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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Financial Counseling for Domestic Abuse Victims

The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Most of us are familiar with the physical interpretation of the issue. Few are actively aware of the fact that the abuse can run the gamut of all aspects of a victim's life, including their access to funds and credit. During my tenure as a contributing author and Editorial Advisory Board member of SmartPros, the managing editor published information financial professionals can use regarding counseling and serving the needs of women who are survivors of domestic abuse as it relates to finances. That was in 2002. Many things have changed but some have not.

The article can no longer be found on the SmartPros site. It is reproduced here to serve as an introduction to the concepts.


Financial Counseling for Domestic Abuse Victims


Yvonne LaRose

December 2002 -- According to a 1993 pamphlet prepared by the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project, three to four million women per year are the targets of domestic abuse because they are beaten by their husband or partner in the home. Of this number, those who leave the home with their children have a 50 percent likelihood of having their standard of living drop below the poverty line or are likely to resort to welfare or homelessness because of the financial constraints they endured. However, these women -- and men -- do escape and do survive albeit with great initial difficulty.

Those who are able to get into a battered women's shelter for the usual 30- to 45-day stay will not receive financial or budget counseling, nor advice on credit repair. In the United States, there are only two long-term shelters (twelve to twenty-four months, also known as transitional housing facilities), where they will receive this type of counseling and guidance. Those two shelters are prototypes from which additional programs will be started.

Don’t be surprised when a client comes to you for financial or tax guidance and you discover your non-stereotypical client is a survivor. Domestic abuse is not an issue that affects the poor, uneducated person of color. Domestic abuse is a malevolent disease. It doesn’t recognize age, attractiveness, ethnicity, education, intelligence, wealth, or position.

The Problem

Physical abuse and battering is one element of domestic abuse. Other aspects of this crime that are just as or more insidious and harmful are emotional, sexual and financial abuse. The financial aspect is the element that keeps the target in her situation; the financial aspect is what will bring the her to you after she's escaped.

The Usual Pattern

Abuse grows from a personal, intimate relationship of presumed trust. The abuser gains access to all of your client’s personal information, physical assets and documents. Then access to them is doled out in stingy bits (if at all).


Sister Anne Kelley, executive director of a long-term battered women’s shelter, described some forms of debt that an abuser will create for their target. Large credit charges from misuse of or stolen credit cards, stolen vehicle pink slips, and enormous telephone bills. Not included in the list are things such as unauthorized (or coerced) savings withdrawals, checking account overdrafts, withdrawals from retirement or pension funds, sells or trades of stocks and bonds or certificate of deposit withdrawals.

Starting Over on Meager Funds

Sister Kelley’s program is one of two in the country (California and Illinois) that offers comprehensive classes on getting started again. The classes teach the survivors how to do a credit check and then start the clean-up process. The clean-up work involves working out credit and repayment plans, getting charges dropped, or shifting the burden of debt back to the responsible party. She notes that a huge influx of recent second-step program funds, some from Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA") and some from the State, have enabled these classes.

Since there are only two programs like this in all of the United States and millions of women (not including men nor elders who are subject to the same type of abuse), it soon becomes clear that financial professionals need to be aware of the problem of domestic financial abuse and the issues the survivor must handle in order to start her new life.

Safety Measures

So in addition to the credit review and repair work, some safety measures need to be implemented. The abuser has the target's full name, birth date and place, Social Security number, driver's license number and all financial account numbers. The abuser also has access to all documents of title. Changing one's Social Security number is so difficult, it could be called an exercise in futility.

The better route is erecting safeguards and passwords that are not based on the usual: mother's maiden name, last four digits of (or full) Social Security number, place of birth or birth date. Instead, the client should choose unique passwords or numbers for access to all of their records and bills and then keep those passwords confidential.

All assets that were previously held in a joint account should be separated so that the client is the only one who has access and theirs is the only name of ownership.

