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Here’s When You Know a New Employee Can’t Be Saved

We tackle this query and more in November’s “Ask Big Picture.”

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

Your three watchwords should be considerate, fair, and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone, such as food. Keep staff dietary restrictions in mind when choosing edible gifts. If you do decide to give individual gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people have enough clutter in their lives. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendos or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give the lowest rung on your company ladder as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

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 coworkers 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. [Read more about this on page 35.]

How do you educate your customers that all wraps are not created equal?

For so many of Katherine Becher’s customers, the question that seems to matter to them the most is “How much does it cost?” “This is very troubling when talking about a major purchasing decision as there are many factors to consider besides cost,” says the owner and creative director of Wicked Wraps. She says the important question(s) to ask should be: What materials are being used? How long will it last? What happens if there are problems with the graphics over time? “The list goes on and on.”

Of course, “How much does it cost?” is an important question, but it shouldn’t be the only question. “It’s my job to educate customers about best practices in every aspect of the wrap industry, from designing wraps, to materials, printing equipment, and installation, as well as warranty and maintenance,” Becher says. “I would rather help a customer get a high-quality, well-designed, and artfully installed partial wrap than see the same customer invest in a full wrap that features a bad design, is printed on inferior materials, and/or is installed poorly.”

I haven’t gotten 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, 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’s always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process that can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

I’m planning my company party, but one concern is that somebody might get drunk and have a car accident. Got any advice on protecting myself?

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 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 or appoint someone to suggest Uber or Lyft rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths during the interview process?

The indirect method is often best when it comes to getting at a prospect’s true strengths. Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question: 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. The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses.

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