How to Counsel Employees

employee counseling, progressive discipline

No matter the culture or how long someone has worked for you. There will come a time when you need to “counsel” an employee. This could be due to performance, attitude, or a particular situation.  Honestly, no one likes this part of being a manager. In our minds, all employees should be perfect at all time, unfortunately, we are human so regardless of good we are – we will make a mistake.

This can be in the form of a letting a person know how they are being perceived, a reminder of policies or something needs to change. I know that is very broad, the technique is the same for all these situations.

Once you know what needs to corrected (again, performance, attitude or error) it’s time to talk to the person. The reason most people don’t like this part is because we have a tendency to create a scenario in our heads of what will happen. I will be honest with you, the scene you created is usually worse than what will happen.

The conversation will have a structure, I recommend the following and it keeps it simple.

What happened? Basically this is the reason for the conversation. Discuss the incident and ask them what occurred or why it went the way it did. For example:  Sue, this morning I received a call from Mr. Big Client in regards to a conversation you had with yesterday. Can you tell me what happened? Where do you think it took a turn for the worse? Why?

What should have happened? Follow up with asking the person – what should have happened. Now, if you are talking to them due to a policy violation (for example, not calling in sick) at this point make sure they know the policy and correct them if there is a misunderstanding. At this point, you will start to learn about their understanding/ knowledge of a particular situation. Same example:  Sue, tell me what you think should have happened? Do you know what the company stance/policy/preference is in these situations?

How will you correct? Once they understand the difference between what happened and what should have occurred ask them “how will you ensure it doesn’t happen again”.  Did you see that? You are asking them what they will do and you are not telling them.  Continuing with Sue:  I realize this was a unique situation, can you tell me how you can avoid this happening in the future?

This last part is what created the accountability in the person. Their idea, their plan and their responsibility. I have to warn you – the first time you do this your employee will look at you with a blank stare. Why? They are accustomed to being told what to do to fix and not asked. You are creating a shift in regards to accountability – this is a good thing.

I remember one manager doing this with an employee the first time (they had already been told various times how to fix performance) that it took the employee a couple days to come up with an answer (yes, it’s ok if it’s not immediate)…the amazing part is that her answer was “this job is not for me”, not because she was afraid of the repercussions or fear she couldn’t do the job, it was because while thinking about how to improve she realized she didn’t want to do that type of work!

That’s an extreme case. However you now get the employee thinking for themselves.

Are you willing to try it? What some help in implementing? Let talk about it.

Your Impact On Your Team

impact on others, leadership


I have had the pleasure over the last couple of weeks of speaking to a couple great leaders in small business. There was a common theme running through the various conversations: The impact the leader has on the team.

This may seem obvious, as in “of course the leader has an impact”. And I would agree. However have you really thought about how your day-to-day interactions impact your team and not just the big decisions.

For example: are you the person where your teams decides if it’s a good day or bad day based on your mood? Are they afraid to ask a questions because they think you will say it’s dumb or the answer is obvious? Or are you the person when there is a lot going on, you ignore everyone on your team?

These examples are extremes however they highlight how our actions can affect others.

I remember many years ago, two servers from the restaurant came to talk to me about their “boss”, the restaurant manager and how she would always raise her voice at them. As I usually do in these situations I ask “what are you looking for today – to vent (let it out and we both forget about it), do you want me to fix it (not the best option) or you want me to guide you in handling the situation yourself (yes, this is the one I strive for)”. We discussed how they could approach the manager and let her know how they felt.  Usually when this happens, the original people come back to me and let me know what happened.  This time the manager came to see me and no, not to complain about the servers – she came looking for advice because she didn’t understand why they would say she was raising her voice and being rude.  Instead of going into the perception is reality speech, I ask her if she would be willing to try something for the day. She said yes. I asked her to “listen to yourself speak”, especially when she was interacting with her team. Many times we have a tendency to talk without thinking about how it is received by others.

Well, it didn’t take a day, she came back to me a couple hours later with “I had no idea I was so rude and disrespectful.” We then discussed how she say what she needed in a way that would show respect to others. In the end,  she found her best voice, used it, and had a profitable restaurant with great customer service.

