All Articles by Network Magazine

The 21st Century Litigator: You’re Only as Good as Your Technology

I often joke to younger attorneys that when I was a brand-new associate way back in 1989, it was a big deal to receive a fax – at that time, a piece of shiny paper cut from a roll in uneven sheets, and only used for emergencies. We still did most of our research in […]

I often joke to younger attorneys that when I was a brand-new associate way back in 1989, it was a big deal to receive a fax – at that time, a piece of shiny paper cut from a roll in uneven sheets, and only used for emergencies. We still did most of our research in a paper library using West Digests and actual books, and because Westlaw and Lexis were so expensive, we only used them if we had no other options.

By the time I left the practice of law to raise my kids five years later, I had managed to wangle a PC that the Word Processing Department (we actually had a Word Processing Department!) had deemed too slow and out-of-date; eight years later, when I returned to the practice of law, email was sort of a thing, and desktop legal research was common.

Nowadays, most of us use email for much of our correspondence; e-filing is now either optional or mandatory in many courts; large firms have implemented document management systems that put your entire case file at your digital fingertips; paralegals spend much of their time online compiling medical records and investigating cases; and most administrative tasks (scheduling, matter diary or “tickler” systems, and time entry, for example) are done via computer – or on a smartphone. The bottom line? Nowadays, there is no room in the law for Luddites – in fact, those who refuse to embrace technology may risk ethical sanctions and malpractice claims.

Technology is everywhere, and we rely upon our digital systems for everything from e-filing to medical records retrieval to trial presentations. Consider these innovations that may make the litigation lawyer’s job easier:

 

In the Office

  • Document management systems theoretically make it possible to go paperless by integrating digital communications and filings, internally-created documents, and “snail mail” documents into a database that can be accessed electronically from anywhere there is wifi access.
  • Document database products for e-discovery/document analysis and production make it possible to search huge volumes of documents using Boolean or keyword searches, thus identifying and coding documents quickly for production or internal use.
  • Document manipulation/editing solutions such as Nuance make document productions fast and easy by converting pleadings, photographs, medical records, or other documents into a PDF document that can be redacted, Bates-stamped, and marked with comments.

 

At Deposition

  • Real-time streaming services allow you to read testimony as it is being spoken and recorded by the court reporter.
  • Online deposition and exhibit databases provide paperless transcripts and exhibits any time, day or night, through the court reporting service portal – great for when the paper copy gets lost, or you’re working remotely and do not have access to a document management system.
  • Native evidence transfer lets you record a witness’s manipulation or annotation of a document.

 

In the Courtroom

  • Depending upon the courtroom, and your comfort level, all you need to try a case these days is an iPad and a video screen. There are a variety of trial presentation software programs that permit you to download documents and call them up via barcode scanner, keyword search, or Bates number.
  • For those who don’t want to be tied to their computer, there is a whole industry of trial technology vendors who will do the same thing (and organize your documents in binders, if you like), but at considerable expense, of course.

 

Smartphone Technology

  • Time entry apps let you enter your time wherever you are, eliminating the need to keep a written log you might lose or forget your time altogether.
  • Expense report apps allow you to submit invoices and receipts at the touch of a button for quick and easy reimbursement.
  • On-the-go legal research (Lexis and Westlaw) are both available for iPhone and Android.
  • Dropbox – if it’s saved to your computer, you can access it from your smartphone.
  • Apps such as CamScanner turn your iPhone or Android into a scanner – helpful when there’s only one copy of a document and no photocopier available.
  • There’s even a Black’s Law Dictionary app!

 

On the Horizon

It’s been suggested that in the future, jury trials may be done virtually with some or all jurors, attorneys, and witnesses participating digitally. For non-litigators, it may soon become possible to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) assistance in contract and corporate document review. AI products, such as Premonition and ROSS, analyze legal authority as applied to a particular set of facts to predict outcomes. Also, in development are software programs that skim and interpret large quantities of documents in order to pinpoint which are relevant and critical to a particular case.

