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Restaurant Consultants Can Help Bring Business Into Focus

  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...


Beyond PowerPoint

  Before computers began generating images pulsating with color and graphics, before overhead projections added multi-screen backdrops to presentations, there were simply speakers.  Orators actually...


Small Town Life Appealing to Tourists and Natives Alike

  Haywood 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...


The Main Street Approach to Revitalizing Communities

Two years ago, when Jennifer and David Kauffman were searching for a community with a vibrant downtown, they chose Cumberland, Maryland. Their timing was perfect...



Beyond a Paycheck:


Creating a Workplace that Works for Employees


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 not surprised...


How To Get a Handle On That One Aspect Of Your Business You Probably Can’t Do Without

Employers’ No. 1 Headache? Employees

These 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...



Restaurant Consultants Can

Help Bring Business Into Focus

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 times.”

Getting a second opinion

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 customer dissatisfaction?

“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, Missouri.

“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 industry.”

Choosing the right consultant

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 your needs.

"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 fresh.”

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 accountable for.”

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.

Seat-of-the-pants vs. seasoned advice

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.

Beyond PowerPoint

 Before 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 audiences.

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,” explains Bloch. 

“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 department.

“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 present.

“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 thousand.

“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 motivated.

"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, 'I 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.'”

 Speak to the changing face of diversity

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 cultural differences.

“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 diversity information.

 Make a commitment

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 issues. 

“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. (, 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,, 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.”

No matter 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.


Small Town Life Appealing

to Tourists and Natives Alike

Haywood 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 recreational potential.

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 recreational opportunities.

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 and grandchildren.”

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 for sale.

“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.

The Main Street Approach

to Revitalizing Communities

Two years 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 lease."

Teaming Up for Change


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 promotion.

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 institutions.

Bringing Buildings Back to Life


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 itself isolated.

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 Insurance Services.

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 trained workforce.

"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 training.

An Appalachian Regional Commission grant helped with the school's relocation in April 2001, as well as with equipment purchases.

"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 downtown."

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 come back.

"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.

Drawing People Downtown


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.

Beyond a Paycheck:


Creating a Workplace that Works for Employees


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 not surprised.

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.”

Finding fulfillment


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?

A cultural change throughout the industry


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.

Meaningful mission statement


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 running smoothly.

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 improving.”

Respect: a powerful retention tool

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 Considerations


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 quo?

· 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 education.

· Enlist the advice of financial and legal professionals if you are considering employee ownership.

Performance Perks


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 necessary.

· 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 activities.

· 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 bottom line.

· 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.

How To Get a Handle

on That One Aspect of Your Business

You Probably Can’t Do Without

Employers’ No. 1 Headache? Employees

These 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.

A New Model


“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.

Loyalty: Lost and Found


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, resignations.

“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 of life.”

Respect and Recognition


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 they are.”

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.”

Plan for Success

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.”

Dealing with Demands


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 profits.

Expect Excellence


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.”

Termination Tactics


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 can stagnate.

“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.”


How to Hire

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 contact?

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 that.

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 glitzier aspects?

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 life.

How to Fire


“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 defend.

Here are some terminations tips:

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 present.

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," he adds. "It’s a qualified privilege against slander or defamation."

This article appeared in NICHE magazine.

Copyright © 2006, Lynda McDaniel. All rights reserved.