Support your employees and develop a win-win relationship to help your business succeed. Learn how with this week's Work Your Biz Wednesday video from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.
Support your employees and develop a win-win relationship to help your business succeed. Learn how with this week's Work Your Biz Wednesday video from The Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.
Holding a company event outside the office can be a useful way to bond a team and allow employees to relax and enjoy each other’s company without having to talk about work. It can, though, get a little overwhelming to try to plan such an event. Here, Anne Marie Rembold, owner of Anna Marie Events, a corporate event planning company based in San Francisco, offers her top insights.
Start with the money
What is the budget for your corporate off-site event? Establish a number and go from there. Don’t start looking into activities or locations before confirming a budget with your team as costs can quickly get out of hand, says Rembold.
Pick a venue
When choosing a venue, consider where your employees will be coming from, how they will be getting to the venue (public transportation or vehicle) and if you will offer alcohol at the gathering (a vital consideration for drivers).
“Then, go back to your budget,” she says. “Make sure you understand every layer of cost associated with your location. Will gratuity be included? Will there be additional service fees? What about room rental fees? After looking at all of those factors, determine if the venue still fits into your budget.”
Choose an activity
Off-site activities should be inclusive to most people (hopefully everyone) on your team. Stick with pursuits such as mini golfing, corn hole or Bocce ball. “I also really like cooking events because it doesn’t matter how good of a cook you are, you can still have fun and learn something,” Rembold says. “It is important to choose activities that are lighthearted and level the playing field.”
Communicate with your employees
Think of yourself as a party promoter, you want to build buzz around the office. Generate excitement by announcing the event at least a month in advance. “Remind your team again two weeks out and then three to five days in advance,” she says. “You want to keep it front-of-mind so they are talking about it with their colleagues.”
Plan your food and beverage
Regardless if you are going to a bowling alley or a mini golf course, it is always a good idea to provide food and refreshments for your staff. Think hard about alcohol. It may not be necessary if the event is in the middle of the day. If, though, it is scheduled for the evening, you may consider offering beer and wine or even a full bar.
“But I wouldn’t plan for the entire event to revolve around alcohol,” says Rembold. “If it does, people who don’t drink or are trying to cut back could feel really uncomfortable.”
Stay on top of logistics
Logistical considerations—namely transpiration, directions and maps—are of utmost importance when planning a corporate off-site event. “I’ve seen it so many times where someone plans an event and no one knows how to get there. It can really throw people off,” she says. “Make sure everyone has detailed instructions in advance.”
It’s the second week of December and a thought just hit you like a ton of bricks: you forgot to plan your company holiday party. Don’t panic. You still have time (and could always organize a New Year’s party in January instead). Not sure where to start? Christina Millikin, founder of Glow Event Design in San Francisco, offers four questions to ask yourself as you dive into planning.
What’s the budget?
How much are you willing to spend on this event? Be specific. “Saying you want to ‘make it nice’ means different things to different people, so it is best to start with a set budget and move backwards from there,” recommends Millikin.
Once you have a number in mind, decide what party components are most important. If securing a specific venue is high on your list, spend a good portion of your allotment there. If team-building activities are important, allocate your funds differently.
Who will be invited?
Will this party be for your sales department or for your whole staff? Will you be inviting significant others? If you’re worried about over-extending your budget by inviting husbands and wives, hold the party during work hours. “But if you are planning it for a weeknight or a weekend, it is best to allow people’s partners to come along,” she says. “All of us work hard and spend time away from our families. You don’t want to take your staff away for another evening.”
What activities will be offered?
Many of us have been to holiday parties at restaurants where the sole activity is to hang out at the bar. Think outside the box this year by tapping into the interests of your employees. “If you have staff members who love bowling, for example, consider hosting your party at a bowling alley,” says Millikin. “Or transform your office into a casino for a night and offer prizes.”
How will alcohol be handled?
Access to alcohol can be a little tricky at company parties. On one hand, you may want to treat your employees to a few recreational drinks, but on the other hand, you don’t want things to get out of control. “We’ve all been to parties where someone drinks too much, makes a scene and the mood is awkard the next day,” she says. “It really pays to think in advance about the temperment of your employees and how they may handle alcohol.”
Opt to offer just beer and wine or an open bar for a limited peroid of time, or forgo drinking altogether with a lunchtime party, recommends Millikin. “And always offer non-alcoholic options so as not to isolate anyone,” she offers. “Come up with a really fun mocktail and offer it as part of the menu.”
Imagine this scenario: Every day you find yourself getting more and more aggravated with a certain employee. You tell him or her to do something and they consistently under deliver, thereby requiring someone else (oftentimes you) to pick up the slack. You are sick of it and seriously considering firing this person.
Before you write out a pink slip, it might be worthwhile to create a performance improvement plan (or PIP) for your troubled employee. With a little concrete nudging, they may just turn into the employee you always wished for.