However, you use technology in your practice, of course, make sure you have a good IT department – if the wifi is down, the server on the fritz, or the bandwidth at a snail’s pace, you need good people to back you up.  Learn how to make technology work for you!

 

Wendy R.S. O’Connor is a shareholder in the Allentown office of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin where she represents clients in a wide variety of casualty and healthcare-related matters. She may be reached at wroconnor@mdwcg.com.

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Morality Clauses & Divorce: What You Need to Know

When couples divorce, often the most difficult part is how the children are affected by the process and the behavior of the divorcing parents.  No one wants someone else raising their children.  However, that can be a very harsh reality to face for divorced people with minor children. Previously in the most recent edition of […]

When couples divorce, often the most difficult part is how the children are affected by the process and the behavior of the divorcing parents.  No one wants someone else raising their children.  However, that can be a very harsh reality to face for divorced people with minor children.

Previously in the most recent edition of Network, we looked at employment contracts for executives and high visibility employees or representatives, and how a company can manage the risk of illegal or otherwise improper behavior of those key persons.  With some foresight and smart contractual drafting, the company can protect itself from bad behavior through morality clauses.

Surprisingly, this very same issue – guarding against the poor judgment of others – appears in many, many divorce cases, particularly when there are minor children and custody issues involved. These issues can have a profound impact on many people, regardless of social status, wealth, religion or any other demographic category.

Even the most amicable divorce matter can be psychologically and emotionally challenging at times.  More often than not, those challenges can become extreme when mixed with the financial pressures that divorcing couples also face.  Add to that the difficulty of navigating custody issues, and the parties’ differing perceptions of what is in the child’s best interest, and you have a powder keg waiting for ignition.  Eventually, more often than not, this issue explodes into conflict.

When negotiating a custody agreement, invariably the parties have to confront a very real issue that all divorced people with minor children hate thinking about.  At what point can your ex-spouse introduce the children to a new person the ex-spouse is dating?  At what point can that new person stay overnight in the same house as the children?

While those two issues are related, they are totally separate issues to think about for your Marital Settlement Agreement.  The introduction and the first overnight stay (one would hope) are separate events.  What recourse do you have if the ex-spouse is doing something you think is risky or ill-advised?  What if your ex-spouse takes up with the very next person that comes along without knowing much about them?  It happens far more often than one would think.

The answer is that you do have an opportunity to try and mitigate this risk when negotiating the terms of the Marital Settlement Agreement that will control the conduct of both parties going forward.  This is the only point in the divorce process where you will have an opportunity to address this.  Once the Marital Settlement Agreement is signed, this door closes.

The mechanism you use is called a morality clause (sometimes more elegantly called a paramour clause).  This is a flexible term, and you can use this mechanism to address when the first co-habitation with the children in the house would occur.

What a morality clause does in this context is to prohibit overnight romantic guests of your ex-spouse while your ex-spouse has physical custody of the children. You don’t have to care what the ex-spouse does in their free time, but you should care what the ex-spouse does when the children are present.

For example, the following is typical of language you would use in an agreement regarding overnight stays: “no party shall have overnight guests of the opposite sex to whom they are not married or related by blood or marriage while the minor children are in the home during periods of physical custody and/or parenting time.”  As a drafting point, it should be noted that the preceding provision assumes a heterosexual couple, but the language can easily be modified when same-sex parents are involved.

Often, the terms and conditions of the Marital Settlement Agreement can be incorporated into a court order in the divorce litigation.  That significantly changes the means of enforcement. Once the terms of a Marital Settlement Agreement are incorporated into a court order, any breach of that Agreement potentially exposes the party to contempt proceedings.  It is an extreme position, but it is one that litigants in a divorce matter are willing to invoke at the drop of a hat.

 

Bryan Tuk is an attorney, author, and musician. His recent book: risk, create, change: a survival guide for startups and creators, is available on Amazon. You can find out more about Bryans writings at http://riskcreatechange.com

 

Tuk Law Offices represents clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, focused on startups, entrepreneurs, arts & entertainment law matters, copyrights, trademarks and nonprofit organizations. You can learn about Bryans law practice at http://tuklaw.com.

