Keeping the Nest Egg Intact


I don’t want to save money and then spend it to get through our slow months. Every year it feels like we give back all our profits when it gets quiet. Help!

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: Savings are essential. So is fiscal discipline. Know what you can and cannot afford to do. As the business grows, be careful not to increase volatility. Consider getting into complementary business.

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Pats On the Back Can Pay Off

Acknowledging contributions is a great way to build rapport. Start a dialogue with someone about what they’ve done well, in order to find out how they’re really doing. In an environment of tight budgets and limited pay increases, appreciation can help boost morale.


I have been told that I need to give my staff some positive feedback. I’m not great at that – seems gratuitous. I’m busy and get my tasks done, no one pats me on the back. Why should I do more than expect them to do their jobs?

Thoughts of the Day: Acknowledging contributions is a great way to build rapport. Start a dialogue with someone about what they’ve done well, in order to find out how they’re really doing. In an environment of tight budgets and limited pay increases, appreciation can help boost morale.

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Bring on Employees the Right Way

It takes a while for employees to get on solid footing with their new employer. There are people to meet, forms to fill out, rules to learn, culture to understand and fit into, as well as a job to master.

We have yet to define a good onboarding process. New employees tend to start and get thrown into the mix. I know that’s not right. How should we do things better, so we can get new employees started right.

Thoughts of the Day: It’s easier to onboard employees if you think of it as a process rather than an event. Divide up the work of onboarding. Build tools and checklists to help insure everything gets done. Use the onboarding process to assess the employee. Think of it as the difference between orienting someone to the company and starting a long term plan for success.

It takes a while for employees to get on solid footing with their new employer. There are people to meet, forms to fill out, rules to learn, culture to understand and fit into, as well as a job to master. There’s a rush of activity, from finding out where the desk is, to filling out legally required paperwork. Learning where things are kept, how things work, meeting peers, bosses and subordinates – don’t try to master it all the first week.

Some things are required by law. Some things are optional, but can cause a lot of problems if overlooked. Some things will contribute to long term retention. Have a plan to get through all of them, within a defined timeframe. Know who is responsible for getting the new employee through each piece.

Have a team of people involved on onboarding. One person is responsible for a tour of the facilities. Another goes over paperwork. Each department has someone who gives a tour appropriate to the level of the new employee. Someone talks about formal rules within the company. Another provides an orientation to the company culture. People in the department hiring the new employee should lay out a schedule for introductions and job training.

Make sure the legally required forms get filled out right away. Include non-compete and non-disclosure forms along with the w-2 and other government forms. Ask the new hire to initial a copy of the offer letter, and put that on file.

Make sure the company rules and protocols are clearly laid out. It’s unfair to be upset with an employee who breaks the rules, if no one has clearly explained what the rules are. What’s the company’s start time? Policy for taking sick days? Rules about who to call if you’re not going to be on time? Who to go to if your boss isn’t available? What to do if you think something needs to be escalated? Social media and computer use rules? This should mostly be covered in the employee manual. A crib sheet handout with essential information can also be helpful.

Talk with employees about the company overall. What’s the culture? What’s the history? What are the goals? New hires are easily overwhelmed with information. Boost retention by giving the new hire documents to refer to on their own time.

Consider giving a test periodically to assess how much information has been retained, and how much needs to be repeated. Keep track each day, each week, of how the new employee is doing mastering basics. Is the individual demonstrating the skills represented on the resume? How much on the job training will be required? Is the individual making connections with other people in the company? Is there a good fit?

Every jobholder needs a training plan. Start with the basics. Check in weekly. Should training go faster, or slower. Set goals for what to master within 1 -3 months. Make a list of outside training, mandatory and optional, and plan time off from the job to get that training.

Once you build an onboarding process, you can use it as a tool in recruiting new hires. You’re looking for people who want long term success with your company. Show them your company is serious about doing its part to make that happen.

In the interview process, make notes on what the candidate is looking for in terms of growth and development. Once hired, pull out those notes out and use them to craft the individualized portion of the onboarding process. Go from generalized introduction to the company to specific areas of interest, so that each employee gets an overview of what could be in store.

Looking for a good book? Successful Onboarding: Strategies to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization, by Mark Stein, Lilith Christiansen


Enlist a Team of Leaders to Avoid Micromanaging

Someone suggested recently that I spend too much time plugging holes and fixing problems. I thought it was my job as owner to ensure things run well. I realized that I’m not my staff’s backfill; they are my backfill. Can you help me get my head around this change?

Thoughts of the Day: A pyramid cannot stand on its point; it needs to stand on its base. Build your pyramid by building a group of strong, cross-supporting people under you. Expect people to help each other become leaders. Unleash results that come from people who willingly deal with difficulties and challenges. Take the weight off your shoulders by stepping back.

