just after high school, and don’t plan to return to jobs they had before they entered the military,” points out VetNet case manager Dr. Roberta Cone. “One of the things we focus on is translating skills and discipline they acquired in their military training and tour of duty to a civilian skill set.” The staff of VetNet all have military backgrounds and training and sensitivity to the unique challenges veterans face. “We have a lot of tools to help make that transition easier for the veteran and the potential employer,” explains Rosen. “It’s not just about finding a job, but retraining to be part of civilian and workplace culture.”

 

While small businesses need to be aware of their legal responsibilities, those costs are far outweighed by the value of retaining uniformed service employees. Employers can seek additional support by partnering with local nonprofits and state agencies that work with veterans. “One of the benefits of hiring a reservist is you get someone that’s very motivated and wants to do more than just the minimum,” notes Strong. “They’ve attached themselves to selfless service and duty of country. And that’s a trait you see replicated in their day-to-day work ethic.” But educating yourself and employees about the issues deployed service members face doesn’t cost a thing and can help ease their transition back to the workplace.

DebtofGratitude_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Why was there no one to answer the phones at Windsor Resources the other day? Instead of a proverbial “Gone Fishin’” sign up on the front door, it would have been more apt had it said, “Tennis, anyone?”

 

More like tennis everyone: All 30 employees of the New York and Stamford, Connecticut, staffing and recruiting firm spent the day in Flushing Meadows at the National Tennis Center, checking out the action at the U.S. Open. It was a measure of thanks from Windsor chief executive and founder John Schapiro to his staffers, who he says have stuck by him through the ups and downs of running a small business.   

 

“Everyone’s given their all to make this opportunity for me and I want to give back,” Schapiro says. “I think everyone works with me and not for me. When you have a staff that shows such ethics, loyalty, and appreciation, you want to do something nice for them.”

 

DebtofGratitude_PQ.jpgWith Labor Day having just passed by on the calendar, it’s time to reflect on a holiday that pays homage to Americans’ work ethic and honors the effort that built this country and its giant economy.

 

It can also prompt small business owners to think about how they can show gratitude to their employees. While times have been tough at many companies recently, it’s still important to remember the long-term value of having employees who feel appreciated. “The costs associated with thanking our employees are minimal compared to the costs we incur when we have to replace them,” notes David Handmaker, president of Next Day Flyers, a Rancho Dominguez, California-based online printing company. “Letting employees know they are valued is a message which should be continually conveyed.”

 

So how can you give back without breaking the bank, while still giving employees something of genuine value? 

 

Start by thinking of what you can afford, says Jerry Ross, a longtime entrepreneur and now executive director of the National Entrepreneurial Center, a small business development group in Orlando, Florida. “A raise of a dollar an hour is nice, but after the first paycheck it may not mean much to them. It’s something that will cost you every week after that.”

 

Ross recalls taking his teams on brewery tours, go-kart racing outings, and pizza and beer nights—all focusing on building camaraderie, boosting morale, and making for fun memories. Over the years, he’d negotiate with clients to build up a stockpile of freebies and gift certificates, which he’d in turn offer to staffers deserving of a thank you. “People don’t usually leave companies because of money,” he says. “They leave because they have bad bosses.”

 

But what works? A few ideas from other small business people:

 


Know your staff.  Make it a general practice to chat throughout the year, to learn the names of significant others, kids, grandchildren, pets, activities, and challenges, too—the things that matter most to them. A small donation to a favorite charity or even a Bring Your Pet to Work Day will be long remembered.

 


Blow off steam together.  When significant goals or deadlines are reached, why not recognize hard work with a bit of a blowout? When employees can bond on other levels it can be good for your business, too. Shawn Farner, a web communications and marketing specialist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, says he fondly remembers his time in the insurance industry, when his company would pick up the tab for a quarterly day out with co-workers. “A bean counter might see that as a day of lost productivity and a couple of hundred dollars the company didn't need to spend, but I saw it as a great way to show appreciation,” says Farner. “A bonus is nice, but a good time is even better.”

 


Don’t forget significant others. If your staffers are putting in long hours, it’s likely affecting their personal lives, too. So aim your special rewards at not only your employees, but their loved ones, too. “I believe people appreciate stuff that’s done for people they love even more than stuff that’s done for them,” says Tolulope Akinola, founder of AppHere, a five-person app development company in Palo Alto, California. As someone running a startup on a tight budget, he says he still does his best to find opportunities to show his appreciation, such as gifts of dinner for two at a nice restaurant or spa gift certificates to spouses or partners who deal with his employees’ longer-than-usual absences.

 


Low-cost rewards don’t have to feel cheap. Consider a monthly drawing with inexpensive prizes, like a later start on a Friday or a Starbucks card. Celebrate an employee of the month and let the staff make the decision. A tower of cupcakes to celebrate when an employee passes a certification exam or achieves a periodic safety record is also a good idea. While financial incentives are always welcome by employees, smaller tokens of appreciation often have a more lasting effect in showing employees their hard work is not going unnoticed.

 


Think big, even with small actions. As much as running a small business may have its tough moments, it’s an unimaginable achievement for many people. One way to inject a dose of humility into the workplace: Open a running group donation to children in poverty, through groups like the Save the Children Foundation, or microloans to struggling entrepreneurs in the developing world, through sites like Kiva. Marlene Caroselli, author, speaker, and corporate trainer, suggests appointing one staffer to be the collector of loose change. On Friday afternoons, as people are prepping for their weekends, ask for donations of small coins. Many programs accept as little as $5 a week to sponsor a child who is living in impoverished conditions. Annual progress reports and other correspondence give new meaning to the word “grateful.”

 


Behold the power of food. Whatever you do, don’t forget birthday cakes. People bond over food—dining together helps break down barriers. From bringing pizzas or bagels on a Friday to even tomatoes from your home garden, engaging your staffers with a treat can build relationships and help you connect on more than a business level. Ross says he recalls at a job earlier in his career where all members of the sales team got a big box of Omaha Steaks as a reward for meeting a goal. Even though he was a newbie, his boss told him “Even though you’re on the bench, you’re still part of the team.” But more impressed, even months later, was his wife, keeper of the refrigerator freezer.

 

Heading out to their grill, Ross says his wife would always pause to note: “That’s a great company!”

by Sharon Kahn.

 

QAcarleyroney_Body.jpg

Quick: What's the best-known wedding website? Chances are, you'll say The Knot, which Carley Roney founded with her husband David Liu in 1996. The now multi-media empire trades publicly as the XO Group Inc., and has expanded to additional ventures covering the home and parenting. Recently, Roney spoke to business writer Sharon Kahn about her story.


SK: How did your own wedding lead to The Knot and its offshoots?

CR: When I got engaged in 1993, my now-husband David Liu and I quickly realized the resources available at the time couldn’t help us plan a wedding in four weeks. I was working 70 hours a week as a photo editor for the Smithsonian and no vendors were open when I finally could sit down and plan after 7 p.m. I couldn’t find any etiquette tips on how to plan a wedding for a little blonde girl from New England marrying a 6 ft. tall Chinese guy. To top it off, my future mother-in-law informed me that white was the Chinese color of mourning and I had to find a red wedding dress!

 

QAcarleyroney_PQ.jpgA couple of years later, David and I were knocking around ideas with some friends from film school (where we had met) on how this new thing called the Internet might change things. With the realization that the world of weddings was outdated, cluttered, and chaotic, the four of us formed The Knot Inc., now known as XO Group Inc., to help today’s brides and grooms plan the wedding that they want.

 

SK: How did your vision differ from the multitude of wedding planning services and magazines already available?

The wedding world was in dire need of a new voice, and the web was the perfect place to break ground. The Knot is a hipper alternative to some of the more traditional magazines. We cover everything from intermarriage to unconventional reception ideas, from gay marriages to meddlesome mothers-in-law. We provide not only resources but also a community for brides to get in touch with vendors. We have checklists, helpful tools, iPad, and iPhone apps to help brides whenever and wherever they are.

 

SK: Did venture capitalists react differently because your main delivery mechanism was this new thing, the worldwide web?

CR: We actually got our first round of financing from AOL, which was interested in websites that created content for women. The Internet was a low barrier medium for launching a brand. We did not need to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into creating a print magazine, nor did we need to find the ad dollars to support it. It was an instant launching pad.