Even though you may have a document in front of you that names the abuser as an authorized person on an account, you need to ascertain from your client how that instrument of authority was created. Many times the abuser will forge documents in the survivor's name; use false pretenses, extortion or coercion to get power of attorney or authorization; or impersonate the client. Question your client carefully to ascertain whether any of these scenarios are the case. Counsel on how to rescind the instruments or notify the institutions of their invalidity.

Repairing and Rebuilding Credit

You’ll want to work with your client on ways to repair her credit or offer her guidance on where to get that counseling. She’ll also want to know how to rebuild a good credit record and will look to you for how to get that information. Have a reference list you can give her.

Rebuilding Finances

The survivor of domestic (financial) abuse needs to rebuild her funds. In many cases, the survivor escaped with less than $50 and the clothing on her back. She’ll want advice on how to budget, start saving, rebuilding a retirement fund, get affordable health insurance, and regain title to any securities she may have owned. She’ll want to know about the various types of safe securities on the market and which are more feasible choices.

Safe Havens

It isn't a pretty picture, no matter what type of abuse occurred. However, the process of rebuilding from domestic abuse requires special financial counseling for a special type of client. As programs and awareness grow, you'll be one of her havens for that guidance.

About the Author:

Yvonne LaRose is a California Accredited Consultant. She combines her years of experience in law, business, recruiting, and executive responsibilities to provide management and recruiting consultation in addition to career development coaching and public speaking. Her column, Career and Executive Recruiting Advice (known as "CERA"), and her Web site, provide news, advice, and tools for one’s professional development and recruiting interests. She is a contributing author to the ebook, The Last Job Search Guide You'll Ever Need. She can be reached via email at ylarose at consultant dot com for additional information concerning domestic and workplace violence or visit the "Domestic Violence" heading of the Articles Index.

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Universal Basis

It's ironic that there are so many issues that people say they care about and want to do something to cause positive change. Many times the basis of the dynamic crosses into other realms and creates its own set of chaotic disruptions and fear. But when we start examining the elements, it all comes back to the same "bacteria" - abuse.

No matter what label we put on the abuse, whether it be sexual harassment, bullying, domestic violence, domestic abuse, slavery, discrimination, extortion, or fraud, it comes down to the same dynamics and motivating factors.


The motivating factors are essentially
  • need for power (control);
  • feelings of inadequacy,
  • envy,
  • jealously (neediness); or
  • just perverse focus on self gratification (narcissism).
Tools of the Trade

Some of the tools of trade are creating a false nest so that the target will believe they have a trusted friend or ally. It helps to have charisma in some way, whether good looks, talents or skills that the target is lacking, and a dulcet voice. Those attributes are woven into flattery geared toward inducing trust. And they will trade on the relationship between them and their target in order to further create a bond built on a sense of security. When something goes wrong, the target believes there's a valid reason for self doubt when things happen not ordinarily part of a trusting relationship. And there is the logic that is spread over every transaction (usually circuitous in nature) that gives a warped reason for why the abuser is entitled to their actions while the target has done something that is incomplete, inadequate, or not proper.

If the target resists the initial efforts at logic or self doubt, the abuser will resort to threats of punishment in some manner. This can run the gamut from removal of privileges, destruction or barring access to something that has meaning to the target (no matter how minimal or simple), bombastic behavior (such as shouting or slamming things) that induces fear of violence. If the resistance to these efforts continues, the abuser will move into the next phase, destruction of the target's associations and reputation.

The Timing

The abuser is patient. In fact, they will use their "courtship" period to build a bond of trust. Whatever amount of time it takes to build the illusion of trust and confidence is necessary to begin the next phase can be dedicated to that mission. Rushed courtship is failed courtship. The prey will escape. During that courtship, and even before they hone in on their target, they are evaluating the practices and personality characteristics of their target to develop just the right attraction and staying power.

