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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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Lifting Your Business Out of Mediocrity and More Questions for January

And how to share chores among staff to make sure they get done.

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I have two good candidates for the position of office manager, but I can’t decide between them. Can you suggest a tie-breaker?

Toss a coin and let fate be your arbiter. If they’re both equally appealing candidates and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research or interviews or trial runs, then your decision doesn’t much matter. That likely sounds like rash advice, but this paralysis you’re experiencing has a name: Fredkin’s Paradox. The computer scientist Edward Fredkin summed it up as, “The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them — no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.” To be sure, it will probably turn out to have mattered in hindsight, but by then it’ll be too late. Given that you’re unable to know how things will turn out, overthinking this one — or any similar tough choice — is futile.

How do you share the chores among staff fairly and in a way that is easy to enforce?

Store consultant David Geller feels he knows well the issues you’re facing. “Typically, we as store owners, when something isn’t done, pick our favorite person who is always willing to help to do what others should have done,” he says. “It’s not fair.” To create a system that IS fair, he suggests breaking your staff into groups and rotating the responsibilities. “Put some easy chores with some bad ones like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom,” he says. The people whose names are under the different groups of chores (see table) do them for only one week, and then they move onto the next group of tasks. This shares around the bad and light chores and also makes it easy for the store owner to raise the issue when a job needs doing. “After doing this, I no longer need to complain to a person, I complain to a group,” Geller says.

Tell me, how do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

It’s said the toughest test of a manager is how they address lackluster performance. The reason is because it’s not so much about issuing dictates and drawing up policy as it is about fostering a culture that accepts nothing but excellence. Indeed, according to work by Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. Counterintuitively, it is in mediocre teams that bosses must enforce standards and are the source of accountability. But how to get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards? Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, gives four leadership practices that can help: Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity, to connect people with the experiences, feelings, and impact of bad performance. Set clear goals and explain why they are important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny. Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. And be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is an impediment to your goals. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance. “When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch…where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed,” says Grenny. “If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue … you send a message to everyone else about your values.”

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Promoting Healthy Competition and More Questions for Year’s End

Also, proper staff gift-giving etiquette and getting the most out of staff trainers.

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths and weaknesses during an interview?

Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question (and revisiting it periodically if you do hire the person): What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths (unbridled upside) of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses (never more than incremental gains).

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How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting of Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive outcomes of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

What is proper etiquette for gift-giving in the workplace?

Your watchwords should be considerate, fair, and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone such as food. (If people have diet restrictions, they can simply pass on the offering without making a big fuss.) If you do decide to give gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people can barely see their desks as it is. The last thing they need is another coffee mug or pen-and-pencil set. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give your assistant or intern at least as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

I’d like to hire a trainer for my staff, but I’m worried about the return on investment?

Our reason for existing at INVISION is to make ECPs better ECPs, and we believe professional trainers can help you enormously. To get your money’s worth, focus on two things: 1.) Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability versus motivation. Yes, it’s nice to have your staff leave a training session all fired up, but for lasting results that will give you that return on your investment, focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation or how many features to stress. Break tasks into discrete actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2.) This is just as important. Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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When to Let That Questionable New Employee Go and More Questions for October

Plus its all fun and games until someone gets drunk at the company holiday party … how to protect your business from potential trouble.

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How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three- or four-month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

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Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

I’m planning an end-of-year company party, but one concern is that somebody could get drunk, have a car accident, and I might get sued. Got any advice on protecting myself?

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer. Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar — or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

I haven’t got around to writing a will yet. What would happen to my business if I died unexpectedly?

When there’s no will, state law (“interstate succession” statutes) usually takes charge of your estate. “Each state has precise laws about who gets what when there is no will, and there are differences among the states,” says Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, a nationally renowned financial adviser. “In California, for example, the spouse inherits all the deceased spouse’s community property, but the separate property is shared with the children. In New Jersey, your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate and one-half of the rest; your children get everything else. If the children are minors in either state, then the court appoints someone to manage their property (including your business), and then supervises their activities, which involves more intrusion and more expense. The children receive their inheritance at age 18. For singles, the assets are parceled out to relatives in an order determined by state law. Usually, children, parents and then siblings are first in line. Friends, lovers (even domestic partners) or charities are left out.” Without a will, there is always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process which can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

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