 

But we realized early on we weren't creating a website, we were creating a brand. By focusing on the customer and remaining true to our vision, we created something that was hard to replicate. So we also leveraged the brand in more traditional media platforms, like books, to gain recognition and then began to transform everything to the ever-changing media.

 

SK: How does your role in the company mesh with your role as wife and mother?

CR: It is all about finding a balance. While the company means so much, you must make time for your marriage. It took us seven years to finally start vacationing. David and I definitely co-parent the company, but oftentimes he does more of the traveling so that I can be home with our three kids.

 

When we were securing capital, it was great to have David by my side to prove we were in it for the long run. Venture capitalists will assert that a female entrepreneur’s pregnancy and motherhood aren’t factors in deciding whether to invest—that it’s all about good ideas and the management team. But I can pretty much guarantee you, behind closed doors it is a factor. In those first months of having a business and having a baby, the baby was a complete and total secret, as a way of letting me to prove my dedication to the company.

 

As chief content officer, I have a very hands-on role in the company and like to see all of the projects we create from start to finish. Similarly, the advice I give to working moms is to never feel guilty. There are times where your company has to come first, and times where your kids do, and that’s just the way it is.

 

SK: Was there a "magic moment" when you realized that online wedding planning was only the first stage in the evolution of the company?

CR: We always knew that we wanted to branch out. We just believed we would have five new categories in five years--when it took us more than 10 years. Of course we eventually launched TheNest.com in 2005 and The Bump.com a few years later.

 

My ultimate vision for XO Group is to be the world’s best resource for weddings, home, pregnancy, and everything in between. We also want to be the blueprint for the media company of the 21st century. A brand that can live in any medium, that’s multi-platform and multi-revenue.

 

SK: What prompted the decision to create a Chinese equivalent?

CR: We noticed that affluent brides in China who were planning western-inspired weddings were visiting our U.S. site. China's wedding market is valued at $62 billion, with 10-million couples getting married every year. Because of the culture differences, though, we couldn’t just translate our existing products.

 

We never expected an overnight payoff with the expansion into China—it’s a long-term bet. We’re looking for partnerships and different ways to monetize our depth of editorial expertise on Western weddings.


SK: What was behind XO Group's decision to go public?

CR: It was important for us to provide our brides (and our expanded audience) something they so desperately wanted on a larger platform—and going public provided the backing to make it happen. Since going public, shareholder communication and investor relations play into much of our daily corporate decisions. That said, going public was a huge marketing event for us—catapulting our brand and business model into the public eye in the wedding world and beyond.


SK: What's next? Might you consider moving to another startup?

CR: Digital communication is such a fast-changing media, it feels like we're involved in creating new startups all the time! The Knot was best of class in 1996, but what we offered 17 years ago certainly wouldn't satisfy customers of 2012 who check in with us using mobile phone technology and the iPad.

 

We’ll continue what we’ve been doing—listening to what our community needs. One of our initiatives is to provide hyper-personalized and hyper-localized information. For example, if a bride identifies that her wedding color will be blue, we can lead her to content for blue flowers, blue favors, etc., as well as a message board where she can connect with other brides using the color blue.

 

SK: What advice can you give other entrepreneurs?

CR: Research, research, research. Know your market inside and out, but at the end of the day go with your gut. Trust your instincts, and you actually can make anything possible.

 

Be willing to make sacrifices in the early days. It will come in the form of free time, money, and your social life. But once you have your feet on solid ground, it all evens out.

 

Know when to divide and conquer. You have to be willing to let go and trust your business partners. Unfortunately you can’t do everything, and it certainly won’t be efficient or effective if you do.

 

Be passionate about what you do. If you’re investing this much of your life into the business, make sure it’s something you’re proud of.

 

However, always stay grounded. You will inevitably have some humbling moments (like mine: speaking to a group of four people on a rainy Saturday in a basement of the hotel!), but never be “too good for” anything as you’re building your business.

 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

WorkplaceCulture_Body.jpgby Cindy Waxer.

According to Ann Rhoades, founder of People Ink, a business culture consultancy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a friendly and inviting corporate culture is not only de rigueur—it’s good for business. “Companies are more relaxed these days,” says Rhoades. “Employees coming out of school want to work in a place that mirrors their values and where they can contribute ideas. They want to participate in a culture that’s open and transparent.” Rhoades would know. For more than 25 years, she’s been helping high-performing companies like Southwest Airlines, Doubletree Hotels, and JetBlue Airways develop people-centric workplace cultures. In an interview with business writer Cindy Waxer, Rhoades discusses the signs and side effects of both casual and formal corporate cultures.

CW: What’s the key difference between a casual and formal corporate culture?

AR: In a casual corporate culture, employees know that even when their opinion is contrarian, expressing it is something that’s encouraged. Leaders don’t want to just hear what they say repeated. They want contrarian views and for people to have other ideas to contribute. In a closed environment, however, one where it’s the old autocratic, top-down environment, you can almost tell while walking through the office. People aren’t laughing or relaxing. Typically at those companies you see high turnover and you don’t see great customer service numbers.

Also, when there is a belief that you can’t go above the person you report to, and that you can hardly say hello to the person above you, that’s a very closed and quiet environment. In a casual culture, on the other hand, people are asked their opinion on a daily basis and they’re constantly communicated to about what’s going on in the organization. They don’t have to keep information close to their vest.

WorkplaceCulture_PQ.jpgCW: What are the physical signs that a company’s culture is either too formal or too casual?

AR: In an open environment, employees tend to have more personal things out in the open, like pictures of their family. In a closed environment, everything tends to be exactly the same in every single cubicle and in every single office.

CW: Can you provide specific examples of companies with well-balanced corporate cultures?

AR: It’s much more relaxed at JetBlue and Southwest Airlines where I served as Chief People Officer before launching People Ink, yet we were more productive than most companies. Our performance in terms of financials was very competitive and we also had one of the most transparent organizations I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They’re very casual about certain things like dress but they are not casual about customer service. They take their customers, their organization and their work very seriously.

CW: Can an organization have a loose corporate culture and encourage high performance?

AR: Just being loose and transparent isn’t good enough. An organization that encourages great behaviors, including having fun and being transparent is great, but it must also perform. At Southwest, we demanded performance. Everybody had a defined strategic plan, we had a defined plan for all departments and they delivered on that demand. A loose culture and high performance aren’t mutually exclusive. Having fun and enjoying work doesn’t mean you aren’t productive. Engaged employees will create a more productive and higher performing company.

CW: How can a company properly assess its corporate culture and whether it’s too formal or casual?

AR: Many people believe that they have a great corporate culture, yet they can’t understand why they have high turnover and people don’t appear to be happy and productive. We tell people to really assess their culture by looking at what your customers are telling you, what employees are telling you in surveys and any feedback you can derive through focus groups. People Ink visits different sites and people tell us what the culture is really like. You’d be amazed by how open people are with you.

Watercooler_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.

 

Can you hear me now? It’s fun to echo that Verizon slogan in jest when meeting up with friends at a loud restaurant or walking and talking on a busy street while using your iPhone. However, in today’s business world, it’s the main question small business owners should be asking the most important people in their world: their employees.

 

From updates on company policies, software training sessions, or the annual Groundhog Day party, internal communication is as vital to your business as having a great product. When communication works, employees can create a loyal, engaged company atmosphere. But if, as in the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke,” you have a “failure to communicate,” the result can be poor daily performance, increased turnover, and decreased net profits.

 

Whether your business has three people or 300, staying connected with your employees is tricky. Relying on emails or a “How was your weekend?” chance run-in by the water cooler doesn’t work any more. The new reality is that, for many small companies, there isn’t even an office, let alone a water cooler. So, owners are turning to new technologies to communicate with their workforce while striving to remain focused on tried-and-true basics.

 

Watercooler_PQ.jpgChange how your message is delivered

You are the master of the email, the wizard of the memo, the guru of the Google calendar. But all of those lack a key component: seeing someone’s face. Why not send a video message versus an email? “Today, people are bombarded by text: emails, text messages, IMs. It's hard to stand out, and hard to get your employee's attention. Video
 puts you right there next to them,” says Greg Zumas, president and co-founder of StudyPoint, a leading national provider of one-to-one, in-home test preparation, and 
academic tutoring.

