Archive for April, 2012

Do you have Your Employees’ Respect?

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Employee Respectby Caron Beesley, SBA.GOV

Ever feel that your employees don’t respect you?  You may think: “So what!” But that would be a mistake.

The trouble is that when an employee starts to lose respect, your authority and control can quickly be undermined. Even if you are not aware of a problem employee, the effect can be toxic. Productivity levels drop, accountability diminishes, and the problem behavior can spread to others.

Why Do Employees Lose Respect for Their Employers?

Accepting that your employees may not respect you isn’t easy. There can be many reasons for it, some of which come down to you and some may not.  For example, an employee may harbor a grudge after being passed over for a promotion or receiving a poor performance review. Or – and here’s a bitter pill to swallow – maybe your management style doesn’t command respect.

But I thought I Was a Good Manager?

You don’t have to be an ogre to lose your employees’ respect. Failing to see the signs of stressed employees, having personal favorites, or ignoring the fact that an employee desperately needs training are all actions that can potentially alienate an employee. And, if alienated for too long, employees might just decide you are not worth their respect anymore. This is when problems arise.

What are the Signs of a Problem?

If your employees repeatedly slack off, talk back, or fail to complete tasks on time, then you have a problem. Of course, there may be underlying reasons for their behavior, but the very fact that they believe they can get away with these attitudes might also indicate that you have lost their respect.

Consider this example:

As a relatively new manager, I supervised a young person who began turning up late for work or not at all.  She also wasted time gossiping with team members and missed deadlines. After tolerating repeated excuses for this behavior, it quickly became clear that she’d become comfortable that she was “getting away with it” and had lost all respect for me as a manager.

Once HR had agreed to intervene, we approached the situation thinking that the problem lay squarely at her door.

However, when confronted in a disciplinary meeting, it became clear that my management style played a role in encouraging her behavior. She explained that she was overwhelmed with the workload and that she wasn’t used to my delegation style. Now, this may not sound a good enough reason to skip work and lose respect for your manager, but because my actions caused her stress she became isolated. Even worse, because I allowed her to “get away with” the negative behavior for too long, she perceived me as weak and lost all respect for me.

How to Earn or Win Back Respect

Winning back the respect of an employee like the one just described isn’t easy. In my case, no amount of coaching or adjustment in management style worked and unfortunately a company decision was made to let the employee go. The employee simply wasn’t the right fit or prepared to reinvest herself in the business. Likewise, it was a lesson learned for me about seeing the signs and intervening sooner rather than later.

But there are things you can do to develop, maintain, and even recover the respect of your employees without resorting to disciplinary measures.

Consider the following:

  • Acknowledge the Problem – Use one-on-one or group meetings to make it known that you see the problems and are willing to make adjustments. Be open and prepared for hard discussions and invite feedback. It may be hard to hear, but it shows you are listening.
  • Gauge the Extent of the Problem – Your first step is acknowledging there’s an issue. If you have trusted employees or a mentor, engage their confidence to assess how bad the situation is and what they think you can do to turn things around.
  • Have a Plan – Present your employee(s) with a plan for how things are going to change. This means laying ground rules, both for you and for them. Consider what you can do to earn more respect. Most important of all – show respect to earn respect! Give your employees more frequent face time, empower them through delegation of key tasks, and so on.
  • Make your Expectations Clear – Explain clearly what you expect in return and that continued disrespect and poor performance will have disciplinary consequences.
  • Follow-Through – Give it time; there are no quick fixes. Have regular reviews with employees and your managers to gauge progress (on both sides).

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

7 Tips for Controlling and Preventing Employee Absenteeism

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Employee Absenteeismby Caron Beesley, SBA.GOV

Absenteeism in the workplace is a problem all managers encounter, and although absences are often due to legitimate reasons, they can get out of control if they’re not managed carefully.

Persistent unexcused absenteeism, particularly when it involves just a few individuals, not only lowers productivity and increases everyone else’s workload, but it can precipitate a sour atmosphere in the workplace.  It’s something that needs to nipped in the bud.

