What about non-compete agreements?

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Dear Norm,
How enforceable are non-compete agreements, and what’s your opinion of them? I’m an engineer for a converting company and have thought many times about going out on my own.

Dear Victor,
I don’t believe in non-competes, and I don’t have them. They’re difficult and expensive to enforce, and I don’t think you need them if you run your business properly. That said, I think people should live by the contracts they sign if the contracts are legal. In the case of non-competes, that’s a fairly big “if.” Courts tend to interpret these contracts in favor of the employee because they don’t want to prevent a person from earning a living. Obviously, you should get an opinion about your own non-compete from a lawyer.
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Uncategorized

Should spouses run a company together?

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Dear Norm,
My wife and I have been married eight years, and I love her to death. A couple of years ago, we started a consulting company, which is doing well, but the challenge of living, working, eating, playing, raising children, and sleeping together is taking a toll on both of us. It’s hard to keep business and personal considerations separate. How can spouses run a company and still maintain a great relationship?

Dear Rich,
I also work with my wife, Elaine, who is our vice-president of human resources. We tried working together shortly after we were married. She quit after one day. Twenty years later, she decided to give it another shot, and things have gone extremely well. “You have to establish guidelines,” she says. “There has to be a clear division between work life and married life. You have to figure out what you can talk about and when; how you’re going to function in each role; what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t. But that type of arrangement won’t work for everyone. I’m not sure you’ve been married long enough to pull it off. Eight years into our marriage, we would never have been able to do it. If you can’t set down clear guidelines both at work and at home and stick with them, maybe you should think about having separate businesses.”
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Family

Should I fire when I’m not sure I can find replacements?

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Dear Norm,
After my mother died, I took over her business. I hired a girl, who brought along a friend, and I reluctantly hired her, too. I’ve been living a nightmare ever since. These women drive me crazy. They abuse my kindness, abuse my phones, misfile, can’t type, mess up my computers, complain constantly, spend all their time talking to one another, and never complete assignments. Yet I’m scared to say anything for fear I won’t be able to replace them. The people I’ve interviewed want benefits, and my business is too small to provide them. What should I do?

Dear Renee,
Fire them both as soon as possible, and do it on your own terms. What kind of life do you have with those people around? You deserve better, and you’ll feel better as soon as you make the decision to let them go. Believe me, you can replace them, even if you can’t afford benefits. Maybe you can offer something else—a flexible work schedule, for example. Find new people, train them over the weekend, and have them start on Monday. When your two current employees come to work, tell them they’re no longer needed. You may have to put in extra hours for a few weeks, but your life will be easier in the long run, and you’ll be happier.
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Employees, Hiring

An employee’s position has outgrown them. What do I do?

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Dear Norm,
About two and a half years ago, I hired someone to be the operations manager of my company. He was the perfect fit for my business at the time. Now, however, the company has outgrown his ability to handle the job. He is still an asset to the team but not in his current position. I would like to keep him on the bus and move him to a different seat. It’s a tough situation. He is thirty-three years old and has a family. But I feel I must do something. Any suggestions?

Dear Eric,
We all wind up in your situation sooner or later, and I agree—it’s tough. You feel guilty because it’s your fault for putting him there in the first place. I used to try doing what you’re suggesting, but things seldom worked out well. The issue was compensation. If I cut a guy’s salary, he would be resentful. If I didn’t cut his salary, I would become resentful. You need to think clearly and unemotionally about this situation. If you have another job on the same pay level that the guy is suited for, by all means, move him over. But don’t do it if his new responsibilities won’t justify paying him what he’s been getting up to now. It’s better to let him go. If your conscience bothers you, give him a big severance package.
Yours truly, Norm

Permalink  |  Posted in Employees, Growth