Community Economic Development Fund

Management

All about people and processes.

Go-to Person’s Guide to Good Email Hygiene

By Bruce Tulgan

One symbol of the collaboration revolution must surely be the little “mail” icon on our devices. All day long it flashes the growing numbers of new emails puffing up our inboxes. But if you’re responding to emails all day long (and into the night), you aren’t likely to get “stuff” done.

Of course, maintaining this balance is even more important when working remotely. Email can become an even more unwelcome distraction when it is just one of a host of other electronic communications you must keep up with day to day.

Here’s some help:

  • Send fewer and better messages (you’ll get fewer back in return).
  • Before sending a message, ask yourself if you shouldn’t schedule a meeting (by telephone or video these days) with the person instead. Some things really are best communicated verbally.
  • Stop sending first drafts! Send first drafts to yourself.
  • If you are ‘messaging’ someone so you don’t forget to tell them something, instead send the ‘reminder’ to yourself.
  • Only cc people who need to be cc’d…. and only “reply all” if your reply is for all.
  • Use red flags and other indicators sparingly and with true purpose.
  • Make subject lines smart; context is everything.
  • Change subject lines on later emails if the subject changes.
  • Make messages brief, simple, and orderly.
  • Create a simple folder system for filing incoming and outgoing electronic communication based on how you will use them later.
  • Establish daily time blocks for reviewing and responding to electronic communication in batches rather than singly throughout the day. Manage people’s expectations by telling them about this practice. That will give them an idea of when to expect responses from you.
Bruce Tulgan is a leading expert on young people in the workplace and leadership and management. He is a best-selling author of twenty books, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer. His company, RainmakerThinking, is based in Hamden, CT.  Bruce appeared recently on CEDF's Small Business As Usual podcast.

Emergency Legislation Brings New Employer Mandates

By Stuart Katz

On March 18, the U.S. Senate approved the final versions of an Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act and Paid Sick Leave Act.  Both were signed by President Trump and will be effective no later than April 2, 2020

The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. 

  • Under the new law, employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected FMLA to employees who have been employed for at least 30 days. 
  • This leave must be provided only to employees who are unable to work at the business or remotely due to the need to care for a child whose school is closed or whose care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.  (A draft version of the law had much wider applicability.)
  • The first 10 days of the leave can be unpaid. Employees may substitute paid time off (vacation, sick, personal, etc.) but may not be required to do so.
  • After the first two weeks, employers are required to pay the employee at 2/3 the employee’s regular rate of pay for the remaining 10 weeks.
  • This payment is limited to a maximum of $200 per day ($10,000 in total). 

There are very limited exceptions to the law. For example, for employers with fewer than 25 employees, there may be a waiver of the job-protection requirement to reinstate an employee if the position has been eliminated due to business circumstances resulting from the pandemic.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act also applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees. Under this new law, employers are required to provide two weeks of paid sick time to employees who are unable to work or telework for one of the following reasons:

  1. The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order relating to Covid-19;
  2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to Covid-19;
  3. The employee has sought a medical diagnosis resulting from symptoms of Covid-19;
  4. The employee is caring for an individual subject to a quarantine order;
  5. The employee is caring for the employee’s own child whose school is closed, or whose care provider is unavailable due to Covid-19*; or
  6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Department of Health and Human Services.

If the employees takes leave for reasons 1-3, the payment is limited to a maximum of $511 per day.  If the employee takes leave for reasons 4-6, payment is limited to a maximum of $200 per day. (*Two weeks of leave for reason #5 aligns with the first two weeks of Emergency FMLA discussed above.) Employers are prohibited from retaliating against any employee who takes such a leave.

Subject to the specific conditions of forthcoming Treasury Department regulations, 100% of the emergency FMLA and paid sick leave wages may be reimbursed via payroll tax credits. Details to follow.

Given the circumstances, employers should immediately prepare to implement these emergency laws, and create forms and processes for doing so, if needed.

