Retire? Me?

retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Retire? That’s a discussion for others……… isn’t it?

A century ago, we worked until we died or became disabled. The Depression and WWII gave us Social Security and pensions. Now we have folks fearing they will never be able to retire – while many losing their jobs in the recession are involuntarily doing so.

Personal capacity building

Have you actually thought much about retirement? Do you, like many, intend to get around to thinking about it …. sometime? Do you love your work so that you fool yourself into believing that you will never retire? That your circumstances will never change? The most common predictor of early retirement for men is illness or job loss. For married women: the disability or illness of their husband.



Retirement has both financial and personal aspects. Many of us don’t plan for either. And real planning should begin early, at least five years out for both.

Do some personal ‘what-if’ planning. Studies show that women still are more likely to be the care-givers. And this may mean that you will, as I have, end up caring for several older relatives in their last years. Dealing with the medical, emotional, and housing issues is not easy. All these and others related to aging family take far more time and energy than you expect — even if you can afford good help. And this hits your business directly, often disastrously.

Retirement and disability issues are all more difficult if you are a business owner. You can stockpile large emergency funds, buy key-man insurance, have disability insurance and a retirement plan for yourself, take other steps, or do all of these. But you still need to discuss what might happen with your family, your partners, your lawyer and CPA and other advisors – and plan!

For those of us fully invested in our work, planning the personal side is often even harder than the financial. Yet it is critical too. Think of all you gain from your work. How will you replace those positives – respect, recognition, creativity, learning, whatever – when you retire? If you plan to work forever, what will you do if you cannot?

Got employees?

Offering simple retirement options is attractive in hiring and retaining staff. Recent studies show even young employees are very concerned about money for retirement. Your benefits broker can show you a range of retirement savings options tailored to your organization’s needs and finances.

But you also need to think about what you plan to do when a valued employee suddenly is confronting elder care issues or an ill spouse. You may not have to comply with specific laws, if you are small enough, but you will find it hard to decide what you should do in the heat of the moment.

Do It Now!

Put a little time on your calendar NOW and think about the retirement related issues you face personally and in your business. List the advisors you have who can help. Get this on your planning horizon, act now, and make your life easier tomorrow.

Veterans Day – Make it Count

English: Veterans Day poster for 1997.

Veteran’s Day is barely a holiday in the US, except as a retail sales gimmick. But why should we expect this to be different?

Fewer than 2% of us have ever served in the military. And since we moved to an all-volunteer service, those who do serve come from a smaller slice of the population. So fewer of us are related to a vet or know one well.

And yet…

Our veterans are a terrific resource for your business and our nation. You may think we in the military all served in an environment of senior people ordering junior ones around all day, with no judgement or discretion involved.

But that is a movie version of boot camp, not the reality of military service.

Military folks are used to working in teams of people who are quite diverse in comparison to the statistically typical civilian workplace. Persistence, adaptability, teamwork, and flexibility are not just buzzwords, they are daily reality in the military. We are trained to get the job done, to “take that hill”.

This is one reason that veterans who become entrepreneurs succeed at twice the rate of civilians. And it makes them great employees for helping grow your business too.

My story: It was a base in a war zone with constant high level civilian and military visitors. I was asked to set up a protocol function. Working with the motor pool, the housing staff, communications, and air traffic control, we put together an operation that met and transported and housed everyone from civilians to generals to Bob Hope to Senators with no fuss. The commanders were thrilled that they did not have to figure this out each time, yet no added monies were spent. The junior folks were thrilled that the old ‘emergencies’ of visitors stopped. And our visitors were even complimentary.

Every military person can tell you a litany of such minor stories. These stories offer you insight into how much we can do on our own and working in teams with people we just met to achieve goals that support a larger goal. And your business can use all those skills right now.

Reach out to veterans and you could find your perfect employee.

You may not really understand the work that a specific vet did in the military. And not all of them are good at articulating their expertise in specific areas – or all the training they have had. But veterans bring many specific technical skills and talents to your business as well as all those soft skill areas employers lament are not available.

Locally and at the VA state employment agency there are veterans’ representatives who can educate you and help you hire. There are tax incentives for you to hire veterans, training programs to help vets acquire skills you need, and support services to hire disabled vets. You might even end up on the state’s list of military-friendly employers!

