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Real Deal

When An Unhappy Support Staffer Releases Confidential Pay Rates, A Retailer Is Dumbfounded. What Would You Do?

An unhappy support staffer takes aim at an owner by releasing confidential information.

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As an office manager, Carrie Hannah was competent. As an employee, she was difficult and inflexible. As a team player, she was … well, she wasn’t.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Carrie had been with Jack Marcus Designs for almost ten years. Carrie started as a part-time salesperson, but was moved to the bookkeeping position in her second year when it became clear that Jack could no longer handle the day-to-day office operation along with the design part of the business. It was also clear early on that Carrie’s detail focus was greater than her sales ability.

Jack appreciated Carrie’s loyalty and her ability to keep the store’s paperwork in order. Over time, he trusted her with more and more of the details of the business as he focused on growth and expansion. She always managed to get the job done, but her general attitude had been an ongoing problem. At the root was a simple premise: Carrie hated — and, Jack thought, feared — change in any form. When a new person was hired, Carrie was the first to be critical and challenging. When Jack chose to install a new POS system, Carrie resisted every step of the way. When they moved into their much larger, very cool new location, all she did was complain about things that didn’t work properly and the additional 10 minutes she had to drive to work every morning. He knew that in most cases, she would eventually come around if he just gave her time to adjust, but he also recognized that as the years went on and Carrie got closer to retirement, age wasn’t making the adjustments any easier — and their “spirited discussions” seemed to be getting louder and more frequent.

Things came to a head several months ago when Jack decided to shift to an incentive-based compensation system that would allow all of the company’s employees to benefit from the continued growth at Jack Marcus. Under the new system, salespeople would be paid a base hourly rate plus a percentage of their individual gross profit production, and support staff (including Carrie) would be paid an hourly rate and would earn incentives based on the total company’s productivity vs. goal each month. Support staff incentive percentages were set so that overall, everyone would earn the same as last year if the store produced the same gross profit dollars. Going forward, increases in income would be tied directly to increases in business. 

Jack knew that Carrie already thought she was worth more than she was being paid (she had been grumbling about it for several months in advance of her annual review), but he underestimated the vehemence of her reaction. She was furious over not getting the substantial base pay increase she had expected and was even more annoyed with the fact that part of her income would now be incentive-based. 

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During their conversation, Carrie complained about being undervalued and underappreciated, and she made it clear that she was expecting a lot more. The conversation ended with Jack holding firm but asking her to consider the numbers (as the company was still on a strong growth trajectory) before deciding that the new system wouldn’t work for her. He committed to meeting with her again the next morning to answer any additional questions she might have.

Carrie spent the rest of the day angry and sullen, working at her desk and avoiding any interaction with Jack or anyone else. At 6 p.m., she took care of her usual closing duties and left without a word. When she and Jack met the next morning, she very calmly told him that the new structure would not work for her and said that unless he was prepared to offer her a base increase of 20 percent, she would have to resign. Jack felt he had no choice but to accept her resignation. He told her he would see that her last paycheck was mailed to her home, escorted her back to her desk, let her pack up all of her personal items and walked her to the door. 

That evening, Jack picked up an email from Dennis Healey, his top (and highest paid) salesperson. Dennis forwarded a message that had been sent to all 16 of the company’s employees by Carrie. It said, “As of today, I am no longer a part of the Jack Marcus team. Since you are all having to deal with the impending changes to your pay, I thought I might offer this one last favor before I go. Here’s how you stack up relative to your peers.” She then provided a list of every employee and his or her current hourly pay rate.

Jack was mortified. He had never made any rule about keeping compensation confidential, but he couldn’t believe that anyone thought it was OK to actually discuss pay rates. He didn’t have a fixed standard for hiring, and over the years, he most often just paid what it took to get the people he wanted. That philosophy had worked pretty well for him, as most everyone typically delivered to his expectations — but he couldn’t deny that there was a wide range represented in that list, and he was certain that a number of his people would be more than a little upset.

The Big Questions

  • How should Jack respond?
  • Should he send an email to all of his employees, or should he wait until morning to face them?
  • What is his best course of action with regard to his team going forward?
  • Does Jack have any legal recourse with regard to Carrie’s actions — and if so, is it worth the expense and effort?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Denise B. Waynesboro, PA

Sorry Jack, but you should have seen it coming. You should have nipped this attitude issue in the bud years ago. A certain amount of flexibility is required from any employee, and that needs to be made clear from the get-go. Coddling this woman for years on end just allowed her to think she had every right to dictate her terms as an employee. I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t comment on the “legal” recourse. Having said that, the “emotional” ramifications are huge. Why should two people doing the same job (at the same level of quality) be paid differently? Eventually, they will find out and somebody is going to be resentful. Give them all the chance to earn well and be up front about their worth as an employee. If the company does well, reward the people who made that happen. If the company tanks, so does their job. People understand that.

