Tips For Having a Successful (and legal) Holiday Company Party

It’s the holiday season, and that means parties, outings and more for you and your staff. While these events can be wonderful team building events, if not planned correctly, they could also be Petri dishes for legal problems.

Here are some things to think about before you throw that awesome party.

Are Employees Paid to Attend?

Most wage & hour laws say that if you require employees to attend the holiday party, you must pay them for the time they spend there.  This comes up in situations where the company president plans to make a speech or presentation about the past year’s performance and upcoming year’s goals, and so deems that attendance at the party is mandatory.

If the party occurs during normal work hours, the employees are being paid anyway.  However, in many companies, the party is scheduled after work hours.  In those situations, if attendance is mandatory, the employees that attend must be paid.   For non-exempt employees that work more than 40 hours that week, including time spent at the mandatory party, this will mean they get overtime pay.   So a best practice is to make attendance optional.  Most will attend anyway because . . .  it’s a party!

Watch the Alcohol

Dram shop laws hold companies liable for the acts of their intoxicated patrons/employees who drink and later cause injury to another.  Yes, you would be held responsible so avoid this at all costs. One way to do it is to control alcohol consumption! This is key to avoiding such liability.

Here are some ideas on how to do this:

  • Issue two drink tickets per person and then keep an eye on certain employees getting extra tickets from their co-workers!
  • Close the bar a few hours before the end of the party.
  • Have plenty of food. It will help reduce the effects of the alcohol once people start drinking.
  • Have a clear policy for servers not to serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated employees.
  • Lastly, have a plan to arrange cab service or carpooling for any employees who plan to drink. Use Uber or taxis to get your employees home safe.

Keep the Mistletoe at Home

Never, ever hang mistletoe at an office holiday party! Seriously. That, coupled with too much alcohol could be a contributor to a sexual harassment suit!

What About You?

Holiday parties are a great way to show your staff and subs your appreciation for all their hard work. Just be sure to do it right! Are there other pitfalls or concerns that you should be aware of that I forgot to mention? Please share in the comments below! And have a happy holiday season!

Your 2013 Plan for Success

Success Plan 2013We’re two full months into 2013 and of course you’ve got a plan in place for maximizing your company’s success this year.  Hopefully that plan is on paper. Hopefully it was designed with the help of your staff.  Hopefully you rolled it out before the year began, in an all-company meeting with action points developed for how each department and each position in your company can help support a successful outcome.

Now let’s drop the hopefully and talk about the reality (for most of us.)  We were so busy with the day-to-day that we kept putting off the big picture.  Once again the urgent trumped the important.  But it’s not too late!  It’s still the first quarter and you have time to quickly work through the key steps of developing and communicating a strategic plan.

You won’t need special software and you don’t have to build a 400 page manifesto that would satisfy the SEC in your initial public offering.  But you will need to figure out – at a minimum – what will constitute success for your company this year.

Start with a bottom line (after owner pay) of 8-10% of volume.  Step two is to calculate the volume and gross profit that will be needed to achieve that.  Third you will develop the behind-the-scenes plan for how each and every employee and/or department in the company will help make this happen.

Step four is where most companies drop the ball.  They don’t roll out the plan to everyone in the company and get them thinking as owners. This is the most critical component to making it all happen. You must get company-wide buy-in.

So whether you have a well-developed plan in writing or you are scrambling to put one together, here’s a real life case study of how a relatively small remodeling company (2 owners and 4 staff) took advantage of the benefits of planning future by clearly involving staff as well as communicating the plan and monitoring it at regular intervals.

A Real Life Case Study

Robin Burrill and Rob Matthews, spouses who own Curb Appeal Renovations in Ft. Worth, TX, were determined to put the important ahead of the urgent. Since their office manager was leaving and they had a new hire coming in, the owners produced the plan by reviewing their vision, mission, and core values. They also created budgets and projections based on a 25% growth rate through the next few years.  But they wanted to get everyone on board in a fun, memorable, and impactful way because, as Burrill explains, “It’s not just Robin and Rob’s company, it’s everyone’s company.”

They decided to hold an all-day “Summit” to be held in their offices.  This Summit was to accomplish three critical goals – get buy-in on a plan for growth, teach the financial parameters that every employee needed to know, and better develop the participation of staff in meeting challenges and creating solutions.

Robin engaged an outside facilitator so they “could sit back, listen, and observe.”  To find him, she asked around her network of friends and acquaintances for referrals to coaches, and when the same name kept popping up, she knew she had the right person.  The facilitator helped them format the meeting and then conducted it.

They started the meeting by announcing a reward system for participation.  Each employee who participated with an idea or comment was able to draw a poker chip.  They were told that the person with the highest number of chips at the end of the day would receive a prize — but they weren’t told what that prize was.

Then they presented a detailed review of the previous year’s highlights, followed by a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of the company.  They reviewed the Vision, Mission, and Values and how those applied to their work.  Plans for the current year were reviewed in detail.  To teach everyone more about the financial management of a company, they played a budget game by looking at where the money that came in to the company was spent and how little was left at the bottom line in even good years.