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Mandatory Flu Shots In The Workplace: What Can An Employer Legally Require

Case study:  George Costanza’s employer implements a new policy which requires all employees to obtain an influenza vaccine prior to the upcoming flu season.  The policy permits employees to be excluded from the required vaccination if they can establish a medical or religious basis for the request.  Costanza informs his employer that he cannot get […]

Case study:  George Costanza’s employer implements a new policy which requires all employees to obtain an influenza vaccine prior to the upcoming flu season.  The policy permits employees to be excluded from the required vaccination if they can establish a medical or religious basis for the request.  Costanza informs his employer that he cannot get the vaccination due to his religious beliefs.  Specifically, Costanza’s religion of Festivus not only includes a metal pole, the airing of grievances, and feats of strength but also prohibits the use of vaccinations.  Costanza’s employer does not believe that this is a real religion and terminates his employment.  Costanza’s attorney subsequently files a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination in violation of state and federal laws.  Did the employer do anything wrong in this instance?

Analysis:  As an initial matter, under Title VII, the federal law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs.  Title VII does not contain a list of acceptable religions and includes more than just the traditional recognized and organized religions.  As such, in order to be protected under Title VII, an employee must merely show that he or she holds a sincere religious belief, which was the basis for the adverse employment action.

The Third Circuit has recently addressed what constitutes a sincerely-held religious belief in accordance with Title VII.  In Fallon v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center, the plaintiff, Fallon, claimed that his employer terminated him after he refused to get the required flu vaccine.  Fallon did not belong to any organized religious organization but held a strong personal and medical belief opposing the flu vaccine because he believed it might harm his body.  After Fallon informed his employer of his belief, the employer requested a letter from a clergy member to support his request.  Fallon could not provide such a letter to support his request.  As such, his employment was terminated.

Fallon sued his employer and claimed it had discriminated against him on the basis of his religion.  Fallon’s complaint was initially dismissed by the federal District Court in Pennsylvania because Fallon’s beliefs were not based upon any sincerely-held religious belief and, as such, not protected by Title VII.

The dismissal of Fallon’s claim was upheld by the Third Circuit Appellate Court, which conducted a specific analysis into whether Fallon’s beliefs with regard to the flu vaccine were in any way based upon religion.  The Court found that Fallon’s beliefs were not religious in nature due to the fact that they did not “address fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters.”  Conversely, Fallon was concerned about the health effects of the flu vaccine.   Fallon merely did not believe that it was harmless to most people and desired to avoid taking the vaccine.  As such, the Court determined that Fallon’s request was not religious in nature, and therefore, not protected by law.

Turning back to Costanza, his employer should be concerned about the claim.  Contrary to the plaintiff in Fallon, Costanza has clearly articulated a religious belief to his employer, not one of a personal nature.  Under both state and federal law, once an employee articulates a sincerely held religious belief, an employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation unless the employer can establish an undue hardship.  In this instance, it would be difficult to establish an undue burden considering the employer had carved exceptions into the policy itself.

Employers should also be mindful of how much they question an employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs.  In this regard, the Court in Fallon specifically stated that asking for a “letter from the clergy” may be a violation of the law.  If an employee articulates a sincerely-held religious belief and can state the reasons for such a belief and the reasons for the accommodation request, the employer’s follow-up inquiry should be limited to determine if the accommodation can be provided.  Employers should not, generally, force employees to document their religious beliefs in order to obtain an accommodation.  As with Costanza, not all religions are organized or established and need not be so in order to be afforded protections under the law.

Employers who have union employees and are subject to collective bargaining agreements have additional concerns.  The National Labor Relations Board, which interprets and enforces the National Labor Relations Act, has stated that flu policies are subjects of mandatory bargaining.  As such, unless a “Management Rights” provision in the collective bargaining agreement permits an employer to unilaterally implement such a policy, the employer is required to sit at a table with the union and agree, generally, to the terms to be included in the policy.