Statistics vary on the monetary impact of absenteeism, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says it tends to be highest among service occupations, such as healthcare, food service, cleaning, and so forth, and administrative staff.

Absences occur for many reasons – burnout, stress, low morale, job hunting, etc. – and need to be addressed quickly. The following tips may help:

1. Is the Absence for Genuine Reasons?

Ever wondered if there was a good reason behind that call you just got from an absent employee excusing himself from work for the day? Often there is a genuine reason and your gut instinct can guide you on this one. However, if you are noticing an excessive pattern and finding it hard to take your employee’s word for it, then it’s time to take action. If an employee is simply not bothering to show up or give you advance notice, then an intervention is essential. Start keeping a paper trail and records of absences.

2. Give Absent Employees an Opportunity to Explain Themselves

The first thing you can do is give employees an opportunity to explain themselves. When they return to work, have a one-on-one discussion about their absence and express your concern. This is not a disciplinary discussion, but more of a fact-finding mission. Your goal is to understand what’s happening and try to solve the issue. For example, if stress is a factor, then you may need to discuss strategies that can help, such as shifting workloads, reducing responsibilities, etc.

Very often, employees are pleased that they have been given an opportunity to air their problems or grievances. But be warned, you may learn things that you don’t want to hear, particularly if it turns out that your management style is the problem. Try to remain objective during the discussion and use it as a platform to change things.

3. Put a Performance Improvement Plan in Place

If the tactic above doesn’t work, then you need to put a performance review plan in place that sets specific goals for improvement, attendance being one of them. Put the plan in writing and clearly explain the timeframe of the plan and the consequences of not fulfilling its requirements.

4. Develop and Communicate a Clear Leave / Sick Leave Policy

A written policy won’t stop absenteeism, but it will help you deal with it more effectively. It will also demonstrate to all employees that you don’t tolerate absenteeism. Use the document to clearly explain paid and unpaid leave policies and the consequences of unexcused absences. If you have a company newsletter or intranet, use these to promote your policy.

Note that the law doesn’t require you to provide common leave benefits, but it does require employers to provide leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Be sure you know what the law is. Read more about the FMLA leave entitlement qualifying medical events in SBA’s Employee Benefits Guide (scroll down to “Leave Policy”).

5. Assess your Management Style

It’s hard to acknowledge, but one of the more common reasons for employee dissatisfaction is management style. Could your style be encouraging employees to harbor grudges or lose morale? Step back and assess what you can do differently. Is your open door policy really that open? Do employees really feel valued? Plan on setting side more management time for your team, discuss their professional goals, and share your vision for the continued growth of your business and their role in it.  For tips on assessing your management style and ideas to shake it up some, read 4 Tips for Effective and Inspiring Business Leadership.

6. Consider Introducing Incentive Plans

While their are no guarantees that you can control absenteeism, initiatives such as incentive plans and programs such as flex-time, wellness programs, and project completion perks, are proven to increase morale and productivity. They also send a clear message to your employees that they have a recognized and valuable role to play in your business as a whole. The following articles have tips on how to recognize, nurture, and incentivize employees:

7. Terminating Repeat Offenders

If you’ve exhausted all these intervention measures and aren’t seeing improvement, then termination may be your only option. Follow your HR policy to the letter on this one and refer to the law as it pertains to terminating employees, final pay checks, and more.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

Finding the Best Backup Option for Your Data

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Computer Backupby Caron Beesley, SBA.GOV

How are you backing up your small business data? If you are like most small businesses, you could be compromising your business and its data on a daily basis.

A 2011 survey by Carbonite, a provider of online backup solutions, found some facts about data loss that may surprise you:

  • Forty-eight percent of American small businesses with between two and twenty employees have experienced data loss, up from 42 percent in 2010.
  • Top causes of data loss include hardware/software failure (54 percent), accidental deletion (54 percent), viruses (33 percent) and theft (10 percent).
  • Thirty-one percent of business owners surveyed think backing up company data is a hassle.

Scary, huh?

