Restaurant Consultants Can
Help Bring Business Into
It’s 8 a.m., and a
work crew dressed in jeans and polo shirts has just arrived at
Casa D’Angelo. Inside, they roll up their sleeves and scatter,
some tackling the walk-in cooler while others busy themselves
making schematics and arranging cleaning schedules. Perhaps this
isn’t the typical image of a restaurant consultant, but it’s the
way Rosemarie Carroll likes to work.
“Consulting is all about people having faith
in you, about your being able to listen and offer something
their existing staff doesn’t have,” says Carroll, who brings 20
years of experience to her Cleveland, Ohio-based Carroll
Consulting. “The restaurant business is so busy—I worked for one
that served breakfast, lunch and dinner—when do you have time to
put together an employee policy handbook, training manuals,
checklists or cleaning schedules? You don’t.”
Carroll may be unusual in offering hands-on
assistance, but like other consultants, she also works the facts
and figures that turn vision into reality.
“Rose helps me put my thoughts onto paper,”
states Jim D’Angelo, owner of three Casa D’Angelo restaurants in
the Cleveland area. “You need to let somebody take an objective
look at your operation. To be honest, when you’re looking at
your own restaurant, you have a closed mind. You tend to say,
‘What I’ve always done is right, it works for me, so why do I
have to change?’ Well, you need to change to keep up with the
D’Angelo considers Carroll as much a friend as
a consultant. So, how can you develop such an ideal
relationship? Start by asking yourself honestly why you need a
consultant. There are all kinds of wrong reasons for hiring
consultants—rubber stamping your ideas, for example, or doing
your dirty work—and there are genuine needs they can fulfill.
Steven Yenco, president of Basic Systems, a
consulting firm in Madison, Connecticut, that specializes in
communication and training, recommends conducting a thorough
needs assessment. Ask yourself what is not going right. Where
are the bottlenecks? What issues from your mission statement are
not being translated into reality, and where do you sense
“Of course, sometimes an organization can’t
put its finger on the problem,” Yenco adds, “and a consultant
can help with that, too.”
Questions about market and concept start that
process for Peter Zakas, co-owner/vice president of sales and
marketing for the Atlanta-based Zakaspace.
“The real essence of restaurant design today
is marketing,” says Zakas. “If you hear questions like ‘What’s
your favorite color?’ that’s the wrong approach.
I like to know who your customers are now, who do you want your
customers to be, who do you want to attract, and why are you not
getting them? Market is what I dig into first, and then we move
into determining the concept, check average and design.”
Next, make sure you are comfortable asking a
consultant for help. After all, as Carroll candidly remarks, not
everyone has the best perception of consultants and what they
do. But it’s an issue worth getting beyond, according to Rusty
Hurst, who is working with Zakaspace to develop and 100-year-old
family legacy in to Pete Chirila’s Bucket Shop in Kansas City,
“Asking for help is the smartest things a
person can do,” Hurst states. “It’s great to have a dream, but
the old adage that two heads are better than one really comes
into play here—you cannot be an expert in every area.
Consultants can serve as your alter ego. Together you
dialectically play football, tossing ideas back and forth,
developing and refining them. A consultant is there to help keep
you from making some of the mistakes that can happen in the
To find the best consultant for your needs, ask for referrals
from peers and follow up with face-to-face interviews and
reference checks. Carroll suggests that if consultants give you
four references, you should ask for four more and watch how they
respond. Are they encouraging? Do they give the names off the
top of their head? Ask those clients whether they were satisfied
with the consultant’s performance and whether they would hire
him/her again. And make sure that consultant, no matter how
highly recommended, has the expertise that specifically matches
"It’s a very personal relationship,” says
Carroll, “and if we’re going to share your financials and
philosophies, we have to get along. There is a chemistry. If you
feel you are not sure about a consultant, don’t pursue
it—interview someone else.”
After you select a consultant, come to an
agreement on the scope of the project and the timeframe for
completing it. Establish the budget, delivery milestones and
payment schedules. “Is it enough to do what you need to do, and
is it allocated in the right spot? We call it getting the
biggest bang for the buck,” Carroll adds.
Charlie Goodson, a Zakaspace client with four
restaurants in Louisiana and Florida, is convinced his bottom
line is better because he chose to work with a restaurant
consultant. “I’ve been in one restaurant, Charley G’s Seafood
Grill, for 14 years, and I only just change the carpet in the
bar—that’s how good a product it was. If I had picked that
carpet myself—money-wise, style-wise, color-wise—I don’t think I’d
have gotten that kind of wear. And we’ve only just painted the
walls. We did have wallpaper, in a well thought out, timeless
design that has held up very well. I would have overdone it, and
I would have been redoing it constantly to try to keep it
Jim D’Angelo admits that the price tag for a
consultant can seem high, but he too feels it’s worthwhile.
“Someone who doesn’t know the restaurant business might think,
‘What an enormous amount of money, and all I got is
black-and-white.’ But there is a lot more behind it—the
experience and though process that goes into putting those words
and numbers down on paper is phenomenal.”
Those words and numbers, when presented in
proposal form, can offer keen insight into the way consultants
work and deliver, according to Bill Main, principal at Bill Main
& Associates in Chico, California.
“Good proposals mean good engagements,” Main
states. “That usually requires a three- to-five page proposal
that the consultant has spent two to three hours on. I ask for a
lot of data upfront—menus, marketing materials, financial
statements, copies of annual performance reviews of all the
general managers, minutes of management meetings—anything and
everything that I can learn before I get there—so that the time
I spend is less about familiarizing myself with the client and
more about getting into the issues and solving the problems. If
somebody writes a proposal without specifics as to how, what,
when, where and why, you have less to hold the consultant
Communication is key
Once all the factors are on the table, make
sure everything is documented in writing, even details such as
which of the firm’s consultants you will be working with.
The company’s A team, for example, may have
sold you on working together, but they may plan to send in the B
team for the implementation. And remember that accessibility to
the right people cuts both ways.
“I had a client once say that he didn’t want
me talking to his waiters and waitresses,” Main explains. “He
wanted me talking to his managers, but how could I talk to his
managers until I knew what the problem was? Some of the first
people I would ask to interview would be the 10 best waiters and
waitresses, because they are talking to the customers—the
manager isn’t. You’ve got to challenge conventional wisdom. Only
1 percent of the restaurants in America ask their waters and
waitresses their opinion about the menu. Every other successful
business out there is characterized by a close connection with
the customer, so why should foodservice be any different?”