Employers must be mindful of their legal requirements generally if an employee requests a religious accommodation and specifically if it is done in response to a mandatory influenza vaccine policy.  While the Fallon employer was lucky in that the employee’s belief was not “religious” in nature, that is not always the case and is rare for a court to find in such a manner.  Employers should not generally question an employee’s beliefs, but instead, determine if they can accommodate the request.  Additionally, employers should ensure that all policies, including an influenza vaccination policy, are handled in a consistent and uniform manner.  Doing so will hopefully avoid being subject to a lawsuit or being on the receiving side of the airing of grievances at Festivus.

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A Stain on American Jurisprudence – Korematsu v. United States

Years later, almost everyone would agree that the Executive Order was wrong: racially motivated, falsely justified as essential to national security, and supported by a mix of lies and misrepresentations. The legislation that followed permitted racial discrimination by the government. The deprivation of the Constitutional rights of American citizens because of their race, ethnicity, and […]

Years later, almost everyone would agree that the Executive Order was wrong: racially motivated, falsely justified as essential to national security, and supported by a mix of lies and misrepresentations. The legislation that followed permitted racial discrimination by the government. The deprivation of the Constitutional rights of American citizens because of their race, ethnicity, and religion was sanctioned by all three branches of the federal government. A majority of the United States Supreme Court approved the systematic racial discrimination against a minority group whose ethnicity made them enemies in the eyes of some. A vocal segment of the media, supporting the Executive Order, agitated the population with stories and opinion pieces designed to divide the nation and demonize the minority groups.

Facts were hidden from the public.  Outright lies were presented in court to rationalize the programs. The President justified his actions as a matter of military urgency. He ignored his own intelligence community and suppressed their findings that no threat to national security excused his actions.

Contemporaneous opponents of the Executive Order and legislation were few. Many years later they would be vindicated by political leaders on all sides. However, when they pointed out that the policies fell “into the ugly abyss of racism,” they were ignored. They were the dissenting minority when they pointed out that “racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life.”

What followed was the implementation of a policy to demean, degrade, demonize, and disenfranchise a vulnerable minority population, including tens of thousands of American citizens. The policy was not based on evidence of misconduct, but solely upon an individual’s ethnicity.  Years later, almost everyone would agree that it was wrong. It took many years, but the agreement was nearly unanimous and overwhelmingly bipartisan.

Forty years later, a Congressional report would call the Supreme Court decision upholding the Executive Order a “Stain on American Jurisprudence.” The bipartisan legislation would attribute the policies to “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Forty-six years later a new law would be signed by a Republican President authorizing the payment of reparations to those who suffered under the policies. A formal apology followed from the next Republican President two years later.

Sixty-seven years after the fact, the Solicitor General of the United States would publicly correct the lies used to support the policies. He would acknowledge that his predecessor in office withheld a report by the relevant intelligence agencies that found no military threat existed and no national security interests were served by the Executive Order. Finally, some seventy-four years after the Supreme Court affirmed the discrimination, the sitting Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court admitted that the earlier decision was “gravely wrong” and its holding “has no place in law under the Constitution.”

An American citizen convicted under the laws enacting the Executive Order finally had his conviction overturned forty years after the Supreme Court had upheld it. The difference was that forty years later, the misconduct of the government had come to light and the arguments about military necessity and national security were proven to be lies. Long hidden documents demonstrating the racist motivations behind Executive Order Number 9066 were revealed.  It took many political leaders decades to acknowledge the enormity of the wrongness of the racist policies and to speak out against them.

Fred Korematsu, an American citizen, was convicted in 1942 of violating the Executive Order and the laws enacting it which called for the exclusion and internment of Japanese-Americans. His conviction was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in a 1944 decision that many see as historically shameful as the Dred Scott decision and Plessy v. Ferguson.

Years later, almost everyone would agree that the Executive Order, the legislation, and the Supreme Court decision represent a stain on American jurisprudence. When President Gerald Ford officially terminated the Executive Order in 1976, he said, “We know now what we should have known then; it was wrong.”

A Congressional report led to legislation in 1988 signed into law by Ronald Reagan granting reparations. Two years later, George H.W. Bush issued a formal apology and the first of the reparation payments. In 2011, the United States Solicitor General acknowledged that his predecessor in 1944 had withheld a report by the Office of Naval Intelligence that concluded Japanese-Americans did not pose a military threat and there was no evidence they were disloyal to the United States.

