The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What's Your Emphasis

LinkedIn has a poll that asks which of four qualities is most important in running your business:

  • Learning from mistakes
  • Embracing change
  • Taking calculated risks
  • Focusing on the future

One of the things an Organizational Development person does is encourage change where it's necessary. And change is part of the evolution of things. Another term for change is "progress."
Being in business for yourself means you take calculated risks much of the time. Even making the decision to start a business shows the tendency to embrace risk because there are no guarantees of success except for what you put into the effort. Even then, the guarantees of success are not there because many other factors come into play and impact the plans that were initially formulated.

The failure to learn from one's past and from the mistakes that put you where you are today means, like Sisyphus, you are in a constant state of striving to get "there" instead of moving forward. The lessons aren't being learned. Your business is doomed before the birth is complete.

Thus, the major watchword is "focus" and staying focused. The objective is to achieve the goal while stamping out the distractions. Staying focused also means recognizing the trivia that can become a distraction and does nothing for aiding in projecting your plans and goals compared with the distractions that are major issues that merit attention and dispatch in resolution. So in many instances, the most important quality is focusing on the future. Another way of saying this is to say focus on achieving the goal.

One of the ways to put order into ones business endeavors and plateaus is to know how to prioritize as well as how to balance the various aspects of the business. And the next important issue in creating balance is to know how to create a healthy work/life balance so that running your business isn't a matter of running to your grave.


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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Development Opportunities

The original title for this post was "Standards, Boundaries, Guidelines." It didn't work because it just didn't. The subject intended for consideration is how to handle a situation in which you have a problem and then find yourself, as did Paula Deen) needing to turn it into a teachable moment.

Paula caused quite a stir circa June 25 with regard to what she did or did not say, how she manages the workers in her kitchens, and just general protocol. She proclaimed innocence on all counts except for one instance when she used a racially questionable term. She wailed about the distress that her "young people" caused her when she would hear the names they would call one another. But she didn't talk about what she did to counter that behavior.

Good Georgia girl of the '60s, she claims that she only used the racially repugnant term one time in her life. Yet there are lawyers who have come up with quite a number of other instances. For someone of her vintage, she should have an appreciation of what the term connotes as well as other matters of which she is accused (her "pet" name for one of her chefs, the wedding dinner, oh dearie me). She's a grandparent. She's at a stage where she's been teaching etiquette and appropriate behavior to her offspring. The dynamic doesn't change when it pertains to employees, associates, and just people in general. Still, none of these situations caused her to stop and consider that she should put forth some measure that would stop these things from happening and curb the stain to her brand. Even worse, it appears none of her HR personnel approached her with suggestions or recommendations.

Establish a Zero Tolerance Policy

The concept of zero tolerance has been around for a while. It could be argued that Paula's kitchens could have put a zero tolerance section into the Personnel Handbook with regard to a lot of behaviors. The section could cover language, acts, attire, and other matters that cause one to bristle. But before jumping on that concept and saying that is the solution, the first thing that needs to be investigated is how effective zero tolerance is in any environment, whether it be at work, or at school, or anywhere else.

An initial cursory look at the string "effectiveness of zero tolerance policies" produced a lot of results that pertained to children in schools and bullying. One after another, the headnotes talked about how ineffective a zero tolerance policy is with regard to discouraging negative behavior.

But the investigation of the effectiveness of zero tolerance related to the workplace. So the string was modified to "effectiveness of workplace zero tolerance policy" which also proved to have no positive things to say about the policy. In fact, the findings still dodged the bullet by examining matters such as substance abuse, sexual harassment, and workplace bullying. It went the range of zero tolerance as it relates to a military environment to the university and all environs in-between. The reverse was discussed - how ineffective that policy is. Why is this so? According to Wikipedia, "Zero-tolerance policies forbid persons in positions of authority from exercising discretion or changing punishments to fit the circumstances subjectively; they are required to impose a pre-determined punishment regardless of individual culpability, extenuating circumstances, or history." In other words, there's little wiggle room.

Not All Negative

However, one writer, Samuel Greengard, pointed out several elements that contribute toward making an effective policy, one that discourages the types of behaviors that should be kept out while maintaining a healthy environment. Management buy-in is essential. Knowing the array of legal issues and laws is also important. And having appropriate forms of punishment help the zero tolerance policy work. Stepping outside of Greengard's citations of effectiveness policies, some authorities point out that the policy should be exacted on an equilateral basis. That is, it applies equally to all personnel, no matter what the position.