As the process develops, stay in touch weekly
or monthly, depending on the scope of the project. Assign the
appropriate staff to track progress, schedule face-to-face
meetings, and provide support and assistance. When the time
comes for the actual implementation, make sure you have the
right employees to successfully bring the ideas to fruition.
If the current staff is not qualified or
available, consultants may recommend a hire. “If we don’t see a
flow of management to implement our tools,” Carroll states, “we
are not going to roll out our systems until we find the person
who is going to assist us in doing that.” Carroll Consulting
offers a management-recruiting service—and other consulting
firms, such as Hospitality Executive Search, Inc., in Boston,
specialize in finding those missing links.
“You have to match personalities and cultures
of companies with the culture of the prospective employee,”
states Jonathan Spatt, president of Hospitality Executive
Search. “The consultant will often give us guidelines on the
culture of the company and assist in identifying the proper
player to make a successful match.
It’s getting late, and Carroll’s crew is
packing up so that the staff at Casa D’Angelo can tend to its
dinner patrons. At some point during the day, Jim D’Angelo and
Carroll made time to sit down and just talk. “I joke with my
staff that a high percentage of what we do with our clients is
listen to them,” says Carroll. “But restaurateurs need a boost.
They need a new set of eyes, a fresh pair of legs and someone
they can talk to.”
When all the pieces come together, when the
consultant has the right expertise matched by a genuine desire
to help a restaurateur succeed, a unique chemistry can coalesce
that has the power to transform the business.
“There are operators who have been doing it by
the seat of their pants and making money at it,” states D’Angelo.
“They ask, ‘Why do I need a restaurant consultant?’ and I
answer, ‘So that we can have our act together, to be the
professionals who really know what we are doing and to take our
businesses to the next level.’”
This article appeared in RestaurantsUSA.
computers began generating images pulsating with color and
graphics, before overhead projections added multi-screen
backdrops to presentations, there were simply speakers. Orators
actually—people who spoke passionately and effectively to their
While most CEOs are not
expected to be orators, they do represent their organizations at
board and staff meetings, conventions, press events, media
interviews, and any number of other venues.
And as PowerPoint and other
high-tech tools have become presentation requisites, many
speakers—including association executives—have come to rely on
the tools, and not on their own speaking skills.
“A big mistake that speakers
make is that they’re more interested in their presentation than
they are about connecting with people,” says Fred Soto, senior
consultant, Straight Talk Enterprises, a training and consulting
firm based in Orlando. “They forget that you’ve got to connect
first, then teach; connect first, then try to change behavior,”
he says. “So instead of being presentation oriented, be people
oriented, especially during the first 15 minutes.”
Soto recommends taking the
time to understand those in your audience and what they need
from you. Consider conducting some advance research to find out
more about what brings the audience together and what common
issues they might share.
Keep the audience in suspense
Grabbing their attention and
giving them something interesting to listen to is a great way to
indicate that you understand and respect the audience’s time and
intellect, says Ann Bloch, a presentation coach based in Lenox,
Massachusetts. Bloch developed a technique she calls the
Hitchcock Effect, named after the master of film suspense, to
help speakers keep their listeners on the edge of their seats.
“To create suspense, give
people just enough information at the beginning so that they
know where you’re going and what emotions to feel, but no more,”
“And don’t tell them how you
felt in a situation—‘I was so scared’ or ‘I was so
excited’—because it’s the audience who needs to be scared of
excited. Frankly, they don’t care about you. Arouse their
emotional state by deliberately downplaying yours. That’s how
Alfred Hitchcock did it. He never got emotional himself, but he
controlled our emotions.”
The theory behind the
Hitchcock Effect is that once you have people’s attention, they
want to hear the rest of your presentation. They need
the resolution to their suspense and will listen to the
information you need to share. But be careful not to state the
obvious, Bloch adds, or you could still lose them.
“Usually audiences know more
than you think. Consider the typical talks on team management
or stress reduction; people already know quite a lot about these
subjects,” says Bloch. “Instead, start with an anecdote, for
example, but don’t finish it. Leave them hanging out there and
gradually add the details. They’ll listen throughout the talk
for the rest of the story.’
Angelika Melien, director of
major gifts at Western New England College, Springfield,
Massachusetts, put Bloch’s approach to work throughout her
“Because we are in the
business of raising funds for the college, we have to be very
clear about the messages we give. We are always trying to find
new and better ways to say the same thing time and time again,
and Ann gave us fresh ways to look at language that helps us get
people’s attention,” says Melien.
“In higher education,
there’s certain formality, and it’s very difficult to make words
sound catchy. The Hitchcock Effect brings creativity and
tradition together in a manner that is interesting and that reflects
what the college is all about.”
Learning from a new script
Similar to Bloch’s approach
of urging the liberal use of relevant stories and anecdotes to
quickly connect with people on a deeper level, the Ariel Group,
Cambridge, Massachusetts, immerses its students in classic
stories and plays.
The group’s staff of
professional actors and singers teach the four tenets of the
training model created by Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern,
co-founders of the Ariel Group.
Focusing on presence,
connection, expression, and self-knowledge, trainers combine the
methodology of actors—one of the few professions trained to be
communicators—with principles of business and psychology. They
use Shakespeare, for example, to get people to use heightened
language and to develop interaction skills.
Lubar and Halpern believe
that with a little practice we’re all capable of developing
presence. They work with executives in the United States,
Europe, and Asia to help them become more powerful communicators
and leaders. Part of establishing presence is being
“We work with people to help
them become more focused and present,” says Lubar. “Whether
they’re communicating with one person in a meeting or trying to
inspire a thousand people, they learn to bring themselves fully
into that moment,” she explains. Similarly, connecting with the
audience can be effective with an audience of one or one
“Being expressive,” explains
Lubar, “is how you use your voice, body, emotions, and language
to express a congruent message so that people are inspired and
"As for self-knowledge,
we’ve often found that if leaders don’t have a clear sense of
what their values are, the values of the organization are not
clear either. We work with people to better understand what they
stand for and how to live that every day.”
Chuck Ainsworth, national
consultant for the YMCA of the USA, Chicago, watched a
presentation by the Ariel Group and decided to schedule them
into the YMCA’s 2001 Key Leaders Conference. He admits that
some of his people wondered what Romeo and Juliet had to
do with running a nonprofit organization.
“I explained that we acted
out Romeo and Juliet, using different leadership styles to
demonstrate the impact of our presentation. These were unique
and different ways to help people see the importance of how they
come across,” he says.