If you’ve ever lost a laptop, or been left stranded by malware or some other problem, then you already know the detrimental effect it can have on your business. For many, it can mean disaster.

So what are your options for backing up business data so you can access and restore files on the fly in the event of a data loss incident?

Finding the Best Backup Approach

The backup market is huge, so before you start looking into your options, develop a backup approach that meets your needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you need to back up your entire operating system or just essential data (employee records, financial records, documents and databases)? The answer will help determine how much data you need to back up. For example, an operating system can take up a lot of space, but if you have a copy of it, on an installation disk, for example, you may not need to back it up.
  • What are your vulnerabilities or primary concerns? According to the Carbonite survey, most businesses still use external hard drives and USB sticks to store data. Backing up data to one location only can be risky, so assess whether your business needs an extra layer of protection.  Consider backing up your most critical data to both an online backup service and a local device which could also house your less critical assets.
  • How often do you need to perform a backup? What window of vulnerability can you tolerate? For businesses, a daily or weekly backup is a good idea – especially if you are fairly active in creating or updating files and documents.

Backup Options – Mix it Up!

There are endless options for backing up data, but it’s a good idea to build in some redundancy and shoot for at least two methods that will divide and conquer your data backup needs. Here are some options:

1.  External Hard Drives or Disks

Disks have long been used as a go-to backup device, but they are also notorious for failing to capture all your data. Plus, it’s a manual process.  A better option would be to back up to an external storage device. For $60 or thereabouts, you can buy a desktop device that stores almost 1 Terabyte of storage.  These devices also offer the convenience of scheduling automatic backups for those of us who’d otherwise forget.

2.  Backing Up to the Web

Cloud storage and other online solutions offer the reassurance of a remote backup strategy that complements your local backup strategy. This is a burgeoning market and backup options and pricing vary. Depending on your storage and user needs, you can expect to pay anything from $120 to $700 per year. You can keep your pricing low by using web-based storage services to back up what you don’t feel comfortable storing locally.

Providers include Carbonite, Amazon S3, DropBox and Mozy.  In addition to basic backup services, many offer various bells and whistles, including the option to access data from mobile devices, backup multiple PCs from one account, and share large files with teams. If you’re worried about not being able to access your data because of a dropped internet connection, DropBox lets you access your files offline.

Another increasingly popular option is to build your own personal cloud with the help of a wireless network and sturdy storage devices currently available in the market.

3.  Server Backup

If you use a server in your business to run email, databases or business applications, backing it up is a must. You can do this using backup software that saves data to disks or tape. Another option often favored by small businesses that don’t have ready access to IT support services is a cloud-based solution. Data is simply uploaded via the web and the cloud provider takes care of IT maintenance. The downside is that data transfer can be slow even with a broadband connection.

Be Proactive About Your Backup Strategy

At the end of the day, business data is one of your most valuable assets. So whichever backup option you use, be sure to continuously review what data needs to be protected. Set up automatic backups and monitor them to ensure they aren’t failing. Lastly, keep an eye on your backup space consumption and have a plan in place to upgrade when the time comes.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

 

How to Deal with Difficult Employees in the Small Business Workplace

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Difficult Employeeby CeceliaT,  SBA.GOV

If your employees spend 40 or more hours together each week, then it inevitably follows that not all of them are going to get along with each other or even with you!

Difficult employees take all forms – whether it’s taking one too many long lunch breaks or spending a little too much time taking care of personal business during office hours.

Difficult behavior rarely goes unnoticed by other employees and, if not addressed quicky, can prickle one too many feathers and lead to potentially explosive situations.

As a manager, it is your responsibility to recognize and deal with difficult employees, here are some tips for doing so.

Evaluate the Problem

Whether you have a problem with an employee or someone else on your team does, don’t rush to judgment or use punitive measures until you have evaluated the situation. We all have off-days or quirks that come to the forefront when we are under stress.  Ask yourself whether this is a one-off or is a pattern of behavior evolving? Has it reached a peak? In which case, you may need to intervene right away.