The Bottom Line Is

So this brings us to a takeaway on this matter. You have employees who are bandying insulting epithets at one another. You have managers (and even owners) doing and saying socially repugnant things that cause one to question the health of the environment. This doesn't require neurosurgeon skills. Simply do not tolerate or allow (even in jest) what could be construed as objectionable, harassing, or racist behavior. Even if the language is used among those of the same racial group and some of them (but not all) contend that it's the vernacular of the community or culture, do not tolerate it. (Unless, of course, you want to send the message to your customers that your business cannot rise to serving people with courtesy and allowing them to feel they have dignity.) Even if it's part of your culture and practice in your home, it isn't appropriate for those you serve and shouldn't be imposed on them. It isn't appropriate for those who are in your employ and they should not be subjected to it. This is the time to lead by example.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Nine Tips for Diversity Leaders

This morning, a discussion on LinkedIn finally grabbed my attention. An editor wanted to know (paraphrasing) what tips the group members have for future diversity leaders in terms of necessary skills and expertise. It was the type of question that a nurturing personality has difficulty letting get overlooked. So I responded.

  • Ability to listen carefully, process the information, and respond with an appropriate response. Most would call all of that "good communication skills" but communication involves more than just talking at people or reciting anecdotes about 'this happened to me.'
  • Ability to operate as a professional without projecting an air of pride or smugness. Become a beacon and role model but first, and most importantly, be human.
  • Use your maturity. It's important to have the maturity to deal with human nature and various age demographics in order to learn from them as well as convey useful information to them.
  • Communication is critical. If your message isn't getting through, take some time to review what you're saying and how you're saying it. Then modify your strategy so that the vocabulary and voice are not only understandable but also heard. Also consider aligning yourself with someone who more closely identifies with your target demographic so that they are speaking the language. Then the message more easily reaches its destination and becomes effective.
  • Choose a specialty area and learn as much about it as possible. The learning should not be solely classroom- and textbook-centric. Those are clinical settings based on what others are telling you. In many instances, the best experience is to be out in the field interacting with the people and situations that constitute your specialty area. In order to gain that experience while still learning your specialty, it would be good to do volunteer work at a nonprofit that specializes in your calling or intern for them.
  • There are many ways to gain an appreciation of the needs and wants of your audience. Some people have walked and lived among their specialty constituency (sometimes not on a willing basis). That can be extremely dangerous if it's done with no safety tether (others outside of the situation who can help you get out of harm fast). However, that type of immersion provides real life awareness and the ability to develop meaningful strategies to address issues.
  • Having a real appreciation of the constituency needs leads to engendering trust from the members. That is extremely important to being effective as well as developing respect.
  • A leader needs to have the sophistication to appreciate when transparency is mandatory.
  • Recognize that privacy and confidentiality are imperative.
  • It's important to do proper screening, usually couched in casual conversation that makes the person comfortable enough to share their philosophies that wouldn't ordinarily be verbalized (or demonstrated) in an employment interview setting. That will make proper selection of the most effective personnel possible.
Someone recently asked whether it's possible for a White person to be a leader of a Black organization. The ancillary query related to whether a woman could be an effective leader of that same group. As that conversation evolved, we looked at the NAACP as an example. It was founded by mutually concerned individuals from all ethnicities and walks of life. Among the founders were abolitionists, Jews, Gentiles, Blacks, Whites, men and women. One of the most pivotal of the founders was Mary White Ovington. The first "president" of the organization (who served in that capacity for ten years) was a White man, Joel Spingarn.

A few words about being a leader, no matter what the cause or organization, is having foresight and vision. Those skills will allow the leader to see most of the pitfalls before they arise. That will then enable them to develop strategies to avert the difficulties, use them to the organization's advantage, or overcome them with as much ease as is reasonable. In order to garner the support to execute the plans and goals of the organization, a leader must have excellent communication skills or a trusted adviser and speaker who can communicate the rallying cry on their behalf.