“We are a storytelling
culture. That’s how we learn—when someone reads us stories, we
learn morals and facts. As adults, we never lost the need to
hear stories, and we learn very well when someone tells a story
to which we can relate. It is important for us within the YMCA
to focus on how we tell our story to others and why they would
want to support what we do in our communities. While
associations like ours are very good at teaching very specific
hands-on skills, we’ve reached the point where we need to do
something more dramatic and more visual in a way that enables
people to discern the importance of what we do.”
Stories not only engage the
audience but also help deliver a message without preaching.
Halpern recalls an executive from an oil company who was trying
to overcome his team’s resistance to a consultant the company
needed for the success of a project. He shared a story, one
with suspense and relevance, that helped them understand on a
more personal level the issue of the consultant.
“He told his staff how he
had moved around a lot as a kid, and when he was nine years old
in a new town, he went to the baseball field and sat on the
bench for three weeks,” says Halpern. “Finally, someone picked
him for the team, and they found out he was a good baseball
player. He even hit a home run. He then told his audience,
want you guys to remember how that feels when you’re sitting on
the bench, and remember that if you will reach out to our
consultant group, we’re going to have a better product.'”
The increasing diversity of
American corporate and nonprofit organizations creates an even
greater challenge for outreach. According to Fred Soto,
ever-changing audience demographics demand improved skills for
perceiving what the audience needs and for bridging the gap of
“This means not only the
external diversity factors—race, gender, age, and religion—but
also internal ones. What do they care about? What is important
to them?” says Soto. “In addition, many of these groups may
differ in their values, attitudes, and behaviors and the manner
in which they perceive situations and solve problems.
Therefore, speakers must connect and communicate across cultural
barriers to establish and maintain a positive rapport with the
audience. We must offer them a sense of affirmation, belonging,
potential, spiritual peace, and hope. Again, the point is to
think about who you are talking to and try to be relevant to
what their issues are today.
Soto admits that most
executives who are scheduled to make a speech or presentation do
not have the time or expertise to personally interview all the
people that they might want to talk to for background
information. He recommends working with the human resource
department within the organization to be addressed to gather
information about the audience’s diversity. In addition, the
public relations staff can often assist with demographics and
Learning new skills and
incorporating them into presentations takes time. A single
weekend workshop is just the beginning. Most instructors
consider themselves long-term coaches, working with executives
for a year or more in an ongoing relationship. Mel Fripp,
assistant regional director for equal opportunity and diversity
programs, National Park Service Southeast Region, Atlanta, has
been coached by Fred Soto for more than a year to improve his
presentations to staff and to other administrators on diversity
“This year we developed an
enhancement program for our regional office staff dealing with
equal employment opportunity and diversity matters,” says Fripp.
“We’ve had three workshops. It’s interesting to see how people
make little changes over time. Maybe they knew it before, but
when it’s reinforced—the light bulb finally comes on.”
Fripp agrees with Soto and
other coaches who say that what people learn about making better
presentations cannot be separated from the rest of their lives.
In other words, the who you become for the presentations
is the same who you are on the job. In that light, Fripp tries
to apply Soto’s tenets wherever he can.
“I try to offer spiritual
peace, for example, by being a minister to my staff,” he
explains. “I’m not ministering in a religious sense, but in a
business sense to help them realize how important it is to help
employees and realize that people have differences. I try to let
them see that is my mission, my ministry to them.”
A round-the-clock resource
For executives too busy to
attend workshops, the Web offers ongoing 24/7 coaching in the
home or office. Youachieve.com (www.youachieve.com),
for example, features 700 titles from hundreds of qualified
experts and includes a section specifically on presentation
skills. Topics range from “Speaking With Authority” to
“Spellbinding Oration” by renowned presenters from Tony
Alessandra to Zig Zigler.
“The whole premise behind
our operation is that you need to know what you need to know
when you need to know it,” says Bill McCurry, chairman of the
board, youachieve.com, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
“Our format,” explains McCurry, “provides nugget-sized
information from the best minds in the work, which means each
person’s personality is respected. You can get the information
in the pieces that you want, as contrasted to the pieces an
instructor thinks you should have. All pieces on our site tell
who the authors are and how to access them.”
what methods work for you, the best presentation comes about
when you connect with your audience. As YMCA’s Ainsworth says:
“It’s not about reciting facts and achievements and numbers.
It’s about the way you present the mission of the organization
and how you tell your story.”
This article appeared in Association Management.
County has a high percentage of porches per capita. While that
statistic may never show up in a census report, it says a lot about the
county and the people who live there. Wraparound porches on restored
Victorian treasures, plain white porches fronting farm houses, long
porches sweeping across downtown businesses—whatever the style, the
message is the same as their rocking chairs creak in a slow, regular
rhythm, “life is good here, life is good.”
One California town recently
legislated that porches must be included on all new homes, but in
Haywood County, porches are already
the law of the land. It’s a legacy from days gone by that will serve
residents well as this thriving county grows into its economic and
Forty percent of Haywood County is
protected land, including portions of the Pisgah National Forest,
Shining Rock Wilderness Areas and the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park. More than half a million visitors are expected this year, arriving
by bicycle and car, van and RV to explore the steeply rising mountains
rich with sights and scents of life still natural and wild. Down below,
the county’s wide valleys host an equally impressive array of
And that’s no accident. Business
leaders throughout the country are working together to carefully direct
its development. Leaders like Katharine Dossey, executive director of
the Greater Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and Ron Huelster,
executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association.
Their collective goal is to maintain
the features that have made the county so appealing in the first place.
Dossey emphasizes the importance of developing an atmosphere where
businesses can thrive without destroying the environment. “I’ve seen in
California what happens when you don’t support business,” she says. “But
the environment is our business. Our mountains and water are two of the
main reasons people come here, and we’re the caretakers for our children
Huelster agrees. “We’re in a good
position—we’ve not messed up our nest yet,” he says. “Change is slower
here, which has its advantages. There’s a natural circumspection that
keeps us from jumping on the latest idea or fad.”
As the national trend of migration away from crowded cities works its
way into Haywood County, residents face a tough balancing act between
the benefits of rapid growth and maintaining their quality of life.
“We’re looking closely at the kind of tourism we want to attract,”
Huelster adds. “One of the goals of our economic development is to build
on longer-staying tourism.”
