risk

Performance Appraisal: Reducing Your Legal Liability Exposure

I've been writing a lot about performance appraisal lately - and that got me thinking.

There's one performance appraisal related resource that everyone needs to know about:


Alan Sklover is a New York-based attorney who has been writing and developing, by far, the best online resources for employees available. His blog is invaluable and it often addresses performance appraisal and the Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) that so often follow.

If you're an employee, you'll learn what to do. If you're in management, you'll learn how to avoid the legal, financial, cultural and operational problems that so often occur.

Frankly, there's no reason that organizations should mishandle the performance appraisal process to the extent that they do...which leads to employees feeling perfectly justified in taking action against them. And that leads to litigation.

If you read what Al has to say, you'll discover that there are ways to protect yourself if you're on the mishandled side and the organization if you're on the mishandling side.

Take a look. You'll be very glad you did.
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Al Sklover and I are colleagues and friends. This is not a paid endorsement.
Please note that nothing expressed above constitutes legal advice.

Brand messaging and customer loyalty: why @Staples should fire Its Marketing department

I'm a long-time customer of the office supply store, Staples...or I was. Because I'm not any longer - and it's their Marketing Department's fault. There are two very specific reasons why - each of which is a laudatory tale for anyone looking at 'growing' their business at their customers' expense and without taking their customers into consideration.

The Bait and Switch Rewards Program

When Staples first established its customer loyalty program (because that's what rewards programs are supposed to be), they gave customers a 5% discount on each purchase. Immediately. At the cash register or online.

The money stayed in your pocket.

Somewhere along the line, someone (undoubtedly in the Marketing Department) got the bright and (short-term) money-saving idea that they could switch their Staples Rewards program so that instead of money, customers could get points.

Points! What an excellent idea! Customers would, I'm sure they thought, be just as excited about earning points as they were about seeing an immediate discount. And they'd just love to go through a remittance process - printing out coupons or showing their smartphones - once they got 'enough' points to warrant a reward.

Especially if the rewards were time-sensitive and the points disappeared if there weren't enough during any given rewards period.

Now that's putting the customer first, right? Yeah, right.

Which takes us to today's coup de grace:

Scaring the S**t Out of Customers That Their Credit Card Data Has Been Stolen

This one was a new one on me - and one for which they should be particularly ashamed in these days of stolen credit card information and identity theft.

Last week I made a purchase for which I undoubtedly got some points (see above) and, as part of my Rewards program 'membership,' received an email receipt. (I got a printed copy at the time, too, but we won't talk about that now.) Usually, that email marks the end of the transaction.

Not this time.

This morning, after having not made another purchase, I got an email from them with the subject line:

Thank you for your purchase! Open for More Great Products.

Their marketers may have thought they were being wise and witty, thanking me again, but they were wrong. Because when I saw that subject line, my immediate thought was, 
"Oh, s**t! Someone hacked Staples and got my credit card information. S**t! S**t!! S**t!!! Don't those f****rs know what they're doing?!?"
And I promise you, I'm not the only one who reacted that way. After all, any one of us can go through the litany of companies - from Target to Home Depot to JPMorgan - that didn't protect their customers' information adequately.

Based on that subject line, all it looked like was they joined the group.

Clearly their marketers weren't thinking about timing and what their message actually said. Otherwise, they wouldn't have sent it.

For my part, it put quite a pall on my morning - and no vendor is worth that.

For your part, it's worth taking the time to look at how you're creating and, hopefully, supporting your customers' loyalty - reward programs or not - as well as how you're communicating with them. As you can clearly see from my example, you may get one pass, but you won't get two.

And with that, I'm saying bye-bye to Staples and taking my business elsewhere. The saddest part for Staples is that I'm not at all sorry.

Uber's tax problems: advocacy, adversity and society

Uber is having problems with its drivers and the US tax code.

Without going into too much detail, what it comes down to is that Uber wants to consider all its drivers contractors and the drivers (and IRS) want to consider them employees.

The benefit to Uber of 'their' way of looking at their business model is that they don't have direct responsibility for anybody. That keeps their costs low, their liability lower and their shareholders happy.

The benefit to the drivers and IRS to 'their' way of looking at the work that's being done is that Uber has to pay toward their taxes, provide benefits and generally give back more than simply an opportunity to make money for themselves (and even more for Uber and its shareholders).

Uber is part of what's being very prettily called the "sharing economy" - a $30+bn market that's only going to get bigger.

To be fair, this model began long before it was called the "sharing economy." In fact, it started in the late 1980s when companies started laying off their people in large, large numbers...only to hire them or others like them back as contractors.

Back then, it was the early days of "outsourcing." Standardized functions that weren't considered to need a proprietary approach (or company loyalty) all got handed off - from travel to accounting to HR.

The logic was exactly the same: The company's expenses and liabilities lower when they use contractors rather than hire employees.

And throughout that time, the same battle that Uber is fighting has been waged.

You'd think that by now - and with this level of 'sharing' being done between employers and contractors and the IRS - that someone would have realized that there's an easy fix: Modify the tax code.

All that's really needed is a means for companies to maintain their independence and manage their costs while contractor/employees get some of the benefits of being an employee with the full understanding that, as contractors, some things need to remain their responsibility.

In fact, if Uber and its sharing brethren would take some of those billions and point them toward their corporate and tax attorneys and accountants specifically to advocate for change rather than fight exclusively for the status quo, the problem would be solved quickly and easily.

This is a societal problem. We've changed the way we do business. Now it's time for businesses, their advocates and government officials to catch up with each other so that everyone - and I mean everyone - in society wins.