Valerie W. Kingston, NY

I would call a staff meeting with all the employees. One, to inform them that you are looking for her replacement, and two, that she left angry and you understand she compared salaries and compensation to each of you. You may also explain that salaries are based on time, individual skills and performance.

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Also, I would set an individual meeting with each employee to hear their personal response and if they have questions as to how they can increase their pay scale. I always value the team working as a team and removing any sore feelings they may have towards each other and you as their leaders.

Bruce A. Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada

Last question first: Do not initiate legal action. Middle question: Talk directly to his team! This is not an email situation and it deserves his complete and personal response.

Jack should have dealt with Carrie years ago. One team member acting like a petulant child could have been far more destructive to other team players. Jack got off lightly for his resistance to not deal with the issue years ago!

Marcus M. Midland, TX

Oh boy! Carrie was a cancer that Jack knew about years before this happened and he allowed it to grow. And he gave a lot of access to a person that he knew from day one wasn’t a team player? No bueno. If I was Jack, I would wait until the morning and take on any issues and questions then, but I would be prepared for a war. I don’t know exactly what I would do because you don’t really expect things like this to happen. As for legal action, I would definitely look into it. If you have some ground to stand on, then I would pursue it. Carrie sounds like a conniving human being and she did you a horrible injustice. I would make her pay (literally) if there’s some merit behind it.

Ralph H. Richmond, IN

The “boss” needs to be the boss. It appears that Carrie’s attitude has been a problem for a long time. It and she should have been dealt with years ago. Call a store meeting, soon, but not tomorrow. Call your lawyer to cover all bases (follow his suggestions, maybe have him at the meeting). Get an employee manual prepared; everybody signs, including the boss. Deal with discussions of “equality” of pay and that pay level is not discussed. Bring employees into the pay discussion, but decide and live by the choices. Carrie violated informal policies, but likely no liability (an old farmer’s joke about “kicking the cow pie” applies). This is an example of “success” from larger operations bringing larger complications along with larger revenue. If you want the “big store,” be professional about the complications; if not, go back to small! Treat everybody fairly. Do not confuse friendship and employment; they are disparate concepts. As an aside, this applies to customers as well. Don’t be unfriendly, but don’t forget the difference.

Stacey H. Lincolnwood, IL

Jack should have offered her the opportunity to stay at the same pay scale OR choose to opt into the new “package” within the next 2-3 months based on her observations about how it would affect her pay. That said, she quit and violated his trust, and she undermined his position with 15 people he employs, so now he has to fear that the rest of the staff may mutiny. He needs to call a meeting to explain that he will be discussing the situation with a lawyer and let the staff know that if they are unhappy about their pay, he will speak to each person individually about their concerns. He should be prepared to lose the five lowest-paid employees and replace them; they’re sure to leave in the aftermath. The employees who stay should be asked to keep peace by keeping quiet when new hires start. The next bookkeeper should be told that the books are not hers to discuss with anyone else, and that confidentiality is vital.

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Dennis P. Johnstown, PA

What a can of worms. I would approach the bookkeeper with the same attitude as I would someone accusing me of “switching” a diamond. Have an attorney review the issue and determine if any financial damages resulting from the malicious breach of information could be attributed to the bookkeeper. If there is cause, I would litigate for any untimely compensation increases that had to be given for the continuity of the store. Definitely put safeguards of written confidentially agreements in place.

Marc F. Houston, TX

The damage is done for Jack. He should first change all employee emails to prevent further damage. Second, call each team member to understand their mindset, then have a company meeting as soon as possible. In the meeting, he and his accountant should show and demonstrate how this plan was designed with their best interest and the income projections for the company as a whole. The team will either be on board or not and there could be a shake-up; that’s what happens when you just go and flow with key employees like Carrie. Now the learning part: what have you done to maintain control of company communications? What fail-safes do you have to block unwanted transmissions from internal/external actors? Do you have an employee contract addressing confidential company information? Sounds like a good New Year’s resolution!

Cammie M. Ocala, FL

Wow, I’m always amazed as a business owner how you can be so good to your employees and how quickly they can turn on you. I’m glad she was let go; bookkeepers tend to be so controlling because we trust them with everything.

I definitely would meet with the entire staff face to face ASAP, and you’re probably going to have to make adjustments to hourly pay because of her. I’m not an attorney, but I would try legal action for sure, even if it cost you! I would be curious how it was handled and to know Jack’s plan of action to replace her.