The Atlanta Ballet Summer Residency
program is a prime example of this philosophy at work. Attracted to the
area by the Haywood County Arts Council almost three years ago,
America’s oldest ballet company shares hours of open practice sessions
and performances with visitors and residents alike during August. Thanks
to a grant from the community Foundation of Western North Carolina, a
feasibility study for a six-week Atlanta Ballet Summer School was just
completed, and negotiations for a site are underway.
With an eye on maintaining integrity
during the time of growth, leaders are actively seeking projects that
have direct ties to the county’s heritage. That’s why they invited Mast
General Store to expand beyond its popular Valle Crucis location into
Waynesville’s Main Street. Camping and fishing supplies, old-fashioned
housewares, stylish traditional clothing, books, maps and rocking chairs
are the kinds of products local residents as well as tourists use.
Attracting Mast General Store was
part of a comprehensive strategy based on the goals of the national
organization known as Main Street. It calls for “re-establishing
downtown as a compelling place for shoppers, residents, investors and
visitors,” and Waynesville participants have done just that.
Brick sidewalks swept clean, wooden
planters overflowing with flowers, friendly merchants greeting their
customers speak genuinely of community pride, not mere tricks for tourist
dollars. Side streets, sloping downward with as much geometric
regularity as mountain terrain allows, beckon visitors with brightly
colored banners and architecturally interesting shops and galleries,
such as Home-Tech. It’s a cozy two-room shop nestled just below Main
Street. Visitors quickly feel at home in the charming décor and the
interesting inventory of kitchen gadgets, cookware, fancy foods, and
Daisy, a sweet-natured terrier-poodle mix who greets her guests with
canine cordiality. Owners Kathy and Bob Lang are transplants from Palm
Beach, Florida, who know the value of what they have found.
“Waynesville is everybody’s idea of
a hometown,” Kathy explains. “Either you grew up here or you wished you
had. And the area is growing so nicely—not one bit of a garish edge.”
At Main Street’s other end sits the
Open Air Market, a seemingly sleepy sundries shop offering a sampling of
regional newspapers and tabloids out front. Inside, that impression
vanishes in a sea of national and international magazines and books. One
employee of 25 years reluctantly takes a stab at the number of titles
“I could make an educated guess of
about 500. It sure seems like that many when you to working on them.”
The woman at the register chime in, “I’ve been here five years, and I
don’t know what’s here and what’s not!”
There are the usual “less fat, more
sex” magazines, but a little rummaging uncovers the likes of American
Indian Art Magazine, Tattoo Express, Mrs. Beeton (a British homemaker’s
magazine), electronic House and Foreign Affairs, a thick,
official-looking journal displayed just to the right of this season’s
onion sets, Pepto Bismol and saltines.
Dossey is optimistic about the future of Haywood County and the level of
leadership and cooperation at work in the county. Especially with
Haywood Community College’s Regional High Technology Training Center
leading them into the next century. The first applied advanced
technology center of its type in North Carolina, the center offers
programs, research and training in advanced technology.
“It’s a wonderful resource with an
extensive research library, computer labs and a very supportive small
business center. They even have training in robotics,” Dossey adds with
a wide-eyed enthusiasm that regularly punctuates her speech.
While robotics and high tech may
seem a far cry from the county’s natural, agrarian roots, these modern
advantages can mean increased earnings and saved time. And that’s time
that can be spent on one of those porches, rocking and remembering that
life here is really very good.
This article appeared in the Blue Ridge Business Journal.
ago, when Jennifer and David Kauffman were searching for a community
with a vibrant downtown, they chose Cumberland, Maryland. Their timing
was perfect. Had they visited just a year or two earlier, they might
have driven on by.
During the last two decades,
Cumberland's downtown had declined as industries left and new suburban
malls opened. But that was before Sue Cerutti and Ed Mullaney teamed up
in 1998 as managers of the Downtown Cumberland Main Street Maryland
program. Together, they counseled the Kauffmans on funding available
through the city to help them establish their music store, and provided
promotional assistance with the store's grand opening and other events.
Today Kauffman Music is busy with
children and adult visitors, a guest artist series, and the Sesame
Street Music Works program introducing music to preschoolers; upstairs,
the Cumberland Music Academy offers private lessons and music classes,
and features a warren of practice rooms.
Kauffman Music is just one of the
success stories of the Downtown Cumberland program. Renovated buildings,
new businesses, added jobs, and well-attended events have created a new
attitude about the three-block, red-brick pedestrian mall.
"We believe the downtown reflects
who you are as a people," Cerutti says. "When we started, many buildings
were vacant and attitudes were bad about the future of downtown. Four
years later, we sometimes struggle to find places for people to buy or
Both Cerutti and Mullaney grew up in
Allegany County. Cerutti served as director of the Area Agency on Aging
in Allegany County for 12 years and spent two years in Pittsburgh as a
community organizer for the city. Mullaney was trained as a teacher, but
had to move to Montgomery County, Maryland, to find work.
"It felt as though I spent my whole
30-year career trying to build a sense of community, because the
Washington area is so transient," he says. "When I retired here, I
wanted to help maintain the sense of community that was already here."
Although Cerutti and Mullaney are
co-managers of the Downtown Cumberland program, both technically working
part-time, they keep hectic schedules. Cerutti focuses on redevelopment
projects, while Mullaney specializes in promotions and events. Working
as a team, they help ease people and projects through the roadblocks and
tie-ups that often occur in the course of redevelopment. And their
teamwork is paying off.
In just four years, the community
has seen 66 businesses open, 12 businesses expand, 519 full-time jobs
and 120 part-time jobs created, 17,525 volunteer hours donated, and
$19,720,575 in capital expended. Cumberland's economic revitalization
has also been helped by its location.
At the center of a tri-state region,
Cumberland's downtown now draws people from nearby counties in
Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Cumberland's downtown project is part of
the Main Street Maryland program, created by the Maryland Department of
Housing and Community Development to strengthen economic redevelopment
of downtowns and surrounding neighborhoods.
The state program is modeled on the
Main Street Approach developed by the National Trust for Historic
Preservation's National Main Street Center. This program has been
implemented in more than 1,400 communities nationwide, with economic
outcomes that reflect a reinvestment ratio of $30 for every $1 used to
support a local program.
Funding support for Cumberland's
downtown efforts has included city and state funds, as well as grants
from the Appalachian Regional Commission's Entrepreneurship Initiative.
