Preventative Measures for Small Businesses To Take During COVID-19

With COVID-19 having broad impacts on the global economy, you might be wondering if there are preventative measures for small businesses to take to protect themselves and their customers during these uncertain times.

Indeed there are. Below you’ll find actionable steps that businesses operating in a wide array of industries can take to secure services, put customers at ease, and stay nimble as new information becomes available.

Bolster Inventory

One of the most important preventative measures small businesses can take during these earlier stages of the COVID-19 disruption is to bolster their inventory.

It’s time to examine your current purchasing practices. Pay special attention to your overseas suppliers that may be impacted by export delays. You’ll likely want to increase orders from a typical 30-day supply to a 60- or 90-day supply, especially for your most popular inventory. If you find suppliers challenged to meet your increased quantities, don’t be shy about exploring alternative suppliers. At the very least, you’ll establish new supplier relationships and lay the groundwork for securing operations during current and future market disruptions.

You’ll also want to take steps to bolster your internal inventory for things like office and cleaning supplies. Consider increasing your orders for your daily consumables. Purchases like copier/printer paper, shipping supplies, and in-office consumables like paper towels and toilet paper can all be stored. Whether supply chains get disrupted for these items or not, you’ll use them regardless.

Establish In-Office Protocols

Major consumer-facing businesses have made a proactive practice out of sharing their preventative measures with the public. Whether it’s an airline sharing aircraft disinfectant procedures or your local fitness club letting customers in on their cleaning methods, your customers and employees will appreciate your procedural transparency.

Let the people you rely on most to keep your business running know that you’re taking their health and safety seriously. Here are some tips for safety measures small businesses like yours can take to reassure your team and customers:

  • Office/store cleaning: Consider an email or in-store signage letting customers know your daily and overnight disinfectant procedures. Offer hand sanitizer pumps or wipes if you have shopping baskets or carts. Add additional wipes at checkout/customer service areas. Place paper towels instead of reusable fabric hand towels in all public restrooms.
  • Examine return policies: Explore whether you need to make adjustments to return timelines to accommodate a customer’s desire to limit public exposure. Also, examine how you’ll process returned items and sanitation procedures for returns if necessary.
  • Employee measures: If you haven’t already, now’s a perfect time for an all-hands meeting to discuss COVID-19, its impacts, and safety measures your company is taking. Ensure employees have a plentiful supply of disinfectant products like wipes, soap, and hand sanitizer. Establish a firm sick policy and consider a permanent adjustment to your paid sick leave time.
  • Leverage technology: Consider limiting employee travel (even out and about in town) to avoid unnecessary exposure. Implement digital meeting tools like videoconferencing to continue collaboration during times of limited mobility.

Using the tips above, you can both reassure customers and employees as well as continue business operations responsibly.

Stay Up-To-Date

New information comes out each day about the impacts of COVID-19. One of the most important preventative measures for small businesses is an ongoing commitment to awareness.

Establish a point person or team within your company to stay up-to-date on the latest news. This includes information about new cases, travel recommendations, safety suggestions, and more. The following sites can provide reliable, authoritative information on COVID-19:

Depending on how COVID-19 affects your region, you might consider closing your business for some time to prevent disease transmission. While not an easy decision, it could be a necessary one for safety. Always consider whether a temporary closure of your physical location(s) could benefit public health and make contingency plans for key employees to work remotely during times of potential closure.

With so much news coming out each day about COVID-19, it’s natural to feel a bit flummoxed. However, a bit of planning, a generous amount of communication, and some common-sense safety measures can make your team and customers feel more secure during unsettling times.


How Customer Service Can Help Small Businesses Survive A Potential Slowdown

Could customer service be the key to helping your business survive a slowdown? With the cancelation of global events like the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, TX, companies could be wondering how they’ll survive if this virus continues to thrive. Amidst the COVID-19 turmoil, focusing on customers could both bring in revenue and help retain business–even with supply chains slowed.

Tim Hayden, the President and Managing Partner of Brain+Trust Partners, shares his thoughts below on the intersection of service and wide-reaching COVID-19 slowdowns. If you’re ready to consider customer strategy as more than just a survival strategy, you might find your business better for it for the long haul.

How COVID-19 and other slowdowns might impact SMBs

Direct-to-consumer powerhouse suppliers are already squeezing SMBs. “The hysteria around COVID-19 is causing consumer paranoia of public places and strangers, in general,” says Hayden. “Compounding challenges will come from disrupted services and logistics that help SMBs operate.”

Disruptions mean: as customers make panic purchases, inventory will deplete on an accelerated timeline. This timeline puts additional pressure on supply chains and, ultimately, businesses–to meet customer demand for their regular sales volume.

Why customer-centric strategy can help in tense times

“Customer patience is at an all-time low, as convenience services like grocery delivery and ride-sharing have our expectations set to ‘immediate’ and ‘frictionless,'” Hayden says. “With supply chain and distribution networks being disrupted or at best, delayed, customer service and support must be on point.”

Hayden recommends that businesses commit to ensuring they have the most updated information on both their customers and the entirety of their inventory. With this information in hand, companies will be better prepared to speak to multiple aspects of the customer relationship. For instance, sales reps can perform outreach sales opportunities that aren’t dependent on delayed inventory. Customer care reps can also offer more realistic timelines for out-of-stock items and speak to any alternative sourcing efforts the company might be pursuing.