So, this Veterans Day

Raise a flag.

Go to a military parade or veterans memorial.

More importantly: recognize we are just like you – only with some different experiences than a standard business career offers. Think of what we can do to help you succeed!




English: emperform

Dealing with performance issues is a critical component of any founder or manager’s job. Since this often involves conflict and difficult emotions, many people put this off. That often means they do not deal with problems until it is too late to effective solve them. Firing and replacing staff is disruptive and expensive at best. Often you can avoid getting to that stage by more effective performance management.

Remember: your success is directly related to the performance of your staff.

What causes inadequate performance?

Far too often, it is failures in the system rather than the person. Management experts from Peter Drucker on, list the most common causes of inadequate performance as:

* employee does not know what is expected
* employee does not know how to do the task
* work processes interfere with good performance
* feedback on actual performance quality is not given to the employee
* there is negative consequence for good performance

These issues must be addressed first if they exist. It starts with hiring the right person for the right job. Orientation to your workplace, systems, and expectations is important too. Looking regularly at how your processes and systems work  to see that they are efficient for your current needs is vital. And so is regular performance feedback.

When an employee does not perform to expected levels, you can succeed in improving the person’s performance if you address the issue as quickly as it is first identified.

Here are some basics on how to do this well.

* accurately identify the problem and the behavior change you desire
* give specific details of the behavior that creates the problem and the impact of the problem on the function or business
* involve the employee and ask for his/her solution

Once the employee has accepted responsibility and you have a mutually agreed plan, be sure you follow-up to ensure it is working well.

On a regular basis, you can create the conditions that help all your employees succeed by your own behavior and practices.  Demonstrate your commitment to helping employees succeed by actively soliciting their ideas for improvements and by encouraging them to grow and develop their skills.  Model the behaviors you expect.  Provide on-going feedback on results.  Say ‘thank you’ when you mean it.

There are many ways to improve your ability to manage people effectively.  Learning to communicate effectively and managing performance are critical first steps to your success.

Join us November 6, 2012 for a Brown Bag lunch on how to handle termination of employment issues effectively.

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Criminal Records Check in Employment for Small Business

Seal of the United States Equal Employment Opp...

In April 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) expanded its guidance, “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest & Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” and addressed in detail an employer’s use of criminal records checks information in employment decisions. While the EEOC always has cautioned employers not to use such records to preclude employment across the board, the expanded guidance provides insight on how to use criminal records check information in employment decisions without running afoul of Title VII.

The guidance, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, warns employers that the use of criminal records checks information in hiring decisions may lead to discrimination claims. These claims will be based, most likely, in racial or national origin discrimination because statistics show that African Americans and Hispanics are arrested and convicted at a rate disproportionate to their numbers in society. Consequently, if an employer uses criminal records check information as a screening tool, eliminating all applicants with any criminal record, the employer will run afoul, more likely than not, of the guidance.

The guidance does not preclude the use of criminal records checks information in employment decisions. Rather, it requires that the employer use such information in a neutral manner so as not to screen out automatically applicants who are in “protected classes,” particularly race and national origin.

The guidance suggests a three pronged test as well as “best practices” to guide the employer in its use of criminal records checks. Under the test, the employer should ask three questions: what is the nature and gravity of the criminal offense; how long has it been since the applicant committed the offense; and, what is the relationship between the offense committed and the job’s requirements. In addition, the employer should determine if there are mitigating circumstances regarding the criminal records check information by giving the applicant an opportunity to explain and demonstrate why the information should not disqualify the applicant from the job. If there is a relationship between the position and the criminal record and a substantial amount of time has not passed between the offense and the application, then it may be appropriate to deny the applicant the position.

The guidance’s “best practices” recommend that employers eliminate policies that preclude employment based on any criminal record without context, train hiring managers about Title VII and how to apply it legally to a criminal records check policy, and develop a policy that matches the job requirements and the offenses that potentially disqualify an applicant from a job. The “best practices”also recommend that employers set a time limit for consideration of a criminal history and allow applicants to respond to it. Finally, the “best practices” recommend a written policy with its justifications, preservation of the research used to develop the policy, and appropriate confidentiality rules.