 

Tom Murray, president and CEO of Villa La PAWS, runs two pet resorts and a canine training academy in Phoenix and one pet resort in Castle Rock, Colorado. He incorporates video, specifically Skype, into many areas of his business. ”Participating in a face-to-face meeting or a gathering is, and will always be, the most effective venue for selling, conveying a message, and building long-lasting relationships,” he says, “Today, I can sit across the table, albeit a virtual one, and observe head nodding, witness emotions and facial contortions, or I can even join in a belly laugh.”

 

Zumas points out another advantage of video over other traditional communication methods: it can be replayed. “Messages are missed the first time," he says. "If you're trying to say something complex, a recorded video allows the
 viewer to pause, rewind, or replay it later.”

 

Try new platforms to get connected 

If you weed through long email chains that do not address time-sensitive questions or have consistent problems providing project documents to more than one worker, you have an internal communication structure that isn’t working. It’s worth investing in and trying out new software and technology to connect and engage everyone on your payroll.

 

CEO of Remote Stylist, Kelly Fallis, oversees her interior design start-up company of 20 people  utilizing software programs like Nimble to ensure streamlined productivity among her teams, which are scattered across locations from Ottawa to New York. “[Nimble] allows employees to share files, videos and images easily across all computers.  Assigning tasks in Nimble is useful—all team members can see who is responsible for what and stay on track even if they aren't able to discuss it in person,” she says.

 

Khaleelah Jones, a writing and communications consultant, serves as the communications chair on the board for the non-profit Awaken Africa and found that having a solid, working intranet is key for engaging everyone—those located in South Africa and elsewhere on the globe. “[We] set up a great intranet site that includes everything any employee could
 need, from payroll information to a message board that notifies users when a 
message is posted,” she says, “In this way, [our] small, international organization is
 connected enough to know about important events including—but not limited 
to—the birth of a new baby or the addition of a new service line.”

 

Apps aren’t just for games anymore. Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx, an Austin-based company that automates payroll, billing, and cost
 accounting for businesses worldwide, uses a variety of communication apps to stay connected. “A clear line of communication with 
assistants or other personnel can maximize office efficiency,” he says, “Office Bleepster and other individual communication apps allow for 
communication during meetings or while on phone calls. With a single tap of the finger, you can send a message without 
interrupting a speaker or another executive during a meeting or
 presentation.”


Rebuild your fundamentals

Nothing replaces good basic communication skills. With overscheduled, plugged-in schedules, those interpersonal elements often go unused. Take the time to connect with employees and, most especially, listen to them. “We use email, text, Twitter, telephone, Facebook and many other vehicles to deliver our message more than we sit down to have good old human interaction,” says Terry Jackson, who helps companies improve organizational effectiveness and profitability as a
managing partner of WEpiphany, “[As a result], most people do not have good listening skills. They listen to respond versus listening to understand.”

 

He points out a strong communicator does not just talk, but listens as well. “Listen for what is, not what you think it should be. It is the most important component of communication,” he emphasizes.  A good communicator keys into what is said, along with what isn’t. Become a keen observer of body language, engage with your employees, and take notice of how people interact with you and each other—hone that invaluable skill that will help you in every area of your business and beyond.

Body_SummerStaffing.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

Every time summer arrives, business owners worldwide face an eternal conundrum: how to manage your company’s vacation policy and get coverage when employees are out. For larger companies, there are usually enough staffers to fill in the gaps when warm weather beckons. But for smaller businesses with a skeletal staff, it becomes a hair-raising challenge. What then are some ways that small business owners can make sure that everyone gets their duly requested time off without hurting the bottom line?

 

1. Don’t be rigid when it comes to scheduling

Flexibility is a key priority to Sara Sutton Fell. So much so that five years ago she founded FlexJobs, a site for people seeking part-time, flexible or telecommuting jobs. Leading a staff of 24 employees, many of whom are working parents, Fell says the summer always requires adjustments in work schedules.

 

“We have flexible schedules where people set their own hours, but we still need to know generally when people are working to make sure we're meeting goals and customers' needs,” Fell says. “Our research and writing teams, the two biggest groups at the company, confer with their managers when they'll be working during the summer and we find coverage for them as needed.”

 

But sometimes a curveball, even if it’s pleasant, can be tossed into the mix and upend the prescribed order. Fell cites a summer vacation issue for one employee that cropped up recently.

 

“One of our writers was whisked away on a surprise anniversary vacation by her husband,” she explains. “The writers have a meeting every week so during that time we discussed the need to distribute her workload for a few days. Two volunteers immediately stepped up. That's usually how things are handled. We say, ‘Who is able or wants to take on some additional work for the next few days?’ Our staffers have always been great at picking up the slack because they know someone will do the same for them in the future.”

 

PQ_SummerStaffing.jpg2. Avoid the boilerplate approach

If you want to streamline your company’s summer vacation policy, treat everyone’s need for time off individually and with respect. Liza Anderson, founder and president of the five-year-old Anderson Group Public Relations, which caters to Hollywood’s crème de la crème, with clients drawn from TV shows (i.e. “Revenge,” “Criminal Minds”) and film (i.e. “The Dark Knight Rises” and the “Twilight” franchise), adheres to this work principle as she oversees a staff of 20 at her LA flagship office.

 

“Some people are going to want the beginning of the summer off, some the middle, and some the end,” Anderson says.  “It really depends on the individual employee.” But the overriding idea behind a small business’s vacation policy should be clear, she says: “You’re not afraid for them to take time off because you want them to recharge their batteries and to have a balanced life.” And because taking vacation can sometimes involve more serious and personal reasons than just getting out of a rut, Anderson recommends having an open door policy so employees won’t feel intimidated or embarrassed about asking for extra latitude or priority consideration during peak times. The more employees and employer communicate, the less chance there is of a staffing debacle.

 

Recently, Anderson learned this lesson the hard way when most of her staff bolted from the office to attend the three-day Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California in late April. What did the industrious Anderson do? “I wound up working double-shifts and answered phones with my intern,” she says, laughing.

 

3. Make sure staff requests time off way in advance

Jeanine Hamilton, founder and president of the Boston-based, Hire Partnership, a small recruiting firm with a staff of four, says because her company is so small, this best practice is an imperative.

 

“If two people [are off], we’re down 50 percent,” notes Hamilton. Although having two people out simultaneously at a larger company is fine, with other staffers providing coverage, it’s not such an easy proposition at a much smaller firm where everyone is on-site.

 

“You have to make sure you know who’s going to be out and when,” adds Hamilton. “We communicate to each other as soon as we know. I can look at everyone and say, ‘I’m going to be out on this day –let’s work around this.’”

 

4. Look to outside help

If you know that, for example, half of your staff will be out during the July 4th week, then it might behoove you to hire temporary help to tide you over until their return.

 

“If someone’s going to be out and I feel it’s going to be a busy day, I’ll bring in someone to help me with the phones,” explains Hamilton. “For example, I have somebody coming in just for the summer as a contractor to help me out with the recruiting side. I definitely think it’s a good way of filling in gaps.”

 

5. Tone down the micromanaging

“Assume everyone is an adult,” advises Fell. “Complicated vacation tracking systems and oversight can almost turn managers into parents who watch over their children's work habits because they can't be trusted.” Instead, she counsels creating a policy that assumes everyone at your small business can behave like a responsible adult. “Most managers will be surprised at how well people can handle a flexible vacation policy and how few people take advantage of it.”

 

Managing your company’s summer vacation policy can induce migraines if you are ill prepared and own a small business. But if you do your proper due diligence and make sure everyone is in the loop, the logistics should be as simple and breezy as a picnic on a warm, summer day. 

Body_AllWork.jpgby Sherron Lumley.

 

You don’t have to tell Jason Piatt that running a small business is a labor of love. Piatt founded the electronics manufacturer Praestar Controls with his father Jim in 1995. Today the business has grown to include design, manufacturing and consulting services with locations in eight states and two countries. “It’s not an eight-to-five day where at 5:01 I flip off the switch,” he says.  In fact, there are times when he finds himself working seven days a week on the business.

 

Many small business owners and their employees would no doubt empathize with the sacrifices required to run a successful company. According to data from the Families and Work Institute National Study of the Changing Workforce, feeling deprived of time with the important people in one’s life is on the rise, especially in small businesses. Of those surveyed, 75 percent feel they don’t have enough time with their children, 63 percent of people don’t have enough time for their partners and 60 percent say they don’t have enough time for themselves. When comparing small companies to large, the study found the small firms were even less likely to provide time off for vacation or flexible time for managing work-life issues.