Accountability: are you willing to put your name to it?

It's an interesting thing.

If you watch footage of demonstrations - no matter the country - you'll see hordes of people wearing anything from scarves to balaklavas to cover their faces. They don't want to be known for their beliefs.

Or...

From Twitter to comments on blog sites, pseudonymous names are used so that the person commenting doesn't have to be held responsible for what he or she is saying.

In organizations, the way this plays out is that someone says something really, really smart but isn't willing to take it to the next level. As a result, someone else - who overheard the really, really smart thing - does take it further and gets the credit...at which point the original someone with the original really, really smart idea gets angry as hell and feels that they've been cheated.

No they haven't. They didn't put their name to it. They didn't take the risk - so they don't deserve the reward.

The media, in general, and social media, in particular, have made it easy to hide. The problem is - and it is a problem - the people who get used to hiding find it harder and harder to come out from behind the curtain. They'd rather be an anonymous 'influencer' than a clarion call that others can really trust.

The saddest part of all of this is the number of ideas, thoughts, innovations, opportunities and possibilities that get lost - for the organizations, the people they serve and, not least, the person who had the idea in the first place.

You may not want to be a star - but you should be willing to put your name to your own thoughts. If you're not, either keep them to yourself or, when someone else gets the credit, suck it up and deal with it. You made that happen.

The Secrets of Success: Managed Expansion

It may seem counterintuitive to be thinking about expansion while the global economy is still trying to figure out which direction it will go and how fast it will get there. It's not. In fact, this is the best time to be thinking about all things growth.

That way, you can build your success before you begin using what I call Managed Expansion.

The easiest way to understand it is by understanding what it isn't - and that's its opposite: Reactive Expansion. So we'll start there.

Reactive Expansion is when...suddenly there's lots of money. Suddenly there's lots of opportunity. Everybody is buying. Everything it's growing. It's an up-cycle! It's time to expand!

Well, yes and no - and that's where Managed Expansion comes in.

It's time to expand - but only if you've got robust and well-thought out plans in place for exactly how, when, how fast, in what ways and into which markets you want to expand. Specifically, plans that you've been working on throughout the down-cycle to be ready for just this moment.

Sure, there'll be adjustments in the plans as the landscape becomes more clear. But if you've been consistently working on your expansion plans as a regular part of your job (which it is), then you'll have already seen those opportunities and be ready to move.

In contrast - and what we see far too often - is the Reactive Expansion that companies take on...and then have to reverse.

Think Starbucks. You'll recall that they are one of my examples of "Cheerful Ruthlessness." Well, they're also a perfect example of Reactive Expansion - which they may be repeating but in a different way.

Here's how it works:

A number of years ago, someone in the executive ranks decided that there should be a Starbucks coffee shop on every corner - or nearly. Rather than following what had been lauded as one of the finest location determination systems in the world, they just grew. And grew. And grew.

It just so happened that they were opening all those locations during an up-cycle. Everybody wanted coffee - and, according to this logic, they wanted it absolutely everyplace they went, every day, all the time.

That was all well and good until the down-cycle started and people weren't sure they wanted to shell out a few bucks a cup every time they needed a caffeine fix.

Change of management, change of plan. Now it was time to shut down all those excess locations and for the company and its shareholders to take the hit financially - as well as hitting all their employees with unemployment simply because management made bad decisions.

It was sort of a coffee version of the dot-com boom and bust - all in one company.

Interestingly, Starbucks may be running the same risks but in a different segment of its market: the Keurig/Nespresso world.

Individual, made-to-order, customized coffee-makers for the home are just the thing in the market. Especially as a holiday gift...or so the advertising would lead you to believe.

Only, in this case, Starbucks is venturing into a market that has ongoing high costs - from manufacturing and inventory to shelf-space in its shops - and, contrary to what the thinking may be in the company, does not guarantee a captive, returning audience.

That's because - unlike equipment ranging from inkjet or laser printers and their cartridges to the Amazon Kindle and its in-bred ecosystem of sales - customers don't have to go back to Starbucks for the ongoing, high-profit coffee tubs. They can buy other brands - because everybody's already on this particular wagon - or they can purchase a reusable, washable 'k-cup' from a cheap and cheerful television advertisement.

Starbucks isn't being a leader. It's being a follower - but on a very big scale - which is a Reactive Expansion strategy that is particularly dangerous.

It will be interesting to see whether the company wins, takes a hit on this or keeps its product in play as an also-ran in the individualized coffee field. But that's on them.

For you, the lessons are there to be learned.

Opportunities are always presenting themselves. Some of them make sense for you. Others don't. It's your responsibility - and should be your passion - to consistently be looking for the windows that have yet to open and figure out how you and your organization will be the ones to open them.

The best opportunities are the ones you identify where you will be the go-to resource - product or service - for that particular offering. And that's what you're planning for: a Managed Expansion that builds on what you do best and expands upon it in such a way that existing and new customers are happy to find you doing what you do.

Just don't do it faster than you can manage or put too much time, energy and cash into a high-risk venture that may or may not work out.

Take risks using a Managed Expansion plan by:
  1. Building on what your organization does best
  2. Expanding that definition by bringing even more and better of what you do to the market
  3. Focusing on innovation in existing products and services as well as new ones
  4. Studying what best of breed organizations in other industries are doing
  5. Identifying how those product and service innovations can be adapted to bring further success to your enterprise
  6. Managing your expansion so that you're ready for "+1"...ensuring exquisite, seamless execution.
By taking these steps, you've designed your expansion to succeed - long before it has even begun.
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The Secrets to Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness (ctg)
The Secrets to Success: +1 (ctg)