“Having empathy and accurate details on the state of a transaction, and empowering everyone in a frontline customer-facing role to offer consolations, is paramount in modern times, not just in epidemic moments,” says Hayden.

Five tips to drill down into customer service strategy

Hayden has five tips for using customer service as a potential bridge to help your business weather any slowdown. These strategies will help mobilize your customer service efforts to the front line at any time, not just during downturns:

  • Focus on data integrity. Make sure your database is de-duped, and disparate information on customers can be accessed in one place.
  • Focus on facts. Delivering a personalized and empathetic experience to your customers is only possible when you have all the facts. This can include information about the customer and your inventory.
  • Invest in role-playing. Use role-plays across all levels of operations weekly. This can help to present new customer concerns to the team and workshop solutions and responses.
  • Try out secret shopping. This is for brick and mortar locations or those that rely heavily on internet or phone-based service. Invest in secret shoppers to test your new service protocols. Share them with your team in a constructive way to improve future performance.
  • Be the brands you love. Emulate what you love about the brands you buy from most. The little things like common courtesy and first name salutations are often the difference for returning customers. You can show you’re grateful for their continued business during a slowdown.

Why customer service is the play today

For the most part, the strategies Hayden outlined above require no additional budget. They simply require your time and a commitment to open communication and teamwork. “Investing in getting to know your customers and their contextually relevant needs and ensuring every team member representing your business has that knowledge can lift sales and reduce friction across operations, marketing, and customer experience efforts,” he says.

Hayden adds that market disruptions at the top of 2020 aren’t an anomaly by any means. “Markets will continue to shift every week, and everything from retail to travel to sports and healthcare is being reshaped by this volatility, emerging technologies, and competition,” he says. “Delivering what customers need and want, without friction and free of burden on them, is what allows sales and margins to grow, ultimately.”


What is a PEO? And How to Choose the Right One for Your Business

You probably started your business because you enjoyed the work. Maybe you opened your ideal restaurant or started an electrical contracting business. That part was fun, but other responsibilities surfaced. Now, you have to deal with employees’ human resource issues, find ways to offer benefits and make sure all payroll taxes were filed and paid. Fortunately, small business owners don’t have to cope with these responsibilities by themselves. Professional employer organizations can lift those chores off of the owners’ shoulders. This helps business owners focus more on managerial tasks and growing their businesses. Now, what is a PEO, exactly?

What is a PEO?

A professional employer organization and a business enter into a shared relationship known as “co-employment.” Co-employment means that the PEO is the employer on record. They provide human resource support and handle payroll functions – while you, as the owner, keep the authority and responsibility. You’ll still manage your employees’ day-to-day activities.

Through the co-employment model, PEOs:

  • Are responsible for paying wages, managing employee compensation claims and overseeing other wage-related requirements
  • Assist with regulatory paperwork and compliance issues
  • Manage human resource issues and risk management functions
  • Provide employee benefits. Benefits include- but aren’t limited to – health insurance, unemployment insurance, Section 125 plans and other voluntary insurance products.

What are the Client’s Responsibilities?

The business owner is responsible for:

  • Managing employees’ daily activities
  • Maintaining a safe work environment
  • Keeping track of hours worked and reporting these figure to the PEO
  • Making sure payroll funds are paid in advance to the PEO

Advantages of a PEO

PEOs can take time-consuming HR tasks and responsibilities off your plate. A PEO:

  • Handles all human resource activities so you can focus on managing and growing your business
  • Provides competitive benefits and health insurance. A PEO has the purchasing power to negotiate better health insurance rates and more affordable benefits, such as a 401(k)plan, dental and vision coverage. Using the lower-cost benefits from a PEO enables small- and medium-size companies to compete with and attract employees from larger companies.
  • Stays up-to-date on regulations. As a business owner, you don’t have the time to read the latest regulations. A PEO does this for your and makes sure that you remain compliant.
  • Provides attorneys and HR professionals to handle employee-related issues. PEOs give advice on proper employee termination and disciplinary procedures.

Disadvantages of a PEO

Method of pricing

Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine how much you’re really paying. Many PEOs price their programs as a percentage of wage payroll, but this figure can vary monthly. So, sometimes it’s hard to figure out how much you’re actually paying. The other pricing method is the per-employee-per-month. This approach has add-ons for setup fees, administrative fees and costs for running some payroll reports.

Inflexible health plans

PEOs partner with certain insurance companies, and you don’t have a choice. If you like UnitedHealthCare, but the PEO promotes Aetna, you have to accept Aetna.

Customer service

PEOs handle large numbers of clients and employee issues. Customer service responses can sometimes seem rushed and indifferent.

How to Choose a PEO

Choosing the best PEO for your company requires doing your homework. Here’s a list of questions to help you get started.

  • Assess your company’s needs. What do you need help with -Payroll processing, HR issues, employee benefits? Define what you need before approaching a PEO.
  • Is the PEO a member of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations? Membership in the industry’s trade organization indicates professionalism and respect.
  • Does the PEO have experience in your industry? You want a PEO that understands the daily lives of your employees and the risks they take on their jobs. How many employees do they represent in your industry?
  • Conduct a background check; ask for references to check; get first-hand feedback directly from the PEO’s clients.
  • Are the financial statements independently audited by a CPA? You want assurance that the PEO is legitimate.
  • Are their risk management practices certified by the Certification Institute?
  • Have their ethical practices been accredited by the Employer Services Assurances Corporation? ESAC audits PEOs annually to make certain each PEO has at least a $1 million surety bond.
  • Does the PEO have certification from the IRS? Check for accreditation such as the Certification Program for Professional Employer Organizations from the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Review the fine print in the contract. What guarantees does it provide? How can you terminate the contract if the relationship goes bad?