The Main Street Approach addresses four key points of downtown
revitalization: organization, design, economic restructuring, and
From the beginning, the watchword of
the Cumberland organizational process has been inclusiveness, as Cerutti
and Mullaney create an atmosphere that welcomes everyone from
individuals and consumer groups to businesses and financial
The Main Street Approach's design
component has been a natural for Cumberland, given the wealth of
nineteenth-century architecture in the downtown. Stunning brick
buildings, churches with soaring steeples, and Victorian-era homes are
the legacy of Cumberland's boom days, when it was the second-largest
city in the state.
Dubbed the "Queen City," it was a
major transportation and industrial hub from the mid 1800s, when the B&O
Railroad and C&O Canal thrived here. Coal and tin mining, and, later,
tire, glass, and synthetic-fiber manufacturing also contributed to
Cumberland's prosperity, which lasted into the mid twentieth century.
The industrial base waned, however. Without good roads, Cumberland found
Not until 1991, when Interstate 68
was completed, did things begin to change. Eventually economic vitality
began to re-emerge. Two new correctional institutions moved into the
area, bringing new jobs. Several small manufacturers, such as Bayliner
Marine Corporation (boats), Biederlack of America (blankets), and Hunter
Douglas (window coverings) arrived, and even a commuter airline,
Boston-Maine Airways, offering commuter service between
Cumberland/Hagerstown and Baltimore, moved in.
This decade of gradual economic
recovery is being complemented by Cumberland's downtown revitalization
efforts. Since 1998, almost $20 million in capital investment has gone
into the adaptive reuse of Cumberland's downtown buildings through
private and public partnerships.
Federal, state, and city tax credits
of up to 55 cents on the dollar have also assisted with the remodeling
of buildings, including the Rosenbaum Brothers Department Store into the
M&T Bank and the two buildings that now house CBIZ Benefits and
CBIZ, a national service center for
401(k) plan administration and small commercial and personal insurance
products, employs 150 workers and relies on local colleges to provide a
"We endow the chair of Frostburg
State University actuarial sciences so that we have a steady stream of
math majors," says Marc Zanger, CEO of CBIZ. "We use a lot of interns
through that program."
Allegany College of Maryland is also
a key player downtown, especially since moving its School of
Hospitality, Tourism, and Culinary Arts into a four-story building that
formerly housed a variety store. The county, which owns the building,
contributed half of the conversion cost to create the state-of-the-art
school and Culinaire Cafe, where students get hands-on, on-the-job
An Appalachian Regional Commission
grant helped with the school's relocation in April 2001, as well as with
"That first year, people weren't
sure what we were going to do here," recalls David L. Sanford, director
of the culinary arts program. "The owner of M&M Bake Shop thought we
were going to open the Ford Motors of doughnut shops, and it took many
meetings to explain our plan. Now, we're very good friends. Besides,
competition in a restaurant cluster can be good—it draws people
To accomplish economic restructuring
of the downtown area, a committee chaired by Jeff Rhodes, director of
community development for the city of Cumberland, worked with public
agencies and local financial institutions to develop a $300,000 loan
pool for assisting existing and new businesses. In addition, the Uptown
Downtown business incubator provides support to entrepreneurs developing
niche and specialty markets downtown.
Mel Martin's yarn shop, Millicent's
Knits and Yarns, is a recent graduate of Uptown Downtown and has become
a welcomed destination for people from a four-county area. After
retiring, when Martin and her husband were looking for a place to
settle, Martin met Cerutti and asked her where she could sell her
children's knitwear. "She answered, 'Oh, there are plenty of places to
sell the knitwear, but we don't have a yarn shop. Want to open one?' "
Since Martin's store opened, she
says, "Knitters are coming out of the woodwork. They tell me they
haven't been downtown in so long, but now they have a good reason to
"Cerutti is currently working on the
next downtown incubator, which will feature scattered-site antique
shops. In cooperation with the Maryland Smart Growth program, which
includes such initiatives as Live Near Your Work, Cumberland recently
obtained an Arts and Entertainment District designation, which will help
encourage art and antique stores to locate in the downtown area.
In addition to the loan pool and
incubator centers, Cumberland's economic restructuring plans include
exploring modern telecommunications options that allow people to live in
town and telecommute. And several new museums are already open, such as
the Allegany County Museum.
Beautiful buildings are a start, but
Mullaney's experience with extracurricular school programs helped create
a strong promotions campaign to bring people to the buildings. He
understood that students raised in a world of suburban malls don't have
an affinity with downtown, and he tailored events to their needs.
Prom night, for example, featured
free carriage rides and photographs downtown, which in turn resulted in
packed downtown restaurants. Friday After Five, Mullaney's first and
most popular promotion activity, is still a crowd pleaser. He credits
the concept to Charlottesville, Virginia, which also has a pedestrian
mall. Mullaney enlisted his cousin's band, which donated its services,
and showed a movie on the side of a building and called it a "drive-in."
"One thing led to another. Now we
have people calling us who want to perform," he says. "Our events
attract an eclectic blend of the community. And that's exactly what we
want-this is everybody's downtown."
Many of the promotional activities
require more creativity than money—like the farmers' markets (which have
already expanded to two days a week), the flower sales in May, and a
popular event in which every window downtown was lit one Friday night.
"It looked gorgeous. We made the
front page of the newspaper with a color shot. And that event has
spurred many more ideas," he adds.
Other events include the St.
Patrick's Day pub crawl, the National Road Rally in May, and the
Back-to-School Bash and Celtic Fest in September.
While downtown redevelopment is a
long-term process, the momentum here is palpable. Cumberland has once
again become a hub.
"You have to succeed a little at a
time," Cerutti says. "First, we worked to get everyone involved. Then,
as they take ownership, the program becomes theirs, not ours. That's
when it really starts to work. We have so many ideas yet to implement,
and the people here are running with them."
This article appeared in Appalachia.
While traveling through the Midwest recently, Roger Herman stopped
at a restaurant for lunch. The door was locked. At high noon. The sign
on the door read: “Closed due to a lack of personnel.” He was hungry but
As a management consultant and
co-author of the 1998 book Lean and Meaningful, A New Culture for
Corporate America, Herman knew the story all too well.
“Back in the ‘80s, companies could
be ‘lean and mean,’” Herman explains. “We never had to worry about labor
shortages or burning people out, because all we had to do was open the
door and they were lined up begging to work for us. Now we’ve got a
combination of demographic and economic trends coming together to cause
unprecedented labor shortages. When we open the door now, nobody’s
there. When we run ads, oftentimes the phone never rings. It’s a time to
get meaningful. We don’t really have a choice at this point.”