Investigate Further

Whether you have noticed problem behavior or another employee has brought it to your attention – look into the problem further. Acting on gossip and hearsay can be disruptive in itself and can encourage the same kind of behavior from other employees. Don’t sweep the problem under the carpet and hope it will go away. Ask other managers or people close to your business whether they have witnessed the behavior.

Plan your Next Steps

Confronting the situation quickly and head-on is a must. However, be sure to plan your approach. For example, don’t confront an employee in front of his peers, schedule some time for a one-on-one meeting behind closed doors. If you have an HR team, consult them first to determine whether they need to be present.

Confronting Problem Behavior

Plan what you intend to say, sticking to the facts as you know them and allowing time for the employee to respond. And remember, you are confronting and seeking to address the behavior, not the individual. During your meeting, focus on the goals of the team and how behavior such as this compromises the team.  Emphasize your position of authority and leadership by stressing what you want from your employees, rather than dwelling on the negative. For example:

Rather than saying:

You are wasting my time and money by spending too much time on Facebook during business hours.

Instead, emphasize the kind of behavior you are seeking:

I need my team to work together without distractions to help us achieve our goals.

Ask your Employee to Explain their Behavior

Try to encourage your employee to explain their behavior – and listen.

You might be surprised at the answers, for example an employee who once worked for a small business repeatedly turned up for work late and did nothing but catch up on gossip for the first hour of the day. When confronted with the problem, she accepted that her behavior fell short, but she also made a point that she felt overwhelmed in the morning by the volume of email in her Inbox and simply found herself “putting off” addressing it. Together we developed a plan to better manage her workload and help her manage her Inbox so that first hour of the day could be used more productively.

Work Together Towards Resolution

Instead of just telling your employees what you want to see change, ask them how they think they can do things differently – so that they move forward with a corrective behavior that they feel they can own as opposed to punishment laid at their feet.

Don’t expect everything to get fixed immediately, monitor and continue to review behavior and follow-up with additional one-on-one sessions. If you see improvement, note it and continue to work together.

More Serious Issues

If your problem employee is exhibiting more serious issues such as bullying, stealing, repeatedly abusing their position, etc. you many need to go beyond these methods and suggest a professional intervention. Organizations such as SCORE offer mentorship and advice to small business owners to help them in all aspects of business ownership. You might consider seeking their advice to help you deal with deeper problems, or at least help steer you towards other approaches you may take.

If you reach a point where the employee is not able or willing to change her behavior, then you may need to consider formal warnings or termination. To ensure you handle terminations appropriately and within the law, read SBA’s comprehensiveguide on terminating employees.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

3 Tips for Growing Your Business During Tough Times

Monday, April 30th, 2012

3 Tips for Growing Your Businessby Caron Beesley, SBA.GOV

The idea of starting a business during a recession or growing a business during tough times may sound like the ultimate challenge for any entrepreneur or small business owner. Yet, time and time again, small businesses prove that with agility, planning, and the right resources, tough times aren’t just survivable – they can spur growth.

Take for example SBA’s 2011 National Small Business Person of the Year, Rick Cochran, whose Vermont-based Mobile Medical International (MMI), provides advanced medical care to underserved areas.

From humble beginnings in his basement, Cochran created a design and prototype for a mobile surgery unit and quickly expanded his market. Cochran hit a rough patch in 1999 when financing ran dry and the company nearly closed its doors. Much of Cochran’s core team – inspired by his own perseverance, optimism and faith – worked without pay. They were reimbursed later, when the company rebounded.

During his tenure in business, Cochran has benefited from the support of three SBA loans. Driven by his perseverance, today MMI’s staff has grown to 54 employees with gross revenues of more than $14 million.

Strategies for Growth in Tough Times

Independent strategies for survival and growth vary, but there are many common denominators and tactics characteristic of small business success during tough economic times. Here are a few strategies and tactics to consider:

1. Focus on Core Strengths

Diversification into new products and markets is a core growth strategy, but in tough times it usually pays to stick to what you do best and refine your business’ strengths in key product or market areas.