 

According to NAPEO, the U.S. has over 900 PEOs. While you have plenty of choices and setting up a co-employment agreement with a professional employer organization will relieve you of a ton of administrative tasks, you must thoroughly investigate each PEO candidate before signing on the dotted line. You don’t want any surprises.


Best Books for Small Business Owners Series: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Continuous learning is essential to business and career success. As a small business owner, do you make time to continue developing yourself, considering new ideas and how you might apply them to your business? This is likely a challenge. But, one way to fit learning into your schedule is by reading or listening to great business books; and we’d like to help. With our Monthly Must-Reads series, we share the best books for small business owners.

Not only do we find books helpful for small business owners, but we also aim to save you time. For each book, we share who will benefit from reading it, the book’s key take-aways, and even reader reviews, so you can quickly determine whether it’s worth your valuable time.

This month, we’ll cover The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, like January’s Start with Why, check out the bottom of this article.

Business Book:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

Focus:

How leaders can uncover and address issues that prevent their teams from collaborating and performing successfully.

Main Idea:

Fostering and leading a strong team takes more than a charismatic leader. It takes a leader who’s willing to do the hard work of uncovering and working through conflict, and a team that’s able to honestly identify and work through any issues that stand in the way of success.

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Struggle with leadership, specifically creating cohesive, trusting teams

Synopsis:

InThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni takes readers through a novel-style fable illustrating five common issues keeping teams from functioning at their highest potential. In his story, Kathryn is a fictional CEO hired to lead a team of rockstar executive leaders, who excel in their individual roles, but have trouble working together. The reader follows along as she guides the characters to overcome their political and interpersonal drama, all while discussing and addressing each type of dysfunction they exhibit.

After concluding the story, Lencioni outlines the concepts of each dysfunction with an pyramid illustration. He dives into each type of dysfunction, explaining how to recognize and address them. At the end, Lencioni offers a quiz that you and members of your team can take to understand your strengths and weaknesses within the pyramid.

Key Take-Aways:

Managing and working as a team not only takes discipline and communication, but also courage to overcome obstacles that can seem personal. The five dysfunctions teams often experience are:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

Reviewers Say:

“Lencioni shares simple truths about teams that should be more intuitively obvious to everyone. Yet, these things are very easy to grasp while being very difficult to actually practice … without practice. This book focuses on what prevents a good team from forming and describes what’s needed. His companion book [Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators] focuses on the implementation of these ideas but does not stand alone. If you only get one, get this one. The biggest problem I see is that both books are framed about C-level and top-level executive teams. Very few mid-managers would have the leverage and ability to implement all of these principles at lower levels of the organization. It’s definitely possible in some cases, but it would significantly more challenging. His principles are universally true, but his coaching is directed at executives.”

“A must-have in any manager’s toolkit. I have loved this book for awhile and regularly give it on loan. A perfect way to understand the people aspect of team and support managers through what is a common situation. Very cleverly written and full of tools to help get dysfunctional teams moving in a shared direction. Also good for some self-analysis as everyone will identify their own character.”

Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August, 2019 – Blitzscaling

September, 2019 – The E-Myth Revisited

October, 2019 – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

November, 2019 – Built to Last

December, 2019 – Multipliers

January, 2020 – Start with Why


5 Tips on Managing Difficult Employees

For most employers, dealing with difficult employees is almost inevitable. Since employees are human, they can occasionally demonstrate inappropriate or undesirable behavior, which must be addressed sooner or later. The stakes are simply too high to ignore these behaviors or pretend they don’t exist.

Why? Think about the repercussions of having one or more difficult employees in your workforce.

A problem employee can cause serious damage to your brand.

When a customer walks away unhappy with their treatment, “this makes them associate poor service and bad quality with the brand,” notes Great People Inside. A “damaged reputation takes years to bounce back from and in some extreme cases, it is irreversible.”

A difficult employee can negatively impact morale in the workplace.

An individual with a poor work ethic, a negative outlook; someone who is a chronic complainer. These employees can sap the initiative of others around them. “This toxicity can impact your entire team,” according to AllBusiness, “and if this difficult employee recruits like-minded employees, the poison can spread and infect your business.” This, in turn, can lead to “performance issues, service concerns, product defects, and potential legal action” if and when wrongdoing occurs. In a worst-case scenario, this problem employee triggers an exodus of valued workers from an organization.

A difficult employee disrupts workflow and productivity.

Any employee who causes a disruption or otherwise impedes the flow of work can also inflict significant harm on the organization. Such employees demand “special treatment” from managers or HR. This results in a loss of time and resources. The longer the disruption goes on, the greater the potential damage to both the business and its brand.

Take action to fix the problem

One or more difficult employees in the workplace represents a potentially serious threat to the company’s well-being. That’s why it’s important to take action, including the following:

1. Don’t let the situation fester.

Sometimes owners or managers know a problem exists with a particular employee, but either ignore it or just pretend it doesn’t exist. This might be the worst strategy to employ under the circumstances. Bad behavior rarely goes away on its own. If it’s allowed to fester, it’s almost certain to spread to other employees as well.