While using the three pronged test and the “best practices” in developing a criminal records check policy does not guarantee a claim free future, it enables the employer to provide a reasoned defense to discrimination claims filed against it. As always, before instituting any policy which has legal implications, it is advisable to seek the advice of legal counsel.

Law Office of Paula M. Potoczak
218 North Lee Street, Third Floor
Alexandria, Virginia   22314
(703) 519-3733 (Telephone)


The Worst Hard Time by Timothy EganThe economy is going up – except when it is going down. Are we in for another recession, a depression, or a boom? The political campaigns are in the negative, all attack mode and making many people more fearful.

But today came and you need to make a living, build your business, and grow.

Maybe you are fearful. You are swamped with so many ‘to do’ things. The things you know you need to get done. Those you keep meaning to do. And all the plans and goals you say you must define. If you could find the top of your desk or the bottom of your email inbox, you’d be delighted – for a day, maybe.

If customers are too demanding, you feel pressured by those expectations and wonder if you can sustain the demands and grow. If you do not have too many demanding customers, you feel pressured by the need to find more.

Right now a lot of folks wonder whether they can sustain their business dreams and goals. Many entrepreneurs and managers are hunkering down instead of inspiring and leading people.

And I am remembering a Wadsworth poem:
“ Tell me not, in mournful numbers
Life is but a dreary dream…”
It is from “A Psalm of Life” and very 19th century in tone but real too – you can find it here:

Do you know that there are studies which show that connecting to others, even electronically, raises levels of a brain chemical involved in feeling good? Just think, a nice cold lemonade with a business colleague could make both of you feel better! And if you used it to do some brainstorming about your business issues, so much the better. A series of notes to your connections to learn more about potential opportunity — and you are feeling better able to cope.

Organize. Whether you end the day by planning for the next or start the new day with 10 minutes to organize and plan, a small effort each day becomes a big goal achieved. Give yourself 10 – 15 minutes each day to move forward on one small step to a larger goal and see for yourself.

Need help? Bet you know someone else who does also and you can become peer coaches. Or you can hire a coach. Or an expert in a field you need to learn.  Or talk to the Alexandria SBDC.  Or undertake some online research to create your next step.

Buy someone you admire lunch and get a little mentoring on how they did whatever you admire them for. Or if you need a good swift kick, go read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  And I thought I had had some bad times to overcome!

You can create the future you want. And help the economy we all are a part of too. Are you in?

Alexandria SBDC Announces Human Resources Counseling for Small Business!

Patra Frame - Strategies for Human ResourcesAlexandria SBDC now offers individualized human resources counseling for small business…at no cost!

The Alexandria SBDC would like to announce a new program that will begin this month. Many of our small business clients fear HR issues and mistakes, but do not fully appreciate how the right people and processes will help them succeed. Patricia Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources (, Human Capital Management Consultant, Speaker, and Author, will provide one-on-one Human Resources Counseling for Small Business through the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. These sessions will be available at no charge to City of Alexandria businesses on the fourth Wednesday of each month (except December). Sessions will last for 50 minutes at the SBDC offices, and there will be three timeslots available each month. The first series of sessions will take place on Wednesday, September 26th, at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.

HR consulting sessions will be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis. To take advantage of this opportunity, send Gloria Flanagan an email message (gflanagan [at] <– remove spaces and change [at] to the @ symbol for the actual email address), with “HR Consulting” in the subject line.

You must also include the following information in the body of your e-mail:

  • Name, company name and contact information
  • Current number of employees in your organization
  • 2 – 3 critical business issues facing your organization
  • Issues that you would like to address in the meeting

Participants who are not current Alexandria SBDC clients will also need to complete the “Request for Counseling” Form.

Once we have received your e-mail we will contact you to schedule your session.

Biographical Background Information for Patricia Frame is provided below:
Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management.

Bring in your business concerns and let her help you find a path forward to enhance your success.

Start Smart: Creating Great Performance

Small Business Human Resources - Great Employee Performance ManagementThe smaller your organization, the more important each person in it becomes. Think a moment – what would happen if you just lost $5,000 or $10,000 tomorrow? Yet hiring and retaining the wrong person can easily cost you that in lost opportunities or time or energy quite quickly.

