All posts by Alex Lopez

Setting Career Expectations: How to balance employees desire vs actual opportunity

Career development is a common objective among most of today’s employees. Millennials, in particular, tend to place an emphasis on consistent progression and may be inclined to look elsewhere if a company can’t offer advancement opportunities. Unfortunately, there are often limitations to employee development, and an individual’s desires can’t always be met. It’s important to take the right approach when setting career expectations.


Assessing Employees

There are typically two factors that prevent employees from ascending their way up the company ladder – lack of talent, skills, and knowledge and/or inadequate budget.

It’s important to be completely honest about an employee’s aptitude and overall abilities. Maybe someone would love to be promoted to a position in senior management, but they simply don’t possess the skills for that to become a reality.

When setting career expectations, you need to be open and honest in terms of how much advancement a particular employee can expect based on their talent level. In some cases, you can work alongside an employee to fill the gaps. Other times, substantial career advancement isn’t in the equation.

Either way, you should be upfront about what the likelihood of progression is within your company. This ensures that you’re on the same page right out of the gate and prevents resentment when an employee doesn’t get the push they were anticipating.


Addressing Budgetary Restrictions

The second factor that often stands in the way is a lacking career development budget. While some companies actively invest in employees by paying for educational training or offering financial assistance to undergraduates seeking graduate degrees, it’s not in the cards for every organization.

Be honest about the situation. If it’s unlikely that a person will ever have the opportunity for advancement, you definitely don’t want to fill their head with false hopes. Explain your company’s circumstances and that career development may not be a reality.

However, companies can establish an employee development program even with a small budget. There are innumerable digital materials on the Internet that can be used to train and educate the right employees. You may also want to consider the idea of mentorship where senior staff members provide guidance to promising workers. Resources from ClearCompany and the SBA can provide further insight.

Employers obviously want to see employees grow and progress. Their personal success ultimately spills over and improves your business as a whole. It’s only natural that you’ll want to give your employees the opportunity for career advancement.

At the same time, it’s crucial to set career expectations the right way. Take a realistic approach by balancing employee desire with actual opportunities to keep everyone happy and your business on track.



Make Next Year Your Best: End of the Year Checklist for Businesses

2017 is nearly over, and the holidays are coming to a close. But things are just as hectic as ever for many small business owners. With a mountain of year-end tasks on your plate and tax season looming, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Following an end of the year checklist should help you keep all your ducks in a row and get 2018 started out on the right foot.


Gather Tax Information

Begin by compiling all the necessary documents for handling taxes. This can include:

  • Income statements
  • List of operating expenses
  • List of assets bought or sold
  • Invoices and receipts
  • Deductions

Ideally, you will have this information already organized. If not, it’s smart to invest in some accounting software moving forward.


Double-Check Payroll Information

According to Fundera, “33 percent of small businesses get fined for doing payroll incorrectly, often because they’re trying to do it on their own and don’t know the nuances.” Claiming ignorance won’t work with the IRS, and you could get hit with some ugly penalties.

Always double-check everything payroll-related and make sure that you’re correctly classifying employees and independent contractors. For more on this, please consult RMI’s Payroll Guide.


Get a Snapshot of Your Cash Flow

It’s important to know how you’re positioned in terms of cash flow. There are three key areas to examine to determine this:

  1. Cash flow from operating activities (e.g. revenues and expenses)
  2. Cash flow from investing activities (e.g. assets purchased and assets sold)
  3. Cash flow from financial activities (e.g. loans and loan repayments)

Doing this unassisted can be a little tricky, so you may want to use a tool like the Pulse App. This will generate robust, visual-driven reports to fill you in on the details.


Perform an Inventory Count

If you have physical products, it’s a good idea to count inventory levels at the end of each year. You’ll want to ensure that you’ve got an accurate count for accounting purposes and to minimize revenue loss due to theft. This should also give you an idea of what type of growth your business is experiencing long-term.


Back Up Critical Data

We live in a very uncertain world. You never know when important documents could go missing and cause you unwanted headaches and financial loss. Do the smart thing and back up all critical data in a stable cloud environment.

Make sure to choose a cloud provider with an emphasis on security. Also be sure to carefully organize and classify information for easy retrieval later on.


Examine Your Needs for Next Year

Analyzing your situation at the end of the year should shed light on your needs for the following year. For instance, you may need to hire some additional staff members or downsize, invest in more equipment, adjust your budget and so on.

This end of the year checklist should serve as a basic template to close out the year with minimal setbacks. Hopefully, this will allow you to run your business with a greater degree of efficiency and help you make a smooth transition into the New Year.


Office Environment: What yours says about your company culture

Company culture is impacted by many different elements. Philosophy and values play a large role, but office environment is equally influential. Aesthetics and ergonomic factors like furniture, decor, layout and overall office design can all play a major role in your company’s culture.


What Research Says

Blue Kite Marketing performed a study where they asked companies whether or not they believed office environment affected their company culture. According to their research, “53 percent of companies said their physical space – including design, decor and layout – reflects their brand.” This is a clear indication that there is an overlap. Specifically, business owners should think about key elements in the environment.



Darkly colored, dimly lit offices tends to signal a serious and formal environment that can come across as unfriendly to customers and clients. Employees may work independently where minimal interaction takes place. This emits a closed-off feel.

Conversely, a light colored office indicates a warmer atmosphere where a lot of collaboration goes on. Google’s offices are a great example.


Organization (or the Lack Thereof)

Office organization is another reflection of company culture. Are employees’ desks cluttered with piles of papers? Is it highly organized with a minimalist vibe? Or is it somewhere in between?