2. Address behaviors, not personality.

When it becomes clear that something’s wrong, have a private conversation with the employee and objectively review the situation. The focus should be on specific examples of undesirable behavior, not an indictment of the individual themselves. Sometimes a problem employee isn’t conscious of their actions negatively affecting others. Describe what he or she is doing wrong in a professional way. Don’t criticize their character. This is more likely to generate revised and improved behavior.

3. Be sensitive about the timing of your actions.

Finding the best moment to talk with the problem employee is important. As Talent Gear notes, an employee who is “currently highly emotional, vulnerable or otherwise unlikely to be able to hear and understand your concerns” probably won’t be moved by your intervention. In the same respect, “if you are too angry to have a calm discussion or to show any patience,” it’s best not to have the conversation at that time.

4. Provide focused coaching.

Look for ways to provide ongoing, structured coaching. Suggest more acceptable modes of behavior and allow time for the employee to adopt these suggestions. Also, be sure to document all encounters with the employee. It’s crucial to establish a history of your interactions, the offer to coach and repair any damage done thus far and other actions you or the employee take. Not only does this “paper trail” help to keep everyone on the same page, it may prove essential if and when any legal action occurs as a result of the difficult employee’s behavior.

5. Make the decision to terminate employment.

When all is said and done, there may be times when the best course of action is letting the problem employee go. It’s never ideal to have to terminate an individual’s employment, but putting it off only makes matters worse. As business owner Gene Marks notes on Small Biz Ahead, “in the instances where I did let someone go … I looked back months later and kicked myself that I hadn’t made the move a long time before I did.” Delays “not only caused more problems in the office, but also I wasn’t showing my existing employees the respect they deserve.”

 

Small business owners encounter many challenges, but having a difficult employee in their ranks is one challenge they must address directly and overcome. The health and well-being of the business depends on it.

 


3 Innovative Ways to Find Construction Employees

Nationally, many business firms have difficulty finding skilled employees to fill open slots and replace those nearing retirement. This is doubly true for construction firms. During the Great Recession, the construction industry plummeted. Many builders, general contractors, as well as subcontracting firms closed. Employees sought out other industries, or moved away. The struggle to find construction employees worsens as the economy expands. Those who leave the construction industry aren’t returning because new opportunities continuously arise in their ‘new’ professions. This limits many construction firms’ growth. However, some firms pursue creative or nontraditional approaches with hiring and retaining talent and have shown strong success.

1. Use Craigslist…with a different twist.

Courtney Keene is director of operations for My Roofing Pal. It’s an online marketplace connecting people with the best local, residential and commercial home improvement contractors. She helps firms find employees efficiently by using Craigslist. “Everyone thinks Craigslist is a thing of the past, but the truth is many job-seekers still search Craigslist daily.” To avoid wading through generic submissions, they “set up an automatic response that linked to a form the applicant needed to fill out listing their experience and qualifications.”

They only review completed forms, thus drastically reducing the time spent reviewing applicants. Unqualified and barely-interested applicants rarely take the time to complete additional steps. Essentially, they self-select out. This methodology had two benefits. First, according to Keene, it was “a great way to avoid the flood of unqualified applications from general job sites”. Second, she continues, “they were able to find a suitable employee in just over two weeks.”

2. Cultivate ties to your local trade school or program.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to pursue the less experienced candidates and provide them with experience and training. That’s what several construction firms have done. Over the last three decades, many urban and suburban school systems shut down their high school vocational programs and high schools. Fortunately, public and private post-secondary vocational and technical schools rose to fill the void. General construction trade schools typically provide training in carpentry, masonry and general trades. Specialized schools target electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians.

You can target graduates or near graduates of the construction trade programs and first or second years in specialized trades. They probably have little hands-on experience, so you’ll likely need to provide apprentice opportunities to prepare them for the job. The good news? Most schools teach students to read blueprints and manage projects – skills that most general laborers don’t have.

3. Look to your local hardware store.

Another source that construction company owners and managers should consider more frequently are their local hardware stores. “We ask local construction supply stores like ACE Hardware or Lowe’s if we can hang our help wanted posters in their windows, or anywhere in the store,” says Jeff McLean, co-owner of McLean Company in Danvers, Massachusetts. He continues, “Construction professionals are constantly going to these stores to pick up materials for their current jobs, and many of them are only on the job for a contracted period.”

In other words, many firms hire construction workers as sub-contractors, or to complete a particular project. Since McLean’s company wants full-time employees, ads appeal to those seeking full-time work and job security. McLean further states, “This strategy is completely free, and provides us with highly qualified employees.”

If you’ve desperately tried to find construction employees to staff your projects, consider implementing one or more of these ideas. Although some involve investing a large amount of time, money or both, the expected return-on-investment is well worth it.


Best Books for Small Business Owners: Start with Why

January Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

It’s easier to say you’ll make time to learn new things that really doing it, especially when you own and operate your own business. But research has shown that continuous learning is essential to business and career success. So, how do you make time in your busy schedule to think about new ideas and how you might apply them at work? Read—or listen—to great business books. With our pick of the best books for small business owners, you’re sure to find the inspiration you need to succeed.

To help you choose the best business books for your situation, we’ve created our Monthly Must-Reads Series. This series highlights helpful books for small business owners and also save you time. How? For each featured book, we share the main focus, key take-aways, and even reader reviews, so you can quickly determine whether the book is worth your valuable time. We hope this makes it easier for you to keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends.

To kick off 2020, we’re sharing Start with Why by Simon Sinek. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, like December’s Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, check out the bottom of this article.

Business Book:

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek

Focus:

Identifying how the most influential leaders think about, act on, and communicate their why.