So, how do you ensure your staff are terrific assets?

Start with your hiring process. New companies often hire family and friends because they are ‘comfortable’ with such people. Small organizations often think of people as an expense to be minimized, rather than an investment in your success and future.

Look carefully at how you design a new job and hire for it. You do not need an elaborate job description or expensive search process. You do need to be very clear about the work that needs to be done and the experience, attitude, and knowledge actually needed to do it well. Where will you find such a person? How will you know? What will you pay for?

Many of us lose valuable employee productivity from the start, through bad assumptions and poor planning. Your new hire checklist – mental or written – probably focuses on things like keys and payroll and forms.

What you need is a new hire checklist that ensures you:

1. Reinforce why you hired the person: say what you saw in their experience, attitude, and knowledge which demonstrated their value to your organization.

2. Explain the basics of ‘how we work here’. What are your organization’s common habits and practices that a new person needs to know?

3. Define your vision and goals and relate to the person’s specific job.

4. Set the standards for behavior and high performance at the beginning. Have the materials and equipment each needs and someone to train them on any company specific processes. Be clear in explaining what the person needs to know to successfully do the job. State your expectations in terms of daily activities or weekly accomplishments. What goals do you want achieved in the first 3 months? 6 months? What standards does the person need to meet? Do you expect all calls/email to be answered within one business day? All customers to be greeted when they enter your store? Be clear about all those details.

5. Talk about how you like to work. If you expect employees to bring up problems immediately, say so. If you want them to try to solve the problem first or bring you a proposed solution, tell them. Do you do a weekly staff meeting or scheduled individual meetings? Do you prefer written or oral reports? Are you calm and deliberative? Creative and outgoing? Tell new people.

Not there with current employees?

You can change. Define your own processes and expectations and clearly communicate them to existing staff. Then, as you grow, do so with each new hire too.

Now, of course, the reason this does not happen all the time is that many of us expect others to know and understand our goals and standards. Magically, without our having to do the work ourselves to clearly define and articulate them! So your own performance is the first person’s to sort out.

But the value of doing so is an immediate boost to productivity and performance in your organization. Your staff will know how to succeed and how to help the organization succeed.

Patricia Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker and author on human capital issues. Ms. Frame founded Strategies for Human Resources in 1993 as a consulting firm specializing in meeting the human resources needs of small to mid-size organizations. 

Culture – What is it Good for?

Whether consciously planned or not, your organization has a culture.

In several HR seminars I’ve done for Alexandria’s SBDC, a common comment was surprise at the importance of culture to their organization’s future. Many attendees said they simply had not thought about their culture or its impact on hiring or productivity.

What creates the culture in an organization?

  • First is the vision since many people join (or buy from) because of what they understand the business or organization to be about.
  • Next is what we say about our organization – our story, our values.
  • Third is how we implement our vision and our values.

While other issues of culture may be included, these three give you the basics of the culture in your organization. How are you actively manifesting them?

When I do organizational assessments, I often find a difference between what founders/CxOs say they want as a culture and what their practices actually are. For example, you may have been in a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ work arena – and that is one critical strike against a positive, productive culture.

Aligning your culture, your policies, and your actual practices is critical for success. Sometimes, the culture originally developed is not what you now need. Or worse, the culture you thought you had created is not what you actually have.

As you prepare for future success, take a look at your existing culture.

  • Is it what your organization needs?
  • What you want?
  • How is the desired culture expressed in basic practices and policies?
  • Will the existing culture support your strategic and business plans?
  • If so, great! If not, what are you going to do? How? When?

One of my clients was an ethical, terrific founder who knew his business and had great ideas. He was quite successful at first. But over time, his dislike of and avoidance of conflict led to a culture where all disagreement was avoided. People were retained when they should have been fired, and critical decisions were delayed or left unresolved. And it cost him his business. While extreme, this is not an unusual failure – it happens too often in organizations where the culture has become a hindrance to success. 

You can create a culture that helps your organization succeed.   But it takes attention and thought to do so.  And to maintain its best aspects, you need to keep your culture in mind  as needs change, as you grow, as your environment changes — all those may require tweaks to your culture.