Thursday, April 23, 2015


Tuesday nights at 8:30, you would find me on the living room floor, eating a bowl of cereal, watching “Laverne & Shirley.”  That was my routine for years as a kid.  That show would crack me up.  These two women would find themselves in all sorts of situations, that were often caused by them.  The remainder of the show would be about how they would unravel the trouble.  The classic misunderstandings, assumptions, over-promising and poorly defined expectations filled most of the plotlines. 

Sound a bit like work?  Think of the trouble caused by misunderstanding, to start.  Often, I hear the following:
  • I didn’t know that was what he was asking me to do
  • Wait, you meant for me to do that this week?
  • I think my boss is trying to make me look bad on purpose
  • How can I be expected to do anything more? No one knows all of what I do

Lack of clarity around process, personnel and results often find themselves into our daily  “issue board.”  You know, that growing list of concerns or problems brought up by misunderstanding.  Think of the extra meetings you’ve had to bridge the gaps towards understanding.  Lots, right?

I recall one particular time where I calculated 15 hours of my 40-hour work week spent on meetings I had not planned on having in order to mediate the trouble that was brewing surrounding misunderstanding, unrealized expectations and a general lack of grace towards each other.  That was 37.5% of my work week.  Productive?  Maybe.  Could it have been avoided to begin with?  Much of it could have been.

I know that there is much to learn through situations like this.  The “a-ha” moments usually come when someone, who has worked himself/herself into a tizzy, finds out that the “facts” he/she thought were off and it causes a reconsideration of how information is gathered and processed.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  And yet, if you find yourself in multiple situations like that, doesn’t that show more of a systemic issue?

Trouble is a difficult culture to break through.  There are some companies that love it.  They thrive on unhealthy relationships, difficult processes and a sloppy organizational design.  That’s not a dramatic statement.  Considering the amount of books, articles and workshops on dealing with toxic co-workers, difficult bosses and a separatist board of directors, it’s very reasonable to see that many companies must swim in this description and many of us deal with this on a regular basis.

As leaders, we ought to be proactive to thwart trouble before it begins.  We can offer direction on process, wisdom in relational dealings and passion behind seeking resolution directly.  It’s not meant to be emotionless, but it’s often the case that a culture allowed to be too emotional can end up being crippled by those emotions and fall short of the mission.  We can encourage folks to move beyond such short-sightedness.  The feeling is not where the prize is found; it’s in reaching the goal.

Consider marriage.  The wedding itself is a fun day.  It’s a party!  There is much to love and feel good about; however, the marriage itself is the goal.  Emotions won’t be in the same sphere each day as compared to the wedding.  If the marriage is based on the desire to feel the way they did on the wedding day, the marriage is doomed.  And so it is with business.  Not every day is the first day of work; not every day is the first sale made; not every day is the holiday party.  In between are days where a lack of clarity, issues around process and general trouble can occur.  Taking a proactive stance to thwart such problems and to add value to the communicative process so that others can perform it without you is our job.

Open the dialogue, call others to a higher standard and bring issues out into the open with the purpose of educating, diffusing and moving on.  Trouble festers if left unattended.  Don’t let it happen.  You can make such an impact.  I mean, if Laverne and Shirley were able to do it in a 30-minute time slot, I have faith that you can get it done in a timely manner.  Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated to all!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Reason

(Financial Contributor for Humareso)

As a financial planner, I run into the same question all the time when talking to a business owner, hr specialist or controller.  Which retirement plan should we set up for our company?  They always seem to be leaning towards a solution but are not sure what the full details are with regard to the various plan options.  

You just need to know one simple thing; what is "The Reason" for creating one for your company.

Let's face it.  Some business owners are extremely interested in putting a lot of money away for retirement and taking advantage of as many tax deductions as possible.   In a perfect world, a business owner could do this while receiving a tax break from the government at the same time without limitations.  Unfortunately, there are caps to what you can do and it depends on what plan you choose.  On the other hand, a business may be solely focused on enhancing the benefits they are offering to their employees.  The company may see a retirement plan as a way of keeping their employees around and also attracting new ones as well.  

I could bore you with all of the details that go along with a SEP IRA, Simple IRA, and 401k plan but if anything else you have to first realize that these plans allow contributions to increase to a level much higher than an individual IRA.  In 2015, the traditional IRA contribution limits are $5,500 and $6,500 if age 50 or older.  The limit allows for a decent contribution but a business retirement plan such as a SEP IRA allows for contributions up to $52,000 in 2015. Now that is a huge difference.  If you put that amount against a 30% tax bracket, you would receive over $15,000 in tax savings in just this year alone. If your company has many employees or is likely to grow, a 401k/ Profit sharing plan might be more suitable.  You will have the flexibility to decide if you want to invest more or less each year and can limit the benefits provided to the employees based on actuarial testing.  