Have you “listened to yourself” lately? How are your words, tone, or mood affecting those around you?

Understanding your impact is the beginning to becoming a leader.


Talent Awareness

talent assessment

Talent Awareness is what I call it. Others call it Talent Management, I actually find it a little amusing, mostly because if you try to manage talent (your people) it doesn’t work. They need to be led to willingly follow your path. However, that is not what this is about. It’s about creating your awareness of the talent that lies in the people who work for you.

A way that companies are doing this is called a 9 Grid.  It is a graph to help you plot your people on.  (See above) What makes this different than forced (or unforced) ranking systems is that you are not comparing one person to another. It is about what they do and what they can do.

Along the bottom of the graph is Performance from low to average to high.  Going up the left side is Potential, again from low to average to high. This will give you 9 blocks (hence the name 9 grid).

Now take a look at each person individually and plot them along the graph. What gets tricky is making sure you don’t change your definition of each criteria based on your own personal bias for each person. If you do this in a group, ensure one person’s view doesn’t adjust all the others. You have to remain objective. (I know…easier said than done).

Just to add another perspective, on the people who you are rating “low” on the performance, take a look at the why it might be happening.  Is it because they are new? Are they in a new role? Are they in the wrong role? Issues at home? Issues with their co-workers?  You get the idea – don’t just label them “low” without understanding the why.

So why is this important? You can use this information to help you plan for staffing moves, determine which direction you want to motivate them, can they help train others, have they out-grown your company, do they need a challenge?  Again, review the information and the people and use this new insight to help lead and guide them for the success of your company.

Need some assistance to implement in your business? Please respond below and I will be in touch.


How to determine Salaries


small business, salary

Small business owners find one of the hardest decisions to make is what to pay their people. Many struggle with the balance between paying a fair salary and what the business can afford.

To give you some guidance, keep the following in mind.

Market Position
You are have taken the time to determine where to position your company in the market – high end provider, unique proposition with average pricing, or the high volume/low cost provider. A well thought out strategy which is resonated in the marketing of the company.

When a market position is determined, it is done with an understanding of pros/cons of the position and the long-term possibilities. The same analysis needs to go into the decision on salaries.

Starting Point: Salary Position = Market Position
This is the place to start. Companies should match their salary position with market as the starting point. The numbers need to be run against revenues and other expenses. From there the owner needs to determine if the salary number needs to go up or down.

There are many sourced on the web and industry specific organizations to assist a company in determining where to low, average and high salary points are.

Understand the Salary Position
An organization needs to realize, similar to the marketing position, the salary position will come with it’s own set of pros/cons. It’s fundamental for a company to understand the long term affects of their salary decision.

Know someone who needs assistance to determine their salary position. I would love to talk to them.

5 Uses for a Job Description

© vicky -

© vicky –

You may be thinking about creating Job Descriptions or have some that may need updating. The thing is that every time you think about it – you find something else to do. It’s just not that exciting and you think – why bother, people look at it once then never again.  What if that one piece of paper could give your several uses – 5 to be exact – would that make it more of a priority? Let’s find out.

5 uses for a Job Description as a countdown.

5.  Legalities. Ok, this one you may already know about. Having a job description outlines the qualifications (so you can defend your position not to hire someone), physical requirements (to determine what kinds of accommodations you can make for a person with disabilities) and essential functions (what’s the minimum a person needs to do to be successful, also to determine what accommodations you can make).

4. Recruiting. It will help to keep you focused on the qualifications and skills needed. I have found it helpful in order to stop “shinny object syndrome”. You have had this happen. You are reviewing resumes and someone possess a skills that you believe would be great (shinny object) and bias yourself towards that person. The job description will keep you focused on what you really need for the position and if they possess that AND the shinny object – they may move to the top of the pile.

3. Training New Hires. You bring someone new into the organization and need to develop a training plan. Use the job description to guide you to ensure you train what is needed for them to be successful. Don’t forget to add timelines, they cannot learn the job in a day.

2. Setting Expectations. Job Descriptions are the ideal of what a position should accomplish. Share this especially with new hires and they will understand what is expected from them once their training is over.  This works great for people moving into a new position.