Stuart M. Katz is a principal of Cohen and Wolf and chair of the firm's Litigation group. He is a member of the firm's Employment & Labor practice group, and chairs the firm's Diversity & Inclusion committee. Stuart represents employers of all sizes in defending discrimination and harassment suits and litigating restrictive covenant, breach of contract, business tort and wage claims. He has been named "Lawyer of the Year" for Employment Law (Management) (2018) and for Employment Law (Individuals) (2016) by the Best Lawyers in Americafor the Stamford, Connecticut metro area. He routinely provides guidance to employers and employees regarding personnel policies, handbooks and employee discipline.

It's the leader not the concept

The mythology of American entrepreneurship goes something like this. You research a problem that startlingly nobody has ever noticed. You contrive a solution that your testing demonstrates is attractive and you build a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP. Your value proposition makes your customers an offer they can't refuse, and in no time your swelling sales allow you to raise millions from venture capital, leading to personal fortune and a few magazine covers.

Dileep Rao, a business professor at Florida International University gathered some surprising facts that make it clear that this is, well, a myth. He points out that VCs fund very few ventures, only about 100 out of 100,000 prospective deals. And only 20 of the 100 prove a success, with just one spectacularly so. So, Dr. Rao concludes, venture capital doesn't help 99.98% of the companies. 

His thesis is that there's too much emphasis on product, whether on TV's Shark Tank or in pitch contests or in business schools. What's really important, he contends, is the not the MVP but the MPE, or Maximum Potential Entrepreneur. That is, someone with the right set of skills to be a better leader than his or her competitors. Most rocket-ship type companies succeed because of management not because their core product was so unique, he says. These crucial skills include product development, sales and financial acumen. And not many people have this combination of abilities.

So maybe the unicorns that investors famously hunt for are the founders not the business concepts.

Be ready to wrestle the bear

In recent months, this column has addressed competition with Amazon from a couple of different perspectives. While current statistics still show the majority of sales on the site are made by third party sellers (who might actually be a small business owner),there’s a conspicuous trend toward the giant taking over more and more of the pie.

This New York Times article detailed the challenges, frustrations and dependencies that come along with selling through the platform. I can think of two clients who have fought the bear and walked away after being bitten.

One client, selling a proprietary product directly to Amazon and on the site through approved dealers made the hard choice of cutting off the grizzly. You see, Amazon won’t agree to minimum advertised price (MAP) policies and instead it makes sure it “wins the box.” That is, by showing the lowest net price it places its own listing ahead of other sellers.

This results in the price of the merchandise spiraling downward, undercutting the dealer network. So, our client effectively walked away from millions in future Amazon purchase orders to protect the integrity of its primary distribution chain. Who can blame them? How can you justify betting it all on one outlet (even one named Amazon) when the dealer distribution chain that helped you grow your business would be at risk?

Another client who manufactured personal care products found his supply chain leaking. He suspected a distributor was selling merchandise to unauthorized dealers who were reselling on Amazon and undercutting the brick and mortar dealer network. While this diversion wasn’t Amazon’s fault, our client hit the Amazon brick wall trying to get help to control it. He worked for months to prove to the Amazon bureaucracy that he owned his own trademarks and was classified in the right merchandise category and therefore qualified to invoke an Amazon policy that would allow him to shut off those unauthorized sellers. Business is tough when you can’t get anybody on the phone to discuss your protests. Eventually, this client realized that even selling direct to Amazon was no dream. For every item purchased by one Amazon warehouse, another would ship back his unsold goods. The slow payments and return fees effectively canceled each other out.

Now, if you’re thinking of making a late entry for your business into e-commerce, don’t be discouraged just because Amazon seems to outsell the next seven largest competitors combined (yes, including Wal-Mart). And don’t think that just because your industry’s products are already on the site (and cheaper?) that there’s no response you can make.

Yes, commerce is shifting online. Yes, customers are beginning to expect to shop this way. Yes, Amazon is a formidable, perhaps even a predatory competitor. Remember, there’s more to selling on the internet than on the one dominant platform. Sure your sales volumes will be lower, but keep your eye on the long term and look for a way to satisfy customer needs beyond price and speed.  Emphasize service and experience and you’ll have a better chance to survive your walk through the woods.

-- Frederick Welk
CEDF Business Advisor

 

 

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