Main Idea:

Understanding the underlying purpose–the why— behind an idea, product or service inspires people to make positive changes in their lives.

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to innovate and inspire by discovering their true mission and operating from it.

Synopsis:

Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, is the third most-viewed TED talk of all time. In it, he urges all leaders to start asking, “Why?”

“Why do I get out of bed in the morning?”

“Why does my company exist?”

“And why should anyone care?”

And he named his book with that in mind. Start with Why delves deeper into his central idea, offering real world examples that illustrate what happens when companies successfully communicate their why.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Too many companies start with, focus on, and talk about their what: the product or service they sell.
  • When companies understand their why’ (i.e. their mission and the values that support it; the reason they’re in business), they can better identify appropriate audiences and more effectively market to them, creating a loyal customer base in the process.
  • A company’s why should also influence its culture, its hiring decisions, and its teambuilding strategies. Employees, not just customers, should understand and buy into your company’s why.
  • When you organize everything from your operations to your marketing efforts keeping your why in mind, you build a loyal customer base and an engaged, motivated team.

Reviewers Say:

“[Wow.] I cannot rate this book highly enough to take a different, positive approach to life and work. Like others, I have watched Sinek’s TED Talk on this, and questioned whether the book would add anything more, and, boy, yes it did. Imagine the TED Talk expanded to two hours, with more depth, intrigue and examples. What I like most about the book compared to the TED Talk is that it delves more in to how Starting With Why can influence home life, not just work. [It definitely makes you think], and I’m even finding myself taking a different approach around my team at work. I agree, a lot of the examples are repeated (a lot) throughout the book, in particular Apple. I’m not against Apple and found it useful how the different topics are explained using the same companies as examples. It helps provide the fuller picture. However, let me assure any potential readers that there are also plenty of new examples given too.”

“The author’s TED talk is one of the most-viewed ever; and it’s really quite good. In fact, it’s so good that you don’t need to read this book! He takes a very, very simple concept and expands, and expands, and repeats, and seemingly never edits, and then repeats, and expands, and — well, you get the idea. The whole thing could’ve been done in 50 pages or less. Example: Yes, there’s a difference between WHAT one does in business and WHY one does it. And sometimes they diverge. He calls this the “Split” and has a graphic and whole chapter on it. Really?? Not needed.”

Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August, 2019 – Blitzscaling

September, 2019 – The E-Myth Revisited

October, 2019 – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

November, 2019 – Built to Last

December, 2019 – Multipliers


Best Books for Small Business Owners – Multipliers

While it’s essential to business and career success, continuous learning is easier said than done, especially for small business owners who wear many hats. That’s why we’ve created the Monthly Must-Reads series with our selection of best books for small business owners. We not only share the best books for small business owners, but also aim to save you time by helping you quickly determine whether each business book is worth your valuable time.

Keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends by reading the right business books for your situation. With each featured book, we share the main focus, key take-aways, and even reader reviews. For December’s best books for small business owners, we’re sharing Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, like October’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, check out the bottom of this article.

Business Book:

Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman

Focus:

It helps you understand how to bring out the best possible performance in your employees.

Main Idea:

There are two types of leaders: Diminishers and Multipliers. Multipliers inspire their employees to willingly reach for and achieve outcomes that they may never have thought possible.

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to get exciting results from lean teams with few resources.

Synopsis:

Wiseman presents real-life anecdotes that illustrate two distinct leadership styles by analyzing data from more than 150 leaders: Diminishers and Multipliers. She then identifies each one’s habits of thought. She explains that Multipliers enjoy a higher rate of success and more impressive results by making everyone around them more productive, engaged and creative.

Wiseman empowers her readers to learn how to lead like Multipliers by contrasting Multipliers and Diminishers in the following ways:

  • Talent Magnets vs. Empire Builders
  • Liberators vs. Tyrants
  • Challengers vs. Know-It-Alls
  • Debate Makers vs. Decision Makers
  • Investors vs. Micromanagers

After digesting this guidance toward becoming a Multiplier, readers are invited to take a self-assessment via Wiseman’s website to identify where they lie on the scale from Diminisher to Multiplier.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Multipliers create more intelligence around them while diminishers’ leadership habits often stifle their team’s creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Multipliers:
    • Attract talented people because they become known for empowering team members and using them at their highest potential
    • Foster safe places for people to share, collaborate and unlock their best ideas
    • Outline challenging opportunities that inspire their people to stretch themselves
    • After you hear all points of view, make decisions based on stimulating, healthy debates.
    • Invest in their people, empowering them to take ownership of their roles and outcomes

Reviewers Say:

“Seeing as I’ve read [Multipliers] three times, I can’t believe I haven’t written a review yet. No exaggeration, this book can be a life-changer both at work and in your personal life. I admit that the first time I read it I thought, ‘Ok, this is so clear as to be obvious; I’ve seen these types of people for years at work.’ But, so what? I never thought it through, and Liz [Wiseman] has done the research, so my anecdotal evidence is supplanted by the real thing. Chapter by chapter, the concepts were illuminated with great examples and stories. This is no flavor of the month. These are concepts that can be used easily at work. And if applied, they work. I can attest to that.”