Ira K. Tallahassee, FL

Jack’s biggest mistake was not letting Carrie loose a long time ago. Too bad we can’t go back in time. That said, he probably can’t do anything legally, but he could check with his attorney. As to the staff, have a group meeting tomorrow explaining that by working as a team, everyone will make more money. Follow that up with a one-on-one with every member of the crew. Let them vent as they will and explain your old hiring policy. The new way WILL WORK to everyone’s benefit.

Glyn J. Victoria, TX

Jack should send an email to each of his employees and hold a general round table discussion with all present. He should explain why this incident took place and get feedback. Jack should tell his employees that if they were dissatisfied with the way the operation was being handled, they are free to turn in their resignations. They should all remember it is his operation and he makes the rules. He can’t make everyone happy, but he should allow feedback without any repercussion.

Jonathan L.Draper, UT

I would send an email to all the employees and let them know my vision for the future and the fact that they should all make more than they were before based on growth. I would have a follow-up meeting as a group and then individually as needed. You may lose a few employees, but those that see your vision will stay. Anytime you change things, people will not see it your way. That is OK because you need to have unity on the team, and real team players catch the vision of the future. You will find people who fit and will thrive. Change is hard, but if you have a good plan, you can win in the end.

Mark R. Ottawa, Canada

Carry on like nothing happened. Call all employees for a meeting with coffee and donuts. Thank all for being associated with you. Ask each employee in the presence of others if they are happy with their present employment and pay rate.

Listen carefully, and if needed, adjust pay/conditions to the rate of performance. Thank all again and carry on like nothing happened. Make sure the TEAM is happy.


Kate Peterson Tells the Rest of the Story

As many of our Brain Squad members were quick to point out, this whole situation could have been avoided if Jack had dealt with Carrie’s behavior issues early on.  Like most business owners, though, Jack came to rely on the “good side” of a problem employee, and waiting out her bouts of resistance seemed to be much easier than finding, training and trusting someone new.

Jack’s first move was to talk with his attorney.  He learned that it’s a violation of free speech to restrict employees from talking about their own compensation.  Carrie’s distribution of confidential company information might have been actionable, but since she was not under any sort of contract, attempting legal action would likely have been a costly and ultimately unproductive adventure.

Jack’s approach with his employees was an effective one.  In an attempt to avoid escalating emotions, he sent a brief note to everyone that night apologizing for Carrie’s disruptive actions and asking them to reserve judgment till they could all meet the next morning.  Once he had everyone together, he explained, as Valerie Whitworth suggested, that individual pay rates are based on a variety of factors, but that he has always, in good conscience, tried to be fair to everyone.  He also explained that the new system was specifically designed to allow each one of them to share in the success of the business, giving them all essentially unlimited earning potential.  Further, he offered to meet privately with anyone who wanted to discuss the matter or their individual circumstances in greater detail.

What he learned in the meeting surprised him.  He found that despite a few rough spots, the people who were upset were upset with Carrie for her betrayal – not with him.  As a group, they made it clear that they felt that he – and they – had put up with her childish behavior for too long and that they were glad to see her go.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net.

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Real Deal

When Nature Strikes, Should This Owner Take Care of Her Employees or Her Business?

A longstanding tradition of holiday bonuses and raises is threatened.

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ROBIN SAGER OF GULFSHORE Jewelers had worked with her mother and father for more than 10 years before their 2015 retirement, and she helped to build the business from a small repair shop into a regional powerhouse. Her dad had always talked about “taking care of those who take care of you.” He was proud of his longstanding friendships with a number of sales reps and of his loyal and long-tenured staff. Once she bought the business and took over day-to-day operations, however, Robin quickly saw that what she had always considered her father’s admirable loyalty was really just his way of avoiding difficult situations with vendors, customers and employees — all of which would need to be handled if Gulfshore Jewelers was to be restored to sustainable health. With a firm commitment to the future, Robin laid out her priorities and chose to deal with the issues decisively yet slowly to minimize disruption.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Within the first year of her tenure, Robin took on the problem of shrinking margins and obsolete inventory. In some cases, that required severing vendor relationships that her father had maintained for years and building new ones with suppliers of more current lines at more advantageous prices. She also re-evaluated the store’s pricing strategy, re-tagging existing inventory using consistent markups and eliminating large-scale discounting. As expected, several of Gulfshore’s older customers were unhappy when they could no longer claim their usual 30 percent “friend of Joe’s” discount. When the “regular” sales reps stopped visiting and new product started arriving, a number of employees were openly critical of Robin and of what they saw as a betrayal of the friendships that were so important to her father. Much of the grumbling subsided over time as the new product caught the attention of regular customers who recognized the fair pricing.