Just Like Family

In a familial relationship, we are constantly told that family is where one derives the greatest amount of safety and security; trust of family members should be extremely high. Why we have dynamics of child abuse and incest are not explained; the illness is buried under other matters in order to distract from the harm that befalls the victim. And besides that, there's the old adage of not airing one's dirty laundry - the family secrets. So we turn a blind eye to the familial betrayals and disappointments. To the rest of the world, there is consummate loyalty - defend the family member to the death.

But after the front door is closed, all manner of horrors occur. They can be physical, mental, psychological, financial. Here are the first areas of attack for disrupting meaningful efforts to obtain employment and self sufficiency. Attempts to earn an education and good grades are sent into destructive areas. Homework assignments disappear only to resurface days after the due date. The grade for the assignment is either lowered or given an incomplete. After a time, the classwork is so far behind that it no longer makes sense to continue the course.

The target is forced to do things in a certain order, to maintain organization to extreme heights of integrity - to the point of obsession. 

Having friends come to visit is next to taboo. In fact, the abuser will not allow friends to visit. If the target seems to gain too much popularity, it is possible they will get out of control, start thinking for their own self, and defy the abuser. That means outside relationships must be discouraged at any cost. But the best way to succeed in discouraging relationships is to defame the target in some way - dissuade others from associating with the target because they have done something that is too offensive. The taint too horrible. This is also known as the period of isolation.

Then There's at Work

There are work relationships where we are told that the manager has their team's best interests at heart. As a leader, that is the manager's responsibility.

Managers aren't above being abusers. They've simply transferred their abusive style from the home to the workplace. Somehow, they charmed the recruiter and the interviewers into not seeing the first glimpses of an abusive personality. And they have succeeded in sidestepping the dangerous state of being reported as an abuser. With no criminal or abusive record on the background screening documentation, they're in a prime position to get hired. Once in a managerial position, they nearly walk on water as far as who's word has more weight in evaluating a situation where a worker has complained.

It's Everywhere

The same principles apply to volunteer organizations, government, churches, schools. The sickness, like the flu, simply gets transferred from one place to another without regard to location nor anything else. Abuse by any name is still abuse and it's universal as to its application and manifestation.

Additional Reading:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley, Part Two


Niquette M. Kelcher

October 2002 -- In Part One of this series, we discussed how the Sarbanes-Oxley Act came to be, outlined its major provisions, shared accounting and finance professionals' reactions to SOA, and explained what it means to the accounting profession.

If you missed Part One, click here. Here's what's covered in Part Two:
  • How managers can implement SOA into the company culture
  • How to keep staff members educated and informed
How Managers Can Implement SOA Into Company Culture

Creating new laws and expecting companies to follow them is one thing, but efficient implementation of them is another. Clair Raubenstine, former president of the Institute of Management Accountants, emphasizes the crucial "tone at the top."

According to Raubenstine, "Companies need to communicate that they are resisting the pressures of the financial community and setting realistic goals. Don't set goals too high for the sales staff, for instance. Additionally, managers should encourage open lines of communication between management and staff. Management needs to 'walk the talk.'"

Ethics programs, already a staple in many companies but expected to pop up in more, also should be implemented. Raubenstine suggests companies establish ethics hotlines and assign ethics coordinators so employees can report suspected misconduct without penalization. 

"Management has to continually educate personnel what the company rules are and educate people on how their role fits in with the total organization and the overall mission of the department. Employees need to feel like they are a part of the business," explains Raubenstine.

In turn, he continues, finance and accounting professionals need to recognize that there are more penalties that could be imposed on individuals for not properly reporting financial matters throughout the ranks. "Companies will expect more from their employees so management is properly certifying the financial information," says Raubenstine.

Yvonne LaRose, a Business Management and Personnel Consultant for Executive Recruiting Entrances, agrees that managers need to set an example. "Managers lead by how they conduct themselves; their staff takes their cue on what is important and how to do things based on how managers handle situations. Thus, managers should incorporate into their routine a pattern of following good practices," she explains.

