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Why Business Leaders Must Rethink What It Means to Be an Ally

Pride Month has officially come and gone. But I’ll admit, this one has felt very different.

I’ve lived in Northern California for years, a historic center of the nation’s LGBTQ+ community, and have marveled at the rainbows and parade floats that take over our streets each June. Every year, corporations big and small sign checks to support a cause, or to get their logo splashed across the front of a parade float as a sponsor. Those parades didn’t happen this year, but regardless, this kind of support is critical. Still, the LGBTQ+ business community needs more from allies.

Services are needed now more than ever in the time of Covid-19, and my company, Hello Alice, has been running a grant program that offers small-business owners an emergency $10,000, including for the LGBTQ+ community. Part of the application process involves talking about the needs of your business.

It’s crucial for business owners, including myself, to develop an understanding of this problem. Hello Alice has compiled anonymous owner data and released an Impact Report that lays out the demographics, demands, and necessary action items to make continued progress. We found that 5,000 LGBTQ+ founders across industries, 92 percent are asking for emergency grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000. For more than a third of LGBTQ+ owners, this amount will determine whether or not their business survives the coronavirus crisis.

According to our partners at the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), there are 1.4 million LGBTQ+ business owners in the United States, a group that collectively adds $1.7 trillion to the economy. We cannot afford to leave these businesses behind — but it will take targeted solutions.

As with many segments of the New Majority, LGBTQ+ owners face unique barriers that make it difficult or even impossible for them to access capital. For one, the U.S. Census does not count LGBTQ+ individuals, limiting the ability of government programs to target the community. There also remains a startling lack of legal protections if an owner wants to pursue a traditional lending route. Even today, there are more than 35 states where it is perfectly legal for a bank or credit union officer to say, “We do not loan money to your kind.”

I believe that business leaders should push legislators to change these unfair and unjust lending practices. Based on responses from our grant applicants, we must also demand immediate and sustained access to rent relief, tax deferrals, and tax waivers. But change takes time, and business owners need our help right now.  

On an individual level, owners can pursue Certified LGBT Business Enterprise designation from NGLCC — the sole third-party that recognizes LGBTQ+ owners and maintains a robust supplier diversity initiative. Fellow business leaders must do their own part and make use of this registry to diversity their suppliers, as well as actively include the LGBTQ+ community in more professional networks and chambers of commerce.

Is the road ahead clear? Absolutely not. But with hard work and bold leadership, I think the result will be something we can all be truly proud of in partnership with our LGBTQ+ small business owners.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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5 Common Words That Make Your Emails Sound Indecisive and Wishy-Washy

“I’m convinced,” Stephen King says, “that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

That’s especially true with emails. Because the words are in writing and therefore permanent (or as Count Rugen would say, for posterity), without thinking–or out of habit–many people add qualifiers to their emails.

Which makes them sound hesitant. Unsure. Indecisive. Wishy-washy. And turns what could have been a powerful message into something far less.

Next time you write an email, take a second to change or delete the following words:

“Think”

An employee spots a quality problem and asks you to make a decision. Compare these two responses:

  • “I think we need to re-run that order.”
  • “Re-run that order.”

Both convey the same basic message: You think the order should be re-run. Adding “I think” makes it sound like the decision is up for debate. Or that you’re unsure. Or maybe you’re subtly seeking input.

Or that you’re hedging, because you’re worried you’ll be wrong.

Want to re-run the order? Just say so.

“Just”

What’s your first reaction when someone writes, “I just need five minutes of your time”? If you’re like me, you assume you’re going to be sold, and that five minutes will actually be more like 20. 

Instead of making a request sound quick or easy by using “just,” instead think like a marketer. Explain the benefits. Describe what’s in it for the other person. Help me want to spend that five minutes with you. In short, don’t try to convince me with how long–explain why.

The same is true for requests or directions. Saying a task will “take just five minutes” sounds like you’re trying to soften the blow. 

Instead of diminishing importance by writing “just,” prove the importance by explaining why.

Or by simply leaving “just” out.

“Guess”

Sometimes you really are guessing. A sales forecast is a guess. A churn rate projecting is a guess. No matter how comprehensive the underlying data, anything you attempt to predict is still a guess.

Even writing “best guess” still sounds soft, like you’re pulling numbers or results out of thin air.

Instead, use projection. Estimate. Forecast. Calculation. Even expectation (which will naturally make people want to meet it).

In short, use a word that conveys you’ve assessed the past and present to forecast the future. 