Finally, it's extremely important that the leader be able to understand the psychology of their opposition. Doing so will empower them to gain the ear of those who resist. Sometimes resistance is nothing more than fear dressed as aggression or hate. The ability to allay those fears by showing the benefits of becoming aligned takes significant skill and ability while yielding results useful for more than the constituent group.

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HBR's 10 Must Reads on Communication (with featured article "The Necessary Art of Persuasion," by Jay A. Conger)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What October 1 Means

An email from one of the officers of the Los Angeles chapter of California Staffing Professionals reached me today. The subject line read "What does October 1 mean to you?" I had an immediate visceral reaction to the heading. I began reading it; my next reaction was not as acute but still strong. The message related to the deadlines approaching on October 1 in which employers need to provide various notifications to their employees.

In case you aren't aware, my first path was law. After being in support positions for many years, I was able to appreciate that work and realize I needed more challenge and more knowledge. Those introductory years were useful for making the decision to sit for the LSAT and apply to law schools. After more than a year and a half of attending law school, disruptions happened that caused me to have to leave. The evaluation period before making the applications was useful for focusing on a specialty and why. But there were detours that needed to happen in order to enrich the future and make a more insightful practitioner and counselor.

Law is like breathing for me; it gives me life. It propels me where little else (except music) does. Law loves me and seduces me to return to it. Where I initially planned to be a either a transactional law or tax lawyer and engage in public interest law as a social mandate in my private life, it appears the reverse is actually my path. If only I could slice through the jungle of barriers that would make re-entry possible.

But back to October 1 and what it means to me.

What October 1 means to me is the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. No matter where we are, we're in a workplace where the need to be aware and sensitive to the issues of violence and safety are paramount. No matter where we are, we're in a workplace where bullying and harassment can become issues. And when it comes to background checks and something bizarre comes up in our reports, be mindful of the fact that some survivors do not feel compelled to reveal that they have that status. What's paramount to them is that they need to get a job in order to pay bills and rent and buy food in order to continue to survive.

There are at least five types of abuse. It's critical to be aware of the dynamics of each of them. Psychological abuse is aimed at shattering a person's self confidence. It leaves no physical scars nor visible maiming but it nevertheless leaves a profound impact on the survivor that makes them question their validity at nearly every turn. Isolation can come from exacting defamatory impressions about the target that discourage others from associating with them. The defamation will lead to failed attempts at gaining meaningful employment as well as social relationships.

Economic and financial abuse will leave the target's financial history tarnished at best. They will find their credit records in shambles. They will be accused of stealing or other financially objectionable behavior. Their assets - and everything they have slaved to earn and amass for their own future - are now in then hands of their abuser. And the abuser (who has access to all of the target's personal identifying information) has managed to take possession of the target's property of every type.

Fear is another tool used by the abuser. They use it with such expert precision. It's useful for trying to avoid more painful situations or just plain pain. Fear of loss of valued things or associations can be a source of instilling a need to avoid pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering goes along with physical abuse. We've all seen images of the black, puffy eyes or the crumpled and twisted nose. We've heard about the objects shoved into human flesh. Some of us have even heard the thumps and bumps on walls and heard the arguments accompanied by screams of pain.

But what about the temporary restraining orders that were quashed by the non-comprehending judge pro tem? That act then left the survivor exposed to any type of harm the abuser decided to exact upon their target. The well-meaning soul who wanted to reconnect the two individuals because the abuser talked about how they regret their past acts. Little do these well-meaning samaritans realize the grief and regret expressed by the abuser is feigned in order to induce betrayal of their target's whereabouts. Therefore, the harm will resume.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is very important. I wish more people would take it more seriously and not make condescendingly sympathetic sounds that are meaningless. It would be good if people were truly able to relate to how important it is to all of the workers in the work environment, whatever it is.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Terminology Issues About Consultants

Some months ago, a colleague ("Willie") posted that he was looking for a consultant to work on a project. The work would be performed from the consultant's home office. That sounded fine. But the more he talked about what he wanted to do, the more problematic things became. Many attempted to call his attention to the nagging issues but he would not hear any of the objections. Let's look at some of the troublesome matters that started surfacing so that your search for an independent consultant doesn't travel down the same path.

There was the implied statement (considering this was a consulting position) that the person would not be an employee. We hit critical mass when Willie said, "Am I being over the top by giving them 60 seconds to snap a picture of their office and send it to me?"

