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Successful Internships and Your Business

Many small businesses hire interns, both during the school year and over the summer. Internships offer students and career changers a great way to learn more about how business works and what a potential career is like. They offer your company an additional worker and perhaps insights into a different generation or technologies.

However, too many companies think they can just have an intern do some work and not have to pay them. Most internships are paid. Unpaid internships come with very stringent rules. You need to understand the differences to reduce your legal risks.

There are six criteria which must be met to qualify as an unpaid internship. The most important factor for most private sector employers is the similarity to training in an educational environment. Thus if you have an intern who is getting course credit for the work with you and the university/college has specific requirements of you, that often means you are likely to comply with the unpaid internship rules. You still will need a specific agreement with the school or professor and the student to cover the basics.

If you are not hiring an intern as part of a university program for course credit, here are all the federal Department of Labor criteria you must meet:

the internship must be similar to training in an educational environment
the internship experience is for the intern’s benefit
your company derives no immediate benefit from the intern’s activities and may even have your operations impeded
the intern works under close supervision and does not displace employees
the intern is not necessarily entitled to a job following the internship
the intern and your company both understand it is an unpaid internship

Clearly in a case like this, a written agreement on what the […]

By |April 5th, 2016|Smart practices|Comments Off on Successful Internships and Your Business

March 2016 News You Can Use

Many of my clients have some form of ‘respectful workplace’ policy or practice to guide employees on discrimination, harassment, and violence in the workplace. Whether you have such a policy or not, you may want to decide what you want to do about guns in the workplace if you are a Virginia employer.

While Virginia allows both open and concealed carry and makes many restrictions on carrying guns limited, employers can prohibit guns in their workplace. You cannot prevent them generally from being locked in cars in parking areas though. As you consider a new policy or statement in your employee handbook, consider adding other potential weapons to it.

A sample statement:

Organization name X strictly prohibits the possession, use, and/ or sale of all types of weapons on work premises or while engaged in company business off premises except where expressly authorized by X and permitted by state and local laws. This policy applies to all employees, including those who have a valid permit to carry a firearm. Weapons include but are not limited to all types of guns, explosives, and knives or other edged weapons.

Further you may want to consider whether you need a plan, employee guidance, and training related to ‘active shooter’ issues. There are very good resources listed and linked on this Homeland Security page:
https://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness

Many local police departments will assist in assessing vulnerabilities and provide resources to support your planning and training.

NEW: Virginia Safety Poster Requirement

The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry has updated their job safety and health protection poster. This is now effective and you need this new poster. Additionally there are new accident reporting information. All fatalities, injuries, or illnesses that result in patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an […]

By |March 13th, 2016|Business planning, Policies and Practices|Comments Off on March 2016 News You Can Use

SmallBiz Nightmares: Employees and Security

Recently Elizabeth Chisman Moon of Focus Data Solutions and I did a seminar on this topic for the Alexandria SBDC. Here are some basic ideas on managing your risks of security breaches.

Start by developing policies or practices that address the most important security needs of your business. These might include:

use of company equipment and software,
use of personal devices for work,
social media,
basic security procedures (physical and systems),
what you consider ‘company confidential’ or sensitive information.

Defining what you consider sensitive information is critical. This ensures you know what information deserves extra care in handling and storing so you can protect it. The policy also tells your employees what information you expect them to keep restricted and ensure others do not see. Common types of sensitive or ‘company confidential’ information include:

all data relating to services, applications, procedures, and/or products sold by the organization, excluding marketing literature designed for external use
research and/or development materials
information about clients or customers, excluding that within sales or marketing literature produced for external use
contractual arrangements between the organization and its clients or suppliers or vendors
purchasing, pricing, sales, or financial data
personnel data on any employee or ex-employee
information provided by other organizations under confidentiality agreements.

Development of basic policies can be done using samples from your professional/trade organizations or your network. However – it is vital to ensure that each policy is designed to support your desired culture. Having such policies checked by your lawyer, appropriate consultants, or vendors is important to ensure you minimize your risks. The policies then provide a basis for orientation of new employees as well as training of all employees and regular reminders on need for each employee to protect the organizations’ assets.

Remember that policies that are difficult or complicated lead to […]

By |February 22nd, 2016|Business planning, hiring, Policies and Practices|Comments Off on SmallBiz Nightmares: Employees and Security

Communication Tips – Listening Skills 2

An effective listener must direct and guide many discussions including performance management, dealing with customers, interviewing job applicants, among others. One aspect of better listening is learning how to gather information via smarter questions. This is the second on major aspects of listening skills. See also http://shrinsight.com/communication-tips-listening-skills/

Requests for Information

A major type of questions are requests for information. The six common types are:

the invitation to talk
open-ended questions
fact-seeking questions
comprehensive questions
probing for specifics
encouragers

An invitation to talk is a statement rather than a direct question but it invites the person to talk about a given subject. For example: ” I’d like to hear about the goals you have for this year”. Invitations to talk feature:

It focuses attention on a specific topic but gives a wide range of options to the person responding.
Its use keeps your views from influencing the response you will receive or tipping your hand about what you want to hear.