Because otherwise you really are just guessing.

“Need”

“Need” conveys importance and urgency–but also dependency.

A better approach? Substitute a polite word. Instead of, “I need you to complete the order by the end of the day,” write, “Please complete the order by the end of the day.” Or, “Thanks in advance for completing the order by the end of the day.”

(Side note: Closing an email with “thanks in advance” is the top-ranked phrase in terms of getting people to respond.)

“Very”

Granted, some things are important … and others are very important.

But writing, “It’s very important that your department improves its safety results … ” sounds like you’re trying to convince me.

Leave out superfluous adjectives like “very,” “highly,” or “extremely.” If you feel you need to stress severity or criticality or seriousness, use data and reason instead. 

When you want something to get done, including a few adjectives will rarely motivate or inspire. 

Sharing the logic behind the decision or action–turning a directive into a shared mission– definitely can.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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How to Handle a Pushy Job Candidate

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. How to handle a pushy job candidate

I am in the process of scheduling interviews for a new opening on our team. I called a batch of candidates this morning and left messages for a few of them. I was then in a meeting, and when I returned I had four phone calls from one candidate, who apparently was quite nervous when I didn’t pick up and immediately respond to the voice mail she left with her first call. Today is just one of those days where I didn’t have time to pause and didn’t want to break my focus on a project. So, I figured, it sucks that I can’t answer her right now but I’ll call back first thing tomorrow morning once I have the bulk of my project finished.

Fast-forward to this afternoon. She then sent me a message about how she’d called several times and “for some reason, nobody was returning my calls.” 

Am I crazy for being irritated with this? Considering the magnitude of the project I’ve been working on and my stress levels when she messaged me, it rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s pretty common to not answer a phone call within a day if you’ve got a lot going on, and it seems to me like she’s not really understanding professional norms.

Green responds:

Yes, that absolutely should rub you the wrong way. Called you four times in a single day? That’s three calls too many. And then followed that up with a message where she implied she was being ignored?

This is the kind of thing that should warrant reconsidering whether to interview her at all. You now have new information about how she operates. Nerves are one thing, but she flew right past nerves into presumption and rudeness.

2. My employee won’t wait until work hours to answer emails

I have a remote employee who was assigned to my department from another area of the business. She generally goes home at 4, and I always work until 5 and frequently much later. Several times a week, I’ll realize I need to ask her something after she’s left for the day, and I’ll send her a quick email while I’m thinking about it for her to find in the morning. The difficulty is that, as part of her past role, she’s become accustomed to checking her email in her off-hours, and frequently reviews projects, answers questions, etc., off the clock.

I’ve told her that I don’t ever expect her to respond to email after hours, that I’d prefer she enjoy her evening, and responding the next day is preferable. To which she has laughingly responded that she’s used to it and likes to stay ahead of her work and see what’s coming up the next day. It’s a great problem to have, as far as problems go, but she is hourly, and I’m concerned about the legality of her spending chunks of time reviewing email and projects off the clock. I also don’t want to trample on her off-hours — she’s got a life, and I don’t want her to feel she has to constantly be checking her email.

Can you recommend some wording to let her know I’d really rather she leave work for work hours? Or should I manage it on my end by scheduling my emails to go through the next morning instead of whenever I send them initially?

Green responds:

It sounds like the issue is that you’ve presented this as a suggestion, when you really want it to be a requirement. At least I’m assuming that you do — because she’s hourly, you need to require her to track all the time that she spends doing anything work-related from home, and you need to pay her for it, including overtime pay if that puts her over 40 hours in a week.

So I’d say this: “Jane, I realized that I wasn’t clear when we talked earlier about your answering emails after your normal work hours. We’re required by law to log any time you spend on work, even checking email from home, and we need to pay you for it. I haven’t budgeted to pay you additional time, so I do need you to stop checking emails outside of work. I appreciate that you want to stay on top of your work, but this is a legal issue — I can’t let you do it.”

And then if she continues to do it after that, you have to have a pretty serious conversation with her about it, because she’s exposing your company to legal liability if you don’t pay her and costing you money that you haven’t authorized if you do pay her.

3. Can we push a retiring employee out early?

I work for a small organization (only 13 employees) and we have endured more than our share of turnover in the past few years (i.e., retirements, resignations). We just found out (by accident — she told her supervisor during a general conversation that came up about retiring between the two) that one of our long-time employees is planning on retiring this year at one of our busiest times. It is going to be devastating to us if we wait for her to give us a retirement date because the department she works in already has a vacancy we’re trying to fill.