 

Still, it’s all too easy for entrepreneurs to get all-absorbed by their business ventures (and expecting their employees to as well). However there are several important reasons to pay attention to that age-old proverb: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Regaining a sense of balance is just one of the benefits to enjoying time off this summer. Here are five more reasons to give yourself permission to take a break:

PQ_AllWork.jpgReason #1:  Set a good example

Piatt says setting an example for his employees is one of the main reasons he takes time off. “From my point of view, with a smaller team, if you don’t take time off to relax, everything can grind to a halt. “We’re working as hard as we can to meet demand,” he says.

 

“The worst victim could be your best employee,” Piatt explains. “Whether it’s to take a few days or let’s stop for the day, I want to make sure that they are taken care of, too.”

Reason #2: Get a fresh perspective

On the other side of the country, AnnMarie Hudson co-founded Millenium Dance Complex in North Hollywood, California with her husband Robert Baker in 1992, and after 20 years of steady growth, they are now expanding their dance studios both nationally and internationally through franchises and other opportunities. Their celebrity clientele includes the likes of Diddy, Gwen Stefani, Katie Holmes, Britney Spears, Pink, and Paris Hilton, to name a few.

 

“The beauty of having an arts business” says Hudson, “is it’s very fulfilling and now that we are franchising, I’m helping people starting out. I have to show them how valuable it is to always maintain other aspects of your life.”

 

Hudson practices what she preaches. “I’m more productive when I go away on a retreat weekend to relax. Getting a full night’s sleep and a change of scenery helps me to keep my head on my shoulders,” she says. “That filters down through the company.” And even when she can’t get away for a long weekend, Hudson finds ways to take quick micro-vacations from her busy company. “When you’re home, you’re working 24 hours a day and there are work triggers,” says Hudson, “so I try to find friends outside of my business to go and spend a day and not talk about work.”

 

Reason #3: Refresh your mind, body, and soul

For Piatt, there’s a philosophical benefit to physically and mentally clocking out of work. “If you don’t take time off, you lose sight of why you started [your business] in the first place. It’s detrimental to your health,” he says. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, he will sometimes take a few days from his schedule and head into nearby Washington, D.C. to visit museums and art exhibits for intellectual nourishment.

 

“I don’t want to be away that long,” he acknowledges. “There is a little bit of the guilt factor, thinking perhaps there is a better return using that money to reinvest in the business.”

 

Maria Gamb has seen this guilt factor before. Gamb, a best-selling author who left the corporate world behind to found her own small business, now mentors highly successful people through retreats and workshops. 

 

“I know many business owners have a difficult time justifying taking time off from work. But I do advocate taking down-time, scheduling it if you have to. Otherwise, you burn out. The reason most people became entrepreneurs was to have time and freedom. Often they don't take it,” says Gamb.

 

“Someone with clarity is infinitely more attractive to work with than someone who is stressed out and whose brain is over-taxed,” Gamb adds. “Being that example benefits each of us on a personal level—mentally, physically and spiritually.”

 

Reason #4 Family comes first

Like Gamb, Sander Flaum struck out on his own after decades in the corporate world, starting his consulting firm Flaum Navigators, after retiring from a global corporation. Today, he’s chairman of Fordham University’s Leadership Forum, which brings the world’s top CEOs in to speak on the subject. However, Flaum maintains that for true leaders, work-life balance often appears as a mirage. 

 

“It’s about performance,” says Flaum. “Trust me, if you want to stay on top, your mind is on staying on top and getting the work done. You have to focus. There is work and when there is time, there’s balance.”

 

There is one soft spot in his armor, however, and that is his family. There was a moment, now long ago, when Flaum’s son was pitching a baseball game and he was not in the stands to see it—instead he’d hopped on a flight to London at the last minute to close a deal. Missing out on events such as these can’t be undone. “Family is number one,” acknowledges Flaum, “clearly there is no number two.”

 

Reason #5: Do it for your health

Plenty of science also backs up the notion that taking time to relax and go on vacation is good for your health. In the famous Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked the health outcomes of 5,209 townspeople from Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948, researchers from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute have looked closely at correlations between lifestyle and longevity. And that’s just what they’ve found. The participants who took more vacations also lived longer.

 

So, take a vacation—your business and life may very well depend on it!

Body_PerformReview.jpgby Susan Caminiti.

 

Let’s face it: Few business owners actually like doing performance reviews. In the midst of running the day-to-day operations of your company, not to mention mapping out your strategy for growth over the next few years, what you really want is for your staff to do their jobs—and to do them well.

 

That’s an admirable goal, say management consultants, but it won’t happen without some thoughtful guidance from you and—if your company is big enough—your top team. “A performance review is not just about how the employee has done in the past,” says Jaye Smith, president of Breakwater Consulting in New York City. “It’s a look at how he or she can do a better job in the future, and how you, as the boss, can help facilitate that.”

 

PQ_PerformReview.jpgA 2011 Workplace Practices survey by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that more than 90 percent of the companies that responded do, in fact, conduct employee evaluations yearly. The results were statistically the same for both large and small firms. That effort does not go unnoticed by workers. BlessingWhite, a leadership development firm, recently did a global study showing that employees feel that career development and training are among the top drivers of job satisfaction, which often leads to lower turnover and greater productivity.

 

Be Consistent

Getting the most from employee appraisals involves doing a few simple things well. Chief among them: consistency. “Reviews have to be done on a regular basis in order to be useful,” says Smith. She recommends at the beginning of January, (“To set the tone for how you want the rest of the year to unfold,” she says) and then again, perhaps at mid-year as a way to check in and address any little issues before they blossom into bigger problems.

 

At Local Projects, a New York City-based media design firm for museums and public spaces, studio manager Tiya Gordon says employees get in-person annual performance during their first two years at the company and then on a more informal basis thereafter. “We’re structured in a way that there are high demands on people here in terms of workload,” Gordon says. “We want to make sure during those first two years that we’re happy and the employee is happy with how the company is run and what is expected of them. If things are going smoothly after two years, the conversations happen more casually and usually revolve around the future and salary increases.”

 

With the exception of the senior management and the owner of the company, Gordon does all the performance reviews. She carves out about 90 minutes for each and prefers to start by asking what she and the company can do to make that employee’s job easier. “Sometimes it’s something simple like getting help from an intern or upgrades on equipment on a more frequent basis,” she explains. Other requests, she laughs, are not so easy to accommodate. “Taking the staff and their families on annual retreats is not really in the budget, but I’ve had someone ask for that, too,” she says.

Be Concise

It’s important to document what takes place during an employee’s evaluation, but that doesn’t have to mean reams of paperwork as a result. If the process becomes too burdensome, with complex forms to be filled out, the inclination is often to skip the reviews altogether, says Smith. “For a small business owner without an HR department, this can become overwhelming,” she says.

 

It doesn’t have to be. On one or two sheets of paper, she recommends outlining the most important questions to cover:

  • What do you feel is working well in your job?
  • Where do you feel improvements can be made?
  • Are there challenges in your way that I (as the small business owner) can help alleviate?
  • What would you like to accomplish in the next year?

 

Be Honest

If an employee’s performance is lacking or causing turmoil among colleagues, it’s crucial to address these concerns head-on. “Nothing that’s said at a performance review should come as a shock to the employee,” Smith says. If there are problems with a worker, they should be addressed as they occur throughout the year and not just at review time.

 

Andrina Bigelow, CEO of Fran’s Chocolates, a Seattle, Washington-based mail order and retail business started by her mother in 1982, says she “dives right in,” if there are problems to discuss during a performance review. “It has to be clear from the beginning what the expectations are of the individual,” she says, noting that Fran’s has 65 employees. “If there’s a disconnect between those expectations and the performance, then you’re doing them a disserve by not being upfront about it.”

 

For employees who are new to the company, a little more guidance is often all that’s needed to turn around a situation, Bigelow says. If problems arise with an employee who’s been with the company for a number of years, that’s often harder to resolve. In those cases she’ll meet with an employee on an informal basis to discuss the performance issue and ways that it can be improved. “These conversations are never easy,” Bigelow notes, but the alternative is no better. “Not discussing the problem just means it can get worse,” she says. “The only way to make progress is to identify what’s not working and then look for ways to fix it.”

