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What Can You Do When an Older Employee’s Performance Declines?

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An employee is starting to show her age. She’s losing her hearing and becoming forgetful. She wants to work to age 68 — three more years. What do we do? 

This is a tough one. You want to be loyal, but you can’t afford errors or to allow other employees to see you tolerate them. The best strategy is to focus on performance, not the person. “Deal with issues for what they are — not for the reasons behind them,” says Kate Peterson, president of consultancy Performance Concepts. If your older associate mishears something and this leads to a problem, address the problem — regardless of the underlying cause. A person can deny their hearing is failing, but not the consequence. Consider investing in a retirement package, or employ the associate as a “goodwill ambassador.” If it’s time to part ways, ensure every detail is handled correctly. “You can’t terminate an employee for failing hearing … but if necessary, you can for continued failure to deliver to the job requirements,” Peterson says. 

Our optical business is three generations old and family owned. The problem is, we never formally settled ownership. Where can I find a mediator to help us with this problem?

In most major urban areas there are Centers for Dispute Resolution that have lists of trained mediators who do this type of work, but keep in mind that arbitration is binding, says Lauren Owen, a principal at Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching. Some of them are attorneys, some are former judges, some come from other fields. Again, Google is your friend, says Jo-Ann Sperano, a mediation specialist. “Google ‘mediation+services’ and ‘family law’ and see what comes up,” she advises.

One of our ODs is due to start maternity leave in about two months. Where’s the best place to find temporary ECP staff? 

Start with ODsOnCall.com, which connects ODs looking for a little extra work (assignments can be as short as half a day to as long as a couple months). Also check out: CovalentCareers.com, fillineyedoc.com, ETSvision.com, careers.optometryscareercenter.org/jobs (AOA’s career center), odpcli.com/od-marketspace/practice-opportunity;(the Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute’s board), theeyegroup.com;(a recruiting service), corporateoptometrycareers.com

Given that who you hire basically determines the success of your practice, you should also make a point to register with optometry school websites and your state and local optometric associations.

One of my sales people has asked me if I’ll take on her 16-year-old daughter as an unpaid “intern”/sales assistant this summer to give her some experience. What are the legal ramifications?  

The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has specific criteria governing unpaid intern programs. Among them:

  • The internship is for the benefit of the student.
  • The employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.
  • The intern cannot be guaranteed a post-training job.
  • If those conditions are not met, the intern is considered an employee and is entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. 
We have our 60th anniversary this year and have yet to come up with any good plans. Please help. 

The most common approach we’ve seen is to host an in-store event (“Remember 1957” theme, with ’50s attire and music) with discounts on merchandise that somehow reflect the occasion. So, in your case, you might invite 60 of your best clients and offer discounts of 60 percent on a range of goods. Make a special effort to reach out to long-time customers (a prize for the customer with the oldest receipt), and former staff members. Set up a showcase of vintage eyewear and ask old-time customers to lend you their old frames. And in the run-up, devote your sandwich board, email bulletin or social media posts to weekly historical highlights: “Flashback: March 15, 1957 top song, top movie, top news event.”

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This is obviously also a great time to reinforce community links, so do something charitable, like a $6 or $60 donation for every pair of glasses sold that month to be split between local charities. Finally, get some recognition. Look into seeking local government support to have the date declared “(Your Practice’s Name) Day.” And don’t forget to invite the press. 


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of INVISION.

 

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What the Law Says About Retailers Who Say They’re Selling at ‘Wholesale’ Prices and More Questions for March

Unless it’s true, it might be a criminal offense in your state.

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How can I improve the open rates on my email marketing bulletins?

A few years ago, MailChimp.com did a survey of some 40 million promotional emails and found that those with the highest open rates (from 67 to an amazing 80 percent) were the ones that were — surprise, surprise — the least promotional. Typically, they had subject lines that told the recipient what was inside (they didn’t confuse e-bulletins with promotions or vice versa), they used the company’s name in the subject line, and had straightforward subject lines — they weren’t too “salesy” or pushy (this also helps you avoid spam trigger words). Most email providers will allow you to write subject lines of up to 60 characters but you should try to keep it short and to the point, between 30 and 40 characters and no more than five to eight words.

