PROBLEM EMPLOYEE – OR GREAT ONE WAITING?

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)

Why are you in Business?

Let me ask you a question:  why are you in business?  I am sure your answer is to earn money, to make a living, or to prepare for the future.  Then let me ask a second question:  what is your most important tool to manage your money?  Do you keep track of your bills and receivables in your head?  Do you go online to your bank to find out how much cash you have?  If this is how you keep up with your financials; does it make you a bit nervous?

Do you use an accounting program, such as QuickBooks or Peachtree, so that you can give your tax preparer your financial reports in January?  Is that all you use it for?  Maybe you use an excel spreadsheet to track your financial transactions.   Why should we, as business owners, take the time to set up and maintain an accounting program – our “books?”  This is a good question and there are many good answers.  A good program is specifically designed to pull data that you or your bookkeeper enters and then uses that data to create reports to provide you with essential information, to keep your “book” balance reconciled and current, to remind you of important financial tasks, and to make your financial life much simpler.

If I want to know how much money is owed to me, I run a receivables report.  How much cash will I need to pay my bills this month?  I run a payables report.  Will I have enough money to pay my bills by the end of the month?  I take my book balance + receivables (to forecast cash) – payables = Uh! Oh!  I much prefer to say “Great!  I can do it.”  But if it is Uh! Oh!  I need to know that sooner rather than later.  An essential part of my financial management is looking ahead to my financial needs.  This gives me the opportunity to prepare and to stay ahead of the business of running my small business.

An accounting program will create invoices for you which will point to your receivables reports.  It will help you manage your bills by pointing to your payables reports.  It will keep track of your loans, credit card expenditures, fixed assets, payroll, and more.  Want to know your profitability of a single item in your inventory?  There is a report for that.  How much sales tax do you owe for last month?  There is also a report for that.  And, how much money did I make on that job?  Yes, there is a report for that too.  The Balance Sheet, the Profit & Loss, and all the different reports I just mentioned pick up data from the transactions that we entered.

Having good financial data and good historical financial data is essential in creating a budget and forecasting cash flow.  This data will also help you analyze your profitability to see if it is what it should be and whether to make any changes.  This is a good time to meet with your accountant to strategize what, if anything, you should be doing differently.  What is the impact on your tax liabilities?  How much in estimated taxes should you be sending to the IRS and the state?  You know about one-stop shopping.  Everything you want to buy is in one place.  Well, your books are like that too….. we could call it one-stop financial: all your financial data in one place.

To make good business decisions, you must have good financial data.  I know, the products or services you sell are extremely important and should be part of your primary focus.  But you can’t have one without the other.  If possible, keep them current, on a daily basis, so that you have real-time financial data.  Remember….. that’s why you are in business.

 —

Sue McLaughlin is the founder and principal of McLaughlin Bookkeeping Services, LLC and MBS Bookkeeping Seminars. Her mission is to offer small-business clients a fair price for bookkeeping services while delivering excellent customer service.

Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation: Contractors and Homeowners Be Aware, Part Two

 The impact of the Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Regulation on residential remodeling and related contractors is three-fold: training and certification for the contractor and employees, required work practices and required recordkeeping. First: the education requirement. The regulation requires that at least one person in the contractor’s firm be certified as a “certified renovator.” To achieve the certification, the employee must complete an 8-hour EPA approved certification class, two hours of which must be hands-on training. The certified employee or “certified renovator” then trains the other company employees. The “certified renovator” acts as a supervisor on the renovation jobs and ensures that the work performed conforms to the required work practices.

Which brings up the second requirement: the use of required work practices. Under the regulation, the contractor must distribute, before the job begins, the EPA pamphlet, “Renovate Right,” to the homeowners. The contractors must post warning signs outside of the work area, warning about the presence of lead paint and follow defined containment procedures to prevent the spread of lead paint dust. The regulation also prohibits certain work practices. The contractor cannot use open flame or torch burning to remove paint, heat guns that exceed 1100̊ F degrees, or high speed sanding or grinding, unless the sander or grinder has a HEPA exhaust control. The required work practices procedures apply to both interior and exterior renovations. At the end of the project, the “certified renovator” must supervise the explicit and detailed cleaning and waste removal requirements.

Finally, the third requirement: recordkeeping. Under the regulations, the contractor must maintain job related records for 3 years. Some records that contractors must maintain for 3 years include the homeowner’s signed receipt verifying that the homeowner received EPA’s booklet, documents that confirm that the contractor performed the project in accordance with the required work practices, the educational certifications of the “certified renovator” and the training records of other employees. Under certain circumstances, the contractor must show these records to the homeowner within 30 days of the job completion.

As always, the devil is in the details. Contractors should take care to keep the necessary records for the required period of time and do so meticulously. It is always easier to hand the EPA inspector the records requested, then to try to reconstruct the records, or worse yet, to explain to that inspector that the records were not kept at all. If there are no records or only incomplete records, it is difficult to prove that you performed your jobs in accordance with the regulations. Many times, no records, poorly kept records and incomplete records are an invitation to EPA inspectors to investigate further and possibly assess fines and penalties.