 

 

Resource Guide
  • Inc. magazine has a Performance Review Template that can be downloaded. The template is customizable and includes sections on job-related skills, problem-solving, and managerial abilities.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management offers members a tool kit, including sample policies and forms.
  • Check out the Small Business Administration for the nearest small business development centers. They can refer you to a local HR consultant who can offer guidance in starting employee reviews or formalizing existing ones.

Body_WorkLifebalance.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

“I believe that if you provide the right working environment, people enjoy work,” says Colin Earl, CEO of EnterpriseWizard, a web-based business solutions company in Silicon Valley. This attitude—fueled by the desire to avoid the sort of office politics Earl had experienced at a previous job—greatly influenced the United Kingdom native when he founded his company 20 years ago. The result: telecommuting, a relaxed dress code, and free food on-site are regular options for all his employees.

 

Although traditional business proponents might dismiss some of these choices as soft or unorthodox, Earl views them as necessary to the bottom line. If you offer your workers more flexibility and a better work/life balance, the chances are greater that they will be happier and more productive. In this vein, happy workers translate into healthy profit margins.

 

For employees with family obligations such as children or ailing relatives, having a work schedule that affords flexibility can be a lifesaver. But like other things in life deemed too good to be true, this goodwill needed to be harnessed correctly by small business owners lest they be abused. Telecommuters who routinely take off hours during the workday to attend to personal matters, or who otherwise fudge the number of hours dedicated to a project, for instance, are not good for the morale of other staffers—or the bottom line.

 

“The main thing is to make sure that the employee’s self-interest is aligned with the business self-interest and vice versa,” advises Earl. At the same time, he adds that it’s critical for small business owners to create a culture in which employees know that if they blunder, they will be penalized just as they will be rewarded if they do well.

 

Creating Balance

According to a 2011 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, not having an equitable work/life balance continues to rankle employees. Among the findings, nearly nine in ten working Americans say work/life balance is a problem, and over half—54 percent—called it a “significant” problem. In addition, 43 percent of workers do not think that their employer is doing enough to address work/life balance issues.

 

To address this issue, businesses are increasingly turning to flexible hours and work from home solutions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 nearly one quarter— 24 percent—of all employed persons did some or all of their work at home. (Men and women were about equally likely to telecommute.) Perhaps not surprisingly, entrepreneurs are leading this trend, as the BLS found that self-employed workers were three times more likely than salaried workers to have worked from home—64 percent vs. 19 percent.

 

PQ_WorkLifebalance.jpgEmphasize results over hours worked

Erik Huberman, CEO of Swag of the Month, a year-old retail discount company with a staff of eight based in Santa Monica, California, echoes Earl’s sentiments about accommodating workers to improve their work/life balance.

 

“If you are going to allow for flextime and remote work, make sure work is more about deliverables and specific goals,” he notes. “If you make it an hours thing, it’s easy for employees to get distracted. If they know what is expected of them, they will generally rise to the occasion.”

 

Cultivate the virtual world

To allow busy staffers to be occasionally off-site to tend to a personal obligation, train them in web-based programs such as Salesforce.com, Quickbooks Online and Google Docs. This will give them the tools to continue working when they’re not on-site and meet project goals without being at their desk or at a sales counter.

 

For James Sinclair, a principal at OnSite Consulting, a nine-year-old nationwide hospitality consulting firm, giving up office space three years ago and going virtual has been a boon for him and his staff of 65 full- and part-timers. Not only has it drastically lowered overhead costs for Sinclair’s business, but, according to him, it has also increased revenues by having employees in the field at all times.

 

“The ‘lightbulb’ moment came because I was virtual anyway,” recalls Sinclair. “I spend 200-plus days on the road so I had been virtual for years and been using a hodgepodge of technology to get data access anywhere, be paperless, and stay in touch with project management.”  Coincidently, the lease renewal on the company’s office came up for renewal and because clients rarely visited, Sinclair thought the timing was auspicious to make the shift to virtual.

 

Using Microsoft’s Office 365 technology platform, which aggregates all documents and communications into one hub, Sinclair and his staff now work wherever they are. The end results have been worth it, he says.

 

“Now staff is managed on goals met and not hours worked or schlepping to the office,” he continues. “The result is that people became more available, more passionate about work, and more thrilled to be working for me and vice versa. My employee efficiency skyrocketed and, above all, I now have an advantage against my competitors. They could lure my staff with more money, but not with the lifestyle I can afford [my employees].”

 

Think like a maverick

If you’re serious about implementing ways to improve your employee’s work/life balance, then you will need to think creatively. Further, ask yourself how these changes will be both in your company’s and in your employee’s best interests.

 

“Disregard the norm,” urges Earl. For instance, in his ongoing quest to appeal to both his employees’ and his company’s best interests, Earl says he offers his staff free food. 

 

“People tend to work a little later when they’re not hungry,” he says. “When it’s 5 p.m. and they have a snack they’re more likely to work until 6 p.m. I’ve been to companies where employees had to pay for their own coffee.”

 

Improving an employee’s work/life balance hinges on how flexible a small business owner is willing to be. Taking the time to be clear with your staff about expectations is key to your success in managing any new work arrangements. Expect a few hiccups in the beginning, but keep in mind that in our world of 24/7 instant communication, allowing flexibility for your employees has never been easier.

 

If you are thinking of offering telecommuting as a viable option for your employees, check out the following articles for helpful tips.

 

Body_HSA.jpgby Sherron Lumley.

 

A health savings account (HSA) is an option available to small businesses that when used in combination with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) provides an affordable way to offer medical benefit to employees. For the employer, there is a significant benefit—contributions made to an employee’s HSA are tax deductible. For the employee, the benefit from the employer is not considered part of gross income for tax purposes, so the funds contributed are not subject to federal income tax. Funds in the account belong to the employee from day one and accumulate if not spent from year to year.

 

“The HSA is very easy and efficient to set up,” says Sandy Abalos, CPA and small business owner of Abalos & Associates, a full-service accounting firm in Phoenix, Ariz. “I have 15 employees and we have an HSA plan here,” she notes.  “We pay 100 percent of the cost of the health plan deductible.  As the employer I can make contributions for the employees that are deductible to me.”

 

HSAs are a bit of a hybrid between flex spending accounts and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). They first became available in 2003 and have since experienced a slow, but steady adoption rate. The 2011 census released by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Center for Policy and Research showed 11.4 million people in the U.S. were covered by HSAs.

 

PQ_HSA.jpg“The HSA is like a medical IRA,” says CPA Sandy Abalos. “The money is not a use-or-lose situation.  It is [the employee’s] and the account goes on even if they change jobs or insurance coverage.” And much like an IRA, an HSA is established through annual contributions, which can be up to 100 percent of the plan's deductible amount or up to the maximum contribution levels determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each year. Details about contribution level limits are regularly updated in IRS publication 969.

 

Health savings accounts are managed by HSA trustees, usually a bank, insurance company or other financial institution. Typically, there is no charge for setting up the HSAs for employees. 

 

“Every employee has their own HSA account,” Abalos explains. “You set it up with a bank or insurance company, there is no application or authorization needed from the IRS, and no other fees.”

 

No other insurance allowed—with exceptions

However, in order to prevent people from obtaining the financial benefits of an HSA while protecting themselves with other health insurance plans, the law restricts the other coverage one may have. There are some exceptions, though, such as auto and life insurance, accident insurance, insurance for a specific disease or illness, and insurance that pays for a fixed amount per day for hospitalization. 

What else is new?

“What’s new is not necessarily positive,” says Abalos. “Before 2011, you could pay for over the counter (OTC) medicines with an HSA,” but now this is not the case.  As a result, small business owners should be aware that starting with tax year 2011, a medicine or drug will be a qualified medical expense only if it meets one of the following three criteria:

 

  1. Requires a prescription.
  2. Is available without a prescription (an over-the-counter medicine or drug) but you still get a prescription for it.
  3. Is insulin.

 

Insulin is now the only OTC medicine approved for reimbursement in 2012 without a prescription. The penalty of 10 percent for ineligible expenses paid with HSA funds increases to 20 percent in 2012.

 

New contribution limits:  In 2011, the IRS introduced new contribution limits of $3,050 for individuals or $6,150 for families. The annual catch-up limit for those 55 years of age and older is $1,000 (single or family). 