What everyone now knows to be wrong was, at the time, attributable to “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The United States suffers still from these shortcomings. We should not have to re-learn shameful lessons from our past.  We should not wait decades to confront and correct obvious acts of injustice.

Fred Korematsu made the point clear late in his life. “No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese-Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy.”

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Teach Me to Fish – The importance of mentoring in the growth of your business

You came up with a great idea. You built your business. You hired the right team. Now what? You build them up. Every. Single. Day. Hire for Attitude: Hire people who work hard, are passionate about the field, and are genuinely interested, personable and kind. Find the characteristics you cannot teach and then focus on […]

You came up with a great idea. You built your business. You hired the right team. Now what? You build them up. Every. Single. Day.

Hire for Attitude:
Hire people who work hard, are passionate about the field, and are genuinely interested, personable and kind. Find the characteristics you cannot teach and then focus on teaching the skills needed to do the job.  Of course, do not ignore the technical skills required, but do not overlook someone awesome because they haven’t learned one particular computer program yet. Helping someone grow into their potential is an extremely rewarding experience that motivates an entire team!

 

Offer Training:
Onboarding, a new team member, is vitally important to the success they find in your organization. Taking the time to train each person in his or her respective roles properly can take a lot of time, but you get back what you put in. Invest up front by making yourself available for questions and feedback. Schedule meetings for the one week, one month, three month and six-month marks. Be open to suggestions and make improvements where needed.  Consider online courses and training options to help your team improve their skills. This will also let them know you value them and support their professional endeavors.

 

Manage Up:
Encourage team members to support one another. Set reasonable expectations that allow everyone to understand their job as well as the responsibilities they have to the team at large. Set up regular team meetings that create accountability. Start meetings with positive feedback and give each person the chance to share a victory they had recently. Build from there, review challenges as a group, and problem solve together. Then trust them to get the job done!

 

Give Feedback:
Running a business can often be challenging and requires everyone to be on the same path. It also requires a certain amount of risk-taking and experimentation. Sometimes new ideas work and sometimes they don’t. Do not be afraid to honestly address concerns, issues, and mistakes as they happen. Focus on what is working first and then move into what needs to change and why. Explain the bigger picture and help create the vision for all team members to follow and help support. Empower them to help advance the mission of the company and grow as people in the process.

 

Walk the Talk:
Be willing to set the example. Your team will look to you to set the tone of the company. The way you conduct yourself both inside and outside of the office will be the primary example of how your team should behave. If you make a mistake, admit it openly and explain how you rectified it. Allow them to see your weaknesses and how you are also growing and learning from them. Be an example of a humble lifelong learner who strives to be better every day.

 

Get Involved:
Motivate everyone on your staff to get involved in the community. It’s amazing what can happen when you give back. Volunteering allows people to use their strengths to “do good” outside of the workplace. This builds confidence and boosts morale across the team.  It also fosters networking opportunities, hones professional skills, and allows a deeper understanding of the world around us.

 

Have Fun:
Take the time to get out of the office and do something fun together! Plan a group activity that encourages teamwork, laughter, and relaxation. Enjoy the environment around you and take a break from the intensity of a normal workday. Give your team a say in the plans and allow them to take the lead and plan the day. This builds important career skills and provides a positive feeling for everyone!

 

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THE ROI OF HR: HR Has Shifted from Overhead to Investment

Over the past ten years, there has been a monumental shift in workforce management away from the traditional idea of staffing a “personnel department” to push papers in tucked-away cubicles, far removed from the hub of the workplace. Today’s modern human resources operations play a big role in optimizing the workforce, and they must have […]

Over the past ten years, there has been a monumental shift in workforce management away from the traditional idea of staffing a “personnel department” to push papers in tucked-away cubicles, far removed from the hub of the workplace. Today’s modern human resources operations play a big role in optimizing the workforce, and they must have a legitimate voice in the executive suite and boardroom.