That's a great way to test whether the person is tech savvy enough to take a photo and then send that photo to someone within 60 seconds. You'd think it's one way to not get some stock, royalty-free photo of a virtual office that's been scraped from the Web.

Some attempted to point out that what Willie received may not be the actual home office of the consultant. It may be the conference room of a vanity office. Or it may be a booth at Starbucks. And then there's that royalty-free stock photo from the Web that the person is holding out as a representation of their home office. Some hinted that the request was a bit invasive.

What Willie started telling the rest of those who joined the conversation was what he was actually seeking. Some of it had tax ramifications. For example, "I just want them to confirm they have the capacity to work remotely. In my world, that would be someone who is organized and with a dedicated space to work." He wanted to know that it is clean, not cluttered, organized, and free of distractions (crying babies, kids running, barking dogs). He wanted some assurance that the consultant had all the tools necessary to complete the project. After all, Willie's brand was at stake. To these issues, he said, "If this was a 2 day project - then I could care less where they do it....but this will be for the entire year and I'll need some degree of reliability."

Someone in the conversation challenged Willie about the job description specifics by feigning an intent to announce the job to their circles and contacts. They raised important issues that were not included in the search criteria.
You're looking for a software developer for some unknown application, website, program. We're not certain of what language will be used to write the program but it needs to be developed, written, tested, legitimized, and delivered within a year. The work will be done remotely. The work CANNOT be done from anywhere except one's home - and a picture of that is required in order to be in the running. The pay is $50 per hour. No extras nor mileage.

Is that the job description? Does the candidate need any certifications or degrees? Do they need to show examples of other projects they've worked on and completed? Will there be any type of in-person interview or will they ever be required to do any travel - even to the home office? If so, how often and will that be covered?
The challenge was rebuffed as going in the wrong direction of interpreting the search. Friends of Willie with strong, confident voices, joined the rebuff. I teased Willie with speculation about other things besides the uploaded photo of their home office space within 60 seconds. And I conjectured that he would begin to add to the requirements of this requisition by demanding proof that it's a computer that belongs to the candidate. And then it will be the style of computer; then the model; then the peripherals it uses. Anything to narrow the player field. Willie's a good-natured guy (although he sometimes tries to sound gruff). He agreed that he would be adding knock-out requirements, such as those tossed out, in order to narrow the field to the

Employee cf. Contractor Conditions

Willie never said whether he would be paying for the tools and equipment that the consultant would be using for the project. Nor did he say whether he controlled when the work was to be done. The more he talked, the more it sounded like Willie was looking for an employee, not an independent consultant or independent contractor. If he actually wanted a consultant, he was heading for a cliff. There are certain conditions that define a consultant as distinguished from an employee.

Let's look at the definition of an employee as defined by Vanderbilt University. "An employee is an individual who performs services that are subject to the will and control of an employer-both what must be done and how it must be done. The employer can allow the employee considerable discretion and freedom of action, so long as the employer has the legal right to control both the method and the result of the services." Now taking that definition into consideration and comparing it to the screening requirements of Willie, it sounds like he's actually looking for an employee who has a rather confusing and vaguely deceptive title of "consultant."

Vanderbilt continues its discussion of employee vs. consultant by then explaining what an independent contractor is. "An independent contractor is an individual over whom the employer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result." Given the various things Willie said about what he wants from his "consultant," it still sounds like he's seeking an employee.

It may be useful to know that the Internal Revenue Service has provided 20 questions to ask in order to parse out how the person should be viewed. (See IRS Revenue Ruling 87-41) If the situation is still cloudy after going through those criteria, it's recommended that the relationship be viewed as one of employer-employee and not that of retaining the services of an independent consultant.

Chances are, you're scratching your head and wondering about how to treat other types of relationships. Specifically, you're wondering how to manage situations in which you're trying to define the difference among Employee, Volunteer, Intern, or Independent Contractor. It's easy to find all of those answers in one place by visiting the definitions provided by International Catholic University's reference page.