In 2017, Robin chose to address the issue of the store’s often inconsistent business practices. She worked with an industry consultant to develop an Employee Manual that clearly defined performance expectations and with her (somewhat reluctant) team to implement a mission statement and service standards based on a forward-thinking “extraordinary customer experience” philosophy. By the end of 2017, despite some lingering staff grumbling about missing Robin’s dad and the way things used to be, Gulfshore’s volume had stabilized a bit, and the bottom line was looking healthier.

Robin knew that the last big issue she had to deal with was the store’s payroll. It was clearly high as a percentage of gross profit and was out of line for the store’s volume. She looked at a list of eight employees who had all been with the company for 10 years or more. Each was paid a salary that had been automatically increased by 3 percent per year regardless of store performance to accommodate cost of living increases. They also got a Christmas bonus each year that ranged between $1,000 and $2,000 per person (based loosely on hours worked) because her father had always believed that honesty and loyalty should be rewarded.

There were no sales goals or productivity standards in place and no commissions attached. It was easy to see that some people worked harder than others. Some were really good at their jobs (jewelers and salespeople with solid relationships in the community) and some simply did a good job of being nice to the people who came into the store. Overall, they all got along well, though — and since it seemed that things were picking up a bit, Robin decided to leave the structure as it was for one more year while she worked on designing a new plan that would be fair to everyone, including the business. Everyone got their 2017 Christmas bonus and a 3 percent raise going into 2018.

Much to Robin’s delight, business continued to improve through the first half of the year. Traffic in the store and in the town overall was up, and everyone’s comfort level with the new product, policies and procedures seemed to be increasing steadily. It all hit a major stall in the fall though, when back-to-back hurricanes blasted through the region, creating major issues for local residents and wreaking havoc on the tourism industry in the area.

By the end of the year, sales had dropped nearly 30 percent, and the bottom line Robin had worked so hard to recover was decimated. Looking at the numbers in December, Robin realized that there was no way she could afford to pay out the usual Christmas bonuses. On one hand, she hoped the staff would understand, since they could easily see the circumstances, but on the other hand, she knew that they were all impacted by the storms as well and that they were likely relying on the money for their own families’ Christmas celebrations. She also knew that without a doubt, there would be no salary increases for the coming year, and that the base plus incentive compensation plan she’d worked to develop would be an absolute necessity.

Though she knew she could stand to reduce staff overall, Robin hated the idea of making life any more difficult for her people and was terrified with the prospect of damaging her reputation.

The Big Questions

  • Are there options that Robin is missing with regard to the holiday bonus?
  • Should she find a way to take care of her people and pay it as usual, even if it means borrowing more money from the bank?
  • Is there a way to change a longstanding (and generally unreasonable) compensation plan without losing long-tenured and community-connected employees?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Jillian Hornik
Jae’s Jewelers, Miami, FL

Are there options? Yes, she can openly address the current financial strain placed on the business due to the inclement weather. Meet with each employee to discuss the impact of receiving a bonus versus receiving a pay increase. From there, the employees should understand the reasons behind a pay change. In my opinion, she has to choose bonus or pay increase; can’t take away both.

Should she find a way? Not as usual, but yes, she should pay. Whether it is a bonus without a pay increase or no bonus with a smaller pay increase, it wouldn’t be too much out of pocket. If all the improvements increased business as stated, the store’s bank account will be healthy again in only a month or two.

Is there a way to change? Possibly. If those same employees were to look for a similar job now, they would see what compensation structures are currently available. If those other available jobs are all commission-based and more demanding, your employees will fuss, but most likely stay.

Carolyn Warnke
Gunderson’s Jewelers, Omaha, NE

Assuming Robin has already cut her own wage, she cannot currently afford the entire bonus payout this year. Recommend to her employees that they receive what she can pay, whether it be 30 percent, 50 percent, or 80 percent, and when the rest of the funds are available, she donate them toward hurricane rehabilitation efforts. This will help build rapport with the community and economic recovery as well, meaning there will be less delay in sales coming back into the store and making Gulfshore Jewelers a household name for consumers.

As far as the 3 percent increase to yearly pay, if Beth had not yet announced the reformatting of her bonus and wage system, now would be the perfect time. While everyone is struggling financially and emotionally due to natural disasters, having this as news would show there’s hope for the future and better times ahead for the town and the company.

Overall, these recommendations should at least pacify her workers, prevent layoffs and greater debt, and in the end, benefit the community to some degree.

Tim Soulis
Golden Classics Jewelers, Harrisonville, MO

A bonus should be contingent upon performance of the employee and the business — not guaranteed. Explain the challenge of a 30 percent drop in business, ask for buy-in to weather the storm.
US Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers shows inflation was 0.7 percent in 2015, 2.1 percent in 2016, 2.1 percent in 2017 and 1.9 percent in 2018. The historic 3 percent raises paid have outpaced inflation. Eliminate this expectation.

