Leadership Risks Worth Taking

January 25, 2012

Safe, predictable, tried and true – while these words might put your mind at ease, stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something a little risky can pay off in a big way.

In business, there are times when you need to make a bold move and times when playing it safe is the right course. The key is learning which risks are worth the gamble.

Trust Your Employees. Some leaders fear giving employees too much freedom. Instead, they micromanage every task to prevent employees from ever making mistakes. For perfectionist managers, letting go of control is scary. If you struggle with delegating, step back, and evaluate how that affects your team.

According to the American Management Association, micromanaging discourages employees and kills creativity. Show some faith, and give your team a longer leash. If they fail, that’s okay. Resist the urge to reclaim control. Instead, let them grow in their roles. Taking chances on your team will lighten your load and empower your employees.

Give Credit. No manager is an island. Some leaders, however, seem to forget this notion whenever the boss or a top client is within earshot. They worry acknowledging others’ contributions will damage their reputation. But in reality, people value humble, team-oriented leaders over those who claim to do it all on their own.

While it’s great to compliment employees one-on-one, private remarks can’t replace public recognition. When team members play a significant role in making a project succeed, make sure you openly acknowledge their efforts.

Say “No.” Savvy leaders understand that sometimes “no” is the best answer – even when the pressure’s on to give the green light. Whether that means turning down a project or passing up a promotion, the ability to say “no” at the right times is just as important as knowing when to say “yes.”

Accepting every request that comes your way doesn’t do anyone a service – least of all you. Knowing your limits and understanding what’s right for you will prevent distractions from bogging you down. Take a risk, and say “no” when the time’s right – others will appreciate your honesty and your ability to take a stand.

Try Something New. “That’s the way we’ve always done things.” Who hasn’t heard this mantra repeated in the boardrooms and cubicles of their organization? Just because the ‘same old, same old’ is what people are comfortable with, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective way to get things done.

In a new book called, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down, the authors discuss how naysayers can keep great ideas from ever launching. Imagine what the world would be like if leaders and inventors like Alexander Graham Bell or Henry Ford hadn’t pushed to see their visions become realities. We might still be relying on telegraphs and riding in horse-drawn carriages, respectively.

Successful managers know when to take chances and when to play it safe. Taking risks to courageously lead the pack is exactly the sort of thing top leaders are renowned for. So, step out of your comfort zone, and challenge the status quo.


Background Checks for New Employees

January 17, 2012

By adding background checks to the screening process for new employees, employers can verify applicant information, reduce the risk of theft and workplace violence and improve the general quality of the candidate pool.

Prior to performing any background screening, the employer should have a written policy in place which describes the details of the screening process. Some of the information that may be included is a description of who will be screened (i.e., applicants only, all employees, managers only), when screening will occur (i.e., pre-employment only, annually), what paperwork is necessary, what type of background check will be performed, who will have access to the information, who will decide how the information will be used, and who will be responsible for adhering to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and state law compliance.

Employers should consult legal counsel regarding how they use potentially adverse information as part of their hiring criteria. For example, many states prohibit the use of an applicant’s arrest record (as opposed to convictions) when making a hiring decision. Also, decisions based on criminal convictions may be subject to the nature/gravity of the offense, the time that has elapsed since conviction or sentence completion and the nature of the job assignment.

In general, employers will find it more cost efficient and accurate to hire a third-party background screening company. Many of these background screening companies are members of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners and will provide information to the employer about the legal requirements of the screening process.

The FCRA defines screening companies as “consumer reporting agencies” and the background reports are defined as “consumer reports.”

Under the FCRA, employers must:

1. Have a written disclosure to the individual that a consumer report will be obtained. This disclosure must occur before the background check is obtained and it must be a separate document from the employment application.

2. Obtain written authorization from the individual prior to requesting the consumer report.

3. If the employer plans on taking any adverse action based on the consumer report, the employer must provide two notices to the individual – one notice before taking adverse action and another when the adverse action occurs.

4. Before taking the adverse action, the employer must provide applicant/employee with a copy of the consumer report and a summary of the applicant’s/employee’s rights under the Act (these rights can be found at www.ftc.gov)

5. After providing this information the employer must wait for a period of time (usually 5 days) before taking the adverse action. This waiting period allows the individual to identify any inaccuracies in the consumer report.

6. Upon taking the adverse action, the employer must provide the individual with a Notice of Adverse Action taken, the contact information of the consumer reporting agency, and a notice of the consumer’s right to dispute the accuracy of the report with the reporting agency.

Employers should also make sure background checks have been performed on their temporary workers and independent contractors. If the employer is using a staffing agency, the employer must inform the staffing agency the employer has a background screening policy. All applicants that the staffing company refers should be screened and all FCRA and state laws followed, including getting written authorization from the applicant.