Increasingly, HR is rightly viewed as an investment, not an expense or overhead. Modern employers realize that cultivating their people is as important as maintaining their technology, brand, quality systems, and other business functions. Without a strong, productive workforce, there is no guarantee anywhere in the company.

Organizations of all sizes have been enhancing their HR programs and processes for good reasons. If you listen to politicians, it would seem that the movement centers on the need to meet ever-changing (and sometimes onerous) regulations and rules. This is a valid concern for any workplace. However, while avoiding the pain and expense of non-compliance is important, it is not the most compelling reason for improving HR operations. The biggest reason most organizations have been modernizing and expanding their HR services is really quite simple: It improves their bottom line.

Four vital ways HR improves your workforce ROI

There are several major ways in which HR operations can contribute significantly to increasing the value of your workforce investments.

  1. HR helps limit the amount of time, energy and money invested in recruiting. Organizations cannot afford to waste resources on poor hiring and applicant attraction practices. Focused and faster processes are a must, and they must be executed without sacrificing the quality of candidates. Even one bad hire can take a tremendous toll on your workplace climate and overall employee satisfaction.
  2. HR helps enhance workforce productivity. Good HR practices can find inefficiencies within a workforce and remedy them in a way that both employers and employees can appreciate and value. HR can also teach, encourage and reward productive behaviors.
  3. HR helps reduce turnover. When employees feel that their company nurtures them, supports them and respects them, they are far more likely to stay. What’s more, they are going to work harder, be more loyal and be more likely to tell others about how much they enjoy where they work. This all helps to boost an organization’s employer brand authentically.
  4. HR helps you keep up with the competition. Whether you realize it or not, you compete every day to attract and retain talent. If great people don’t enjoy working for you, they’ll find a paycheck elsewhere. What’s more, if you aren’t employing the top talent in your field, you will also find it harder to compete for clients, because they will gravitate towards other organizations that have a more robust workforce. Clients today demand a high-quality customer experience that comes naturally from businesses that employ great people and retain them long-term. This is thanks in no small part to quality HR practices and support.

Tracking ROI of HR programs

It can be difficult for organizations to measure how some of their HR functions contribute to revenue or decrease expenses in hard numbers. This may help to explain why the benefits of modern HR operations are not top of mind for some business owners. However, valuable investment-related metrics can still be collected to assess the effectiveness of many HR programs, provided employers know what to look at, and how. Training investments are a perfect example of this.

According to Fortune magazine, most training programs can be assessed for ROI when companies zero in on one or two goals they want to achieve in advance, and then measure those areas before and after the programming takes place.  This information can then be compared to the cost of training. Other ways to track the benefits of training programs include using ongoing surveys/questionnaires, pre-training exercises that make clear what the quantifiable expectations are for after the instructional sessions are completed. This data can be compared to the long-term, resulting revenue or cost savings. In some cases, cost savings may come from reduced time spent on compliance paperwork or money spent on regulatory fines or legal fees.

Businesses that take the extra step of measuring the returns of training investments can also use this information to then improve their overall development programming, as the connection to the organization’s improved bottom-line becomes clearer.

Besides training, the same tracking principles can be applied to many other HR functions once goals, desired outcomes, and methods are pinpointed. Because HR is an investment, it is imperative to establish objectives and metrics at the outset of a new initiative so objective measurement can occur.

=-=-=-=-=-

The environment and tools your employees need today to be successful, fulfilled and invested in your organization are also what they need to help make you successful. Creating a productive, positive workplace with the help of modern HR functions results in a win-win situation and a tangible return on investment.

BY: Tina Hamilton is president and CEO of myHR Partner, Inc., a Lehigh Valley company that offers human resources outsourcing for mid-market companies in 24 states. She can be reached at tina@myhrpartnerinc.com.

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Invisible Boundaries

My wife and I were blessed with two exciting additions to our family a few years ago. Cooper and Zeke came into our lives on a warm summer day after much anticipation. They were brand new Goldendoodle puppies, and we were not fully prepared! We quickly realized that an Invisible Fence would be a wise […]

My wife and I were blessed with two exciting additions to our family a few years ago. Cooper and Zeke came into our lives on a warm summer day after much anticipation. They were brand new Goldendoodle puppies, and we were not fully prepared!