Lean & Meaningful evolved after
Herman and co-author Joyce Gioia began tracking an emerging new culture
in America: Companies were trying different ways to recruit and retain
workers; they were making employment provide meaning as well as money.
The book recognizes that trend and presents the authors’ vision of a
“lean and meaningful” blueprint for the future.
“We are looking at some significant
changes in the way we do business,” says Gioia. “Everybody in management
positions will be challenged to provide more leadership, to get away
from telling everyone what to do and move toward a collaborative
culture. If you don’t start treating people this way, you’re going to
find yourself without them. You can have the finest chef in the world,
but if he or she doesn’t have assistants and good rapport with the
servers and maitre d’, no one will be there to serve the food, no one
will be there to eat it, and the chef will be out of a job.”
With today’s shrinking labor pool,
restaurants are being forced to compete not only for customers but also
for employees. And once they’ve found those workers, they have to
compete to keep them. One way to do that, say Herman and Gioia, is to
make the workplace meaningful. When employees feel fulfilled, positions
stay filled. “We are alerting employers that it ain’t like it used to
be,” says Herman.
“That’s why they need to build more
meaningfulness into the work environment—meaningful work, good
collaborative relationships and treating people humanely.”
How can you make working at your
restaurant more fulfilling so that employees want to stay? For starters,
consider some common reasons why people leave their jobs rather than why
they stick with them. Lean & Meaningful explores the top reasons, such
as working in an uncomfortable physical and mental environment, not
feeling valued on the job, not getting the support needed to do the job
properly, and not being able to gain new knowledge on the job.
Compensation—often considered by
employers to be the main reason employees leave—ranks fifth in Herman
and Gioia’s analysis. Herman cites recent research from Interim, a
staffing firm working with a major polling organization, that supports
the premise that people of all ages across industry lines share those
attitudes. By studying why people leave a job, you can turn it around to
deduce reasons why people stay with a job. By fulfilling the top needs,
you can create meaning in the workplace beyond the paycheck.
Of course, before you can convey
meaning to your employees, you must discover it yourself. Creating a
meaningful workplace starts by asking—and answering—some basic questions
about your company and the way you do business:
· Why are we in business?
· What does the company stand for?
· Does the company demonstrate its
values, or are they just words on paper?
· What is the company doing or not
doing in relation to the employees, the environment and society?
· Where does the company need to
improve now? In the future?
You don’t need to be a major player
to make your workplace meaningful and attract top employees. “Owners of
smaller facilities may say, ‘Oh this is just for the big guys; I can’t
do this stuff.’ But the book includes more than 200 companies with as
few as 11 employees. It’s not just about the big guys,” Herman says.
Thirteen years ago, Papa John’s
International, a pizza chain based in Louisville, Kentucky, entered a
competitive market already filled with “big guys.” Determined to make a
difference, founder and CEO John Schnatter established six core values
that range from keeping a tight focus on the product and services to
using superior ingredients. Recognition of team players is one
management core value that makes the company a fulfilling place to work.
“Lean & Meaningful is a great title
for today’s work force,” says Carol Trask, vice president of human
resources for Papa John’s. “The industry needs really good team members,
so you have to hire the right people and treat them well. We use
behavioral interview guides that help walk managers through the hiring
process. We try to give them realistic job previews and expectations so
they can hire successful team members.”
Another of Papa John’s core values
reads: “People Are Priority #1 Always (PAPA).” Trask says that boils
down to treating people with dignity and respect—but not to the point of
tying manager’s hands. “If someone is not a fit, we may have to fire
them, but we do it with dignity and respect, too. We are a
people-oriented culture, which makes us a people company that makes
pizza,” she explains.
Establishing a mission that people
feel good about supporting goes a long way toward retaining employees.
Pittsburgh-based King’s Family Restaurants has had such a philosophy for
years, which has resulted in many employees staying with the company
through its entire 30-year history. Even so, times change, and mission
statements need to keep pace, so King’s hired Herman to help update its
statement to make it more meaningful to workers.
“Today’s market is different,” says
Jim Covelli, employment manager for the 31-unit restaurant company. “The
odds that the employees we hire today would stay 30 years are a lot
less. That’s why we have to be even more creative. We’ve always had
competitive benefits and competitive pay, but we have to go one step
further now. We’re testing, for example, the Star Employee of the Month
program in seven locations.” That program rewards employees with stars
for work well done, which they put on a button and wear during the month.
Winners of the most stars are awarded $25 cash, given a gold nametag
and have their name inscribed on a plaque.
Papa John’s also recognizes
employees’ hard work. The company offers a “People Are Priority” pin to
thank workers for a year of solid service, and a pin that looks like a
six-piece pizza for staff members who have been certified in six
stations within the restaurant. Another recognition program, Circle of
Perfection, rewards outstanding work by employees in the company’s 10
commissaries, which keep more than 1,700 restaurants around the country
Employee-recognition programs don’t
need to be elaborate or expensive. According to Gioia, Pita Delight, a
two-unit operation in Greensboro, North Carolina, celebrates the success
of its workers on a simple “Wall of Fame.”
“The owner frames and posts the
letters he has received about how wonderful his people are so that
guests waiting in line can read his fan mail,” she says.
Although benefits and recognition
programs can vary from simple to sophisticated, the ultimate goal is
the same: to retain good employees. Of course, that is anything but
simple in an industry troubled by high turnover rates. But success
stories like Papa John’s show that they can work. Trask is pleased that
in the tough quickservice arena, Papa John’s experiences relatively low
turnover in managers and team members, especially considering that their
figures include transfers to another restaurant within Papa John’s.
“Even a promotion or transfer,
particularly by managers, affects the staff,” Trask explains. “And we
are working to get our figures even lower.”
To help lower its turnover numbers,
Papa John’s bolsters its reward programs with continuing education and
feedback. “We try to help sensitize managers to diversity through
training on sexual harassment and other dos and don’ts of the
workplace,” says Trask.
“We also conduct team-member surveys
and give managers feedback from their stores. They then create an action
plan that involves all the team members to keep things continually
Respect: a powerful
Even with its 30-year veterans,
King’s Family Restaurants is still concerned about turnover. “That’s
something we really work on,” Covelli says. “It does come down to the
way you treat your employees. You have to respect them. With some
employees that means creating an open-door policy, giving them what they
want. If they want certain days off, you need to bend over backward to
give that to them. After all, if you keep those employees, that’s a lot
more beneficial to you than having to recruit new ones.”