2. Find the Right Team

In order to grow, you’ll need the right team behind you, and you need to be lean. Finding the right talent the first time means that a smart hiring strategy should be part of your growth plan. Some Small business owners have the knack for identifying the right employee fit. Some don’t. Understanding the talents you need to help you grow can be challenging. Consider consulting a mentor – a business acquaintance or someone from a professional and free mentoring organization like SCORE. These folks have walked in your shoes and can help.

3. Look for Ways to Cut Costs

From buying used office furniture to moving back into the home office, savvy business owners can save money on just about everything. Here are just a few ideas:

- Market Smarter – Cut your marketing budget and develop a smart marketing strategy. Can you refine your online marketing plan and focus on using your Facebook page to grow and nurture your specific target demographic? If your business depends on local custom, consider more community marketing activities that will put your business in front of your target customers. Sponsoring charitable events in your community or setting up a fundraiser for a good cause can generate great exposure for your business.

Use technology, such as online videos, as a sales and marketing approach to replace expensive brochures and collateral. This blog is loaded with cost-effective tips and tactics that you can apply across your marketing efforts: A “Complete” Guide to Small Business Marketing (featuring the best of SBA.gov’s blogs).

Smarter marketing also means having more oversight over campaigns and programs with a view to return on investment. Don’t just let campaigns run their course; get more from your dollars by adjusting your tactics, segmenting your lists, and delivering targeted messages. Rieva Lesonsky’s guest blog explains how to Give your Marketing a Checkup.

- Cut Your Business Expenses – It sounds obvious, but a review of all your outgoing expenses can point the way to quick savings. Create a list of necessary expenses and optional expenses. Pay close attention to how your employees spend your money. Use plastic – it may sound contrary to a cost-saving plan, but credit cards can give you perks such as miles and other benefits. You can put limits on cards so employees can’t overspend.

- Automate Your Systems – Automating systems, such as accounting, invoicing and payroll, can save time and money. Here are some tips for doing that:

Setting up a Payroll System – A 10 Step Guide for Small Business
Going Beyond the Spreadsheet – Automate Your Billing Process with Online Software
Selecting the Right Accounting Software

-Use Technology Wisely – Cut back on business travel and other communication expenses by using free web conferencing tools like Skype. What about cloud computing? Migrating business functions online (or to the cloud) can realize big savings. Even your tablet computer can help you cut staffing costs! These blog posts offer more tips:

4 Ways Technology Helps You Run Your Business
How to Use your Tablet Computer as a Small Business Tool
Cloud Computing – What Can It Do for Your Small Business?

- Hire a Virtual Assistant – Virtual assistants are a low-cost way of handling business administration functions, freeing up your time, reducing staffing costs, and making sure you have the back-up you need to keep your business running smoothly.

- Buy Surplus – Can you save money on office equipment and electronics buying from eBay or buying government surplus?

Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.

Join PCS at Waterpark of America on Monday, April 16!

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Big QuackPCS is once again sponsoring the 5th annual Big Quack event at the Waterpark of America next Monday, April 16. Tickets need to be purchased in advance, as they will not be available at the door.

Click Here For Details of April 16th Event

The Big Quack is an annual fundraiser for the Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota, which is an organization dear to PCS.  This annual fundraiser helps this group continue to offer programs to kids with food allergies and their caregivers. Visit www.foodallergysupportmn.org for more information.

This event invites you to bring your kids to the Water Park of America to swim and watch a rubber duck race on Monday, April 16th, 6:00-8:30 pm. Tickets are only $8 per person! All tickets must be purchased in advance through the website.

Can’t attend? You can also donate to the organization though their online fundraising page for the event by clicking here.

Donations are tax-deductible, and go to the many programs that the Food Allergy Support Group of Minnesota offers to the food allergy community. As an organization, they rely on donations to fund those programs every year. After sustaining things for 9 years with all volunteers, they’ve recently hired their first employee and are looking for a second. It’s an exciting time of growth that they need help to be able to sustain.

Food Allergy Support Group of MN