What was the outcome?  “It was better than we could possibly have imagined,” says Burrill.  “Everyone thanked us for making them a part of the plan.”  Key goals and suggestions from the Summit are finding their way into every decision.  Curb Appeal will hold quarterly mini-Summits to keep everyone on track.  And next year’s Summit will expand to two days.

Any surprises?  Burrill laughed, “Out of everything, they were most concerned that Rob and I need to take more time away from the business.”  There’s a happy commitment.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the participation prize, every attendee ended up with between 220 and 360 chips by the end of the day. They were pleasantly surprised when it was revealed that everyone could exchange them for cash — $1 per chip.

The Power of Group Thinking

Survival Team BuildingIt is 10:45 A.M., May 8. The six of you are standing together somewhere in the Mojave Desert in the Southwest United States. You are looking at the charred remains of the twin-engine plane you were riding in 20 minutes ago. Identify your four greatest problems and the best strategy for your survival. Then, decide on the criticality and best use for 16 items salvaged from the crash.

This scenario is common in survival simulation team building exercises. But beyond developing interpersonal and teamwork skills, you learn that group-think surpasses individual brainpower almost every time.

In fact, 80-90% of groups score higher than that of any individual in their group. So if you weren’t already realizing just how powerful group thinking is, these games are a fun way to settle the issue.

So why don’t we as business owners share more of our company challenges with our staff? Why don’t we get everyone working on how we will achieve a 40% gross profit? Or how we’ll sell and produce $750,000 this year? Or how we can streamline the sales to production handoff? Or how we might create an incentive for our staff?

For a few remodelers this openness comes naturally. But for most it is a very scary proposition. For years they’ve been hiding their financial reports because if their employees found out about their 3% net they will revolt.

Even more prevalent is the misconception that the simplest, quickest and most efficient way to solve a problem is for the owner to do it alone.

Though it may be quicker initially to put a new system in place, you lose time in selling it to your team. If they don’t “own” it then there is no buy-in. In fact, there could even be resistance.

If we look at the entire process of devising a solution, applying it, improving it, making it a habit, then the most efficient way is to involve everyone from the start. Not only that, but the group is likely to come up with a better solution!

Beyond Problem Solving

If you haven’t tried them before, I highly recommend doing one of these survival simulation exercises with your team. They are a lot of fun and teach important behaviors that lead to successful teamwork—such as consensus. How does a group of varying opinions get to a final decision after they have heard all the different ideas? These exercises force you to figure it out.

These games also teach the importance of developing the right strategy before you start answering what you think is the question. The rankings of the salvage items change drastically depending on whether the group decides its best survival strategy is to send the two strongest members for help; or that all will stay together and wait to be discovered or all members will hike together.

And of course, the largest benefit to fully utilizing the collective brainpower of your company is it frees you up as an owner. So share the good, the bad, and the ugly with your staff. Then stand back and prepare to be surprised by just how well they do.

Reducing Your Need to Hire by Increasing Efficiency!

Business owners might sometimes feel they need to hire more workers to meet the steady flow of work that is coming in and because they do not want to lose projects, they look to take on more employees. However, you can meet the demands by following some simple guidelines about how to increase efficiency and meet your goals.

Here are nine practical ideas that will allow you to streamline the work done by your employees, thereby letting each employee leverage more volume. The net effect is a more efficient operation with less need for new employees.

  • At least yearly, hold brainstorming sessions with your staff to review all procedures. Focus on streamline. What work, forms, overlapping procedures can be eliminated from the company?
  • Outsource more both to freelancers for office work or subcontractors for production work. One remodeler even outsourced project design to a designer in Canada!
  • Are there labor saving tools, equipment, technology, communications that would free up time for yourself, your office, or field staff? Save an hour here and an hour there and soon you won’t have to hire another person.
  • Check with your suppliers for products they will install (i.e. windows, fireplace units, siding) or products that can save you in-house time (pre-primed moldings).. Use their labor instead of yours and benefit from the expertise they have in doing one task really well.
  • Check with subs to see if there are additional functions they can take over.
  • Have your own carpenters? Keep them but consider subbing large jobs such as decks, siding, insulation, drywall and roofing which can be economical to outsource.
  • Are your field personnel equipped with state-of-the-art labor-saving tools and equipment? If you have 10 field employees and can save 20 minutes a day for each, that’s 1000 minutes a week or 867 hours a year. That’s 867 hours you don’t need or 867 hours you can sell profitably to another client. One remodeler keeps a stocked trailer on every job site. It’s good looking and well signed but it also saves time and running for materials.
  • Increased training for your field personnel will save time in installations. Check with your in-house expertise, manufacturers, subs and suppliers for help in developing short training sessions.
  • Develop a cross-department team to research ways to reduce in-house work.

Book Club Becomes Team-Building Tool

When you give your whole team a say in everything from setting company-wide goals to fine-tuning your day-to-day operations, you get better buy-in from all of your employees. A remodeler I know is using Linda Case’s new book Business Straight to the Heart: The Remodelers Guide to Leadership, Management, and Success to do just that.

Bruce Johnson, co-owner of Lee Kimball in Winchester, Mass., bought a copy of this newly published book for each of his employees and turned a part of their monthly meeting into a book club. Each month, a different chapter is discussed with an eye toward ways to implement what they’ve learned into the fabric of their company.

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