I was wondering if our organization could a) beat her to the punch and give her a “set” last day of work or b) wait for her to give us her resignation date and then terminate her? I know both sound harsh, but with our being short-staffed already, we really want to hire someone who could train for her position the same time we are hiring the part-time employee.

Green responds:

It would be a pretty crappy thing to do — there’s a reason you think it sounds harsh. The rest of your employees will see it that way too, which isn’t a good thing. You’d also be signaling to them that they should never give you generous notice when they resign because they’d be pushed out early too. And you’d open yourself up to possible charges of age discrimination (especially if you haven’t pushed other employees out early when you learn that they’re, say, going back to school in a few months); you’re too small to be covered under the federal age discrimination laws, but your state laws might apply. And you’d end up paying unemployment if she filed for it.

Why not just ask her about it? She brought it up to her manager, so her manager should go back to her and say, “Jane, were you serious about retiring this summer? If so, it would be helpful to to talk about your plans and the timing.”

But really, any of your employees could resign at any time and you would make do, even when the timing was bad. This is no different.

4. Should I use fancy résumé paper?

I’ve seen you say that fancy résumé paper is obsolete, in part because most people apply to jobs online these days. However, I’m applying for a position with a prestigious nonprofit organization in this community, and the instructions are to mail your résumé and cover letter to the physical mailing address. So, résumé paper or no? I can’t decide. What’s your take on it?

Green responds:

My take on it is still the same — if it takes special résumé paper to wow them about your candidacy, things are not going well.

If you like nice paper and it makes you happy to use it and you’re OK with the employer not caring either way, then go for it. Otherwise, seriously, normal paper is fine. Good managers don’t care.

5. Informal salary negotiation when I wasn’t prepared for the question

I made a network connection over a year ago when I was moving to a new city. She and I have stayed friends, and this past January she told me that she was restructuring her team and wanted me to come on board.

We’ve had lots of informal conversations since then. Today, we met (once again) and we are moving closer to the details’ being ironed out. She suggested a start date and said the whole team was restructuring so they were still finalizing what my title would be. She’d be sending me the job description this week.

She mentioned they are thinking about bringing me in at $X to start. This is lower than I am currently making and I’d like closer to $Y. However, I didn’t say anything. This was an informal conversation and I don’t even have a finalized title or job description. My thought was I would wait for the job description and wait for her to say, officially, “Here’s an offer of $X for [job title],” before opening up negotiations. I don’t even know what the benefit package includes, etc.

Did I make the right move staying silent – or should I have in that moment said that it was lower than I wanted? This entire process has been messy because it’s so informal and the job hasn’t been ironed out. Is it going to look weird that I didn’t say something in that moment about salary?

Green responds:

Well, ideally you would have spoken up in the moment and said something like, “I’d actually be looking for something like $Y — is that out of your range?” Or, while I’m not a fan of disclosing salary history, in a case like this it can be helpful to say, “That’s actually lower than what I’m making now, so I’d be looking for something more like $Y.”

Yes, it’s ideal when you can wait until you know about benefits and other details, but it doesn’t always work that way. And you do need to say something now, since otherwise your silence is likely to be seen as tacit agreement.

I’d say this: “You mentioned salary the other day. I want to let you know that $X is actually lower than what I’m making now. Obviously I’d want to wait and get a better understanding of the role itself and your benefits package, but I’d probably be looking for something more in the range of $Y. Does it still make sense to keep talking?”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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Amazon Is Changing Its Website To Do Something Truly Unimaginable

Absurdly Driven usually looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Retailers are clever manipulators of psychology.

Online retailers take it to an almost sinister new level.

It’s as if they can make us have an impulse, then satisfy that impulse within nanoseconds.

But does this manipulation of algorithms and human gullibility have its limits?

I only ask because Amazon has reportedly started making its technology do something entirely unprecedented, something that few could ever have imagined. 

It’s configuring its website to prevent people from buying so much.

So a website geared to maximizing purchasing is among the less helpful things the company can offer.

Out, apparently, are going those clever widgets that tell you what people whom you don’t know, will never meet and likely have nothing in common with have also bought with some specific item.

Out seem to be going promotions for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I think Mom and Dad have got better things to think about than what gifts they’ll be shortly returning.

I believe I’ve already seen evidence of such changes. I looked at a few books and the “customers also bought” wasn’t there. Moreover, Amazon seemed even keener than ever that I should buy the Kindle versions.