 

In 2012, these contribution limits will be raised to $3,100 for singles and $6,250 for families.  The catch-up limit (55 and over) stays the same at $1,000 for singles or families.

 

The new HDHP Minimum Required Deductibles:


Self: $1,200
Family: $2,400
HDHP Out-Of-Pocket Maximum - Family: $12,100
HDHP Out-Of-Pocket Maximum - Self: $6,050

 

An HDHP plan typically has lower premiums than a traditional plan. “Premiums were out-of-control and sky-rocketing,” recalls Abalos. “I asked myself, ‘If I were an employee, what would I like?’” She says that the HSA was an option that allowed her employees to have a health insurance plan with good coverage, but was still affordable.

 

“We pay 100 percent of the premium—that’s the amount that I put in the employees account,” says Abalos. “The money is not a use-or-lose situation,” she adds.  “It is theirs and the account goes on even if they change jobs or insurance coverage. It’s a great opportunity.”

 

Sidebar:  Additional HSA Resources:

 

 

 

For more HSA questions, try these IRS helplines:

1-800-829-1040 for individuals

1-800-829-4933 for businesses

 

As always, since every business's situation is unique, we recommend consulting a qualified tax advisor.

Body_StaffingIssues.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.


Imagine this scenario: After some early struggles, your small business is starting to make money.  Your customers are loyal and steady and you are at a point where you can easily pay your overhead and vendors (while taking a healthy salary for yourself). More so than ever, you are ready to open a second location.


Such a proposition presents exciting opportunities for a growing business but it also offers considerable challenges. The biggest hurdle—aside from finding a convenient and affordable location in relatively good condition—is personnel. How are you going to find reliable employees  that you’ll be able to trust when you’re not around?


Transfer responsible employees to the second location

If you know straight off that you will not be present much at your company’s second branch, consider transferring key employees who are already well-versed in how your business runs. Such a move will not only save you a lot of sleepless nights, but it will also give your second location a running start by staffing it with trained personnel who can prioritize and act responsibly on your behalf.


Keep in mind some potential pitfalls, however. Moving original staff to a second branch could cause disruption to the workflow at the flagship location. Further, original staffers might not be adept at training a new team to handle company protocol while also dealing with the work volume. That’s why it’s important to fully explain expectations to your flagship staff before you begin shifting workers around.


Hire only when necessary

This may sound counterintuitive when you’re looking to expand, but if your business is a small mom and pop-owned operation with limited funds, it’s an important point to consider.


“Don’t take on the added expense of extra employees until you really need to,” advises Lucille Skroce, co-owner of Matisse Chocolatier, an Englewood, New Jersey-based gourmet chocolate shop that recently opened a second branch in Orangeburg, New York. “You work with what you have until you can’t do it anymore.”


Skroce, who purchased the business in 1995 with her husband Vlado, cites a familiar scourge as the reason for the expansion. “My husband has been unemployed in the construction industry the last three years,” she admits. “[Matisse Chocolatier] is the one business [in our family] that’s doing OK so we thought maybe we can do it again and have another revenue stream coming in.”


Since the second location opened last December, Skroce and her husband have been its full-time staff. However, she recently hired a part-time employee who is not a transplant from the flagship store, which has two full-timers and several part-timers. This addition allows Skroce time to pursue other things and “have a life,” she says.


Don’t sacrifice customer service

Replicating the success of your flagship at a second or even third location means offering the same level of customer service. Don’t sabotage those efforts by skimping on your employee training.


“Our clients love the ability to talk to a real person every time they call in,” says Craig Rollins, CEO of LJCooper Wealth Advisors, a small wealth management firm that launched in Utah in 2000 and has since branched out to offices in Colorado, California, and Florida. “I will never have an automatic or phone tree installed because our customers go out of their way to tell us how much they appreciate being able to speak to a live person.”


“Servicing your clientele needs to be about providing a quality experience that is repeatable and reliable from the receptionist to the CEO,” says Rollins. “Management should staff according to how good they want their customers’ experience to be.”


Even though Lucille and Vlado Skroce are the full-time team at their new location, they are slowly integrating their part-time employee into the new store. The goal of this take-it-slow approach is to give them the time to sufficiently train the new hire so that eventually she will be able to run the second location with little to no supervision.


PQ_StaffingIssues.jpgHire via word of mouth

For small business owners, hiring a new worker through referrals, rather than placing an ad on an industry job board or a site like Craigslist, may be their best bet. Filling a position via word of mouth fosters a greater climate of reliability.

“When you have a small family-run business, your whole family and life revolves around it,” says Skroce. “That’s why it’s so important that the people you bring in are people you can trust.”

 

Find future employees among customers

“Learn from your prototype what you want out of your staff, then start building buzz to attract that type of individual long before your new store opens,” advises Edward Liesenfelt, general manager of Gelato Paradiso, an Italian dessert shop that opened in Newport Beach, California in 1999 and expanded to a second location in Laguna Beach in 2006. “The reason you are expanding is likely because your flagship location is popular enough to warrant a new venture. Use that to leverage interest in your new location not only from consumers but for potential employees as well.”


 

Using a strategy similar to that employed by the Skroces, Liesenfelt says Gelato Paradiso, which typically hires employees on a part-time hourly basis, does not advertise vacant positions—even on its website. Rather, Liesenfelt says he looks for applicants drawn from customers that have expressed an interest in working at the shop.

  

 

“This way, when we require new help, we start with an applicant base that has already come in, tasted our product, and taken the initiative to get a foot in the door,” he explains .“By the time new prospects fill out their applications, they have already envisioned themselves as a part of our company, which shows during the interview process and beyond.” 

 

 

Never forget that employees are your best brand ambassadors. Hire smartly and you will foster a work dynamic that will not only make workers want to be part of that environment but attract enthusiastic customers to your next store as well.

Body_QAtopchef.jpgBy Susan Caminiti.

 

At Gramercy Tavern in New York City—consistently rated as one of the top restaurants in the country—Executive Chef Michael Anthony (right), 44, oversees a kitchen staff of nearly 70 people and knows a thing or two about leading a team in a pressure-filled environment. He recently spoke with business writer Susan Caminiti about learning to delegate, the best ways to motivate employees, and why it’s important for the boss to occasionally disconnect from the action.

SC: Running a kitchen is often portrayed as such a command-and-control way of leading. Is that accurate?

MA: It can be, but my style is actually a bit counter-intuitive to the restaurant industry, where the golden rule is that the guest always comes first. The number one goal at Gramercy is to take care of each other. When I first came here in 2006 and met [owner] Danny Meyer, I felt like we had a number of things in common when it came to managing people, and I felt drawn to his sense of respect and devotion to his employees. That business philosophy felt attractive and comfortable to me.

SC: How does it play out in your management style?

MA: When it comes to managing people, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. It’s one size fits one. Each person brings individual talents and needs to be motivated in a different way. By recognizing that, I’ve become a better leader and we’ve become a better team. I feel confident in my ability to cook great food and to teach people how to be great cooks, but we are a much better restaurant when we tap into the individual talents of the people I’ve chosen to be part of the staff.

SC: That sounds incredibly time consuming. How do you manage it?

MA: You’re right—it takes an enormous amount of time, attention, and energy but that’s part of the mission of being a good leader. Certainly half of my job is creating and cooking great dishes and serving them in a wonderful way. But the other half is effectively managing the folks that I work with. In my line of business we are bound by the hours of the restaurant and in our case it’s from noon until the end of the evening, sometimes midnight or later. Some of that meaningful conversation with my staff happens after the dinner service ends at midnight or 1 am. That’s challenging, so as a good manager I’m always trying to balance what’s best for the restaurant with what’s best for that individual.

PQ_QAtopchef.jpgSC: What mistakes did you make early on?

MA: As a young chef I made the mistake of believing that I could do it all. The problem with that is that you can’t sustain it. I realized through lots of guidance and time that if I don’t have energy to give to my team, I really don’t have much to offer.

SC: How did you overcome that desire to do it all?

MA: First, I’ll say it wasn’t a matter of not trusting people. It was simply a selfish decision on my part—I love cooking so much and I didn’t want to miss one moment of it. I wanted to be in the center of it at every moment. I think a lot of leaders are like that. In order to change I had to learn: How do I formulate my ideas, share them in a clear, poised way, and make sure that I create realistic and ambitious expectations for the people who work for me? I have to be able to take a step back to make sure we’re putting our top managers in a position to respond creatively to issues and problems that come up every day. It can’t always be me. And that’s one of the benefits of making employees feel understood and valued: they look forward to coming to work and appreciate those ambitious expectations. Champions want to be challenged.

