Category Archives: Entrepreneur

Whats really happening – how ACA is affecting my clients.

I have had enough information to do quotes, and make final decisions with clients for about 14 days.  While I have not gotten to everyone yet, I have gotten through about 100 individuals and 40 group clients.

I listen to, and read, the same media you do, and I hear all the positioning, spinning and attacking you do.  But whats happening in the trenches?  So far its a mixed bag.  Here is what you need to know:


1.  (Almost) everything has changed

2.  You cannot keep what you have, at least not for long. I don’t care what anyone says, the facts are that all the benefits have changed (rarely for the good).   Some carriers are allowing their clients (Blue Cross, Blue Choice) to keep contracts until next September, but they will have to change to the new plans at that time.  Alot of Carriers have simply left the market and left their clients high and dry (Carolina Care, Emblem) requiring clients to change on 12/1 or 1/1.

3.  Either your rates are going to go up (most states) or your benefits are going to be reduced (several states like NY)

4.  It may be in the best interests of your employees to drop coverage. Some of my clients are going this way.  If your employees cannot afford the coverage, you cannot pay any more, and they qualify for a subsidy – drop coverage.  Its the only way for them to get the subsidy – you reduce your expenses and overhead, and they get much lower priced benefits.

5.  The only reason to go on the exchanges is to (a) get a subsidy if you are an individual, or (b) get the tax credit if your small business qualifies.  Otherwise, steer clear.  The data security on the exchange is very questionable, they are a mess, and you have more options “off the exchange.”

Items 1,2,3 and 4 are not going to change.  Item 5 may, if they can get their act together.  That remains to be seen.  IF you need to go on the exchange, I will assist you – but we may do it by paper.  It may take longer, but be a lot less risky.  And if you are going to go on the exchange anyway, call me about one of the identity theft programs.

Docking exempt employees’ pay: When it’s OK and when it isn’t

This article, by by October 15, 2013, appeared in HR Benefits Alert.


The pay-docking rules under the FLSA are a constant headache for employers – especially when it comes to exempt employees. That’s because (surprise, surprise) the rules are hard for anyone without a law school degree to interpret. But this should help ease some of the pain.

A general rule under the FLSA:

An employer may not make deductions from an exempt employee’s pay for absences caused by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business. If the exempt employee is ready, willing and able to work, deductions from the exempt employee’s pay may not be made when no work is available.

That rule does, however, leave some wiggle room for employers to make deductions from exempt employees pay.

Permitted deductions

Here’s a rundown of situations in which you can doc exempt employees’ pay, courtesy of TrackSmart:

  • They perform no work during a workweek
  • They’re absent for a day due to personal reasons that aren’t related to a sickness or an accident — but these deductions may only be made in full-day increments, so they had to have missed at least a full day
  • They’ve exhausted their bank of paid leave time and are absent due to a sickness or disability
  • They’re suspended for violating workplace conduct rules via actions such as engaging in dangerous behavior or committing sexual harassment (Note: The DOL says reductions in pay can’t be made for suspensions that were the result of performance issues and poor attendance.)
  • They miss work to participate in jury duty, act as a witness or serve in the military and are paid for those activities, and their employer is docking their pay in an amount equal to what they were paid for those activities
  • They work a partial week during the initial or final weeks of employment, and
  • They work a reduced or intermittent work schedule under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (Note: This is allowed because you can convert an exempt employee to a non-exempt hourly employee during the time he or she is on intermittent or reduced-workweek FMLA leave.)

Improper deductions

On the flip side, here are some deductions that will result in employees losing their exempt status:

  • Pay or paid time off is deducted for absences related to business trips, and
  • Pay is deducted because business is slow and there’s a lack of work to be done — and the employee is ready willing and able to work.

So what happens if your company accidentally makes an improper deduction? Nothing, as long as it’s an isolated incident and gets corrected immediately.

But repeat violations, and those that go uncorrected, can turn entire departments of exempt workers into overtime-eligible employees — ones who may in some cases be entitled to a windfall of back OT payments.

A previous version of this article appeared on our sister website

The Five Rules Every New CEO should follow

Great Blog post by Roger Martin

Last week, an executive who was on the verge of being promoted to head his large global publicly traded company asked for my advice on how to be effective as a brand new CEO.  I gave him a list and he was so appreciative that I was motivated to write a blog about it.   There were five recommendations on my list:

1) Grow the Pie

The most fractious and difficult thing to do in an organization is to take resources away from someone who is used to receiving them.  For this reason, growing the revenue pie is critically important to the success of a CEO’s reign.  If a CEO attempts to reallocate the existing resources in order to improve the organization’s prospects, endless fights and a firestorm of protests will ensue.

If instead, the focus is on increasing revenues, investment capacity will increase and new resources can be funneled to growth priorities without needing to cut absolute resources to non-priority areas. Over time, as the revenues grow, the non-priority areas will become an ever-smaller piece of the puzzle and when the success of the priority areas has been made manifest, the CEO can shut down the non-priority areas without much hassle or fuss.

2) Follow Due Process

CEOs really don’t have to follow due process.  For example, they have the power to sack anyone they want.  However, it is critically important not to do that because everybody watches with a keen eye and wonders whether they will be objects of arbitrary decisions as well.  Suck it up and suffer until such time as a manager who you would rather remove immediately can be given feedback and a fair chance to improve.  That is a lesser evil than to establish in your team’s mind that you make up your own rules.

3) Consult Whenever Possible

Consult wherever and whenever possible with your team before making decisions, even if it drags out the decision-making.  This is because your team needs to feel and function genuinely like a team.  As CEO, there will be times when you have to make a decision without any support from your team because from your CEO perspective you can see that it is the right decision and your team can’t.  You can get away with these decisions without destroying the team dynamics, but only if you save it for very rare occasions.