“We’ve all heard—and said—that less is more. Sometimes it’s true. But in most cases it’s still the reality that more is more, and is usually the preferred ROI of resources, whether those resources are of time, money, manpower, brain-trust, whatever. Best of all is getting more from less, and that is what Liz Wiseman’s fine book teaches us to do. Using a wide-range of varying case studies and examples from the world over, Wiseman itemizes the symptoms of a variety of leadership illnesses that sicken a corporate culture and disable its employees. You may well find yourself hiding in these pages somewhere; I know I did. Fortunately, after helping us see where we are minimizing rather than maximizing the human resources at our disposal, Wiseman clearly articulates the prescription(s) to fix the problem(s). It has the added advantage of being an engaging, thoughtful and well-written treatment.”

Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence: This Psychology of Persuasion

November – Built to Last


Uncover and Promote Employee Leadership in Your Business

Employee leadership is considered one of the most promising aspects of human resources and training within organizations. After all, leaders have to come from somewhere!

There are obvious benefits to building up leaders from within:

  • They have a deeper understanding of the company’s mission than a new hire from “outside.”
  • They will work hard to justify the company’s faith in promoting them to leadership positions.
  • Workforce morale overall rises when employees see “one of their own” moving ahead. (It could happen to them, too.)
  • The organization itself benefits from promoting a motivated, talented, and experienced employee.

Given these favorable outcomes, what can you do to recognize, encourage, and reward employee leadership?

Learn to identify potential leaders.

Part of the leadership cultivation process is keeping an eye out for the most promising candidates within the organization. Generally speaking, such individuals won’t be hard to miss. They display genuine enthusiasm for their job responsibilities, frequently go above and beyond, and are more than willing to assist co-workers with important tasks.

But it’s important to watch for other key signs. At company meetings, for example, see which employees contribute the most and come up with the most striking, out-of-the-box ideas. Consider inviting these individuals to sit in on a higher-level meeting. Encourage them to take part, contributing ideas and insights based on their professional experience.

Ask the right questions.

Savvy business owners also take time to identify a potential leader’s ambitions and needs. They ask probing, foward-looking questions like:

  • Are there other positions in the organization you’d like to explore?
  • What skills do you possess that you feel aren’t being utilized by our company?
  • Which current skill would you like to improve?
  • Are there new skills you’d like to develop?

The answers you receive will prove to be a helpful guide as you oversee the individual’s progress towards leadership.

Look for alignment with your company’s vision.

Employees who “get” the organization’s vision and mission statement are often the most promising leadership candidates. It’s up to you and your executive team to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand this vision (and feels comfortable asking questions to gain a deeper understanding).

This alignment “gives [employees] ownership of what they create and helps them support organizational causes with more purpose,” notes Inc.

Offer training opportunities and mentorship.

Budding leaders often learn most when they have access to training and development opportunities (classes, webinars, conferences, etc.). Since the cost and time-commitment of formal training can be daunting, offer to foot the bill for work-related development opportunities and invite employees to take part.

Employees can benefit hugely from working with mentors, too. LMBC, a professional services solutions provider, suggests enlisting “older generation leaders” to act as mentors and role models to employees. This experience “will help future leaders learn the ropes more quickly and form good habits from leading others.”

Give potential leaders challenging assignments.

Ambitious employees often want to test themselves and build their portfolio of talents.  However, this is only possible if the organization enables them to tackle a challenging project or initiative–even if the end-result isn’t “perfect.”

One option is appointing them to manage a small group of fellow employees on a special project. In addition, you can invite them to appoint a team of their own to brainstorm solutions to nagging organizational and/or customer service issues.

The key, says Forbes, is letting the potential leader struggle, if necessary. No one is saying you must “force prospective leaders to swim or die,” and you or a manager should pitch in if things get too difficult. Most important, you should be sure to refrain from rushing “to their aid at the first sign of danger,” because it’s more desirable that they “make their own decisions and find their own solutions.”

Reward performance and initiative.

As you work to promote employee leadership, always remember to provide tangible rewards. For example, don’t hesitate to praise the employee in public or through company-wide communications. In addition, you should include performance objectives and achievements in the employee’s annual or semi-annual evaluations and congratulate them for their efforts. Offer personalized guidance or advice, when necessary, and always in an upbeat fashion.

With the right level of support and training, you can develop the next generation of leaders within your organization. Think of the time and resources you’ll save by not having to look beyond your company walls and not having to rely upon “outside” candidates to fill leadership positions.


Employee Taxes: Are Your Employees Withholding Enough Income Tax?

In 2019, many Americans had a rude awakening: their tax refunds weren’t as big as they’d expected. Many people owed instead of getting a refund. Employee taxes, such as federal income tax withholding, seemed to have been under-withheld.

Changes to the tax code left employers and employees alike wondering what steps they could take to avoid tax surprises in future years.

The key to helping employees avoid under-withholding is taking a proactive stance on employee taxes. The experts below can help your team understand what happened with the changes to the tax code. From there, they offer actionable advice to help employees get their withholdings updated to minimize surprises.

Why some taxpayers were caught off-guard

“You fill out a W4 when you get a new job, and then you don’t think about it again until you have the next first day of the next new job,” says Ben Watson, CPA and CFO of Dollar Sprout. The “set it and forget” nature of the W4 form means that life changes, but the information on your W4 form doesn’t. Out-of-date information can lead to under-withholding employee taxes, especially in a year with significant changes to the tax code.

Even if employees had taken steps to update their W4, the form itself might have been the reason for under-withholding. “It’s possible that the current version of the W4 form hasn’t been the best tool to help employees get the right withholdings, even if they go step-by-step through the worksheet,” says Brenda Soucy, an IRS Enrolled Agent and manager with Lopez, Chaff, & Wiesman Associates Inc.