Manage employees according to performance or lack thereof. Employees who are not in alignment with the “team” and “business” may need to find new homes. Keep good faith, be honest. Lead with optimism and fairness. Evaluate performance, conduct difficult conversations, set goals and motivate the team. Convert to base plus incentive pay in lieu of automatic raises and bonuses going forward. Bonuses can be used privately to reward exceptional individual results.

Focus on employees who are generating the most revenue. Keep their buy-in, ask for more. Reward results. The community cannot run the business. Eliminate entitlement mentality. Complacency cannot persist. Take courageous steps now to be stronger when the whole economy sees recession.

Marc Foster
Plaza Jewelers, Houston, TX

When the “expert” was making the policy book, a section on “Emergency Preparedness” should have been included. We have had to respond to several natural disasters. Robin should call each employee and let them know the situation. Set a sales goal, and if they meet that goal, they will be rewarded with a bonus. This way, they will feel like they are getting something for hard work. She should not bring up the automatic pay increase; just address it privately if asked.

Valerie Naifeh
Naifeh Fine Jewelry, Oklahoma City, OK

This is Robin’s opportunity to do three things: inspire her staff, change the automatic bonus structure, and be a local hero. Don’t borrow any money. Share the news of the 30 percent drop in sales with the staff. Explain it‘s not possible to give the bonus; however, a bonus can be paid monthly or quarterly if the following happens: the sales staff calls clients every day about upcoming anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, wish list items and add-on sales, and these result in measurable sales at the expected profit margin. The jewelers need to complete repairs and custom jobs on time so delivery is not delayed. Robin can negotiate new terms for merchandise she can’t pay for. Most vendors will give extended terms with no interest or take product back with a minimal restocking fee. In the end, the staff who prove to be “rainmakers” stay and those who don’t are gone. Now the new bonus system is in place! You produce, you get a bonus! And the company survives.

Jennifer Farnes
Revolution Jewelry Works, Colorado Springs, CO

This may be the year for Robin to pick one versus the other … and to communicate transparently with her team. People understand numbers when It is laid out in black and white. Share a sales report of year-over-year numbers showing a profit and loss history, and give each team member the option of either a cost-of-living increase or a one-time bonus. If she truly can’t afford to do either, then it is time to make the decision to let go of under-performers or abstain from the wage increase/bonus altogether and let team members leave on their own. If they see and truly appreciate how much the business was impacted, she won’t lose anyone and they will band together to recover together. If the recovery is huge, she needs to be fully prepared to pay it forward to them all in the following year.

Robert Cohan
Craig Brady Jewelers, Montclair, NJ

Difficult situation; however, her team has been there for years and should know the facts as to the unavoidable downturn in business. It’s not a change of policy implementation without basis.

Her team needs to be introspective. They’re not being “punished.” Unless she makes some changes, the store’s future could be devastating, and that would affect them all, long term.

Her loss is their loss, inevitably.

The “winners” will stick around and fight to put it back in good shape, day by day. Their livelihood depends on their commitment to success.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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Real Deal

When a New Competitor Enters the Store and Attempts to Poach Employees, the Owner Reacts

But should he retaliate?

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MIKE CALLAHAN WAS PLEASED with the way things were going. Since taking over Commonwealth Jewelers from his dad more than 20 years ago, his business had grown significantly, and he’d built a profitable in-house shop, employing five highly regarded jewelers who handled Commonwealth’s repair, custom and production work as well as a good number of trade accounts. Mike couldn’t help but think about how much of his time was invested these days in hiring, training and managing his current six-person team.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

There was no doubt that his next hire would need to be a sales manager.

While out on the sales floor one day, Mike was a bit surprised to see a trio of well-dressed executive types walk into the store. When he greeted them, one of the men introduced himself as the regional VP for a major jewelry chain, the woman with him as the district manager for the area and the other man as the newly appointed manager for the freestanding store they were scheduled to open across town in two weeks. The RVP told Mike they were having lunch at the restaurant next door and decided to stop in to say hello to Julie McManus, one of Commonwealth’s top salespeople. Julie had been hired eight months ago by Commonwealth after taking a year off of work to care for her newborn daughter. Prior to her leave, she had worked for the chain for five years.

Mike welcomed the trio to his store and after explaining that Julie was at lunch, offered to show them around. He was polite and informative, telling them about his family’s history in town and about the capabilities of the Commonwealth shop. He let them know that he worked hard to maintain good relationships with his competitors, and he offered his trade shop services should they ever have need.