Additionally, adds LaRose, "when reports are presented to a partner or manager, there should not be a rubber stamp approval. Managers need to take the time to actually review the document(s) and ask questions about numbers -- and even sources of information -- to ensure that they know what is there. If there are red flag issues, they should be addressed. Staff should be put on notice that those types of issues are important and attended to at the source so that matters are rectified and the problem abated."

In a SmartPros FMN segment, Dr. Jonathan Schiff, professor of accounting, Fairleigh Dickinson University and president of Schiff Consulting Group, gives similar advice. Schiff says financial managers "should have good documentation of plans, as well as programs in place, that try to do more than merely react to what Congress may come up with, or what the SEC may come up with. They need to be more proactive in designing systems of control that are competitive within one's industry and which raise the level of acumen across management."

Free guidance on corporate ethics is available from a variety of associations. Through the IMA, financial professionals can now get free, confidential guidance on ethical issues via the IMA Ethics Hotline. 

"When financial professionals call the toll-free hotline, their inquiries will be forwarded to an experienced ethics counselor, who provides confidential guidance," explains IMA president Margaret Butler. "This hotline is particularly well-suited for small businesses and solo practitioners who need guidance on ethical issues."

The IMA also offers to corporations the use of its Standards of Ethical Conduct for compliance with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

Similarly, Financial Executives International encourages companies to adopt its Code of Ethics model (Word doc).

How to Keep Staff Member Educated and Informed

Despite the disruption SOA may cause, the show must go on. Says Wyatt: "As with anything new, accounting firms should encourage reading and study." Companies must continue to perform -- and given the current economy they must perform within a limited budget.

So how can managers ensure their staff is up to speed on the new requirements? SmartPros culled expert opinions and various studies on some cost-effective methods for educating accounting staff members on SOA and related topics.


Webcasts and online continuing professional education are among the most efficient and cost-effective means of staying on top of the profession because companies are spared many expenses by educating staff in the office or at home at their own computers.

Nucleus Research reports that thousands of ongoing return on investment (ROI) studies for Global 2000 corporations indicate that companies adopting e-learning initiatives recognize "first-tier benefits including reduced costs for travel, human resources overhead, regulatory compliance, and customer-support costs." Additionally, second-tier benefits include "improved employee performance that directly impacts profitability." Nucleus found that most organizations could gain significant returns from even modest investments in e-learning technology."

Adds LaRose: "Seminars are an extremely valuable tool in developing a greater appreciation of the terms and nuances of the Act. From these trainings, professionals and leaders will be able to get immediate, first-hand answers to the initial questions -- answers that will build understanding of what is involved and some approaches to responsible attention to details."

Books (hot off the presses)

An entire library of accounting and finance books related to the upheaval of the industry have been published, including material on detection and prevention of fraud, audit committee and ethics handbooks, investor guides, cost management resources and management primers.

Book recommendations from SmartPros:
  • The Financial Numbers Game by Charles W. Mulford
  • Take on the Street by Arthur Levitt
  • Ethics for CPAs: Meeting Expectations in Challenging Times by D. R. Carmichael, Dan M. Guy, Linda A. Lach
  • The Audit Committee Handbook by Louis Braiotta, Jr.
  • Financial Statement Fraud: Prevention and Detection by Zabihollah Rezaee
  • Paying for Performance: A Guide to Compensation Management by Peter D. Chingos
  • Valuation of Companies in Emerging Markets by Luis E. Pereiro
  • Essentials of Corporate Performance Measurement by George T. Friedlob, Lydia L. F. Schleifer and Franklin J. Plewa Jr.
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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reviving Ethics in Recruiting

In 2004, I developed a discussion group called Ethics in Recruiting. The goal was to have a place where those in the recruiting industry could discuss best practices, consider the ethics involved in those practices, and develop a consensus about ethical practices that could be used on a global basis. That last prong would also require learning about cultural practices from various countries in order to gain an appreciation of whether or not a global standard is even possible.