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Constant Contact, another service provider, recommends you state a clear benefit to opening the email. Email messages that have an “exclusive” offer in the subject line, such as “Private event” or “For select customers only,” can generate an additional 24 percent open rate, according to its studies. Of course, you don’t want to be too dry. Your content should be as friendly as possible. Open with the recipient’s name, use a tone that reflects your personality and end with your signature line. Most important, give them something they want. If they’ve opted in and you are responding to their interests, you too might be able to get super-high open rates.

One of the questions I always get, and hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to defuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look at the customer directly, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal possible, they’ll probably trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, why should a customer or patient trust you to take care of their vision?

My store seems like a reality TV show: unnecessary drama. Addressing it only seems to add fuel to the fire. Is there a way to bring it under control?

You’re not alone. After profitability concerns, this is the No. 1 headache of business owners, says business coach Lauren Owen. Drama and discord create stress and hurt productivity. There is no quick fix but there are a number of things you can do, starting with regular meetings. “Scheduled, well-run meetings are essential to clear communication and team building and addressing potential conflicts,” says Owen, adding that such meetings are conspicuously absent at stores with drama issues.

Other steps include confronting your drama queens, addressing your underperformers (there is often a hidden cost in the resentment they cause), performing a cost-benefit analysis on your high performance/maintenance employees (sometimes they just suck all the energy out of a store), and finally taking a good look at yourself. “Some people actually like drama, despite what they say,” Owen says. “If you were really honest with yourself you might understand that the drama is satisfying some need of yours. Attention? Power? Control? Do you avoid all conflict, even healthy conflict, at all costs?” And are you giving your staff a clear sense of purpose — that eyewear is about something much bigger than business?

My practice has never grown the way I had hoped … or hired for. To keep going, I feel we need to downsize. How can I do it without destroying staff morale?

Layoffs are tough. You can’t have high productivity without good morale, and you can’t have good morale unless people have confidence that the company has a future and that the business is going to treat them fairly if things get worse. Employees need to know that you respect and value their contributions and don’t just view them as a resource.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to order layoffs. In that case, remember three rules.

1. Do them all at once. Dragging things out will destroy morale.
2. It’s better to cut too much than to cut too little.
3. Make sure all remaining employees understand that what you’re doing is saving their jobs.

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Finding the Best Tax Professional for You and More Questions for February

Getting a head start on what could be a volatile year, and more advice for February.

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2019 seems like it’s going to be a volatile year. What should we do to get ready?

Eight years of economic growth and cheap credit allowed many business owners to gaze far into the future and craft successful, long-term strategies, but it does seem those times are coming to an end as trade wars, rising interest rates, political turmoil, spooked financial markets and ongoing technological change cast a shadow over what otherwise is still a strong economy. In such a shifting, unstable environment where visibility is low, Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, recommends “active waiting.” Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. This is a time of threat but also opportunity. “Keep your vision fuzzy and your priorities clear,” Sull says. “Maintain a war chest and battle-ready troops. Know when to wait — and when to strike. When you grab an opportunity or move to crush a threat, amass all your resources behind the effort.” At the same time, continue making routine operational improvements such as cutting costs, strengthening distribution, and improving products and services. “Though mundane, these initiatives foster efficiency, which can position you to snatch a golden opportunity from rivals’ jaws,” Sull says. It all sounds rather dramatic, but then high drama surely awaits.

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The sales experts you quote often recommend role-playing exercises. But my sales staff always slinks away when I suggest them. How can I get them to play along?

That may be because the focus is negative, says sales trainer Dave Richardson. Make the role-playing positive and fun. First, play the role of the salesperson and let your salespeople critique you. Then, when it’s your turn to play the customer, instead of saying, “Here’s what you did wrong,” start off by telling the person what you felt they did well and what you would change if you had the opportunity. Always finish on a positive, encouraging note, Richardson says.

Our marketing team’s images were recently lifted and used by the vendor for their advertising without crediting us. When I contacted them, they said, “We’re sorry; it was the intern’s fault.” How should I handle this?