Soucy adds that multiple income streams can also create an under-withholding situation. “If you have a bunch of smaller jobs where you make $20,000 on each job, your withholding on those jobs assume this single job is your only income,” she says. “But if you have three of those $20,000 jobs, that’ll put you in a higher tax bracket.”

The rise of the gig economy adds to the scenario Soucy describes. Jobs like rideshare driving and delivery services typically don’t withhold employee taxes. Employees might not have increased withholdings at their full-time jobs to account for their increase in income, leading to under-withholding.

New tools to estimate withholdings

While launching a year later than changes to the tax code, there are new tools that will help with adjustments.

The first new tool is a revised W4 form. Estimated to arrive for employer use in December 2019, Soucy says the new form “takes many new factors into account, like dependents, other income, and multiple jobs.”

These changes point toward more accurate estimates for withholdings moving forward.

The IRS has also released a new online withholding calculator. Employers can distribute a link to the calculator to employees and invite them to update their W4 form withholdings, even before the new W4 form is released.

Steps employers can take

In addition to the new tools from the IRS, employers can help educate employees about changes to the tax code.

Watson suggests that employers partner either with their existing financial services partners or look to firms in the community to provide education.

“Reach out to your tax firm. Reach out to your payroll provider. Ask them, ‘What do we need to know?'” he says. “By inviting partners to share information about tax code changes, the burden doesn’t fall on employers to pass this information on to their employees.”

Atiya Brown is a CPA and consumer debt management specialist who also advocates for employers to bring in specialists to keep employees up-to-date each year.

“The changes that happen in an employee’s life aren’t necessarily something employers know about or even think about,” she says. “By having someone come in and explain all these new changes – changes to deductions, the W4 form, the new online withholding calculator – employers are taking a proactive stance.”

Brown also adds that employees can forget that they’re in control of their withholdings. “When employees have the perception that an employer under-withheld their taxes, their employer does what the employee told them to do on their W4 form.”

By empowering employees with up-to-date tax information annually, your company can play a role in demystifying a seemingly complex process.

To put your company ahead of the pack, here are a few additional tips from the experts above that can help pave the way to more accurate withholdings.

Don’t forget about employee benefits.

“Don’t just offer benefits. Offer the education to help employees understand the tax implications of their benefits,” says Watson. When you invite financial partners to educate employees, make sure they thoroughly address the breadth of your company’s benefits. And, just as important, how each of these benefits impacts an employee’s tax situation.

Have open conversations about gig income.

Brown wants employers to embrace the reality that many employees might have a side hustle to make ends meet. “Employees should know that they can increase their withholdings at their employer to account for income from a gig job,” she says. “Employees can even specify a specific additional dollar amount to be withheld from each paycheck.”

Conversations like these can also help employees avoid end-of-year tax surprises.

Engage Human Resources.

“Have HR put together a week each year with the sole purpose of encouraging employees to update all of their information on file with the company,” says Watson. HR departments can build annual agendas that include lunch-and-learns and “CPA Days”.  During these events, employees can receive general tax information, benefits education and enrollment, and more. Employee taxes are a very human topic with wide-reaching effects on an employee’s life beyond the workplace.

While companies could see payroll taxes as something unpleasant to discuss, employers can lead a narrative that creates happier employees.

“As an employer, you want your employees to be happy,” says Brown. “If employees perceive that their under-withholding is something that’s their employer’s fault, that’s a source of tension in your company. Education has the potential to create happier, more empowered employees. Whichever avenue employers choose to pursue employee education, whether a webinar or lunch-and-learn, that’s a step toward decreasing potential tension.”


Supercharge Your Employee Benefits With These 5 Out-of-the-Box Perks

When you think of expanding your company’s employee benefits, you might be blinded by dollar signs. When mega-companies offer perks like free meals, luxury on-site gyms, and complete student loan forgiveness, sprucing-up your own game can seem like an expensive endeavor.

However, not all high-value benefits are costly to offer!

Here are five ideas for low-cost, high-value benefits to offer your employees. With a small investment, you might find that you significantly increase employee satisfaction.

Flexible Savings Accounts

Better health, dental, and vision benefits are top of the list for many when it comes to employee benefits. Expanding your benefits to include flexible spending accounts (FSAs) can instantly make your health coverage more robust.

These accounts let employees contribute tax-free dollars into a special savings account. This account can be used throughout the year to pay for qualified health expenses. Additionally, with a low per-employee cost (some plans are under $10/employee per month), it’s an easy benefit expense to absorb.

Flexible Spending Account

Source: NueSynergy

Health Add-Ons

Want to expand your company’s health benefits? There’s an app or membership for that. Technology’s given rise to apps and physician membership programs that can provide your employees an edge on their care.

Here are a few lower-cost add ons to boost your company’s medical benefits:

  • One Medical – Offers concierge-level care for a much lower monthly fee, including telemedicine with zero copay and app-based health support.
  • Maven – If you’re a majority-female workplace, don’t miss Maven. They have specialty medical plans tailored toward a woman’s every stage of life.
  • Doctor on Demand – This app can help your employees connect with a doctor via their phone — no waiting for virtual primary care.

Pet Insurance

Your company’s pet parents could be hungry for benefits that recognize their furry dependents. Pet insurance is a low-cost offering with a high appreciation rate.

In fact, many of the nation’s leading pet insurance providers have zero enrollment fees for employers. Your company can sign-up as a partner, and employees will have instant access to preferred partner rates.