Generally speaking, a well-organized office indicates your company has its ducks in a row. You’re efficient, stay on top of projects and usually meet deadlines. An office with a lot of clutter that’s in general disarray tends to mean the opposite.



There are two primary types of layouts – open and closed. Open layouts include few, if any, barriers between desks. Employees work side-by-side within close proximity of each other. Cultures that value collaboration often opt for an open layout. They are catching on in many modern offices and are popular with millennials.

A closed layout was very common in the 80’s and 90’s, consisting of a standard cubicle-based office. It lends itself to less interaction and collaboration, which may indicate less chemistry and cohesion among your staff.



Are your employees using sleek, modern laptops they can easily unplug to seamlessly transition to a different workstation? Or are they using goliath, antiquated desktops that render them immobile?

The former is usually found at more innovative companies that are tech-savvy and value a collaborative environment. The latter is often found at more traditional companies where innovation and collaboration may be lacking.

Your office environment may impact your company culture more than you think. In many ways, it can shape your company’s value and collective mindset. It can also influence the direction your company takes and its overall success. If you’re not satisfied with your current office environment, you may want to revamp it so that it’s more in line with your company’s vision.


The Keys to the Virtual Interview

The concept of a virtual interview has gained a lot of momentum in a short period of time. Not only does it enable recruiters to streamline the interview process, it saves money because candidates don’t have to fly in. This means there’s opportunity for your company if you know how to fully harness the power of the virtual interview.


Choosing a Platform

The technology you use will heavily impact how successful you are. Many companies opt for basic platforms such as Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. These are free and should be sufficient if you’re interviewing on a small scale.

However, you may want to look into more comprehensive platforms that cost money but have more robust features. For instance, some platforms offer:

  • A pre-recorded interview system
  • Branding display for more of a professional feel
  • Real-time skill assessment
  • Interview analytics
  • Applicant organization features

If you plan on doing these types of interviews on an ongoing basis, it may be worth the investment. This resource from Capterra offers reviews on some of the top virtual interview software.


Set Up

Address a few factors before meeting with a candidate digitally. For starters, position your webcam at eye level so that your head and shoulders are included in the frame. Sit in a quiet environment that’s void of distractions. Be sure that the location is organized and that you’re dressed professionally. After all, it’s just as important that you make a positive impression on a candidate.

Gather materials such as a candidate’s resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc. and have them with you before the interview commences. If you need to access online resources, open the necessary tabs ahead of time.



The vast majority of recruiters use a video interview to filter promising candidates and narrow it down to a few of the most impressive. Therefore, your main goal is to determine:

  • Whether or not they have the skills and knowledge needed for a position
  • If they’ve got the work ethic, soft skills and other intangibles you’re looking for
  • If they have a personality that will mesh with your company culture

Knowing your objectives will dictate the types of questions you ask and your overall approach to the process. Generally speaking, you don’t need to get highly detailed with your questions. Focus on the questions that will give you a good feel for a person’s professional qualifications.

You can always follow up with additional questions in the final round of hiring. Remember to veer away from anything that could be deemed discriminatory just like you would with a traditional face-to-face interview.

An OfficeTeam survey suggests that 63 percent of employment interviews are done via video. This is definitely a medium to consider. Achieving success with it boils down to finding the right platform and taking an organized, systematic approach to the process.

Should You Reimburse for Continuing Education?

Offering the right benefits can give your company a competitive advantage in terms of recruiting and retention. However, you need to be sure that the benefits you offer are financially feasible and have a favorable ROI. One trend that’s catching on is reimbursing employees for continuing education. Does it make sense for your business, and will it add to your bottom line?


The Pros

Develop Your Employees

As an employer, it’s only natural to be invested in your staff. Their personal success inevitably contributes to the success and growth of your company. Reimbursing employees for continuing education improves their knowledge and develops their skills, which they can then utilize to become better employees. This can translate into improved performance, increased output and more.


It Can Increase Loyalty and Morale

Offering this benefit shows your team members that you want to see them flourish. You don’t merely view them as cogs in the machine, but you genuinely want them to thrive. This can quickly breed loyalty and raise morale. In turn, employees are likely to put forth a greater effort and go the extra mile for you.


It’s Tax Deductible

You should also know that you can deduct this benefit as a business expense. According to BizFilings, “Educational assistance programs allow employers to provide employees with educational assistance of up to $5,250 annually excluded from an employee’s income. Employers can claim a business deduction for educational employee benefits paid and are not required to pay FICA or FUTA payroll taxes for benefits provided under the program.”


The Cons

Upfront Costs

Tuition costs can be expensive. According to the College Board, “The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.”

Although you may not pay an employee’s entire tuition, this can still be a major expense, especially if you’re offering it to multiple employees. If you’re a new company or operating on a minimal budget, it may simply not be feasible.


Scheduling Conflicts

It’s not always easy to juggle higher education with a full-time or even part-time career. Combine this with raising children and other obligations and it can create issues with scheduling. Not to mention an employee’s performance can diminish if they’re fatigued with a full plate.


Employees May Look for Greener Pastures

There’s also the potential for this benefit to backfire. In some cases, employees will develop their skills, improve their education and ultimately leave for a higher paying job. In this scenario, all of the money you funneled into reimbursing their continuing education will be futile and you’re wasting resources.

It’s good to explore different benefits to offer your employees. Reimbursing employees for continuing education is becoming more and more popular and makes sense in certain situations. Carefully weighing the pros and cons should help you determine if it makes sense for your company so that you can make an informed decision.