Herman and Gioia consider that
“closed” sign on the restaurant’s locked door a wake-up call to the
industry. A restaurant without respect for its employees and without a
meaningful, fulfilling work environment is—or soon will be—a business
without employees. “These issues are no longer a matter of choice for
the chef or manager or restaurant owner,” Herman explains. “With the
workplace situation as it is today, the sign of the times is ‘Help
Wanted. Now Hiring.’”
Compensation can be a meaningful
motivator for workers when it is connected to performance.
· Review your current compensation
structure. Does it reward and motivate, or does it maintain the status
· Identify and quantify a corporate
goal and establish a reward/incentive for goal achievement.
· Involve employees in the methods
and solutions for reaching your goal. Such involvement reinforces the
connection between work and compensation while acknowledging the value
each individual can have.
· Support the process with
· Enlist the advice of financial and
legal professionals if you are considering employee ownership.
There are hundreds of meaningful
ways to reward employees for a job well done, many costing little or no
money. Here are a few suggestions:
· Start a wellness program that
addresses the “whole person” concept.
· Give mental-health days, like
Eddie Bauer’s “Balance Day,” to be used however the employees deem
· Enlist a private concierge service
to help with shopping, home maintenance, errands and travel plans so
that employees do not need to deal with those stressful, time-consuming
· Offer on-premises mini-massages,
especially during stressful times, from professional massage therapists.
· Schedule personal-time-management
seminars to help employees manage their time better.
· Pay for performance: Give bonuses
for specific, measurable achievements that influence the company’s
· Use a variable pay system that
rewards individuals, teams or entire organizations on the basis of their
reaching specific goals.
· Implement incentives for
improvement of quality that motivate employees to expend the effort
required to meet new standards.
· Increase involvement in the work
process with a gain-sharing program.
· Start an ESOP—Employee Stock
Ownership Plan—that allows employees to purchase stock and thereby
become actual owners of the company.
· Recognize employees' humanitarian
and community service activities.
This article appeared in RestaurantsUSA.
days, looking into employment trends and employee attitudes is like
gazing into a crystal ball crafted by Dale Chihuly: everything swirls in
one direction, then dramatically shifts in another. One week, The New
York Times runs an article about young employees who, reared in a
full-employment economy, are demanding jobs with status and image; the
next, a Washington Post headline reads “Nationwide, A Flurry of Pink
Slips,” predicting a gloomy period of unemployment ahead. While the
direction the economy is headed may be uncertain, one thing is clear:
the way employees view their jobs has changed forever.
“We’re moving to a ‘hopscotch’
model. Workers will jump forward, backward or onto a whole new path,”
says Joyce Gioia-Herman, a certified management consultant at The Herman
Group in Greensboro, N.C., and co-author of How to Become an Employer of
Choice. "Money and power are not the prime
motivators they once were. Job satisfaction, freedom, the chance to make
a difference—these are the new career drivers. Employees will make
choices about how much they’ll be engaged by a job while they’re there,
even as they reposition themselves for their next move.”
David Looney agrees. He opened his
first Davlins craft store in the Minneapolis area in 1985, and for
almost 10 years has watched the workforce change. “They’re younger now
and have a completely different mentality,” he maintains. “They don’t
stay very long, and if they aren’t treated the way they want, they can
literally walk next door and get a job.” Looney now manages four Davlins
locations around the Twin Cities.
This loss of loyalty is fueled by a
number of complex issues, with unacceptable working conditions topping
the list, says C. Britt Beemer, a nationally recognized marketing
strategist and co-author of It takes a Prophet to Make a Profit. Unclear
expectations, limited opportunities for advancement and little or no
recognition for performance breed dissatisfaction and, ultimately,
“Years ago, I told the CEO at Kmart
that even if they could change their prices tomorrow, they’d still lose,
because people who work at Kmart don’t want to be at work, while people
at Wal-Mart say they like being there.” Beemer explains. “Their
enthusiasm and energy fill the store with a different attitude.
Companies today are struggling to find people because they don’t
understand there’s a difference between getting someone to work every
day, and getting someone to be happy every day at work.”
In addition, research shows that
employees are seeking more out of life than work, work, work. They want
time for their family, personal development, health and fitness,
community activities, religious learning and observance and time alone.
“The key then,” Herman adds, “is to create an environment where
employees can determine for themselves what constitutes a good quality
About now, veteran retailers are
bound to be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, what about our quality of
life? We’re not Neiman Marcus, you know.” Finding the balance between
employee demands and the demands of the business can be a challenge, but
again, it’s less about money and more about respect and creativity.
Wendy Rukmini Walker, owner of three As Kindred Spirits galleries in the
Washington, D.C., area, believes that nurturing the spirit, both on the
job and away, is more precious than gold.
“We genuinely care about everyone
and try to see each employee as an individual,” she says. “At Christmas
time, we do a lot of fun and creative non-cash bonuses for people. I
look at the person and think, ‘What would he or she really like?” I gave
one staffer a gift certificate to an outdoor outfitters, someone else a
prepaid card for gasoline and another a gift certificate to a
bed-and-breakfast. It all contributes to the sense of community, the
family atmosphere that people really like. They feel appreciated, and
Looney implemented a recognition
program called “Star Achievers” in which employees earn stars they wear
on their badges. They are also written up in the company’s biweekly
newsletters that, along with weekly meetings, encourage communication
and camaraderie. In addition, he looks for his employees’ strengths and
gives them opportunities to develop them further.
“I’ve got one manager who’s very
good at displays, so he does the display work for all the stores,” he
says. “I’ve got another one who’s good at buying, so she joins me on
buying trips. I try to put them in situations where they can succeed.
I’m always challenging them, but I also try not to make their goals too
high. If, for example, you put inexperienced managers into a big store
too quickly, you’re setting them up for failure, because they’re not
experienced enough to handle all the situations.”
Regular training of employees—when
first hired and throughout their tenure—contributes to their knowledge,
effectiveness and confidence. In addition to techniques and procedures,
Joseph Rowand, owner of Somerhill Gallery in Chapel Hill, N.C., teaches
his employees that it’s okay to be humble. “During their training, I
tell them to never pretend they know when they don’t,” he explains.
“They can simply say, ‘I’m the new guy. I just started. I wish I did
know that, but I will find out. I’ll get somebody who does know.’ I
appreciate people who own up to the fact that they’re still learning.”
When addressing the increasing
expectations of applicants and employees, Beemer recommends that owners
get to know the policies and procedures of their competitors so they can
do a better job of marketing themselves within their company. Charts
comparing jobs—including quality-of-life, ambience, flexibility and
other less tangible benefits—can give them an improved edge. “Most
companies don’t know their competition, so they cannot justify why
they’re the better place to work,” he adds.