If you’re looking to attract younger talent, keep in mind that millennial pet ownership just surpassed the baby boomer generation. Because of this, pet insurance can help your benefits package seem more robust to a younger field of workers.

Source: Nationwide

Wellness Apps

Today’s workforce is more attuned to their mobile devices than any other generation. Why not add benefits that tap into those devices?

Wellness apps can help your employees lower stress, get fit, and zone out with purpose. Check out meditation apps like Headspace; group activity apps like Fitbit Health Solutions; and team challenge apps like MakeMe. These apps all have corporate plans with low investment with the potential for high return and employee satisfaction.

Personal Care Perks

Beyond the apps and subscriptions, you can amp-up your benefits by scheduling personal care days throughout the year. By working with local salons, spas, and barber shops, you can host in-house events like free to low-cost beard trims, blowouts, group yoga classes, or massages. A single day each month can help your employees feel valued and appreciated and for a low, scheduled investment.

With these five low-to-no-cost employee benefits ideas in your pocket, you’re one step ahead. Expanding your benefits doesn’t have to be a high-cost endeavor. In fact, you might even find higher employee satisfaction by spending less.

 


Employee Burnout: The Risks and Ways to Combat It

Are your employees stressed out at work to the point that they are feeling burned out?

Employee burnout is a common problem businesses face in the U.S. and around the globe — so much so that the World Health Organization recently addressed the issue during its World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

The WHO concluded that “burnout” is an “occupational phenomenon” and “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The agency even updated its International Classification of Diseases, which is the global information standard for the identification of health trends and statistics, to include the following indicators of the syndrome:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

And not managing workplace stress may have more risks than you think.

According to Mayo Clinic, ignored or unaddressed job burnout has significant consequences, including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

Health problems such as these can potentially cause low job performance, disengagement, missed work or high employee turnover, to name a few.

However, the good news is that there are ways to combat employee burnout and mitigate associated risks. Here’s how.

Create a Flexible Work Environment

Lessen employee burnout at your business by providing a flexible work environment. You can do this by establishing communal work areas, multi-use furniture or unassigned desks. Unlike a traditional office space which often consists of private offices or high wall cubicles, this set up can help facilitate collaboration between employees who might otherwise have minimal interaction.

More importantly, a flexible work design increases employee comfort and productivity and improves employee well-being, according to TurningArt. Therefore, this effort may indeed reduce burnout. As an added benefit, a flexible work environment can help your business maximize spatial efficiency and reduce costs.

Flexibility in terms of employee schedules is also an integral piece in keeping your employees happy and less likely to burn out. By allowing flexible work hours, your employees will be able to adjust the time or place their work is completed. This arrangement can help accommodate their personal needs, such as to better manage a long commute or to allow parents to take their children to school.

Overall, flexible schedules can enable your employees improve their work-life balance and feel less stressed at work — factors that may help prevent burnout and improve employee retention. In fact, according to a 2018 Work Environment Survey, 73 percent of full-time office professionals say a flexible schedule is in their top two reasons to stay with a company.

Conduct Wellness Programs

Another way to prevent employee burnout is by offering wellness programs to promote healthy habits. And there are many wellness programs for small businesses that don’t require a lot of time and money.

For instance, stock your breakroom vending machine with granola bars and flavored seltzer water instead of high-fat and sugary items like candy bars or sodas. You can also regularly stock your breakroom with complimentary fresh fruit, for instance, apples, oranges and bananas, to give your employees a healthy treat and energy boost.

You can also wrestle burnout by implementing daily 15 minute nature walks to allow your employees to get some fresh air and exercise. To boost employee camaraderie, try initiating workplace walking or running clubs. For an added incentive, support leading participants with a monthly prize or a half-day off.

Offer Professional Development

Professional development can mean more to your employees than just job training and educational opportunities, it can help mitigate employee burnout. That’s because it provides the opportunity to connect with your employees in a more personalized way. For instance, instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach to employee growth, give your employees a development plan that is tailored-made for them.

A targeted approach to professional development based on each employee’s specific skill set and strengths will not only help them achieve their personal career goals, but will also make them feel more valued. Solidify this connection by asking your employees for regular feedback or ideas for business improvements and then take action on some of those ideas to show that they are appreciated.

When offering professional development, relay your business’s mission and how each member fits as an integral part of the team. This is also an opportunity to relay job expectations so your employees feel more comfortable at work. To avoid members being overworked or working exclusively on their own responsibilities, which can lead to burnout, offer social support by facilitating peer connections and encouraging mentorship.

Recognize Your Employees

Help create a positive work environment and reduce burnout by taking the time to recognize your employees for their solid performance. There are many easy, low cost ways to recognize your employees on a regular basis. For instance, a simple shout out in the monthly newsletter or email to relay an employee achievement can go a long way. You can also give a handwritten note expressing gratitude for their work.

Another idea is to offer high performing staff a day off or allow them to work from home for a day. This can help support work-life balance, so your employees return to work recharged and less likely to burnout. You can take it a step further by adding PTO or implementing quarterly bonus incentives. Recognize a group of employees by having a quarterly party or treating them to a meal at a fine restaurant. All of these ways can help your employees feel valued, less stressed and more motivated to succeed in their jobs.

Employee burnout poses risks to not only your employees, but also to your business. However, by providing the right opportunities and incentives, you can help your employees strike a balance between their personal lives and work and take the edge off burnout.


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