There are many factors that affect how a retirement plan will work including the age of employees, the number of employees, the salaries of employees and the contribution amount of the employer(s). This is why a decision should not be rushed.  A Simple IRA plan, for example, does not allow for higher contribution limits compared to other business plans but the out of pocket cost is less for the employer to set up. 

Retirement plans are great ways to really improve your company.  The business owner(s) can really take advantage of putting money away and the employees are also set up to come along for the ride. Think about it. When else does the government hook you up with a discount on taxes for saving your own money. By the way, they also let your money grow tax free before withdrawals. Not a bad situation if you are able to contribute steadily throughout your working career.

So, first start with "The Reason" you are considering a plan. From there, it will be a lot easier to figure out what fits your company's needs.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Don't Fear the Reaper

Go to @twitter and search for #leadership and plan on spending the next four days with no sleep reading what’s there.  Oh, and that won’t give you enough time to finish.  We are a leadership-sensitive business community.  Books, articles, chats, posts, etc. are aplenty regarding the need for, the stability desired in and the call for leadership.  It’s needed in business, at home, in our houses of worship, for our town little league programs, for our school boards and beyond.

The marketplace is ravenous for leadership-directed material.  I have been known to write about it.  I have been known to coach leaders on leadership.  I lead one of the premier HR consulting firms – Humareso.  I like leadership.

Sadly, however, over the past decade, I hear many complaining that our need for leadership is thwarted by a lack of desire for people to step into leadership.  Let me be clearer.  We’ve all experienced leaders who had no business being in positions of leadership.  They were cruel, cold, uninspiring, lacked vision or narcissistic.  Many couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag let alone lead anyone anywhere (ok, so I have some strong feelings about bad leaders, I know).

Perhaps because of those bad leaders, we have many who could perform the role of leader who won’t do it.  They’ve seen the bloody battle that erupts around leaders.  They see the accolades, sure, but they see the bathroom wall writing, too.  It’s a reputation-killer in our society to be a leader.  Can we honestly blame people for not wanting to lead?

Or perhaps it’s Marvel’s fault.  We hold up high the myth of the super hero who can come in and lead effectively with character and right action.  Those movies are blockbusters, but do they set us up to think that all leadership should look like Captain America?  It’s a fantasy.  Could it be that our fascination with that genre impacts our willingness to jump into leadership?  Could be.

So what do businesses do?  They are so starved for leadership that money and willingness become tied together.  Begging someone to lead and paying that person handsomely is our charge to motivate.  I agree that our leadership should be compensated for the skill sets, aptitudes and knowledge they possess.  However, if we bypass those qualities in favor of willingness to hold a position, we belittle the intention of leadership.  Instead of influencers towards mission, we box bodies into short-term, high-paying figureheads.   That doesn’t seem too appealing. 

If someone has some of the qualities necessary to build upon for a leadership role, it’s our job to help coach them into the role, not scare them off.  Promoting people because you can is not a successful succession plan.  True leadership is of a different path.  Leadership is about influence, yes, but deeper than that, a leader inspires others to push and reach for their excellence individually and corporately.  A leader rallies people toward a challenge or lasting goal.

One of our passions is to ridicule and belittle our leadership.  We leave them little room to grow from their mistakes.  The title of leader does not and should not imply perfection.  No one fully arrives once given a role like that.  Regardless of your political persuasion, look at the way we’ve beaten up our last six presidents (and please, don’t send me any articles as to why Bush or Obama or Clinton are more awful than others).  I wouldn’t want any of my kids to be president, and that’s a sad statement.

If I were president, I would receive a barrage of criticism just like they did.  And while that’s on a grand scale, the smaller version is just as powerful in our workplaces.  It’s why we struggle to find people willing to step up.  And so our succession plans move from who is able to who is willing.  There is a vast difference between the two.

Some of you reading this know I am talking to you.  You know that you have the ability to lead, but won’t jump in.  You’ve seen how other leaders have been devoured by their own.  I know it’s not pretty.  Leadership, however, is a privilege that costs.  It’s not that you will become a leader and now be free from ridicule because you’ll have them read this blog.  That’s not what will work.

What will work is your relentless pursuit of excellence, your drive to encourage those you lead towards the mission and your creative exuberance towards the vision.  Some will not like to see this type of person leading them.  It’s too active, too forward thinking, too expectant.  I would say that’s too bad for them.  You are made from deeper and richer stuff.  Don’t fear leadership and what might come with taking it; rather, fear what a lack of leadership will do for a spirit such as yours.