While carefully selecting employees can help prevent human resources issues, your small business might still find it has hired a staff member who isn’t a good fit.
A number of issues may justify termination of an employee:
- Sub-par performance
- Disruptive or abusive behavior
- Repetitive tardiness
- Excessive or unapproved absences
In some circumstances, a warning, coaching, or amended responsibilities might correct the problem. Depending on the nature of the issue, however, you may find the best course of action is to part ways. Keeping employees on the payroll when they’re not measuring up to expectations could thwart your business’s growth, create a stressful working environment, and do permanent damage to your reputation.
In most states, an employee may be fired “at will”—at any time for any or no reason. However, there are limits and exceptions. For example, federal law prohibits employers from terminating employees for reasons of race, gender, age, religion, or a disability. Nor can you legally fire employees for complaining about illegal activities, health and safety violations, or discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Other exceptions may exist in your state as well.
According to SCORE mentor and human resources expert John Wojtecki, “Documentation is imperative. One must be consistent to document behavior, action, and results. Are there witnesses? Has there been a performance improvement plan developed and communicated to the employee? Make sure to have the employee sign that the plan has been communicated. It is always good to review with an attorney prior to the termination.”
If you believe you need—and have legal grounds—to fire an employee, document your reasons, all incidents that demonstrate them, and disciplinary measures (if any) prior to the termination. Having this information on record will give the employee an understanding of your decision, and it can help protect you against any claims of discrimination.
Plan to break the difficult news to the employee in a private setting with a witness present to observe the conversation. If you have concerns about the employee becoming violent, consider having security personnel nearby.
“In breaking the news to the employee, one should be straight and to the point,” suggests Wojtecki. “There should always be a witness to the discussion. Upon termination, the employee should be escorted to their workstation to collect their possessions, and escorted to the exit.”
Either during the meeting or in follow-up to it, you are required to inform the employee of eligibility for unemployment and any applicable optional continuation of benefits (such as health insurance). Also address any entitlement to accrued vacation pay or sick leave, outstanding commissions and bonuses, and not-yet-reimbursed company expenses.
Because of the potential legal ramifications when terminating an employee, make sure you do your research and consider consulting a human resources professional or attorney who can guide you. Also consider reaching out to your local SCORE chapter to talk with a mentor who can offer input, feedback, and guide you to knowledgeable resources within your community.
Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at www.score.org.
Cube versus open work space debated
Since the introduction of cubicles to the workplace a half-century ago, the pros and cons of their existence have been well-debated.
But today cubicles are being compared, often favorably and sometimes fondly, to open work spaces.
Open work concepts save floor space and encourage camaraderie, they also convey a false sense of productivity, in which movement and sound translate to only intermittent concentrated quiet, according to the International Facility Management Association.
On the other hand, open work spaces are often most suitable for telecommuting employees who only visit offices occasionally.
But those who work in the open office tell IFMA surveys that privacy is at an all-time low and 74 percent of workers are concerned about it.
The question is whether gains in office communication, brainstorming and camaraderie justify the open space. According to Business News Daily, a cubicle environment can also foster a sense of community, motivation and accountability. Open offices and cubicles also are easier to manage.
Separate office space ranks highest in terms of concentration, privacy, and personalization. But ranks lower in community.
The qualities of leadership and how they evolve
According to Inc. Magazine, the fundamental reason for the years and sometimes even decades it takes to produce an extraordinary leader is the learning curve.
For example, instead of focusing on the daily grind, the burgeoning leader is combining daily work with extended goals. The person who is growing in leadership is trying hard to understand the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and desires of others.
Often, leaders don’t seek to be liked: They seek respect. While the aspiring leader knows cordiality is necessary for the here and now, he or she may well have to sacrifice short-term likability for enduring respect.
Real leaders encourage others to reach goals, happy when a team member achieves something worthy of praise.
The developing leader will empower people with honesty and transparency. All things being equal, he or she demonstrates respect for them and helps them do good work.
A natural leader understands that if the team falls short, he or she is responsible — regardless of who screwed up. When it is obvious who’s the root of a problem, the emerging leader will privately meet with the employee and inspire the entire team to do better.
Natural leaders are not always concerned with process and instead focus on promising results.
Starting a family business has unique problems
Starting a business with a spouse, parents, siblings, children or other family members is not like the typical startup.
According to the Family Firm Institute, family-owned businesses comprise two-thirds of the companies worldwide. However, only 30 percent endure into a second generation, 12 percent to a third, and 3 percent to a fourth.
The typical snare of a family business is putting too much weight on family and not enough on business. Rarely are the qualities of a healthy business entirely compatible with family harmony.
When the business is going well, there will be jealousy. When it is going badly, there will be blame.
The earliest stages of a family business are the most ominous. Family members can join the promise of a new venture without clear definitions of their roles, duties, compensation–and, should they become problematic, exit arrangements.
To avoid miscommunication and hard feelings in the future, advises StartupNation.com, always put family business relationships in writing.
While various family members may qualify for similar duties, they must be divided up to avoid conflicts. Significant decisions can be reached together, but disputes over minor procedures impede the overall progress of the business.
The dominant structure of a thriving family business is having one person serve as the ultimate leader of the endeavor. When this leader is resilient and competent, he or she can persevere, stay focused, and proceed with their responsibilities and intentions despite the obstacles and challenges.
These capabilities are especially essential in a family business where professional and personal issues frequently become intertwined.