We quickly realized that an Invisible Fence would be a wise investment. It would allow our puppies to enjoy outdoor freedom while keeping them safely on our property.

Here’s how it works:

  • Cooper and Zeke wear special collars that give them an audible warning signal if they get too close to the property line.
  • If they ignore the warning and continue to approach the boundary, they receive a mild electrical shock that is uncomfortable but not harmful.

Our puppies quickly learned to avoid discomfort by moving away from the boundary when they hear the warning.

Programming
One day I let Cooper and Zeke outside to play. All was well until I realized that I had forgotten to put their collars on them! They were free to roam wherever they pleased!

Fearing for their safety, I ran outside, frantically calling their names. To my pleasant surprise, Cooper and Zeke were contently sitting on the front lawn, surveying the neighborhood.

Even though they were free to explore the world, they were unaware of that freedom. They never challenged the physical boundary because the Invisible Boundary is now programmed into their minds!

Does this sound familiar?
Your Programming
Just like Cooper and Zeke, you and I were programmed at an early age. This programming comes from parents, teachers, and other authority figures, and it drives our belief in who we are and what we can achieve.

Some of our programming is good; some of it is bad. Either way, it defines our Invisible Boundaries.

Your Invisible Boundaries
What are the things that you desire but have been unable to achieve because something stops you?

When have you heard the warning signal and retreated back to safety instead of moving forward into freedom?

What would your life, relationships, and business be like if you could discover and crash through your Invisible Boundaries?

This is exactly what a Professional Performance Coach can help you do.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coaching and Mentoring are different disciplines. Sports “coaches” are actually sports mentors.

Mentors teach. They tell you what to do, and that is valuable when lack of information is the challenge.

However, when striving to increase achievement and success, lack of information is rarely the challenge. There is most likely a lack of awareness – an Invisible Boundary.

Coaches don’t teach or tell you what to do. They know that YOU are the only expert of YOUR life, and they ask surgical, powerful questions that cause you to think deeply into your situation, increasing your awareness of your Invisible Boundaries and how to navigate past them to a more fulfilling path forward.

The Coaching Process

The Coaching process is a series of confidential conversations that raise awareness of the following:

  • Your Goals – What Do You (REALLY) Desire?
    • What is your Model of Perfection?
    • What does this look and feel like?
    • THINK BIG even though you don’t know all the steps to achievement.
  • Current State – What is Currently Happening?
    • What is your self-belief level?
    • What have you tried?
    • What results are you getting?
    • What assumptions are you making?
    • What are you avoiding?
    • What do you fear?
    • What is confusing or unclear?
  • Options – What Can You Do?
    • This is the start of your Action Plan
    • What steps can you take now to move toward your goal?
  • Action Plan – What Will You Do?
    • What next steps do you commit to take?
    • What obstacles do you expect?
    • What will you do to navigate past these obstacles?
    • How committed are you to this plan?
  • Accountability – What Did You Accomplish?
    • What went well?
    • What did not go well?
    • What did you avoid?
    • What stopped you?
    • What surprised you?

If you desire to permanently blast through your Invisible Boundaries and achieve your big goals, Coaching is an excellent next step for you.

About the Author

Michael Barrovecchio, President of CAPO Leadership Consulting and an Executive Director with The John Maxwell Team, believes that everyone has greatness on the inside. He Coaches individuals and teams to success by equipping them to engage that greatness and replace limitation with empowerment. He can be reached at 732-713-1900 or Michael@CAPOLeadershipConsulting.com.

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How Leadership Changes Culture – Part II

A few issues ago I began unpacking how “leadership changes culture” by giving a backdrop on the creation of The Culture Compass® in 2006 designed to help CEO’s measure and manage culture.  I addressed three barriers I learned that were holding back real change; un-customizable employee engagement surveys, a lack of actionable implementation, and the […]

A few issues ago I began unpacking how “leadership changes culture” by giving a backdrop on the creation of The Culture Compass® in 2006 designed to help CEO’s measure and manage culture.  I addressed three barriers I learned that were holding back real change; un-customizable employee engagement surveys, a lack of actionable implementation, and the missing culture cog.  In this issue, we will jump right into the six leadership factors that change a culture.  For the purposes of this article, leadership is defined as the CEO and his or her executive team.