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

From the Catwalk to the Storefront: Beauty Trends for Small Business Women Entrepreneurs

From the Catwalk to the Small Business StorefrontAs the seasons come and go the latest beauty trends go just as quickly, if not faster.

So how can you as a busy business owner possibly keep up? And what impact does beauty really have on you and your business?

Well, although you might not frequent the latest red carpet event, as a business owner you do have opportunities to attend networking events, chamber meetings, and of course interact with your customers and clients. Doing business in such a progressive and transient city like Alexandria means not only staying ahead of your industry’s trends, but also staying ahead of or at least in step with the national beauty trends.

If your makeup look or lack thereof feels outdated and your idea of getting ready for work is washing your face and throwing a tube of chap stick in your back pocket, then keep reading…these recommendations are for you. And even if you do take an extra moment to apply a bit of concealer and powder before you hit the office, these recommendations can further enhance what you are already doing.

Yes, I know the trends are sometimes overwhelming to re-create, from the “classic red lip” to the sultry “smokey eye”, but here are three Summer 2012 trends that are simple to incorporate into your oh so busy schedule:

  1. The “Nude” Lip: This simply means that you wear a lipstick that shows up about a shade or two lighter than your natural lip color. This allows you to have a very light wash of color on the lips that is neutral yet polished. Depending on your preference you might try one of the following lipstick formulas available:
  • Classic Matte Lipstick ( dry texture, most staining on the lips, and absolutely shine free)
  • Satin Lipstick (provides a little bit more moisture than the matte formula, but is still shine free)
  • Crème Lipstick (indicative of its name, soft, creamy, rich, and well pigmented with a bit of shine)

Once you choose your nude lipstick shade and texture, feel free to add a little glamour to your lips by applying a sheer, creamy lip gloss for finishing touches. This trend is an easy one to keep in step with once you find the color that best complements your natural lip complexion. Wear this color when doing daily business and attending weekly networking events and meetings. You will look well put together and the image of your business will benefit also.

  1. Voluminous Eye Lashes: This is an easy way to give the appearance of more open and awake eyes. Connect eyes with your team and customers, giving them your full attention. Studies show that as much as 93% of a message’s meaning is communicated non-verbally, with eye contact being one of the most expressive. Since eye contact is as important of a communicator for your business, why not explore some of the ways to make your eyes stand out in your next meeting.

Here are a few of my favorite eye lash enhancers:

  • L’Oreal Paris’ Double Extend Mascara (double-sided to include a primer and black mascara to add volume, length and long-wearing lashes)
  • Revlon’s “Fantasy Lengths” self-adhesive false lashes (a fool-proof mechanism to adding immediate volume to your lashes without the hassle of an adhesive)
  • MAC Cosmetic’s Prep and Prime Lash Serum (a safe and inexpensive way to grow longer fuller lashes; this product boasts results in just 6-8 weeks)
  1. Finger Nail Care: Nail your next deal with a handful of colorful and trendy nails suitable for the most professional of interactions. With your hands always on display, it’s imperative to maintain a clean and polished finish to your nails. Now although the latest “nail accessory and fanged nail shape” trend may not fit your industry, you can still participate with color. And this season’s nail trends make it easy to do with the launch of hundreds of new colors even for the most neutral of business owners. On your next visit to the nail salon or the local drugstore choose to be in-trend with your color choice:
  • Maybelline New York’s Color Show nail polish (choose from over 30 new shades)
  • Gel Color by OPI (the latest way to give your nails a salon finish at home; instant drying and smudge proof)
  • Essie Nail Polish (offering a polish color for every woman; select one of the summer collection’s subtly bright, but office right colors)

This summer’s beauty trends are all about maintaining a stress-free yet sophisticated look in the midst of what is often a thriving time for business owners. Don’t allow the busyness of your business leave you in the dark of the awesome trends of the season; step out while the sun’s still shining.

Enjoy the remainder of the summer, and take a moment to step off your storefront and onto the runway; it’s never too late to catch up!

“Multiplying Courage and Confidence,”

Mrs. Candace Claiborn, owner of C Squared Artistry

Touch It Once Then Act on It

Let’s talk about going green.  Yes, going green.  There are many ways you can keep a green office.  But there is more to having a green office than saving the environment.   The most common commodity we all work with is paper….. to me, a close second  is my time.  If I can save a tree or two and save myself time so that I can take a guilt-free lunch, then I want to do it.   One side benefit is that I make my office more efficient.  I’ll save some of my tricks for another time, but let’s start off with one thing I do to save time!  I have to admit that I’m partial to this one.

Be Smart – touch it once….  Be Smart – be efficient and thrifty….. touch it Once

Be disciplined.  When you open your mail or paper is handed to you, categorize it immediately.  If it is trash, toss it or recycle it; if it needs to go to someone else for action, address it and put in your outbox; if it needs to be filed, put it in your filing box.  If action can wait, create a tickler file.  If it is urgent, put it in your action folder.  Touch it once then Act on it!