If it was “the intern’s fault,” who approved the final vendor layouts? But regardless of whose fault it is, you should get some compensation for the use of your images, says business management consultant Kate Peterson. The vendor would have paid for the images had they used any other marketing professional to create them, so they should have no issue with paying your in-house team. “I would suggest that the retailer assign a fair price (what she typically pays her team per image) and send an invoice directly to the head of the company with pics of their ads and an explanation. If applicable, tell them you will apply the amount of the invoice against an outstanding balance,” says Peterson. “The key here is to remain positive and confident, as opposed to challenging. Assume they are expecting to compensate, and communicate in a tone that expresses confidence in their interest in doing the right thing.”

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My business is only four years old and up until now I’ve done my own taxes but now I’d like to find a tax pro. Where do I find a good one?

Online directories such as CPAdirectory.com, Accountant-Finder.com and AccountantsWorld.com are a good place to start. Most will allow you to search by name, location and industry focus. The National Association of Tax Professionals also offers an online database of tax preparers, and the American Institute of CPAs has one for CPA firms. If you do contemplate hiring a tax preparer you found online, request referrals to past clients so you can ask about the quality of the service they received. A possibly better strategy is to ask people in the industry. This is because your ideal target should have some experience doing returns for vision-related businesses as every industry has its own rules and deduction options.

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Personality Clashes and More Questions for This Month

Read the answers to some of your holiday questions.

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Our holiday events are approaching. What are the best finger foods for an in-store event?

Balancing what tastes good — usually greasy or gooey food — with what looks sophisticated and doesn’t leave crumbs around the store or sticky fingerprints over your eyewear or frame boards is a tough balancing act. But store trainer Kate Peterson thinks she’s seen the answer: small, clear plastic drink glasses. “One presentation had a small amount (about three-quarters of an inch) of ranch dressing in the bottom of the cups, along with a variety of veggie sticks (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash). The glasses were all arranged on a tray, so instead of having to pick up the veggies and scoop dip onto a plate, guests simply picked up an easy-to-handle, pre-made serving, which could then be dropped into a trash bin when they were done. Peterson adds that she saw a similar but more “savory” twist on this treatment with cocktail sauce and jumbo shrimp (tails removed). Don’t want ranch dressing in your store? Try cubed cheese and seedless grapes, which are always a crowd favorite, and easy to prepare.

I need ideas on how to give my optical a quick, cheap facelift before the holiday season starts.

The problem with quick, cheap facelifts is that they look exactly that — quick and cheap. Take a hard look at your store and if you find worn fixtures splash out and get them refinished. Then focus on creating a killer (but easy-on-the-pocket) winter-themed display. Bare branches, lots of white, big candles, spray-on snow… Be bold about moving your merchandise to new locations. Try them in higher or lower positions, with new props or with more space than usual. And if you’ve got a boring wall you just don’t know what to do with, throw up another mirror. People are endlessly fascinated with themselves.

I’m thinking of opening a new retail optical outlet in what’s possibly the most crowded market in the country; there are over three dozen optical retailers here in a college town of 400,000. I feel I know this market but should I look elsewhere?

A crowded marketplace isn’t necessarily a bad sign; conversely, it may be an indicator of the huge demand for a product or service. The secret to business success isn’t finding an empty field, it’s filling a need, and that generally means a niche. Sometimes niches are created because everyone is chasing the big-ticket-buying crowd or the youth market or there are changes in fashion or technology that the existing players may have missed. The real question is whether you can do something better or differently. “Just don’t think you can do it by being the cheapest,” says marketing expert Brad Sugars. “You’re the little guy; you don’t have economies of scale. The big guys can make up in volume what they lack in margin. You can’t.”

I’m a junior member of a front office team of eight. They’re all good people but one of the older girls bugs the hell out of me. It’s purely a personality thing. What do I do?

Focus on the positives. Remind yourself of the contributions she makes. If that’s too hard then at least don’t fall into the trap of recruiting allies to your cause. Sure, it feels good to have someone confirm she’s annoying but it also makes her presence a bigger issue. Try to minimize contact and ask yourself, does she irk everyone or is there something about you that has you grimacing like this?

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