Interspersed with direct questions, it can keep a discussion or interview more comfortable and less like an interrogation.

Open-ended questions are good ways to start a flow of information because they call for an extended answer and cannot be answered “yes” or “no”. They give people room to respond and communicate that you are interested in the response.

For example: “Do you like your job?” can be answered yes or no and is closed-ended. Rephrased as “What do you like most and least about your job?”, it communicates that you really want to know details and their ideas.

Fact-seeking questions are designed to elicit very specific or factual information. They are questions with a narrow, more precise focus. Here are some examples:

What did you do to resolve the customer’s complaint?
How do you want our current policy changed?
What training have […]

By |February 8th, 2016|Communications|Comments Off on Communication Tips – Listening Skills 2

Communication Tips – Listening Skills

Listening, really hearing what someone else is saying, is a skill. Why are listening skills so important? Listening skills are critical to many aspects of managerial work including interviewing for open positions, coaching and counseling, gathering data, customer service, working effectively with others, performance management, and so forth.

Many, if not most, people tend to have an inner monologue going on when they are ‘listening’. This may be a disagreement with what is being said, preparing the answer, or worrying about something else entirely. Not effective, but common.

Exercise

Think for a moment about a person you worked for who was not a good listener. Try to clearly see in your mind’s eye what happened in a discussion. What made the person a poor listener? What did s/he do or say that communicated the message “I’m not really listening” or “I don’t really care about your ideas”.

Now think about how you felt. What effects did the poor listening skills of the person have on you?

 

What are the benefits you can derive from good listening skills? Here are some:

You show the person that you are interested in and concerned about their needs and interests, not just your own. This is especially useful in interviewing job candidates, counseling, and customer interviews.
You find out why an individual did what they did, how they made their choices or decisions, and attained or missed goals. This is useful in resolving problems, coaching, and job interviews.
You give the person an opportunity to be heard and feel understood so that they will reveal much more information.

These tips are designed to help you learn more about listening effectively. Good listening skills can be acquired with practice. They provide real benefits in your professional and personal life. […]

By |January 27th, 2016|Communications|Comments Off on Communication Tips – Listening Skills

Millennials and Our Future

I am not a big fan of business books. So many are one small idea blown into a book and poorly written too. But I recently read a book with some ideas useful to any small business or non-profit.

When Millennials Take Over by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

This is an optimistic look at the future of business. It is a short, easy read. Better yet, you may already being doing parts of what they suggest is the future of business – to be digital, clear, fluid, and fast. As you know if we have met, I am not a big fan of the hype surrounding the millennials. They are not so different or so bad but are much like past generations were in their 20-30s. What they do bring is a different view of many technologies and of data-gathering. The book recognizes the hype early but uses them to organize its premise of the changes hitting most organizations over the past five to ten years and how millennials expectations can offer some solutions.

Digital refers to ‘organizing and working in ways that leverage’ the possibilities of digital technology.
Clear refers to the ‘value of clarity’ inside organizations. And many small businesses do this just to stay in business and grow.
Fluid refers to how the ‘heirarchy shifts and morphs decision-making’ as needed to be most effective.
Speed refers not to incremental steps but to the mindset and practices that allow your to leap forward as needed.

The book helps you make sense of ways to reduce the administrivia that stops many people from contributing all which they can. It not only demonstrates the critical aspects of your organizational culture to your success but also shows how that impacts the […]

By |December 29th, 2015|Business planning, Policies and Practices, Small Biz|Comments Off on Millennials and Our Future

Veterans, Veterans Day, & Your Business

Locally there are many official and area celebrations of Veterans Day and many military installations, so it may mean more to us than just another ‘sales holiday’.  Obviously, it means more to me.  But what could it mean to your business or organization?

It could mean that your business thrives by hiring veterans as well as providing services or products to them. There are many local resources to help you in attracting and hiring veterans. Veterans offer you:

a wide range of technical skills,
ability to deal with high-change environments
experience in demanding and fast-paced environments,
commitment to your mission and values, and
in-depth training and experience in supervisory and interpersonal skills.

Military spouses and family members also form an excellent labor pool to draw from. You can work with the family center offices at area military bases to attract both veterans and spouses. These include both the Employment Readiness Program and Transition Assistance Program at the centers, named as below
Army: Army Community Service
Navy: Fleet and Family Support Center,
Air Force: Airmen and Family Readiness Center,
Marine Corps: Marine Corps Readiness Center, or
Coast Guard: Coast Guard Work Life.
These programs usually accept job postings. Many run employer days and job fairs. Contact the installations closest to you.