Nevertheless, it was a venue where those in the industry could talk about practices and look for guidance - or just vent. There were members who came from other industries. Their presence provided us with various barometers and bases for consideration of rules.

It was a lively and popular group that drew a lot of attention. It was a bold move. By 2006, it became a recruiting conference session on its own merit. It was in essence the topic du jour and there was fierce competition for ownership of the group. It was obvious the group needed to move to its own home; the move didn't happen in time. By 2008, the original venue dropped the group.

The idea and need still lives. To satisfy the desire for that type of group, Ethics in Recruiting discussions is being revived as a subgroup of Entrances, the 360 networking group on LinkedIn. It will be available for members by July 1, 2014. Join us.

Look for the LinkedIn logo

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley, Part One

It was 2002. As a measure to ameliorate the financial industry atrocities that were revealed, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was adopted. Questions arose regarding its effectiveness, its reach, implementation and adoption. SmartPros dedicated a two-part article to examine the Act and collect opinions and reactions from professionals associated with the industry. Even though 12 years have passed since its implementation and the article has been removed from the SmartPros site, it would serve financial industry newcomers to have a reference point about the "why" of the Act and the early reactions to it.

A Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley, Part One

Niquette M. Kelcher

October 2002 -- The groundbreaking Sarbanes-Oxley Act signed into law by President Bush in July 2002 will forever be remembered as the legislation spurred by corporate corruption, crooked CEOs and creative accounting.

In reality, the accounting industry has been heading toward a major reform for many years - it just finally came to a head. Now that it's here, financial executives find themselves at a crossroads, facing the daunting task of implementing major changes in day-to-day operations, while at the same time quickly educating their staff on the sweeping changes brought on by proactive - but also reactive - legislation.

This article provides a concise overview of the many facets of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOA) including:
  • How accounting reform caught up with the industry
  • Major provisions of the Act
  • Reaction from the trenches
  • What SOA means to the accounting profession
  • How managers can implement SOA into the company culture
  • How to keep staff members educated and informed
How Accounting Reform Initiatives Caught Up With the Industry

It's viable to stretch back to the beginning of accounting as an "industry" to address how this recent reform effort came to be, but all we really need to do to understand this phenomenon is step back into the 1990's - a decade that proved to be incredibly tumultuous for the accounting industry overall, a decade that began with an economic slump and ended at the tail-end of a technology boom - to understand why we are here today.

In former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt's new book, Take on the Street, published this month, he writes about the politically-charged nature of Wall Street during his tenure as SEC chief in the 90's. Levitt, the 25th chairman and also longest-serving, held the reigns at the watchdog agency for seven years under the Clinton administration. A strong supporter of auditor independence, Levitt, who calls himself "pro-investor," constantly battled with accounting firms and the AICPA over the controversial issue, as firms began to package their auditing services with technology consulting.

But it was an incident involving the Financial Accounting Standards Board that Levitt cites as the biggest mistake he made as SEC chief. In the early part of the 90's, Levitt says he persuaded the FASB to soften its stock-based compensation rules because of political and corporate pressures to do so. (Of course, this same topic is in debate today.)

Levitt states that he learned a valuable lesson from this mistake: "Accounting firms were passive when it came to standing up for investor interests," he writes. "[Auditors] failed to rally to the cause of investors and instead supported the demands of corporate clients. They had become advocates. I would forever look upon the accounting profession differently after this episode."

Hence, Levitt began to tout major accounting reform efforts. At the turn of the millennium he left current SEC chief Harvey Pitt with a lot of reformation left to be done, and until Enron happened, the industry was pretty sure Pitt's "kinder" and "gentler" SEC would stem the talk of accounting reform.

However, Enron helped investors see what Levitt realized many years prior - that the self-regulated industry failed to protect them. Consequently, a weak economy and discontent voters pushed Congress to action. Suddenly Levitt's ideas weren't so radical after all; In fact, many of the reforms proposed by him while he served as SEC chairman have been adopted by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, legislation that has yet to show its true colors.