1. Development Plans. You probably have some great employees doing wonderful work and you have some…well…let’s say they need some development. Use the job description in a conversation with them to determine how they can improve in one or two areas noted for the next month or so.  Follow-up and repeat. You could end up with fantastic employees all around.

Start writing your job descriptions – now it will be used more than once.

Need some help getting your descriptions done? Contact me and we discuss your needs.


Do it Yourself

© kemaltaner -

© kemaltaner –


Part of the services I offer is to conduct an audit of the HR systems at a company. Typically this means I review the labor posters, employee files, handbook and policies and procedures. I know, doesn’t sound very exciting. So why am I sharing?

I keep seeing the same mistakes and I want you to avoid these and you can do it yourself (or call me and I will do it) either way, just do it.

Before I get into the how or what you need to do. Let’s briefly discuss the why. Why is it important to do an audit? An audit is based on legal compliance – in other words make sure you are following all the laws that pertain to having employees.  I don’t want to scare you and it’s important you understand the implications of not being in compliance – some laws will affect you in the long run and only if an employee files suit. These can cost you time, money and attorney fees. Others are relvealed during an investigation by diffferent government bodies (a complaint doesn’t necessarily have to be filed). The I9 form for instance can results in fines from $100 – $5000 per form (or per employee). That can add us quickly.

So what do you need to do to at least get started?

Here are steps for your own audit

1. Labor posters. They need to be posted in a place where employees can see then and in a location they frequently visit. I usually recommend a break room or copy room. Depends on how your office is set up.  Next follow this link for the Federal Poster Requirements (you can also print what you need from here as well) and then you can go to your particular state site (Google your state Department of Labor).

2. Employee files.  Unfortunately you cannot keep everything in one file. You may need up to 2 files per person. First, make sure all I9’s are filed together in their own folder or binder. Also ensure they are completed properly and are in a seperate drawer from your employee files. Second, any medical/confidential information should also have it’s own folder by employee. This folder should have any forms or papers that contain medical information (sick notes, health insurance applications, FMLA leave, etc.). Lastly, all the papers that remain stay in the employee file.

3  Handbook review. This is to ensure your policies are current and it has been updated with any changes you may have made over the years.  Does you vacation/PTO policy explain when a person is eligible for benefits and how they are earned. Do you give time-off for other circumstances (medical leave, personal leave)? What is the procedure for call off of work? What is the procesure if the office is closed due to weather? The best palce to start is to think about all the circumstances you had to deal with over the last year and determine if it was covered.

This is only a start. You also want to make sure you are classifying employees properly between employee/contractor and exempt/non-exempt.

Do this yourself to get peace of mind or if you’d rather – call me and I can help.

Are you giving it away?



It is something everyone wants. I have had business owners ask for it. Yet, they are the same ones who are consistently giving it away. It’s accountability.

It’s true we all want people who make decisions, are responsible and accept the good/bad outcome as a result. Yet at the same time, without realizing it we give away their responsibility, the ability to make decisions which in turns doesn’t hold them to the results.

Now, before you start screaming at the screen and saying it’s not true. Let me ask you a couple questions. Do you do any of the following:

  • Tell people exactly how to solve an issue?
  • When an error is committed, do you tell them how to fix it?
  • When delegating, you provide all the details and they only have to follow your directions?
  • You are known as a micro-manager?

Each time you answered “yes” to one of the above, you have taken away their accountability. I know, you are thinking “no, I’m telling how to work”. This is the same as giving a student the answer to the test.

Instead of giving the answers, ask for the answers. Ask your people “what do you think we should do?” or “what are suggestions to fix it?” or “what is the best way to go about it”.

Keep in mind this is not where it ends, this is the beginning of a conversation with more questions along the “why” or “how would that work”, etc. Give your thoughts or input and have them make the decision.

Think about it for a moment. When someone else told you how to do something – if it didn’t work was your reaction “I would have done it differently” or “I knew it wouldn’t work” or “not my solution, not my problem”. When you came up with the solution or course of action that didn’t work, your reaction is more like “what went wrong” or “how do I avoid this the next time” or “let me try this instead”.