How many times have you looked for an important piece of mail that you are sure you received but for the life of you can’t find!  Is it in this pile or in that pile.  Is it – OH NO!, did I throw it out with the trash?  There is a dance we have all done in our office, it’s called the “paper shuffle.”  Sound familiar?  Where is it; what did I do with it?  You’ve got to touch it once then act on it!  I live in a highrise condo.  Every day, I see my neighbors open their mail boxes and before they head for the elevator, they go through their mail and toss in the bin all the junk!  They don’t even bother taking it upstairs where it will eventually be added to their desk clutter.  They touched it once, they acted on it!  Be disciplined!  That is what it takes.  If you truly can’t go through your mail at that moment, keep it in your inbox so that it doesn’t get mixed with other things.

I have some other ideas for going green that benefits both you and the environment.  These include using “quiet time,” efficient filing systems, electronic filing (my new favorite), and the list goes on.  Remember…. Be Smart – touch it Once!

 —

Sue McLaughlin is the founder and principal of McLaughlin Bookkeeping Services, LLC and MBS Bookkeeping Seminars. Her mission is to offer small-business clients a fair price for bookkeeping services while delivering excellent customer service.

Marketing for the Best of Us™!

  •  What are YOU selling?
  • Who should buy what you sell?

  • Why should they buy what you sell?

  • How do you inspire them to buy?

 Part three of my four-part Marketing for the Best of Us™! Blog series, which answers the four critical questions for growing the revenue of any business.

Why should they buy what you sell?

They, your customers or clients, will buy what you have to sell for the same reasons that YOU buy what others have to sell – because their wants or needs are being fulfilled by your product of service better than they can be fulfilled by your competitor, or better than by not making a purchase at all.

Recall that the reason Laura purchased a drill from Ace’s Old Town Hardware store (see my “What are YOU selling?” blog posting) was NOT to own a drill, but to fulfill her want or need to make holes. But, why did she buy from Ace’sinstead of Lowes or Home Depot? They both sell drills and probably the same one that Laura bought from Ace’s.

Are you More Fulfilling than your Competitors Are?

To answer that question, you have discover (1) what it takes to fulfill your customers’ wants or needs and (2) how effectively you are satisfying them when attempting to do so. These answers will simultaneously reveal what your business’s “brand” is, which, in my rudimentary manner, can be defined thusly:

  • Your brand IS your organization’s reputation, image, or perception, as determined by the public (customers and others), but NOT by you.

  • Your brand is NOT your logo, brochures, or letterhead, which merely serve as communicators of your brand.

TIP:Although you can influence your brand, it is the public’s perception that decides what your brand really is . . . e.g., the public’s perception of Penn State today versus one year ago?

Answering Question 1: To determine what it takes to best fulfill your customers’ wants or needs, first identify thosepersonal characteristics which most clearly represent your customers (income level, location, lifestyle, etc. – mentioned in my “Who Should Buy what You Sell?” blog posting). Then deliver your product or service in a way that fulfills their wants or needs by catering to those characteristics. This process, including both your product or service and how you deliver it, is an expression of your “brand.”

Example: Nordstrom’s is far from the least expensive clothing store, but their customers are willing to pay a premium because they want to be able to select from a wide selection of quality products and receive legendary customer service that is “above and beyond” the norm.

TIP: Unless you are destined to be a high volume purveyor (along the lines of Walmart or H&R Block), DO NOT base your brand on (low) price, but do convey the value that you deliver at your price level.

Answering Question 2: So, you believe that your product or service is satisfying your customers by fulfilling their wants or needs better than the other guy can, but how do you find out for sure? Your customers’ satisfaction level can be gauged by any number of measurement methods, from the basic (surveys, contests, giveaways, loyalty programs, directly asking them) to the more sophisticated (“secret shoppers,” social media tracking, online evaluation sites – Yelp is one prominent example). But, make sure that the methods you use are welcomed by and not annoying to your customers (Pavlovian rewards can assuage the latter). Also, find out why your competitors’ customers prefer or avoid your competitors, which can be used to fine-tune your brand accordingly.

TIP: Your competition is anyone or anything that discourages customers from buying from you.

Example: Market insight software provider Cint conducted a survey (released January 17, 2012) which revealed that almost two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed were more likely to purchase a brand’s product if they were asked their opinion in a study, and over half (56%) of the consumers polled felt more loyal to a brand if it takes the time to find out their opinion.

Go forth and Multiply (Your Buyers!)

Integrate your target market’s personal characteristics into the delivery methods of your product or service so that you can fulfill your customers’ wants or needs by responding to their characteristics better than your competitors can. And don’t forget to take your customers’ temperature so that you can stay ahead of the pack!

Peter Baldwin, with over 30 years of marketing and business development experience, is founder, Managing Principal and Chief Marketing Coach of MarketForce StrategiesTM, a business coaching firm specializing in the design of more effective marketing strategies for small-to-medium businesses that will improve performance, attract more clients, and increase revenue.   

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TELL ME NOT…

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: http://bartelby.org/102/55.html

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?