A short time later, after Julie had returned and joined the conversation, Mike went back into his office to take a phone call. He wasn’t concerned about Julie being vulnerable to their poorly disguised poaching effort, as she had made it very clear when she was hired that she had no interest in returning to the company and had commented on many occasions that she was beyond grateful for the opportunity at Commonwealth. She was making more money while working fewer hours with no nights or Sundays.

Mike expected the trio to be gone by the time he finished his call. Instead, he came back out onto the floor to see Julie with a customer, the RVP and store manager near the front door deep in conversation, and the DM handing her business cards to two of the store’s jewelers who had stepped out of the shop to go to lunch. He promptly interrupted the DM and asked her to leave — but not before letting all three of the chain managers know that he was disappointed and disgusted with their abuse of his hospitality and their blatantly unethical behavior. As soon they were gone, Mike talked with his jewelers and confirmed his suspicion that the DM had waited for them to come out of the shop and then approached them about coming to work at the new store. They assured her that they were not interested and that they were firmly committed to Commonwealth.

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The next morning, Mike drafted a scathing email to the CEO of the chain describing the incident in detail and asking what action the CEO would take to ensure that his company representatives would behave in a more respectful and professional manner. A week later, he had not yet received a reply.

The Big Questions

  • Was it appropriate for Mike to throw the competitors out of his store?
  • Was there a better way to handle the situation?
  • How can an employer ensure that associates are not vulnerable to poaching without bankrupting the business?
  • Should Mike make an effort to fill his new sales manager position by recruiting from the chain’s new store?
  • What (if anything) should the chain’s senior management do about the behavior of their field managers?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Jennifer F.
Colorado Springs, CO

Honestly, if an employee is unhappy and wants to leave, there is no way to keep them. But if they love everything about the business they work for, then “poaching” is a non-issue. Was it inappropriate? Absolutely. Did he have the right to throw them out? You bet! The best thing they can do as a team is have a meeting and get it out there … have the salesperson who once worked for them talk about why she is so happy now! Joke about it collectively and come to an agreement about how to handle it as a team next time.

Gabi M.
Tewksbury, MA

I’m assuming that the chain’s senior management advised the field managers to do exactly what they did. If not, Mike probably would have received a reply by now. He definitely should’ve thrown them out; they were rude and on his property! I think he should leave it alone and just focus his energy on growing his business and loyalty with his staff.

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Kevin P.
Newak, OH

I would do exactly the same thing. There is never a guarantee your employees will continue to work for you. Employees are on a path, side by side with you as long as that path leads in the same direction and is beneficial to both parties. When that is no longer true, you part company. If an employee is unhappy, they will look elsewhere and find another position. For a competitor to come into your store and solicit them is plain wrong and completely unethical. I had a goldsmith leave a month before Christmas. The competitor would only hire him if he left immediately. They let him go in February. Of course, he wanted a referral from me. All I would say is that I would not rehire him under any circumstances. Treat your employees as you would want to be treated, and employees, treat your employer as you would like to be treated. That is the best you can do.

Joel W.
Tulsa, OK

We had the same thing happen in our store several times over the years. After 15 years of this happening, they have taken two from me and both times it was a blessing. Richard Branson says train an employee so they can leave and treat them so they never will. I believe we have the best place to work in the country, and not everybody is cut out for that kind of environment, or sometimes they don’t deserve it. I am very protective of my staff, but I don’t own them, and when my competition is always after my employees, it lets me know that I am doing something right. You will always have a target on you when you are working to be the best!

Tom N.
Spencer, IA

I would most likely have done the same thing. What they did is unacceptable to do in his store, in my opinion. That being said, it does not surprise me that a) they acted in this way, as I’m sure their “corporate training” was a huge part of it, and b) the CEO never responded. That to me says quite a bit about that chain and that CEO.

It sounds as though he has loyal and pleased employees, though, so he should feel very good about that. I’m sure his employees would be very disappointed if they did leave for a corporate chain job.

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

I think asking people to leave the store was in line, as well as writing the letter to the corporate office. I would also advise my employees that a company that uses such tactics will continue to poach and will likely replace anyone they feel is not up to their expectations. A job with them is not secure and solid. I realize this method of finding employees is common, but it is not ethical, at least not the way I was brought up in the business world.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

It was not only appropriate but necessary for Mike to throw them out. And he was way more cordial about it than I would have been. I would have told them to leave the moment they walked in. He should have known what they were up to. I don’t know how you actually stop other companies from poaching employees because I feel like that happens a lot. Just build a culture within your store where your employees are happy and satisfied and hopefully won’t leave. Also, if I was Mike, I would not seek out hiring a manager from the chain store. You’re only asking to start a war when it’s not necessary. There are a lot of good businesses to draw a sales manager from that won’t result in a counterattack. As far as the chain’s senior management, I don’t think they would do anything, but if they had any respect and class, then they would condemn the actions of their management and apologize to Mike.