Leaders of strong family-owned businesses know that setting boundaries among participating family members is critical to continuing success. Precise methods of communication must be installed.
Since business quandaries and differences of opinion are inevitable, consider weekly meetings to assess current progress and plans, air differences, and resolve disputes. Moreover, keep family issues out of the boardroom and office.
Keeping pace with the times is vital to any business, more certainly those with multigenerational roots. Regardless of age, family members must continuously evolve and deliver or risk alienating both employees and customers.
Furthermore, so-called sympathy jobs should not be open as a last resort to children, cousins, or other family members for any reason. Employment must be based on the experience, knowledge, or skills a family business demands.
For leadership and staff positions the business demands, look outside for the qualities family members do not possess.
Beware of the pitfalls of hiring gig workers
Self-employed gig workers save businesses money, but they can also cause big headaches.
With a 4 percent unemployment rate, the market for quality workers is tight, which makes hiring a gig worker tempting. And, there are a lot of gig workers. According to a recent study by Intuit (owner of TurboTax), about 34 percent of the workforce in the United States is composed of gig workers. By 2020, the number is expected to reach 43 percent.
With those numbers, small businesses can find a huge pool of talent, but unless managers choose carefully, projects can take a major hit in reliability, unanticipated costs, and quality of work.
As Satya Purna, founder of ZAG Studios, a brand strategy company, told Business News Daily (BND), “It’s a mixed bag. It’s difficult to find freelancers who can keep up a high quality of work. They also have their own preferences. They may change their focus midway (through a project), so you’ll need to find a new person.”
Gig work is often used to supplement income and that means a gig worker’s allegiance is somewhere else. According to Shiftgig, a survey of gig workers showed 51 percent of them had full-time jobs.
Gig work can also be an impulsive decision. According to Shiftgig, the momentum of gig work is driven by the smartphone. “ItÕs as easy to book a side hustle as it is to order pizza,” one CEO told Talent 10X.
One small business owner said she has had problems with gig workers dropping projects cold. Even contracts don’t help small business because to enforce one means going to court.
If you are planning to hire a gig worker, focus on true freelancers who aren’t working full-time for another company. Assign projects in small steps, with clear guidelines on what is to be done and when. Pay well and stress that a gig worker can also be hired for the next step in a project should the work be acceptable.
Empathy + Ego = Sales
Among the wealth of extraordinary articles in the Harvard Business Review Classics series is one, published in 1964, entitled, “What Makes a Good Salesman.”
Before writing it, David Mayer and Herbert M. Greenberg spent seven years pursuing the clues. During that time, a fellow HBR contributor, Robert N. McMurray, wrote, “We must look into the mysteries of personality and psychology if we want the real answers.”
Mayer and Greenberg’s conclusions: “Based on the insights we gained about the basic characteristics necessary for a salesperson to sell successfully, our basic theory is that a good salesperson must have at least two basic qualities: empathy and ego drive.”
According to Webster’s, empathy is “understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing” the feelings of others. Moreover, according to Mayer and Greenberg, no salesperson can sell consistently without the skilled use of empathy.
Mayer and Greenberg declare that empathy is vital to the process of obtaining honest, accurate customer feedback. Once provided with a strong sense of the customer’s feelings, the empathetic salesperson can react accordingly. With the use of his or her ego-driven techniques, the agent can alter the pace of discussion and weigh alternatives and options before making whatever creative adjustments are necessary to close the sale.
On the other hand, the authors assert that ego drive — a subtle need to conquer–pushes a salesperson to make the deal or else. It becomes a mission, a mandate.
Mayer and Greenberg conclude, it is an active blend of empathy and ego drive — each reinforcing the other — that will best serve the interests of a salesperson’s career.
How to scale the company ladder
It takes more to get ahead in a company than just doing the basics.
“Simply meeting expectations is not enough if you want to get ahead,” writes business trainer and consultant Cy Wakeman in her book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace.
If you want to climb the ladder, strive to be a low-drama, high-value employee, Wakeman says.
Victor Lipman agrees, and he’s an author and management specialist with more than 20 years of Fortune 500 experience.
“Be relentlessly reliable,” he says. “Reliability is a cornerstone of business and a fine core personal attribute. Businesses may not often need brilliant bursts of artistic creativity, but they always need the trains to run on time.”
For example, try to become a go-to person by developing as many skills as possible. The more you can do within a company, and the more you can learn about its operations, the more relevant you are to its goals.
Your attitude and willingness to work do matter too. Try to be consistently collaborative. In projects involving multiple participants with conflicting views and opinions, the person who can react effectively with all kinds of people is appreciated.
Also, create strong, enduring relationships. In the corporate world, networking has been and always will be an influential factor regardless of an individual’s status in the company. As much as others may profess that professional advancement is based on merit, individual relationships do have their roles in any company, large or small.
Think about ways and means of resolving an issue that may have been gnawing at the company for years. Although some of these problems are unique to each organization, the more common challenges include containing costs, improving production processes, and discovering new markets for established products.
Be a self-starter. Try to identify obstacles before they get worse. Try to be valued as a team member who tries to make difficult decisions easier.
Keep in mind that any solution you propose is likely to be met with skepticism; if not, the issue most likely would have been solved long ago. Should you succeed–or even make noticeable progress–your efforts could advance your career in ways you had not imagined.
Finally, try to make your boss look good (and if possible, his boss too). This sense can set you apart, showcase potential, and promote an ability to think beyond current circumstances.