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Gene Marks: Small-biz advice on employee with another offer, tech upgrades, and more

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Business Practices | Education | Repair Operations

Editor’s note: Repairer Driven News regularly features pieces by prolific national columnist Gene Marks. While despite not being directly related to collision repair, they should still prove valuable to the small-business owners and employees which make up much of the industry. Here’s some advice from Marks’ “Practically Speaking” columns, originally published by Fortune magazine July 25 and Aug. 8, that might be of interest to both — particularly Question 1, in this time of auto body shops competing fiercely to snag each other’s employees. 

None of this is meant to constitute legal, financial or any other formal advice — simply the perspective of a business owner — and employers should consult with qualified attorneys, accountants, HR folks or other experts to decide the proper policies for their own workplace.

By Gene Marks

A valuable employee just received her raise less than six months ago at her annual review. Last week she came by my office and said she has an offer from another company who would pay her about 10% more than she was making with us. I would hate to lose her. Do I match the offer?

While no one is irreplaceable, losing a valuable employee is a big hit to any business, particularly a smaller one. It will cost to find and train a new person. And the absence of a significant portion of your workforce brought about by this employee’s departure would hurt output and customer service. Just remember, this isn’t personal. It’s business. By looking for another job while still working for you, your employee is demonstrating that she’s going to do whatever’s best for her and her family and there’s nothing wrong with that. So there’s also nothing wrong with you doing the same.

She has another job offer, which means she’s been looking. And if she’s been looking it’s probably because, for whatever genuine reason, she’s probably on her way out the door eventually. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that and you shouldn’t feel that she is being disloyal or hurtful. She is just doing what she needs to do. So what do you do?

I’d match the offer and get her to stay. It’s a short-term plan. That way, you’ve given yourself more control over the situation and bought some time. You now know she’s looking, and it’s a good bet she’ll ultimately leave your company. Armed with that information, you should prepare for this inevitability. Be sure to be thinking about contingencies so that you’re not left in the lurch.

My company has been around for a couple of decades and so have a lot of my computers. Okay, maybe not that long but I admit that my network and computers are old. I haven’t upgraded them in years. I don’t buy support plans and just pay to fix things when they break. This has worked for me for a long time. But every technology person I meet warns me of all the bad things that can happen to me because I’m using old technology. Should I believe them?

You’re not going to like my answer. No prudent, cost-conscious business owner would. But the answer is yes, you should believe them.

First of all, let me congratulate you on not giving in to the technology industry’s ever-increasing demands on its customers to upgrade. You know they do this because it means more revenues for them, of course. I know this because my company is a technology business and an upgrade means more revenues from fees and software sales for me. But I have quite a few clients who refuse to buy into this and instead stick with their old systems as long as possible. They have better places to invest and if their software and networks are working then why bother to fix a problem that isn’t there? Don’t upgrade just because the tech industry tells you to. Upgrade because it makes business sense.

And in many cases, particularly if your technology is more than a few years old, it does make sense. The latest versions of operating systems like Windows and iOS will protect you against the most recent viruses and malware that could cripple your company. Updated software and hardware will work faster and integrate with more databases which will provide productivity benefits to your people. And if you’re looking to expand and hire more people, you’re going to put yourself at a disadvantage when those Millennials get a look at your grandfather’s systems that are still running your company and migrate to other employers with more cool stuff.

In the end, upgrading your technology is a decision like any other investment. There must be a great enough return on investment that justifies the spend. You will need to show how the cost savings, the productivity enhancements, the avoidance of disruptions or even the intangible benefits of attracting people will make you more money. You will need to put this into quantifiable terms to help you decide if the returns are good enough. If it’s been a few years since you last upgraded then I’m going to bet that they will be.

I just got word an employee who we let go a few months ago is attending a company party as a guest of one of our current employees. Should I allow this to happen?