Here’s how to get started:
Step #1: Look at yourself
Take a moment to think about the direction that you’ve given your employee. Have you taken the time to clearly define his or her job description?
“In your mind, you may want them to increase sales by 30 percent, but if you’ve never told them that, it really isn’t their fault that they are under delivering,” says Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best.
On the flipside, have you strapped your employee with unattainable expectations? Asking someone to double revenues on a product that isn’t doing well in the first place may be unrealistic and could cause serious frustration on the part of your employee, says Matuson. It might be time to alter your expectations.
Step #2: Consider the potential usefulness of a PIP
Performance improvement plans take time to construct and implement; you want your time to be well spent. Consider this: is it possible for your employee to do what you want?
“If you have an employee who you want to be nicer to customers and being nice is truly not in their nature, it might be best not to do with an improvement plan,” Matuson says. “It might be best to just part ways.”
Step #3: Write down specific objectives
When coming up with the verbiage for a performance improvement plan, be as specific as possible. Don’t assume anything is common sense. Matuson gives the example of asking your employee to turn in a report every Monday morning.
“You need to tell them that the report should be there by 10 a.m. on the dot,” she says. “Otherwise, it might come in at 11:59 a.m. and you may find yourself frustrated.”
Step #4: Get feedback from your employee
Schedule a meeting with your employee to discuss the PIP. Bring your notes (and specific expectations) to the meeting and ask for your staffer’s feedback. Ask them to be honest with you. Can they achieve your expectations? What concerns do they have? Try to be as non-threatening as possible in the meeting to help them open up and express any concerns they may have.
Step #5: Explain punishments for un-met plans
“As hard as this can be, you need to be forthright and tell them that if they can’t meet the objectives laid out in the plan, you will need to end the working relationship,” Matuson says. “They need to know how serious this is.”
Step #6: Get it in writing
It may take a few drafts, but once you have your agreed-upon PIP down on paper, make sure that you and your employee sign and date the page. You and your employee will be more likely to stick to something if it is in writing.
Step #7: Follow-up
The best thing you can do as a manager is to touch base with your employee during the plan’s duration. Check in on a daily or weekly basis, Matuson recommends. That way, he or she will feel supported throughout the process and be able to ask you questions along the way.
It’s too late to plan a company holiday party—you and your staff have been too busy to deal with it, and now all the venues you wanted are booked up and the caterers are busy. No worries: Here are 6 last-minute ideas you can still pull together in time to celebrate the season with your team.
Sales contests can be excellent ways to motivate your team members, add some excitement to the office environment and, ultimately, boost revenue.
Here, Lauri Flaquer, owner of Saltar Solutions, a business consultancy based in St. Paul, Minn., offers her top questions small business owners should ask themselves when launching a contest.
#1: What is the objective of the contest?
While increasing revenue could be one objective, contests can also be effective ways to retain former customers and to build a more cohesive team. Establish a clear objective before diving in, recommends Flaquer.
#2: What prizes will you offer?
“Figure out what specific prizes motivates your group. Not everyone will be motivated by money, so consider offering days off, trips or merchandise,” she advises.
Not sure what motivates your employees? Just ask them. The more involved they feel, the more excited they will be to perform.
#3: How will you structure your teams?
Team sales contests are far more effective than individual sales contents, says Flaquer, adding that three-person teams can create the best scenario.
“Engagement is really important with these situations, so if you pit one person against another and the same person wins all the time, the other person will just think, ‘why bother?’” she says. “I recommend pairing strong staff members with weaker ones to allow them to learn from each other.”
#4: How will you track results?
Visible results make the greatest impact. Post results daily in your break room or on your company’s intranet homepage. Share a link to the results page with your whole team so people know where they stand at any given time.
#5: How will you keep participants engaged along the way?
Consider giving out incremental prizes to help keep your employees excited about the contest, recommend Flaquer. Gas cards and silly gifts from the dollar store can suffice.
Keep the grand prize top of mind in your office by making it visible. “Put the prize in a case in your lobby or keep a photo of it sitting in an entryway,” she says. “It will keep people subconsciously thinking about the contest and the prize at the end.”
#6: What is your post-contest celebration plan?
Organize a fun event for the final day of the celebration—be it a pizza party or a picnic at a nearby park.
“Be sure to celebrate the entire contest, not just the winner,” Flaquer suggests. “Everyone should feel good about having participated.”
It’s the part of our jobs every small business owner hates: dealing with problem employees. Whatever the reason (whether you dislike confrontation or worry about getting sued) you can’t ignore employee problems, or they will just get bigger and potentially threaten your entire business. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your business legally, while also correcting the employee’s poor behavior.