Herman urges employers to openly discuss these concerns. “I would tell that person,
‘I’d like to meet all of your demands, but if I did that it would cost
me this much money,’ she advises. “Help me find a way that you can earn
multiples of that for the store so I can afford to give you what you are
looking for. If together we can find a way to make it all work, I would
love to see you earn that.’”
This not only puts demands into
context, but also puts the onus on employees or applicants to justify
their requests through responsible results. In addition, Herman
recommends that employers offer retention bonuses to worthy employees to
help counteract any resentment new hires can generate. This is all part
of what she calls “open book management,” a method of operating that
keeps employees informed about how the business is doing, engages them
in the process of increasing sales and shares a portion of the new
Once an employee accepts employment,
retailers need to establish their minimum standards, state their
expectations and enforce them. “If they don’t, they will have chaos,”
Beemer adds. “I’m a big believer in the attitude ‘you do it right,’ but
too many companies don’t insist on that. They say they don’t have the
time, but they always seem to have the time to do it over. I’ve seen
many companies so desperate for people that they’d rather have an idiot
at the cash register than have one less register open. They’re better
off with one less register than employing someone who shouldn’t be
working in their store.”
Everyone agrees it’s tough, but when
employees are not working out, the best thing for everyone is to let
them go. Otherwise, sales can suffer, morale can drop and relationships
“The way I’ve approached it is to
sit down and say, ‘I believe you’d be so much happier somewhere else.
It’s simply not working out for you here,’” Walker says. “There’s no
blaming that way, and people feel they can change themselves for the
better. Sometimes we all just need a little push to do what we really
want to do.” (See “How to Fire” sidebar for important legal issues.)
Walker says she has fired very few
employees over the years, and her attitude about the craft retail
business remains positive. She stands by her philosophy that good energy
brings goodness and nurturing breeds enthusiasm.
“If that balance is there, new
employees, whether they’re Generation X, Y or Z, will get caught up in
the mood,” she says. “And it’s very contagious to customers, too. I’m
always looking for how to perfect that formula, but basically I think it
happens when people feel cared for and loved.”
When hiring new staff, the
smallest detail can make a difference, says Joe Rowand, who has
owned and operated Somerhill Gallery in Chapel Hill, N.C., for
28 years. He has perfected the process and shares some tips:
1. The selection process
begins in writing to determine if applicants can follow
directions and communicate well. How do they use the English
language? Do they communicate gracefully or inappropriately?
2. Notice how they present
themselves—their choice of paper, the color of ink, whether it’s
handwritten or word-processed, even the way the stamp is placed
on the envelope.
3. Once applicants look good
on paper, schedule in-person interviews. Have the staff person
scheduling the interviews make notes on index cards about how
the phone was answered, how the applicants handled themselves
and their level of enthusiasm.
4. When they arrive for the
interview, do applicants approach the desk with confidence? Do
they have a pen? What is their posture, directness, level of eye
5. What are their
qualifications and background? Rowand says he usually doesn’t
care if they have an art background, because he can teach them
6. Are they friendly? Do
they have an engaging personality? A nice smile and good
manners? These are qualities that are harder to teach.
7. Involve other staff
members in the process, as they will all be working together.
8. Once you’ve told
applicants about the position, introduce them to other staff
members and leave the room. Then compare notes as to how well
the applicants understood the responsibilities of the position.
Did they catch on to key components of the job or just the
9. Try to imagine how well
the applicants will get along with important clients.
10. Have staff members
honestly convey what it’s like to work in the gallery or store,
including what it’s like to work with the owner.
“You have to grasp whatever
you can because the best you can make is an educated guess,”
Rowand adds. “In the end, you have to trust your instincts. I
have some engaging people who have had long runs with me, and
I’m very proud of our emeritus staff—Somerhill graduates who
have formed a lifelong bond. They are a real blessing in my
“Employers, as a general
rule, have the right to discharge whenever they think someone
should no longer be employed by them,” says Paul Siegel, a
partner at Jackson Lewis, a national employment law firm.
"Trouble is, anyone can
challenge that discharge and assert that somehow it violated the
law, typically through alleged discrimination for age, race,
color, sex, etc.”
To safeguard themselves when
firing an employee, employers need to make sure that they have:
1. A business-related reason
that can be easily understood by a jury, discrimination
commission or some other outsider.
2. A documentation of their
reason in order to prove it was not made up.
3. A decision that was made
consistent with past practice. “Employers can be strict,
lenient, whatever they want; they just need to treat similarly
situated people in the same way,” Siegel explains. “Let’s say
you’re a clerk and I’m a clerk, and you drop something on the
floor that gets dirty, and they say to you ‘Next time you should
be more careful.’ But when I, and older male, do it, they say,
'Enough, you’re fired.’ That’s going to raise questions.”
4. A written policy that
governs the more significant aspects of the business.
“Employers, especially smaller ones, tend to shy away from
having simple employee handbooks,” Siegel adds, “but they need a
written policy that tells everybody the lay of the land.”
5. A clear case that is not
muddied by past issues. For example, if a fired employee
recently complained about discrimination, filed a workers’
compensation claim or served jury duty, the proximity of these
occurrences to the termination will often cause a claim of
retaliation, which, Siegel warns, is among the hardest to
Here are some terminations
1. Terminations should be
implemented in a respectful manner in privacy. If the business
is large enough, a witness, such as another manager, should be
2. Be honest about why the
person is being fired. Waffling to save feelings can come back
to haunt you if the termination is challenged.
3. Let terminated employees
have their say. Ask them if they disagree with anything you
said. Most are angry and won’t respond, but be sure to document
that. Later, if challenged and called to testify, you have proof
they offered no disagreement with the conclusions.
4. Unemployment benefits are
a different concept from termination. Public policy favors
giving unemployment benefits, and generally, states will award
unemployment unless the person was fired for something very
serious. Siegel advises that this is difficult to fight and
rarely worth the effort.
5. Most companies, when
requested, give neutral references—confirmation of dates of
employment, job title, sometimes salary, none of which is
subject to debate—to avoid defamation challenges. However, if a
company believes strongly in saying more, Siegel says that with
the right documentation, it has a good defense.
“All you have to do is
believe that your reason is true and have a good faith belief,"
"It’s a qualified privilege against slander or defamation."
This article appeared in NICHE magazine.