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William C.
Paterson, NJ

A photo of the individuals from the chain store while inside the jeweler’s store should be posted in the jeweler’s store with the caption: “Even our competition shops here while trying to steal our employees.”

Andrea H.
Chicago, IL

I think Mike’s behavior was professional and appropriate. When it became clear that the chain-gang was abusing his hospitality, he was right to ask them to leave.

The only way to reduce employee vulnerability to poaching is to create an exceptional work culture and environment. Pay fairly, offer ample opportunities to learn new things, be direct, professional, and kind to your employees, and praise liberally and often.

Also — run a good business. Employees know when they are working for someone who is running a good business and when they are working for someone who’s just phoning it in — and they like working for winners.

Jim A.
Salt Lake City, UT

You cannot prevent poaching. Businesses are free to recruit and employees are free to shop their services elsewhere. But you are certainly under no obligation to make the job of the poachers easier. I agree that the behavior of the chain execs was unprofessional and unethical. Throw the bums out! Sounds like Mike did it as well as it could be done.

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Real Deal

When an Employee’s Social Media Reveal an Enthusiasm for Marijuana, How Should This Retailer React?

Here’s how Brain Squad members responded.

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JANELLE AND TIM O’NEILL LOVED their hometown and took great pride in knowing that O’Neill’s Diamonds was one of few independent jewelers still operating in the area. In his role as marketing manager, the challenge of keeping up with strategies to attract the town’s millennial bridal customers while continuing to appeal to their long-established older customer base fell to Tim. After much conversation with industry colleagues and experts, he and Janelle decided to hire someone to handle the development and growth of O’Neill’s social media presence. Growth in the business had already created the need for additional help on the sales floor, so they chose to look for someone who could handle both jobs.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

They were fortunate enough to attract several qualified applicants for the position, including Grace Matthews, the 21 year-old recent college graduate daughter of a family friend. She was articulate, bright and eager to learn, and most importantly, she was totally familiar with building a presence with Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Grace’s references checked out and she was brought on board.

Grace started strong. She was pleasant and personable on the sales floor, and she seemed to be learning quickly about the store’s products and services. She was also creative and enthusiastic working with the store’s social media. Her posts were generating interest within the first few weeks.

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About six weeks into Grace’s employment, Janelle held a store training meeting on the importance of demonstrating O’Neill’s core values — honesty, integrity, responsibility, professionalism and dedication to service — both inside and outside of the store.

She knew they had been fortunate in that they’d never had an issue with an employee creating image problems in town, but she also believed that regular discussion of the topic was part of the reason for that.

The day after the meeting, Linda Weiss, one of the store’s more senior employees, asked to speak to Janelle in private. She said that her son knew Grace casually through friends, and that he’d come to her several weeks ago with concerns about Grace working in the store. He was concerned that her public presence reflected badly on the store, since everyone in town knew she worked there. Linda showed Janelle an Instagram post her son had brought to her attention — Grace’s personal page. From every indication, in her personal social media world, Grace was a stoner, posting regularly about all things marijuana-related, including notes about paraphernalia, varieties, qualities and suggestions for where and how to buy the product. Janelle thanked

Linda for bringing the matter to her attention.

Later that day, Janelle discussed the matter with Tim, and they agreed that neither had noticed any indication that Grace was ever high while at the store. They also looked through her personal pages carefully and were sure that she did not mention being an O’Neill’s employee anywhere. They agreed that despite the fact that times were changing, in their state, marijuana possession and use was still a criminal offense (misdemeanor or felony, depending on quantity), and that they really needed to take some kind of action.

The Big Questions

  • Since Grace’s discussions about marijuana were limited to her personal social media accounts (to which, technically, Janelle and Tim should not have had access), can the O’Neills take action based on the content of those pages?
  • In the bigger picture, does an employer have the right to monitor and/or regulate what an employee posts online if the content has nothing to do with the store and does not violate client or business confidentiality in any way?
  • In a small town where everyone knows everyone else, does the employee have an obligation to restrict public behavior on personal time to conform with the conduct policy of the business?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Sue F.
New York

From a legal standpoint, this is a tricky situation. State laws vary on employee rights outside of work time, so one answer may not be valid in every state.
Situations like this underscore the need for Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). A good EPLI insurer provides access to free consultative services with attorneys who can provide practical information about topics such as this. Your insurer also should provide access to a Workplace Risk Solutions Website where you can research your state’s legal requirements, find model workplace policies and forms, tap into a library of workplace-related articles, and access web-based training on topics such as preventing discrimination and harassment, as well as other employment issues.