Bruce E. Loren & Associates specializes in drafting policies to enable your company to conduct background checks in compliance with applicable laws, and in advising businesses in the appropriate use of information obtained from background searches. Bruce E. Loren & Associates is an AV-rated business and construction litigation law firm, also specializing in all employment-related issues for our clients. If you have any questions about this article or any employment-related issue, please contact Bruce Loren or Cara Barrick.

The One Thing That Will Break You

December 30, 2011

Successful businesses must have engaged employees in order to stay ahead of the competition, keep their product or service innovative, and retain customers. Keeping employees motivated and engaged involves many elements, many of which are on the department level and left up to each supervising manager. But there is one element that, if lacking, will break down a team and damage a business faster than anything else – respect for the leader.

Certainly respect for the overall company, its goals, and its executive leadership is important, but good employees can often overlook inconsistencies in those areas if they respect their direct supervisor. If that one person who directs their work on a daily basis and is responsible for motivating their team is worthy of admiration, then according to studies from Monster, Yahoo, Salary.com, and the National Education Association, employees will be more likely to stay with the company and feel engaged at work. Unfortunately for leaders, though, respect is not something that comes on demand or can be bought with raises – it requires work and time.

Earn It With Effort

Employees know when they’re being used and poorly led. Sure, there are some perks that come with a leadership role, but if you repeatedly slack off, pass your duties on to your team, or cover up your mistakes, your team will have no desire to help you succeed. Respect is earned, which means showing your team you are dedicated to them and their cause, even if that requires you to work some late nights, take on the tough assignments, or admit when you are wrong.

Give It Time

Whether you’re leading a new team or trying to repair damage from your past leadership mistakes, real respect does not come quickly. Sure, there are some instances where you can make a leap in the right direction, but it will take your team seeing you consistently make the right choices in order to invoke that deep-held respect given to history’s finest leaders. And, keep in mind, if your employees already lack respect for you, it will take longer to rebuild that trust and admiration.

Respect – either you have it or you don’t. The great news is that it’s completely in your control, but the road to earning respect is straight, narrow, and often the path less-taken. In the long run, your effort and time will be worth it as you see your team rally to your side, fight for you, and support you no matter what.

3 Great Ways to Shake Up the Workplace

December 16, 2011

Let’s face it, after feeling the impact of the recession, from salary freezes to paycuts and layoffs, change in the workplace had a bad rap. We all wanted stability and security. But now, businesses are worrying about turnover and employee engagement as more and more employees feel frustrated with the status quo. John F. Kennedy once said, “change is the law of life.” It’s inevitable. But it’s also important to remember that change isn’t always bad. Often times, it’s great. If your employees are tired of the same ole’ same ole’ at work, now may be the perfect time to shake your workplace up and make some changes for the better.

Here are three easy ways to get started before the new year.

Renovate Your Office Space
Changing your environment can change your entire outlook, and the great news is, it doesn’t have to be big. Anything from a fresh coat of paint to finally getting to that overdue cleanup-day can go a long way to brighten up your work environment and refresh your team’s perspective.

Rearranging office space into specific zones like a meeting and brainstorming space that’s far away from distracting emails and phone calls will be conducive to an environment of focus that can help increase productivity. And switching cubicles and changing workspaces can mean building a more cohesive team that works well together.

Makeover Outdated Policies and Procedures
Policies and procedures are important to every business, but they can quickly become out of date. Doing something a specific way simply because that’s how it’s always been done doesn’t mean it’s always the most efficient way. If you suspect you have some outdated policies or procedures in place, ask your team to offer suggestions for improving things. It will give your employees a chance to share their input and ideas, make them feel like they’re contributing to the overall department, and hopefully mean innovative and effective changes for your workforce.

Declare a “No Meeting Day”
In a recent survey by Express Employment Professionals, 51% of business leaders said meetings were the biggest drain of their time. Studies show the average worker spends approximately six hours a week – more if you’re a manager or executive – in meetings. If too many meetings are taking away from your employees’ already busy schedules, break away from the norm and pick a day in the week where you declare meetings off limits. Take time to evaluate some of your regularly scheduled meetings to see if there’s anything you can cut out or find ways to make them more productive. Just think what you could do with even just an extra hour a week. Think about what it would mean if every employee had an extra hour or two to complete projects or brainstorm new ideas.

You don’t have to make big changes around the office to help reengage your staff and improve performance and productivity. Every step you take to better your company, whether it’s by changing the work environment or improving procedures, can make a big difference.

The Results are In: Your Thoughts on Experience vs. Education

December 6, 2011

In September, we asked you what is more important to your employee selection process, education, experience, or a combination of the two. And the results were conclusive, to say the least. More than 65% of respondents said qualified, on-the-job experience was the most important factor when hiring new employees. A combination of education and experience was selected second by 31% of respondents.

In a distant third, only 3% of respondents said strong college credentials are the most important factor to consider during the hiring process. For recent college graduates, this statistic could be particularly troubling since they typically do not have extensive on-the-job experience.