Major Provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act

Specifically, the new law, as explained in a SmartPros Financial Management Network segment:
  1. Establishes an independent auditing oversight board under the SEC;
  2. Beefs up penalties for corporate wrongdoers;
  3. Requires faster and more extensive financial disclosure; and
  4. Creates avenues of recourse for aggrieved shareholders.
One of the most fundamental changes for the accounting profession is the creation of the independent Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a non-profit corporation funded by public companies and subject to SEC supervision. At this time the Board has yet to be formed, but it is expected to wield significant power. [See $435,000 Oversight Positions Prove Tough to Fill]

Here are links to in-depth texts on the Act:
Other articles worth reading:
Reaction from the Trenches

So far, the reaction from accounting and finance professionals in the field has been mixed. Many say it's about time such legislation passed, while others matter-of-factly state that all the legal ramifications in the world won't stop corporate crooks from lying, cheating and stealing.

In a recent survey conducted by CFO magazine, most financial officers voiced opposition to specific reforms. Some 52 percent, in fact, did not believe audit firms should be banned from providing consulting services to clients; 65 percent did not think auditors should be barred from going to work for clients for a specified period; and 52 percent did not think it wise to rotate auditors on a regular basis.

"For CFOs," says Julia Homer, editor-in-chief of CFO magazine, "all of these proposals are just going to make their jobs more time-consuming and expensive."

Gary Wyatt, CPA, a benefits and compensation specialist with Texas-based Travis Wolff Advisors & Accountants, says those accounting firms with a large number of public clients will be dramatically impacted.

"It will change the way they do business," Wyatt explains. "No longer can the financial statement audit be used as a 'loss leader' in hopes of selling more lucrative tax and consulting services. The largest accounting firms will likely lose many tax-consulting clients to each other. Also, high-quality regional and specialty 'boutique' accounting firms may pick up significant new tax and consulting engagements."

Wyatt also believes private companies will feel the effects of SOA: "Even though the Act is generally applicable only to public companies, the principles may eventually spread into 'best practices' affecting auditors of private companies."

William Maslo, an experienced speaker on financial topics with his own CPA practice in Reading, Pennsylvania, agrees. He speaks for the "non-SEC practitioner" who "is fearful that the concepts of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act could be adopted by state legislatures to affect non-public companies. The larger firms manage to spin off divisions and operate in a way that, at the end of the day, all is well. But for smaller firms this could spell disaster," explains Maslo.

Rebecca Wallace, a Colorado-based attorney and CPA, says the "Act is most significant for accountants because it takes away accountants ability to regulate themselves . . .. While increased oversight of the accounting firms should help to keep the audits in check, too much SEC control over the process is not necessarily a good idea. The creation of layer upon layer of bureaucracy could lead to inevitable inefficiencies in the end sought by the Act."

Bruce W. Marcus, a consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms and the editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing, says the ramifications of the sweeping SOA "may be more damaging than the conditions they mean to correct."

In a recent article, What Sarbanes-Oxley Will Mean to the Accounting Profession, Marcus highlights the inherent challenges accountants - and accounting firms in particular - now face with the implementation of SOA, including the separation of auditing and consulting services. "Many services are relevant to improving the audit," he argues. To meet the needs of its clients, firms will need to find a way to implement consulting services that improve the audit, such as technology services that improve the flow of financial data, without the "consulting services that flagrantly taint the attest function."

Additionally, Marcus recommends the accounting profession re-examine its partnership structure by "reworking the governance structures for better management, and to allow the outside world to see more clearly how each firm is serving the clients and protecting their shareholders."

Likewise, the profession and those who regulate it should remember it does not operate in isolation to the markets it serves. "The time has come for all professionals to recognize that they exist only in their ability to meet the needs of their clients and the public – and not themselves," says Marcus.

Go on to Part Two and learn:
  • How managers can implement SOA into the company culture
  • How to keep staff members educated and informed
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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.


Sponsored Link:
Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction

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.