Amazon has already said it’s prioritizing certain essential items, though the definition of essential varies greatly by locality. 

It should be clear that toilet paper and masks might be more essential than garden tools or cologne, but that hasn’t always been the case.

You might imagine, though, that this decision to douse the technology is ultimately self-serving. Normally, Amazon wants to sell as much as it can, but these are extraordinary times.

Then again, it’s a fine lesson for anyone trying to sell a product or service, even in better times.

It’s easy to lure yourself into believing that more is always better. Every new sale means more profit. Every new customer means more people to sell to.

Yet if your infrastructure can’t cope, or if your employees and suppliers simply can’t deal with the magnitude of orders, customers will begin to howl.

Soon, you’ll have a reputation for unreliability. 

With Amazon, it became clear even before Coronavirus that its Prime two-day delivery promise was tending toward wishful thinking.

I certainly found some items arriving on time and others arriving in their own time. Which may have led some to wonder whether the increasing cost of Prime membership — currently $119 — is actually worth it.

It may well be that Amazon is changing its website only for this particular period.

What, though, if people are significantly changed when this is all over? What if far more choose simpler lives, greater participation in the outdoors and less obvious consumerism?

What if, in fact, we become more basic in our approach to life and embrace far more of the fundamentals and far fewer of the temporary little surges that come when we buy something we really don’t need?

Oh, I know it’s easy to believe we’ll just slip back into familiar old ways.

But wouldn’t it be interesting for online retailers if we didn’t?

Published on: Apr 18, 2020

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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A Restaurant Just Closed For A Truly Troubling Reason. This Is Our Future

Absurdly Driven usually looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

They’re hoping for some better day that may — or may not — arrive within weeks or months.

They’re hoping their former staff are still around and want their jobs back.

They’re also hoping customers will return with confidence.

But what should restaurant owners prepare for? How much will things change? How will they have to alter the dining experience? And what sort of customers will return?

The truly sad and disturbing closure of a San Francisco restaurant indicates just how difficult for restaurants the future will be.

Like so many, Cassava was open for takeout, both at brunch and dinner.

It found enough business to keep a few people employed. Yet, a few days ago it suddenly closed. And the reason may be grounds for despair.

As Cassava’s co-owner Yuka Ioroi told Eater, she couldn’t stay open because customers were simply being disrespectful. Of the social distancing rules, that is.

She said people would pick up their food not wearing masks. This wasn’t compulsory in San Francisco at the time, but many people were still doing it.

Ioroi’s customers, she said, weren’t even observing the shelter-in-place order.

She explained: 

One group asked for takeout utensils, and I said, ‘Aren’t you guys going back home? That’s the law.’ But they said, ‘Oh no, we’re having a picnic.’

I live in the Bay Area and we haven’t had the incidence of confirmed Coronavirus cases seen in New York.

This has caused a schism. Some people are still observing the social distancing rules. Others believe it’s so much nonsense. They’ll ride their bikes in tight packs and expect you to get out of the way.

Ioroi explained that, ultimately, it was her staff’s discomfort at the nonchalant behavior of customers that forced her to close.

Her story reveals just one aspect of the extremely difficult path any restaurateur will have to tread if they want to re-open — or, perish the courage — open a restaurant for the first time.

A restaurant owner has the right to expect certain levels of behavior from customers. Without, that is, being a police officer.

Moreover, how can a restaurant owner be confident of getting back to business when some medical professionals are suggesting another outbreak will be along shortly?

The future for restaurants is enormously treacherous and it’s one that every restaurant owner should thoroughly consider right now.

When restaurants begin to re-open, he said, they would be forced to only have half the seats they used to.

The servers would be wearing gloves and masks. Menus would be disposable. Guests would have their temperatures taken before entering. And, of course, no hugging your favorite proprietor or server.

It is, of course, understandable. But who really wants to chat to a server through a mask? Who, too, believes that the restaurant experience they know will be even remotely replicated in any sort of near future? 

Restaurants often operate on very small margins. They’re built on emotions around food and service. If the staff is dressed a little like a critical care worker, if the owner suddenly resembles a surgeon and if the customers are reluctant to observe new health rules, what sort of experience will it be?

I feel sure one aspect of this crisis is that people will be desperate to get out of their houses.

But what will they really want to do? Go to a newly-clinical restaurant or just walk in the fresh air for miles and miles and miles?