4) Set High Strategy Standards

The easiest thing for managers to do is to avoid making the explicit choices that are essential for quality strategy. But mediocre strategy results in lots of work for little reward. So it is critical for a new CEO to establish that direct reports have the responsibility for making logically consistent and unique strategy choices in their areas of responsibility. You need to signal that you won’t create their strategy for them but will help if asked — because nothing is more important than having a high bar for strategy.

5) Maintain a Big Tent

The new CEO needs to signal from inception that the organization will be a big tent that welcomes diversity, not a monoculture with only people who resemble the CEO. It is much harder to find the requisite personnel for a monoculture and the reward if you do find them is that they are less effective!

My favorite ‘CEO’ of all time is former Baltimore Orioles baseball manager Earl Weaver, who won four American League Championships and one World Series with rag-tag assortments of personalities that were arguably the most diverse that baseball has ever seen.  He could always sign or trade for players to fit in his tent because of the breadth and inclusiveness of his definition of ‘fit’. My least favorite is Pete Rose who insisted that every player manifested the ‘Charlie Hustle’ persona for which he was famous in his former life as a superstar player.  Rose traded away players who ‘didn’t fit’ and built monoculture teams that hustled their way to persistent mediocrity.

I encouraged the new CEO to act immediately on these five recommendations because in the rough-and-tumble world of the modern CEO, second chances are rarely given.  And if a CEO starts off reallocating the existing pie, declaring force majeure, acting unilaterally, accepting mediocre strategy and closing ranks to only the comfortable colleagues, the die gets cast pretty quickly.  So make those first few moves deliberately — and in accordance with this list.


Warning Signs That Your Startup Is Ruining Your Life

Lewis Howes, Entrepreneur published this on October 3:

Becoming an entrepreneur can be attractive for many reasons. You create something where there was nothing before. You innovate and push the envelope. You’re your own boss. You set the rules and call the shots.

But starting your own business requires a continuous amount of dedication and hard work. And sometimes an entrepreneur’s laser-sharp focus on starting up can turn into tunnel vision. This means you lose sight of the journey and more importantly you become separated from the people that you have the pleasure of interacting with through that journey.


Great entrepreneurs know that the pursuit of success doesn’t need to make them blind to everything else that’s important in life — like family, health and happiness.

Here are warning signs that your quest to become successful in business might actually be ruining your personal life:



Nice Managers Embrace Conflict, Too

Harvard business Review – 10/16/13

Most people want to be liked: It’s one of the fundamental tenets of human behavior. Because of that motivation, many of us have an unconscious desire to avoid conflict. We prefer to “get along,” “not make waves,” and “act as a team player.” We all want to be known as a great person to work with.

The only problem with this mindset is that creative ideas and better ways of getting things done often stem from constructive conflict. Organizations need it to advance. And even in the day-to-day, workplace conflict is still inevitable because organizations are full of bright, ambitious people with different points of view, controversial ideas, and disparate values. There’s no way that we can get along with everyone all the time.

Finding the right balance between the need to deal with conflict and the instinct to avoid it is one of the toughest challenges that most managers face. While most realize that allowing unbridled conflict can create a toxic atmosphere with low morale and high turnover, they often miss the fact that not enough conflict can be just as damaging. When people hesitate to speak up about poor practices or processes that don’t make sense, it creates a significant amount of unnecessary complexity and fosters a passive acceptance of the status quo. That’s why “stop being so nice” is one of the seven strategies for organizational simplification that we highlighted in a previous post.

Of course, overcoming the natural and often unconscious tendency to damp down conflict is tough to do – but if you’re willing to try, these four best practices can help:

Quote The Godfather. In order to foster more constructive conflict and feedback, remind your team and your colleagues about Don Corleone’s admonition that “it’s not personal, it’s business.” Doing this will reinforce the notion that we can disagree about ideas and strategies, but still respect and like each other — something that is often forgotten in the heat of battle. With this principle in mind, encourage team members to ask probing questions and challenge assumptions. Eventually asking, “Have you thought about this?” should feel like a productive conversation, rather than a personal attack.

Create challenge events. Rather than leave it to chance, schedule time with your team to question norms and change the way things are done. Make it clear to them that processes are expected to evolve over time (even the ones you created) and that it’s OK to push back on them. Doing this will create a “safe space” where they can assess whether routine tasks are worth the effort, and modify them if necessary. It also allows people who might hesitate to raise issues by themselves feel more comfortable doing so in a group.

Recognize employees who question the status quo. When employees take the risk of creating a productive disruption, give them positive reinforcement. If someone pushes back or raises an uncomfortable question in a meeting, back them up rather than shut them down. If possible, use it as a teachable moment to encourage others to do the same.

Set ground rules for conflict. Since everyone struggles with conflict to some degree, develop a few standards for how your team can manage it constructively. For example in one company’s review sessions, participants need to begin with at least two positive comments before anyone is allowed to throw in a criticism. Although it feels a little awkward at times, this practice forces everyone to take a more balanced view of other people’s work, which reduces the tension and allows for more productive discussions. In another firm, every meeting ends with five minutes of what’s called a “plus/delta” critique of the meeting – with quick comments about what was good about it and what should be changed the next time. Again, this more structured practice makes it easy and acceptable to openly and constructively criticize.

In the short-term, it’s almost always easier to avoid conflict and come across as being a “nice” manager. But more often than not, being a little less nice might be the best thing for your people, your organization, and you.


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Reeve Conover is a Registered Representative. Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/dealer member FINRA/SPIC. Cambridge and Conover Consulting are not affiliated. Licensed in SC, NC, NY, CT, NJ, and CA. - SIPC - Brokercheck