The moment you hire your first employee you need to create a written employee policy that documents your rules and expectations for the workplace. It should also state what actions (such as theft) would be grounds for dismissal. Have all employees read and sign a copy.
When a problem does arise, start by getting the facts. Talk to other employees to see what’s going on and document the issues as objectively as possible.
Then it’s time to talk to the person. To stay on the right side of the law when it comes to discipline, you should have a progressive discipline policy that gives employees opportunities to correct their behaviors. Start with a discussion of the issue and a verbal warning, and set a date by which the behavior needs to be corrected.
The goal is to work out problems and hopefully keep the employee on board. Work with him or her to create a plan for how to improve. Getting the employee’s input makes him or her more invested in the outcome.
If the behavior still doesn’t improve, escalate your discipline to a written warning, which documents the problem and its duration, specifies how long the employee has to correct the problem and details what will happen if it’s still not fixed. You and the employee should both sign this.
Depending on your employee policies, how severe the issue is and whether the employee is really trying to improve or not, you may do multiple written warnings before (in the worst case) terminating an employee. However, by implementing progressive discipline early and correctly, hopefully you never come to that point.
If you have any doubts or questions about discipline and termination, be sure to consult with an attorney who is familiar with your state’s employment laws.
Hiring can be one of the most difficult parts of being a business owner. You look for the best people for your company and you ultimately end up making your decision based on one event: the interview.
So, how can you conduct an interview that will reveal your next employee of the month? According to Kathleen Lapekas, founder of Lapekas HR Consulting in Evansville, Ind., it all comes down to how you phrase your questions.
“The best types of questions are directly job related and behavior-based,” she says. “Ask someone to explain a time when they had a co-worker that drove them nuts and how they handled it. Keep them talking about real scenarios to learn more about your candidate.”
Lapekas recommends staying away from the following questions:
Question #1: When did you graduate from high school?
While this question may seem benign, it can be perceived as trying to find out a candidate’s age, which is discriminatory.
“You can ask someone when they graduated from college because people graduate from college at different ages, but you can’t say anything about high school because it is assumed that most people graduated when they were around 18 years old,” says Lapekas.
Question #2: What do you do for fun?
Be careful with this one. Unless your candidate offers, keep the conversation focused on the role at hand. Why?
“By asking someone what they do for fun, they may tell you that they are an active member in the National Rifle Association or that they just marched in the local Gay Pride parade,” she says. “You don’t want find out anything in the interview that later—especially if you don’t hire the person—can be perceived as ammo for discrimination.”
Questions #3: When are you due?
It is never acceptable to ask a female candidate if she is pregnant. If, though, she mentions that she is expecting, leave it at that. Do not ask her when she is due. As Lapekas explains, pregnancy is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits any employer discrimination.
Question #4: Are there any medical issues or medications that we need to know about?
“This is hard because obviously you want to know if you are buying a future heart attack,” she says. “But employers can no longer do pre-employment physicals (note: pre-employment drug screenings are allowed by law). In some states you can’t even ask if someone is a smoker.”
Question #5: Where do you go to church?
Race, sex, age, gender, ethnicity and religion are all protected under law and cannot be mentioned in an interview.
“Even if you live in a small town where everyone goes to the same church, keep it out of the interview,” advises Lapekas.
As a small business owner, you may feel wracked with worry over firing one of your employees. Before scheduling the ill-fated meeting, take note of the following tips on how to deliver the news with compassion.
Make sure it isn’t a surprise
Does your employee know that you are unhappy with his or her performance? If not, it might be time to create an employee improvement plan, not fire them outright yet.
“There should be a series of conversations about performance before letting someone go,” says Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best. “Even if there needs to be a layoff, there should be communication in advance about how the business is performing.”
Offer a severance package
Matuson recommends small business owners subscribe to the golden rule: treat others how you’d like to be treated. In the case of a termination, that means trying to offer a severance package (even a small one) to help, as Matuson puts it, “lessen the blow.”
Stay away from Friday
Firing someone before they go home on a Friday can be much harder on them than if you did it earlier in the week.
“If you do it early in the week or in the middle of week, it will give them an opportunity to make contacts with potential employers, to get on their spouse’s health insurance and to call the unemployment office,” says Matuson. “If you do it on a Friday, they will just go home and feel pretty down for the next two days.”
Keep it short
A firing meeting isn’t the time to talk in depth about an employee’s past performance or personal matters. Keep the conversation short and to the point, recommends Matuson.
Address your remaining employees
It can be awfully terrifying to watch a fellow colleague get the boot. Combat negative employee morale by talking with your remaining employees about what happened and how you will all move forward.
“Address your employees with a statement like, ‘John is no longer with us, so lets talk about what we need to do to pick up the slack until we figure out our next move,’” suggests Matuson. “Talking with your existing employees will help them feel less afraid that their job may be in jeopardy, and it will show them that you care.”