Deric M.
Oceanside, CA

Janelle and Tim are not in a difficult situation here. What constitutes a PR problem is how it is received and Grace isn’t attaching herself to the store with her pro-marijuana posts. Janelle and Tim never appeared to have even asked themselves if the marijuana consumption is recreational or medicinal — an important distinction — and more information is needed.
Since cannabis appears to be illegal in their state for recreational use, however, Janelle and Tim should have a chat with Grace to tone it down because of how it could become a PR problem. If Grace is otherwise a positive influence on the store’s traffic and bottom line, this is an easy matter to resolve.

Joe K.
Lantzville, BC

First let me say that I am in Canada, and we have just legalized recreational use of marijuana for the entire country. I am also in British Columbia, where it has been said that pot is our largest cash crop. There is a right place and time to use pot and a wrong place and time; the same goes with alcohol consumption. I think monitoring your employee’s recreational behavior and online presence away from the workplace is a breach of her privacy. If she doesn’t come to work high or use pot at work, I don’t think there should be a problem, especially if she’s a competent asset and representative for the business. Having said that, we might be a little more lenient here, and attitudes toward marijuana will be quite different in the US Midwest.

Brenda R.
Honolulu

I would not want to be in that situation. There are risks involved with any kind of drugs, legal or otherwise. Does the company have a formal drug policy? One needs to know the local, state and federal laws and work policy to comply with. Was there a stated probation period to see if the employee “fits” with the requirements of dress, being on time, and client interaction? If there are red flags, the person may have to be let go.
What they do at home is their business and should never impact the requirements and expectations of the job they were hired for. Proceed with caution.

Stuart S.
Egg Harbor City, NJ

The employee needs to be taught how to transition from the fantasy fun land of college to the real world. As long as she is responsible and doing a great job, her personal life is not the store’s concern, but when her actions can potentially alienate any customers, it is. Any controversial posts need to be avoided and eliminated. The posts were obviously on her pages before being hired, so the potential repercussions were never considered. Teaching her about why they are no longer appropriate is more important than just having them eliminated. This is all about grooming her to be a valuable asset to the store, and just as importantly, teaching her to grow as a person!

Gabi M.
Tewksbury, MA

My family and I work in a small town, and I know we all watch what we put on our personal social media accounts (mostly political discussions) because we know that we represent our business 24/7. I think they simply just need to talk to Grace and tell her that her posts aren’t acceptable for someone who works for their business. It should be an easy solution, such as just making her accounts private to the public — and if she has a problem with it, then that’s a whole other underlying problem with having her as an employee.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

This is a tricky one. Really, an employer should not be able to judge an employee about what they personally post, as long as it doesn’t mention the store, her profession or have violent content. But at the end of the day, she does reflect the store no matter what, and they do live in a small town, so people know where she works. They’ll judge your store as they judge a person’s social media. Maybe have a chat with her and just ask that she consider how her post will look on her career and see if that helps. She’s obviously not very conscious of how her post about pot looks, or maybe she really just doesn’t care, so either way, it’s a bit of a red flag for me. I don’t know … maybe she’s just still young and immature and needs a little guidance, and I think that’s acceptable to give out.

Jane H.
Highland Park, IL

It does reflect upon the credibility and integrity of the business. Unfortunately, it appears that anyone can do anything and it’s their right, blah blah blah. Since Grace was already hired and during the interview there was no discussion of “life outside the store,” it may become a situation they will need to accept until something happens. There are plenty of employers that check out a potential employee’s social media posts (when possible) for any red flags, and in my opinion, this would influence the decision to hire or not. The jewelry business is based on trust and honesty, especially an independent brick and mortar store. One incident would be tough to overcome for the store’s reputation.

Also, unless you know the personality of someone when they’re “high” or not, the only way you might find out is from someone’s observation. If Grace is “selling,” you are giving her a ready-made customer base. Sorry if I sound extreme and tough, but it’s hard work and devotion to stay in the jewelry business. Grace should go.

Jim D.
Kingston, NH

Obviously an employee who engages in criminal activity would quickly become a former employee. While I know there are those who condone drug use, excuse it and work to decriminalize it, it is still illegal. A jeweler’s reputation is a precious thing and needs to be protected. How many repair clients would want to hand over their treasures to a known criminal? If followers of her social media start hanging around, it could lower the tone of the store, possibly bringing in undesirable elements. Worst case would be a front-page newspaper picture of an employee being taken away in handcuffs and your store-front in the background, after she sells some pot to an undercover police officer.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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