Think of your company as a total structure made up of individual blocks, built up from foundation to pinnacle. No one block could hold up the entire structure, but when set together in a common structure, interlocked, cross-supporting, they create one of the strongest structures on the planet — a pyramid.
Give people more opportunity to come up with answers, not less. Give them more room to crack open problems, inspect details and learn by making mistakes as they strive to develop winning solutions. Hold everyone, individually and as teams, accountable. If they come to you for answers, provide guidance but challenge them to develop their own solutions.

Your goal is to have a group of people who see themselves as colleagues serving a common mission, each leading in their own way while collaborating to achieve common results. Build a team of people who are ready to lead and able to back up each other. That gets you free from the drudgery of the day to day. That means more time for you to work on the strategic opportunities and long-term development of the business.

Develop leaders by treating all the people in your company as leaders. Foster leadership by giving people control over decision-making. Ask people to brainstorm together how to get the company where it needs to go. Put everyone in charge of protecting and nurturing the organization’s future. There should be no more looking to one person for a solution.

Make it clear to everyone that they are in it together. If they work as a group, collaborate and support each other, they will tackle more issues, identify more opportunities and come up with better overall solutions.
When team members back off of a problem or get stuck, have them reach out to each other rather than coming to you for the answers. Facilitate conversations, if necessary, by asking team members to gather. Instead of playing a director role in the conversation, sit back and watch how the dialogue unfolds. Ask pointed questions if you think the group may be missing something: “What about … ?” “What if you tried … ?”. Then back out and let the team work on solving the problems.

Do provide an overall framework: “We need to be on a mission this year to achieve a, b, c.” Then ask everyone to come together to create their plan, detailing the goals and actions they believe will lead to the accomplishment of that mission. Think of it as laying out a challenge, and let the group formulate how they think that challenge can best be met.

Encourage people in the company to form many teams, or mini pyramids, breaking down barriers to cooperation and collaboration, in order to accomplish the work ahead. People working across disciplines can often solve problems that people in silos can’t even begin to understand.

Looking for a good book? A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results, by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff.



Managing to Keep Key Employees

We have a couple of people who are really important to the business. We call them our key employees. It’s no joking matter – I worry about it all the time – if one of our key employees were to leave, or if something happened to them, we’d be screwed. How do I protect the business from something bad happening to these important individuals?

Thoughts of the Day: Key employees have probably earned the right to that designation over time. Keeping people engaged is essential to the well-being of the company. Protecting the business from unexpected events is part of any owner’s job. Know what your people want, where’ they’re going, and how your company fits into their overall plans. Make sure to build back-up solutions as part of a well-rounded contingency plan B.

Key employees are called that for a variety of reasons. Some have unique knowledge of the business. Others have special skills that are hard to replace. Some provide a level of support or planning that has taken a long time to figure out how to do it. Some could be very valuable to competitors.

When thinking about how to protect the company from the loss of a key employee, the first step is to insure you know who is considered to be key. There is host of reasons why people are considered essential. The list usually includes more than top executive. Think about who in your company might be seriously missed or difficult to replace if they left or couldn’t make it in for work.

Take time to reflect on each key individual. Is he fully engaged with the work he’s doing? Is she aware that the company values her contributions? Are plans in sync – yours for where you want to take the company, theirs for what they want to achieve. Do you even know what each key employee wants personally and professionally?

Many business owners, used to being in the position of command and control, make the mistake of assuming they should map out a future for each key employee. Actually, it’s a two way street, starting with a dialog about the future. Have an open and frank conversation with each key person – where do they want to be in 3-5 years, what does their life look like, what would cause them to say they were satisfied, want concerns do they have.

Listen carefully, without judgment. Try not to take control. Be open to the possibility that the person you’re talking to may want to go somewhere else for work sometime in the future.

Tune in to what motivates each individual, and what needs each has. Think about how you can use the resources of your company to help each key individual achieve what they want, as they help to get your company where you want it to go.
Be willing to think outside the box as to how you can help a key employee, but make sure it’s a fair trade.

Do they want to get additional education? Offer that, with the agreement that they’ll stick around for a period of time post-graduation, or reimburse part to the tuition if they leave sooner. Planning to have a family? Consider flexible work schedules. Many key employees work long hours and have concerns that they may not be able to spend quality time with their family. Get back-up so they can.

Consider ways to bond people to the company. Ask every key employee about why the company is important to them. It may be how your company treats its employees. It may be about the type of work or the clients served. It may be about the community they share. Look for common themes you can build on to create a culture to bond people together.

It may be possible to meet employees’ financial growth needs through profit sharing. Shares of stock may be valuable, but make sure to keep ownership internally focused by having a stock ownership agreement requires shares to be returned to the company when the employee leaves.

Make cross training a requirement for every key employee. It may take more than one employee to perform the functions of one key employee. Whatever it takes, make sure that someone can back-up every key employee up so that they can take a vacation, get sick, move on to learn something else, or even leave the company, and the company continues to function well.
Looking for a good book? Retaining Your Best Employees, by Patricia Pulliam Phillips and Jack J. Phillips.