The US Department of Labor has an excellent guide to help you in the process of developing your ability to hire transitioning military effectively – “Hiring Veterans – Step by Step Toolkit for Employers”

An excellent toolkit for hiring veterans, based on extensive private sector research, is available from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

In Virginia, ‘Virginia Values Veterans’ is a training and certification program on hiring veterans available here

Maryland also offers support for employers seeking to hire veterans  here .

So this year, when the anniversary […]

By |November 8th, 2015|Business planning, hiring, Smart practices|Comments Off on Veterans, Veterans Day, & Your Business

Performance Management 8: To SAVE or to FIRE?

Early action to identify and resolve problems is the easiest way to solve them. Quick action reduces demands on your time and improves productivity throughout the work unit. You have the most options and the best chance of success at this time. And saving an employee who knows your organization and has been productive in the past is both time-saving and cost effective. Address and resolve problems early rather than let them continue!

First, clearly identify the problem. If you have not fulfilled any of your own responsibilities, correct this situation now. Once you have provided the needed guidance and tools, assess probable causes and possible courses of action. Document the problem with specific examples.

Second, talk to the person. Describe your concerns factually with specific examples of the problem performance or attitude and the impact on the work unit or others. Seek the person’s input and assess it honestly. Ask for their plan to address and correct the problem. Develop an action plan together and follow-up on it. For a first occurrence or a minor problem, this can be done informally and without written notice to the person. Make this a constructive discussion with a positive tone. But it is smart to keep some notes on what you discussed.

If resolution is not achieved, the problem re-occurs, or the initial problem is in a critical aspect of the work, your options are more formal. There are three potential options, other than ‘termination at will’, although the first two are useful only in rare cases. You can restructure the job, transfer the person, or take performance improvement action.

Restructuring the job is worth considering only if the person has very good skills in critical areas and the person […]

By |October 5th, 2015|Communications, Performance Management|Comments Off on Performance Management 8: To SAVE or to FIRE?

Managing Performance 7: OH NO! Documentation

Many managers and most small business founders hate the thought of documentation of employee issues. “I don’t have time.” “I don’t want to upset him by writing it down.” “I don’t know what to say.” Standard excuses all. But wrong.

Recently I was talking with a store owner about a problem employee – one who did not follow basic practices, had a tendency to hide from work, and often got angry. We had talked about dealing with this employee on these same topics 18 months ago. Now the owner was quite upset that the unemployment decision had gone against the company.
But, had he done any of the documentation over this period of time – no. Did he document his discussions with the employee about the problems before firing him – no. Is this unusual? Sadly also no.

Documentation can be done quite easily much of the time. Got an employee coming in late time and again? Make a simple record on your calendar if you do not have an automated time-keeping system. Talked with an employee informally about a problem? Make a short note for your records so that if it happens again you have the info you need to refer to that informal counseling when you have to write a warning or more.

The value to you of doing simple documentation of positive and negative performance or attitude issues is quite high. It allows you to know who to promote, who to give pay raises to, who might benefit from some training, and who needs more formal efforts. When it is about a problem, your records can help you avoid paying higher unemployment costs and deal with regulatory or legal challenges.

You can maintain ‘working records’ in […]

By |September 11th, 2015|Performance Management|Comments Off on Managing Performance 7: OH NO! Documentation

Managing Performance 6: Coaching and Counseling Employees

Smart Coaching

Coaching is the best way to develop talent and productivity. If you think back on your own life, you can probably identify teachers, relatives, sports coaches, or previous bosses who coached you for success.

What did they do to help you grow and develop?
What common methods can you identify?
How could you apply these techniques to developing your staff?

Research indicates that common characteristics of good coaches include:

a. creating an atmosphere of support and trust
b. recognizing and building on the strengths of an individual
c. expecting excellence
d. providing continuing information on the company, its goals and the role of the work unit in the organization
e. providing clear guidance on expectations and priorities
f. letting the individual have freedom to do the job

You can become a good coach. Coaching requires generally consistent behavior on your part. This starts with being a good role model for those behaviors you expect from others. When you recognize that your own and the company’s success are built on the success of each member of your staff, recognition of their partnership and needs becomes easier. Basic actions you can take to become a good coach include:

solicit and be receptive to others’ ideas
provide guidance, information, and advance planning details routinely
explain your actions and decisions or reasons for procedures
provide training and support needed
establish and communicate performance standards and hold individuals accountable
provide periodic feedback on job performance routinely
give visibility, recognition and credit to individuals

Coaching is a pro-active behavior in which you help others to grow and develop.

 

Effective Counseling

Counseling is the key to changing problem behaviors into productive performance. Counseling differs from coaching in that it is in response to problems in work performance or behaviors. Since counseling is often seen as criticism or punishment, many managers do […]

By |August 24th, 2015|Communications, Performance Management|Comments Off on Managing Performance 6: Coaching and Counseling Employees