Published on: Apr 18, 2020

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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Lessons from Apollo 13 on Staying Agile Amid Crisis

“Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

April 17th marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13’s safe return to Earth after what was intended to be NASA’s third moon-landing mission. The craft launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module failed two days into the mission.

Because of the explosion, the crew orbited the moon instead and pointed the spacecraft back home to earth. However, the crew encountered a cascade of problems, all with life-threatening consequences. The Apollo 13 crew and staff tackled these problems with incredible agility and accountability, ultimately landing the three astronauts back on earth safely.

Historic events like this teach us a great deal about how to remain agile in a crisis. Times of disruption force us to pause, look at the bigger picture, and innovate bold solutions to problems that may at first appear insolvable.

Today, corporate leaders can look back at this historic mission to understand what we call the Steps To Accountability–a four step problem-solving model that can help leaders solve the most challenging problems they’re experiencing today. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: See It

The first step in remaining agile and taking accountability for success is the willingness to see reality. On a space mission, any issue is a matter of life or death. When the Apollo 13 oxygen tank blew, the first step was to calculate the distance between earth and the point in the spaceship’s journey when critical resources would run out.

Mission control quickly assessed the amount of each essential needed for the crew to make it back alive–water, power, and reducing carbon dioxide being the main concerns. Details like these are critical; without this level of clarity, it’s impossible to know exactly what problems need to be solve. What they discovered was horrifying: the failing Command Module couldn’t support the crew’s return.

It takes courage to acknowledge the reality of a crisis. However, leaders who see the full scope of a situation are quicker to respond to major issues that arise. In today’s disrupted world, it’s important to look at what priorities have shifted to keep the company on track to achieving results. Evaluate resources such as human capital, budget, supply chain, and bandwidth. Disruption destroys the status quo and often accelerates innovation. When leaders are able to acknowledge the disruption and how it impacts their team from achieving their results, they can remain agile and find a different way to achieve that goal or pivot to a new result.

Step 2: Own It

The Apollo 13 mission controllers engaged in delivering on their result: “How do we get this crew back home safely?” Without everyone taking accountability and actively owning their role in delivering on this result, the Apollo 13 mission would be remembered for a very different reason.

Just like Apollo 13, gaining traction during a crisis requires every member of an organization to personally engage. Making the mental pledge to own the new results or developing a new process to achieve established goals is imperative to moving forward with speed. Being willing to adapt isn’t enough. Instead of waiting for orders, everyone needs to get involved in being part of the solution.

Step 3: Solve It

The most important step to taking accountability for desired results is asking, “What else can I do?” This is exactly the mindset that drove mission controllers as they worked towards bringing the crew home alive.

When it became clear that the crew would have to abandon the Command Module for the Lunar Module–an aircraft that was not designed for space travel and could support only two of the three astronauts for two days on the moon. The team asked, “What else can I do?” and quickly designed a supplementary carbon dioxide removal system. Following instructions from mission control, the astronauts had one hour to build the device out of plastic bags, cardboard, parts from a lunar suit and a lot of tape. 

In times of crisis, the question “What else can I do?” is not about doing more but about shifting the way you think and act to achieve the result. Taking accountability means you are constantly thinking of different ways to innovate and move forward. Employees from all levels of an organization can actively work to solve issues plaguing their organizations by coming back to this mindset.

Step 4: Do It

The last three steps would be rendered useless without follow through. The key to execution is defining who will do what and by when. The team followed through on their choices by defining the “who” and “by when” for making a supplementary carbon dioxide removal system, preparing the Lunar Module as their life boat in space, and who would go to work creating a brand new procedure to restart a cold command module with limited power options. These actions lead the Apollo 13 mission to their goal of successfully bringing home the team of astronauts.

Much like the space mission, companies cannot achieve their desired results until they put their plans into action. The Do It step and the Solve It steps can be regularly reworked to achieve a new result or pivot when results aren’t being met. But goals will never be achieved until teams put accountability into action.

Achieving Success Through Failure

Even though Apollo 13 did not achieve their original goal of landing on the moon, the mission was still considered a successful failure. The team at mission control gained a lot of insight on how to properly handle a crisis that can lead to life or death for their crew. They were also able to record images of the moon’s surface as they passed by.

Much like the space mission, companies can still achieve success in the face of a crisis. While original results might not still be attainable, teams can remain agile and innovate different ways to achieve new results. They will be much better equipped with the tools needed to stay accountable when disruption hits and propel themselves forward.

Published on: Apr 17, 2020

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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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