Loose Use of Terminology

I still have the impression my colleague, Willie, was talking about hiring an employee and not an independent consultant. He contemplated exerting a lot of control over how the work was accomplished. Although not addressed, it appears Willie was very focused on the tax classification of the worker. Although he said he was recruiting for a consultant, it appears that was a misnomer. He took the time to clarify that what he wanted the photo to accomplish was prove that the candidate has a dedicated, organized work space at home. Given how he plans to narrow the field of those to be considered, I have the impression Willie's small requirement is going to get him into some big trouble down the road.

During a conference session this morning, I learned the IRS now has a hybrid of the 20-questions test which is referred to as the "economic realities test". From the consultant's desk, it appears the requirement to show proof of a dedicated work space is the first step of exerting control over the consultant. It appears some clarifying questions and answers need to happen. Then again, maybe Willie didn't tell us that he plans to pay for several benefits and perform withholding on behalf of his "consultant."


Monday, March 25, 2013


You may have come to the point of anticipating the posts that Charity Rowell was writing as she interned on The Consultant's Desk. Her mission was to share with us the concepts she was learning through her studies. We grew with her as she talked about concepts she gained from her classes in Human Resource Management, protocols that are being taught, interpretations of terminology, and other wisdom coming from the advanced education system.

She did a good job of sharing what she's getting from the classes she attended. We benefited by her generous sharing of the documents she produced as class projects. They can serve as models when you need a starting point for something similar.

Charity was an intern in search of real world experiences and places to share the development of her education. It seems she reached that plateau. She wanted to stretch into unexplored areas. We decided it was time for her to start making her management decisions on her own blog. You can continue to follow the evolution of her development there.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Succession Planning Papal Style

The danger is real. A certain routine becomes so ingrained that we stop thinking about alternatives. We do no planning nor stretching to reach greater heights of accomplishment. Worse yet, we forget about those who will succeed us when we're gone. The consequence of that is leaving a vacancy, a void that must be filled by another who doesn't have the benefit of our tutelage and mentorship.

Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he is going to resign on February 28. To say the announcement cause a small stir would be more than understatement. But it brings up a concern that definitely needs to be addressed by all organizations. The papacy is a prime example of the consequences of following an unwise practice to the detriment of the organization.

The Church has gone for more than 600 years without doing any formal succession planning. Of course the stations and protocols and deportment are followed. Etiquette is closely observed. But when it comes to choosing a new pope, little to nothing has been done to groom some logical candidates for the office. The Cardinals must look among their followers (of the cloth) and determine who is the most enlightened to take the reigns after the previous person who held the position died. Then the Cardinals sit in their secret chamber and cast their votes, waiting for the magical moment when they can send up a plume of white smoke that signals they have successfully voted for the right person to lead The Church for the next several decades.

Unfortunately, the successor then needs to rely on more superstition (that he will not die a brief time after being selected by the august body of Cardinals) and embark on what that particular person presumes is the correct direction for The Church and its followers. Has there been time for conversations about policy or change? Maybe but for the most part, those thoughts were sent up in sermons and papers. The reasoning behind the conclusions is vague and not part of a public record.

The resignation of Benedict raises some additional issues that most corporations and businesses include in their officers and directors plans - in the bylaws. Provisions for an annuity, a retirement fund, protocols for how to treat the outgoing Pope compared with the inductee. As a person who has retired, does the former Pope still follow the strictures that normally apply to a priest or does this person become a lay person? Now that he is no longer part of the inner circle, someone must determine whether he can continue to be associated with it and to what degree. What types of things will the outgoing pope be allowed to do is another matter that needs to be considered.

Corporate bylaws provide that should a director or officer reach a point wherein they are no longer able to fulfill the duties of their office, they may take a leave of absence until the condition is brought under control. In the alternative, they may step down from office permanently, providing the body with a date when the resignation will take effect, and request that the Board select a successor. Informally, the Board will consult with the outgoing officer to review potential candidates for the seat. Among the candidates will be those who were put into the succession pool. If none of them prove adequate for the directions in which the organization needs to go, a Selection Committee (like the College of Cardinals) will be created and a search will begin for a successor.

The point is, there are "i"s to be dotted and "t"s to be crossed. There are people who have been in the pipeline who were being groomed for taking the reigns at the right time. But The Church hasn't been functioning in that way. Perhaps because it got into a rut and started doing things according to the old adage of "but that's the way we've always done it" instead of looking at retirement, and not death in office, as another policy matter that's handled in a business manner.

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