First, let’s make sure we have all facts. For starters, are employees allowed to bring guests to this party? And is there a definition of “guest”- i.e. a spouse or significant other? Is there a limitation on the number of guests an employee can bring? Assuming that the former employee meets all these requirements, then it’s tougher to prohibit him from attending.

So let’s also look at the circumstances when the employee left. Was it on bad terms? Are there people in the company who would feel uncomfortable by his presence? Is there reason to believe that the guest could be disruptive or create an unsafe environment for others? If you believe any of this to be the case then you do have reason to prohibit him from coming and you should probably have an open discussion with the current employee who invited him.

Remember, this is a work party. You’re paying for it. It’s a company event. In other words, your event. So you have full authority to allow or disallow whoever you want from coming because in the end you want everyone to enjoy themselves.

That said, I hate burning bridges. Regardless of the reason why an employee was fired, I believe that the world is a small place. Your city, no matter how big it may seem, is a small place. Your industry is a small world too. There’s a high chance that you’re going to run into this person again, somewhere. So why leave things on bad terms? Okay…things didn’t work out on the job. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a good or at least cordial relationship with the former employee. And there’s no reason not to let him enjoy some time with your employees too. Take the high road, as long as you’re comfortable driving there.

I had a confirmed appointment with a prospective customer recently and he kept me waiting for more than 45 minutes with no explanation. Eventually, I left. Did I do the right thing?

You waited 45 minutes? Wow, you’re a lot more patient than I would have been. I usually give it about 20 minutes and then I leave. But that’s because I’m just an angry middle-aged man. I try very hard (sometimes unsuccessfully) to hide my annoyance and let him or his assistant know that I’ll be rescheduling.

Am I walking away from a lucrative deal? A big sale? A large client opportunity? Maybe. So that’s why I’ll reach back out to reschedule. Sometimes things happen, even to the most courteous of people, that cause their schedule to turn upside. And sometimes even courteous people, because there’s a fire, forget appointments or fail to communicate. So rather than start things off on the wrong foot, it’s best just to regroup and try again. Plus, after waiting for 45 minutes I’d be afraid what I might say to the prospect regardless of whether he was being rude or not.

One thing’s for sure: I don’t care how big an opportunity there is, if I’m kept waiting a second time then that’s just plain rude. It shows how important (or unimportant) you are to this prospect.

Ask yourself: if this were an appointment with a well-known celebrity or the president, would they have been kept waiting? Everyone has their pecking order and being made to significantly wait two times in a row is a good indication where you stand on that prospect’s list. And if that’s where you are now, imagine how you’ll be treated if you make the mistake of moving forward with him. Sure, we all want the deal. But we also want to be treated with respect. So just be careful who you’re dealing with!

These Q&As were first published in Fortune July 25 and Aug. 8.

 

Columnist Gene Marks. (Provided by the Marks Group)

Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small business owner. http://genemarks.com. Gene writes every day on business, politics and public policy for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur and the Huffington Post.  Marks has written 5 books on business management, specifically geared towards small and medium-sized companies. His most recent is “The Manufacturer’s Book of Lists.”  Nationally, Marks appears on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC discussing matters affecting the business community. Through his keynotes and breakout sessions, Marks helps business owners, executives and managers understand the political, economic and technological trends that will affect their companies so they can make profitable decisions. Marks owns and operates the Marks Group PC, a highly successful 10-person firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium-sized businesses. Prior to starting the Marks Group PC, Marks, a Certified Public Accountant, spent nine years in the entrepreneurial services arm of the international consulting firm KPMG in Philadelphia, where he was a senior manager.

More information:

“Should You Try to Keep an Employee Who Has Another Offer?”

Gene Marks in Fortune, July 25, 2016

“Is It Weird to Let a Former Employee Come to Your Company Party?”

Gene Marks in Fortune, Aug. 8, 2016

Images:

Right now, reports indicate various collision repair companies are trying to snag each other’s employees. (AndSim/iStock)

Columnist Gene Marks. (Provided by the Marks Group)