SC: What if someone isn’t meeting those expectations?

MA: We have something at Gramercy called “continuous gracious pressure.” In practical terms that means if there is an issue with an employee, it sometimes takes active coaching on my part or on the part of one of my sous chefs. So if there is someone on our staff who is falling short and just not understanding something that’s important, it requires more individual contact and dialogue.

SC: How do you balance the time needed for big picture thinking and the daily obligations of running a very busy kitchen?

MA: I used to call that big picture time “walk-in time” because it would happen late at night when I would stroll through the prep and walk-in areas of our kitchen and hold ingredients, just waiting for those moments of inspiration to come up with dishes for the next day or week. It just wasn’t sustainable. I would find myself in the restaurant until 3 a.m. and then not in a good position to be back in the next day for morning prep time.

SC: How did you fix that?

MA: I figured out how many hours a day I needed to be productive in those creative areas and made it part of my schedule. So there are now 2½ hours in my week that are as important as any meeting or any lunch or dinner service. They are ‘do not book’ hours and they are sacred. Sometimes I’ll spend it in my office; other times I’ll actually be in the middle of the busy kitchen working on menu development and nothing else.

SC: What’s the benefit of doing it that way?

MA: What could be more important than taking the time to develop the cooking that we do? However, I had to learn to be disciplined about it. I had to communicate ahead of time with my staff to remind them what I was working on without getting frustrated. When I communicate well people are actually happy I’m doing this because there’s a payoff for them: new dishes, better organization, a better-run restaurant. So while it could feel a little off-putting in the beginning because it looked like I wasn’t responding to questions, people quickly understood and actually rallied around it.

SC: What is still the biggest challenge for you?

MA: All of it! But seriously, if I say no to something, then I better be able to be honest and open about why I’m saying no. And if I say yes, then everybody needs to understand why I said yes. If the reasoning is murky then it’s very difficult for people to turn around and offer creative ideas. They don’t understand what makes an idea successful or valid. In a highly creative environment, leaders have to make sure they’re not allowing their emotions—whether that be pride or insecurity—get in the way.

Body_Turnover-sm.jpgBy Sherron Lumley.

 

Small businesses want the same top talent that large businesses do, but holding on to good employees is challenging when jobs are plentiful. As a result, small business owners have to be especially creative when it comes to attracting—and retaining—the best workers.

 

The numbers help tell the story. Since the official end of the recession in July of 2009, job openings are up 45 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey. In the first month of 2012, there were a more robust 3.5-million job openings, although that number remains below the 4.3 million mark before the recession began in December 2007. But even in those good old pre-recession days, employee turnover was higher for small businesses than for larger businesses, according to a report by the U.S. Small Business Administration, (SBA). 

 

“Both large and small companies want to hire the same people,” says Casey Alseika, partner of WatsonBarron LLC, an executive recruiting firm in Spring Lake, N.J. His company works with clients ranging in size from major corporations to family-owned small businesses, providing him with a unique vantage point on the matter. 

 

“Larger companies have taken the stance that the job market is not great and they have reduced their numbers and have fewer people doing more work,” says Alseika. “On the other hand, smaller companies are doing the opposite, trying to create a better overall quality-of-life experience for their employees,” he says.

First, hire the right people

Shawn Whisenhunt is the owner of Performace Prototypes, a manufacturing business in Vancouver, Washington that makes parts for excavators, forklifts and other heavy industrial equipment. He’s in his eighth year of operations with 14 employees and has had zero employee turnover since day one. So what’s his secret?

 

When it comes to hiring, Whisenhunt admits to being selective, taking care to make sure it’s a good fit before a position is offered. After that, “It’s a pretty simple equation,” he says. “Treat employees decently and pay them decently and they will be loyal. I’ve yet to have anyone quit on me.”

 

He describes the culture at his company as busy yet laid back, and says even though the workers could possibly make a bit more elsewhere, they stay because they like the work atmosphere. 

 

“I let them listen to the stereo all day and they don’t have a set schedule. They can go to lunch when they want, and we have all-you-can-drink coffee,” he says.  “As long as they’re turning out good products, I’m happy.” 

PQ_Turnover.jpgThen, create the right culture

Kevin Sheridan is Senior Vice President of Human Resources Optimization for Avatar Solutions in Chicago and author of the new book, Building a Magnetic Culture. While he  was surprised to see his book shoot to best-seller status, he feels its popularity underscores the mounting concern and interest that businesses have in attracting and retaining talent.

 

“The top reason people leave,” says Sheridan, “is lack of work-life balance, combined with job stress, which is the perfect storm for disengagement.” Work-life balance, he explains, means employees want to have flexible job hours to deal with things that come up from day to day and they also want the ability to telecommute or work from home, which lets them save money on gas and avoid the stress of a commute.

 

Besides flexibility, giving employees time off is also part of the work-life balance formula. “This is especially valued by younger workers,” says Sheridan.

 

The magnetic small business culture that wins the loyalty of its people is one of values and emotional and intellectual commitment from employees, Sheridan explains. “Employee engagement is the attractor and glue of top talent.”

Next, engage employees at all levels

CDL Helpers in Winona, Minn., was created to tackle employee retention in the trucking trade, an industry with some of the highest annual turnover—81 percent last year.

 

“Employees that feel like their work destabilizes their lives or that their job keeps them from achieving their personal goals will leave,” says CDL Helper’s founder, Tucker Robeson. He recommends a focus on creating stability in the lives of employees and paying people what they need to lead a satisfying, fulfilling life.

 

Robeson also advises small business owners to reach out to employees personally on a regular basis, in a situation away from their peers. “Give them a chance to have a candid one-on-one discussion with you about what you can do to make their days easier and improve their work environment,” he says.


It’s also important to show your ground floor employees exactly how their small actions are crucial to the big goals of the business, Robeson adds. Tell them directly how important their job truly is to the overall success of the business.

 

Alseika from WatsonBarron concurs. “People are a small company’s biggest resource. It’s important to give everyone a sense that they are a part of the company’s long term plans.” 

Consider your employee benefits

Like it or not, “It’s difficult for a small business to retain employees if they don’t offer healthcare. People will take less money to get good health care benefits,” says Alseika. 

 

Health and retirement benefits are the most important factors contributing to employee turnover, he notes, and SBA research confirms that benefits decrease the probability of an employee leaving by 26.2 percent, reports the SBA’s Department of Advocacy.

 

Beyond healthcare and retirement, 44 million U.S. workers lack paid sick days, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, and this is another motivator in the decision to stay or go. Although healthcare benefits may be too expensive for some small companies to offer and still stay in business, paid sick days and family leave are supportive policies that improve job quality and employee morale, which, in turn, reduce employee turnover. 

Finally, say 'Thank you.'

Back in Vancouver, Wash., Whisenhunt says his employees at Performance Prototypes know they are appreciated and he sees this as key to his success. “Thank them,” he advises, “give them a bonus, pay them for Christmas and major holidays and buy them lunch once in a while.” 

 

As for health or retirement benefits at Performance Prototypes, “No we haven’t got there yet,” he says, “but we’ve talked about doing it and it’s coming.”

Body_Manage.jpgBy Erin McDermott.

 

Once upon a time, small business owners gathered their staff in one location from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  They would dial all 10 digits on landline telephones and get charged a hefty price, await the latest batch of tasks once the mail arrived, and sometimes even meet  at an actual watercooler to chat.

 

Remember those old days—you know, the early 1990s?

 

Today, technology has made it easier than ever to run a small business and manage employees from afar. Inexpensive Web tools, like Skype, GotoMeeting, and FaceTime have broken down the barriers in face-to-face contact, making even a virtual office seem much more, well, real. Laptops, wireless Internet, and smartphones make work possible pretty much from everywhere and every time zone. Adding to the appeal is the fact that telecommuting is favored as an eco-friendly alternative to millions of cars clogging our nation’s overcrowded highways. So how can a smallbusiness owner manage to be a good virtual boss no matter where their employees might be?