These statistics also help to emphasize the growing importance of employee retention. According to research by the American Psychological Association, only half of employees say they feel valued on the job and more than 30% indicated they plan on seeking new employment opportunities. And, in a time when the battle for talent is fierce, it’s in a company’s best interest to make every effort to retain their most skilled and experienced workers.

It’s hard to believe with unemployment still hovering around the 9% mark that many companies are struggling to hire new employees. But in a climate where hiring decisions carry even more weight than before, business leaders have to be picky to ensure the investment they make in a new hire won’t be lost due to turnoverpoor cultural fit, inexperience, or a wide variety of other factors.

Leadership Lessons From the King

December 1, 2011

Elvis Presley, known around the world as the “King of Rock and Roll,” built a billboard-topping career that spanned nearly a quarter of a century. During that time he changed the face of music and opened the doors for generations of musicians who followed. Even now, almost 35 years after his death – assuming you choose to believe the King truly has left the building – Elvis is still one of the most universally recognizable pop culture icons in the world.

So, it’s only natural to assume he knew a thing or two about being a leader. It’s time to dust off the vinyl and start shaking your hips as we dig deep into Elvis’ extensive musical repertoire to see what the King can teach us about leadership.

Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes! – Blue Suede Shoes

While the song serves as a warning to all the other flailing feet on the dance floor to refrain from scuffing the now iconic pair of designer duds, these words also work well as a reminder to give your employees some room to step up to a new challenge or take on a leadership role. Sometimes the best thing a leader can do to help employees with C-suite aspirations is to simply get out of the way and let them learn through experience.

You look like an angel, walk like an angel, talk like an angel, but I got wise – You’re the devil in disguise! – (You’re the) Devil in Disguise

Originally recorded in 1963, Devil in Disguise is a tale of love gone awry when the leading lady, and object of Elvis’ affection, shows her true colors, ending the relationship in heartbreak for the King. In the workplace, these words more aptly describe the necessity of transparency. Your employees want a leader they can trust, and it’s your responsibility to be as upfront, open and honest as possible.

A little less conversation, a little more action, please. – A Little Less Conversation

This seize-the-day anthem, written for Elvis for the 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little, doesn’t so much ask, but rather tells the listener to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. And in the workplace, that’s exactly what’s expected of a great leader. When projects and deadlines start piling up, nothing builds respect and confidence more than a leader who rolls up their sleeves and dives into the trenches alongside them.

My hands are shaky and my knees are weak. I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet. – All Shook Up

Listed on The Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this song is said to have been inspired by a “shook up” bottle of Pepsi. However, in the workplace, these iconic words help to remind us of the importance of confidence. Your employees need to feel that they are following a leader who is not only confident about where they are going, but also how they will get there. When management appears nervous and unsure, it becomes more difficult to inspire the people they lead.

The King of Rock and Roll may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Even today, nearly 60 years after he recorded his first single, the music of Elvis Presley still holds up, and there’s no doubt it’ll be remembered well into the future. Inspiration comes from many sources, and who better to pull some helpful words of wisdom from than a man who helped define an entire generation.

Five Things to Do This Month: November 2011

November 22, 2011

The leaves are changing and we are slowly cooling down from a record-breaking summer. Autumn is officially here – and so is the holiday season. So besides filling up on turkey and football, let’s take a look at five things we can do this month.

Discover North America
November is Native American Heritage Month. Throughout our history, we have adopted several cultural identities from Native Americans. Whether by food, clothing, or art, take this month to discover more about one of our most fascinating and tradition-rich people groups.

Change Your Clock, Change Your Battery
It’s that time of year again. On Sunday, November 6, enjoy an extra hour of sleep as we fall back from Daylight Savings Time. Make sure to remind your employees to set their clocks back, so they can’t use it as an excuse to snooze in on Monday. Firefighters also say this is a great time to change the batteries in all of your smoke detectors. So put a couple of able-bodies in charge of the change, and don’t forget to set your clocks back!

Raise Eyes, Raise Awareness
Okay, so No-Shave November may not be the most professional thing to do this month, but it has its roots in a great cause. Thousands of people celebrate it to raise awareness of male diseases like prostate and testicular cancer. November is a great opportunity to raise awareness for lung cancer, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many others. Have your department pick an illness to sponsor and do something creative to promote the cause. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to involve facial hair.

Share the Harvest
At the end of the month, most of us eat enough calories to last well past winter hibernation. With turkey, ham, pumpkin pie and the rest of the buffet all-stars, we usually have more than enough food. One way to build unity and help empty the pantry is to have a food drive at the office. Place your employees into a few groups and compete to see how many non-perishables everyone can gather for the local food bank. You will help the less fortunate and have plenty of fun along the way.

Embrace the Season
Thanksgiving season is when we focus on what we are thankful for and what matters the most to us. This month, make an effort to tell each of your employees what you appreciate about them. Whether it is saying how impressed you’ve been with the way they handled their last project or how thankful you are for the extra work they put in, encouragement goes a long way in boosting office morale.