See the difference in the mindset of the person. The second person is taking responsibility and therefore is being accountable.

What will you do differently next time? How can you change this with your people?

Need assistance with creating accountability. Let’s talk.  E-mail me at or call 773.531.8199.

Do you REALLY know them?

communication, leadership

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Great leaders know their people and what is happening in their lives.

I said this in front of a group of business leaders as one of the “7 Leadership Habits for an Engaged Team”.  A response I got, is from one person while others nod their head in agreement – “I don’t want to hear their drama”. I get it, I’m not into drama either and that’s not what I am referring to.

So, how do you get to know people without the drama?

Lead by example. Share what you feel is appropriate and they will do the same. Share a bit about yourself and draw the line at sharing your own family drama (yes we all have it). In doing this, if someone crosses the line, gently apologize for their misfortune and end the conversation.

What you do want to lean about: their family, where they are from, do they have a spouse, kids and what they do for fun. Do they have hobbies? How do they spend time outside of work (I know its hard to believe, your people do have lives outside of work). You are gradually going to get this over many conversations. Don’t try to get it one sitting, they will feel interrogated and uncomfortable. You don’t want that.

Why should you care? By showing interest in them, they feel important, respected and cared for, they are more than just a cog in the machine. People have a tendency to respect those who show a genuine interest in the.

This is also beneficial for when you want to reward someone for an achievement, you can show it in a way that is meaningful to them, personalized. For example, if you want to thank them for working overtime to get a project done and they love knitting, maybe a gift certificate to a local knitting/yarn store.

Make you people feel appreciated and really get to know them beyond their name.

P.S. This also works great with clients.



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You hear it in everyday conversation and in business. “I had the expectation…” or “I thought this was going  was going to happen…”. It is typically and normal for each of us to have an expectation of what is happening or what a result will be. However, while we have a clear picture of what we want, we don’t always share it with another person. This results in disappointment – from both sides.

Let’s take a look at what is an “Expectation”. According to Merriam Webster:

“A belief that something will happen or is likely to happen”

In my experience and I’m sure in yours, the likelihood something will happen is increased dramatically when we share our expectations. It seems obvious right. Nothing new here.

Then why are we experiencing disappointment,  frustration and disillusionment?

We are not in habit of setting expectations with others. You will find taking the time to set expectations can increase our results, time, and happiness.

Here are a few examples on where you can set expectations to achieve better results:

Meetings:  We have all been involved in meetings where we sit there and wonder why we are spending our time. To change it, start by setting an agenda and outlining the anticipated results before hand will allow people to understand why they should take time out of their day to meet, prepare for the meeting, and the end result. If the meeting isn’t yours, ask the host to do this. Imagine how many more meetings you would attend that would be productive and you would be a more willing participant.

Delegation: This one can get people tongue tied as they are afraid to give too many details and micromanage the process.  When delegating focus on the results and not the process. Discuss the objective with the person and how you will be using what they give back to you. If you have a preferred format (word, excel, powerpoint, etc.) let them know.

Interviewing: Here is a case where we think the expectations are clear and don’t need to stated. We are looking to hire and you applied. Yes, that is why you are talking to the person. Let them know the process, how you like to interview and what will happen next. For example: I have your resume and have read it, I would like to ask you questions to see if you are a fit for the company and then I will tell you about the position and you can determine if its a good fit for you.

Networking: We are connecting with people and want to learn more about their business. As you know networking is not about getting business at the event. When you are following up with someone you met at a networking event, let them know why you are reaching out – to learn more about your business, I can help you with…, etc.

Where else do you need to set expectations? Share below.

Need assistance in making setting expectations a habit, something you always do? Let’s talk.

Attracting the Right Employees

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jim Kendall of the Daily Herald (local newspaper) on the various struggles of small employers to find quality employees.  There is so much you can do.

Read here to see what I shared with his audience.

Don’t forget you need to focus on the planning to get it right.

Are you struggling or want assistance to get the right employees for your small business. Contact me for a complimentary consultation at or 773.531.8199