 

“Basically, you are your business,” says Rachel Newmark, who runs a swim school, SafeSplash, out of her home in Northern New Jersey. “As a business owner, your reputation is everything. You always have to be available to customers and staff for anything and everything to ensure that the business runs smoothly,” she explains. And because she partners with two public pools to hold her private lessons, she adds, “I always have my phone on to take calls day and night and have to do on-site monitoring as well. ”

 

PQ_Manage.jpg“The idea of people working from home watching soap operas and sitting in their pajamas is a myth,” adds Jane Applegate, author of “201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business” and owner of The Applegate Group, a multimedia company that produces content aimed at small businesses. “People who work from home really do work harder now. With the economy, there’s no slacking off. The work has to get done. You can’t underperform.”

 

It’s an increasingly business-anywhere world that’s getting the work done. At this month’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival, an annual networking event for startups and entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas, Applegate says she was stunned to see thousands of small business owners perched everywhere, plugged into all available outlets, doing business even while sitting on the floor.

 

Still, there are some do’s and don’ts that small business owners should pay careful attention to when venturing into the virtual work world:

 

  • Look for staff you can trust: “It’s difficult to hire right if you’re hiring people you’re not familiar with, particularly those who have no virtual-organization experience,” says Jeff Zbar, creator of ChiefHomeOfficer.com, a website for home-based entrepreneurs, teleworkers, and the people who manage them. If you’re handling a virtual office, check out reputable sites like eLance, which has a huge bank of online talent, offers web-based monitoring tools, and can handle hiring paperwork for you.


  • Check references. Many big companies’ managers may be reluctant to talk about a former employee because of legal restraints. Applegate’s workaround: Ask a potential employee for a reference from a colleague or vendor, or a consultant with whom they’ve worked, who should be able to speak freely. “You need to speak to live people,” she says. “You have to set a high bar. Even if they’re working remotely, they still represent your company.”

 

  • Put your expectations in writing. Location may be increasingly irrelevant, but you can still set your rules  down on paper. “You’ve got to be able to give a little on things like lunch breaks or quick errands, but when it comes to telework, things have to be laid out from the beginning,” Zbar says. Best practices include having everyone check in first thing in the morning, be available on Instant Messaging, and formally sign off at night. Some small business owners set a weekly or even daily conference call. Applegate’s recommendation: Write very detailed memos, which spell out exactly what you want accomplished, and by when.

 

  • Start with the short term. Try a few test projects, or go on a weekly or monthly basis to get a sense of how an employee works. Watch their habits, responsiveness, and communication skills, along with participation on conference calls, and get feedback from clients.  

 

  • Pay attention to the clock. Just because you’re working all hours doesn’t mean everyone else should. Collaborate with your employees to set a schedule that makes sense for your needs and your customers’ needs. “I’m 24/7, but it’s my company,” says Applegate. “Being in a virtual office doesn’t mean employees have to work 24 hours a day.” She says she leaves messages or emails at all hours for her employees, but it’s just the nature of relaying information—not a demand for them to keep up with her.    

 

  • Be honest about the arrangement. If it’s not working, it could simply be that  working from home isn’t meant for some people. “Right or wrong, chemistry is an issue,” says Zbar. “If it’s not working, you have to act on that.” And some managers may not be suited to handle employees at a distance. Having people working out of sight demands a certain amount of trust, and, Zbar adds, “an understanding manager who knows that expectations can be met even if there are issues that pop up for working parents.”

 

  • Find a balance. Newmark says she relies on her managers and the training she’s given them to give her some flexibility for other important tasks, such as maintaining the back office, dealing with customers on the phone, organizing work appointments, growing the business, and managing her kids’ busy schedules. She trained as a lawyer and says she left the long hours in the office for a more family-friendly opportunity.

 

“Every business has its positives and negatives,” says Newmark says, who finds time at all hours to work around her kids’ busy schedules. “The alternative isn’t any easier, but this is the best idea for me., It is all manageable. No matter where you are.”

Body_AllinFam.jpgby Jen Hickey.

How do you run a business with family? When starting a business, hiring your wife, siblings and/or children is usually the most affordable and reliable option. However, as a business grows, and more family members are brought on board, problems often arise.  How those conflicts are dealt with will determine whether your business will survive to the next generation or fail in this one.

According to the Family Firm Institute, 70 percent of all family-owned businesses will not survive into the second generation. That percentage drops to less than half for the third, with only 3 percent making it to the fourth generation and beyond. Despite the grim statistics, there are steps you can take to ensure the viability of your business in this lifetime and the next.

Tips2.pngWhen at work, think business first

While it may be a family business, it’s still a business and should be run as such. “Families tend to have unspoken assumptions coming into a family business,” explains Jane B. Zalman, principal of Zalman Family Solutions, a New York-based consulting firm dedicated to resolving disputes within family businesses. “Expectations are not made clear when it comes to what a job is, what’s expected, payscale, etc. There needs to be some formality to your business.”

Laying the ground rules is a critical first step. And it’s important to put them in writing. Drafting a mission statement, establishing an organizational structure, creating job descriptions, formalizing compensation, writing an employee handbook, as well as conducting annual performance reviews: These steps will help ensure your employees know what’s expected of them, how they’re measuring up, and ways they can improve their performance—no matter what their relationship to you, the owner.

Treat all employees fairly—no favorites, no grudges

Having a defined structure and set of procedures creates an environment of fair play, as all employees—family or not—will know the rules and the consequences for not following them. Also, there is less perception of favoritism if criteria for hiring and promotions are performance based. Widen the circle of trust by hiring a manager or key executive from the outside the family. But as Zalman points out, “you need to be explicit about career path limits when hiring nonfamily members.”

“Family tends to have an inward focus,” says Zalman. “But business needs to focus outward.” A business preoccupied with internal strife often fails to recognize changes in the economic environment or encroaching competition.

Put family drama aside and listen

Management style is also a determining factor in the success or failure of any business. Ruling with an iron fist breeds resentment among family members and leads to high turnover, particular among non-family employees not wanting to get caught up in family feuds.  A better technique is to listen.

“When other people feel you’re interested in them, it creates a reflex in them to want to listen to you,” explains Dr. Mark Goulston, psychiatrist, consultant, business coach, and author of “Just Listen.” “If you’re perceived as controlling, one of the best things you can say is that ‘I need your help.’ This will disarm them rather than making them defensive. You will get more motivational follow-through making a request versus a demand. ”

Learning to listen will also help you communicate more clearly and decisively to your employees. “What can seem clear and second nature to the founder, can be confusing to others,” says Dr. Goulston. “Without clarity of expectations of results, people tend to often work hard doing the wrong things. You need to be clear and specific and ask employees what they understand about what you're asking of them and why it’s important.”

As long as members can put ego aside for the greater good, then a family business can thrive. Family businesses tend to be more forward looking in their investments and less laden with debt than their nonfamily counterparts. There are also tax benefits to hiring certain family members. “People inside a business often have a better understanding of the business than outsiders,” Goulston notes. “There are many parts of a business that can’t be put into words or metrics, but are critical to its success.”

New generation, new horizons

One example of a well-run family business is Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, established in 1925 on Wooster Street in New Haven, Connecticut by Frank Pepe, an Italian immigrant who used his skills as a baker to create a business that provided for his immediate and extended family.

In the late 1970s, Frank’s daughters Elizabeth and Serafina, purchased the original bakery and re-opened Frank Pepe’s the Spot as an annex to the main building In the 1990s, they passed the business to their children (ownership was split evenly among the eight grandchildren).

About eight years ago, the grandchildren, now all in their 40s and 50s, decided they wanted to expand the scope of their grandfather’s legacy.  “It was not an easy decision,” says third-generation owner Jennifer Kelly. “There were a lot of unknowns.”  To do it, they established an LLC-structured development company thanks to the help of a frequent customer and local businessman. Since then, they’ve opened five different locations, including one at Mohegan Sun Casino in southeastern Connecticut.

“The team at the development company helped us bring my grandfather’s vision to a whole new set of customers,” notes Kelly. Each restaurant contains replicas of the menu as well as the coal-fired ovens at the Wooster Street locations and the recipes have not changed. The new locations are also within driving distance in case problems arise.

“Certain family members can dig in their heels, and others see different ways of doing things, but we always listen to each other and treat one another with respect,” Kelly points out. “You have to learn to overcome ego or your business will die.” In a family business, there will always be disagreements. The key is not to let family dynamics get in the way of running the business.

 

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