  • Leadership Cares
  • Leadership Alignment
  • Leadership Listens
  • Leadership Commitment
  • Leadership Implementation
  • Leadership Flexibility

 

Leadership Cares

There are different reasons why leaders care.  I had one client who cared because he was experiencing an employee revolt.  He was truly concerned that if he did not get his arms wrapped around his dysfunctional corporate culture that he would have a mass exodus on his hands.  Some leaders care because they understand that improved culture leads to improved profitability.  Other leaders care because they want to enrich the lives of their employees.  Bottom line, the leadership needs to care.  A friend and colleague of mine who was the President of a mid-market global firm told me flat out; he just didn’t care.  The employees to him were a means to an end.  Another human resource colleague of mine cares deeply about changing their culture, but she isn’t the CEO, and without the CEO caring, it will never get the attention it needs.

 

Leadership Alignment

When beginning a culture change endeavor, the likelihood that the CEO and all of the executive team really cares, views culture impact with the same gravity, and has the same cultural values is rare.  For successful culture change to occur, leadership needs to be aligned.  This is not an easy task, but my pill for the cure is training.  With each culture change engagement I deliver, I interview and train the leadership team together.  We review how it impacts their business, and we talk about what kind of culture they have and want.  We even design the employee engagement survey together for aligned executive level buy-in.  People own what they help to create, so in this manner, the leadership team owns their culture and shifts into alignment.

 

Leadership Listens

One of the most important messages you can send to people that follow you is that you listen.  That means you ask for opinions and give others an opportunity to influence.  When you incorporate a strong feedback mechanism in your employee engagement survey, you create a pathway for communication that fuels employees’ personal value.  The key though is to listen.  The biggest mistake to corporate culture change is to ask and not act.  Essentially communicating that you are not listening.  I encourage my clients to respond to culture change feedback even if the ideas cannot be adopted—this reinforces that you have listened.

 

Leadership Commitment

As a leader of your organization, if you are not ready to commit to the adventure of change, then don’t get off the porch.  I mean that—do not start unless you are committed to finish!  I have seen firsthand companies that have turned culture change into an organizational minefield.  The CEO will tell me it didn’t work, and unfortunately, I have to remind them that they weren’t committed to change and that the entire initiative turned into a hollow promise.  Yes, it will backfire if there is a lack of commitment.

 

Leadership Implementation

As a 20-year consultant veteran, I differentiate myself by emphasizing implementation.  When an organization begins culture change, the transformation will only occur through implementation.  I do not stop with a report and recommendations. I help my clients build actionable implementation plans.  I work with the leadership team to identify and select employees who can play a role in helping the execution of those plans.  This spreads the implementation buy-in throughout the company and ensures greater success of implementation.  Leadership’s role is to coach and facilitate implementation.

 

Leadership Flexibility

When a company embarks on transforming their corporate culture, they are embarking on a journey into the unknown.  Culture is fluid, ever-changing, impacted by the daily weather, disruptive, moody and explosive.  During culture change implementation, leaders need to be flexible, understanding that the environment will shift actions and initiative throughout the process.  Leaders need to use their corporate values as the compass, to ensure they are going in the right direction, yet be flexible to allow deviations.

 

Yes, culture change rises and falls on leadership, but a strong culture can make the difference between winning and losing, so I encourage leaders to embrace the challenge and lead their organizations toward a healthy corporate culture.

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7 Essential Autumn Home Maintenance Checks

As the leaves change and the days get shorter, take the time this autumn to prepare for winter. By making this fall home maintenance into a tradition, you’ll have peace of mind in the winter and more time to hibernate. Indoor Tasks Heating system checkup Be sure to change the air filter in your furnace […]

As the leaves change and the days get shorter, take the time this autumn to prepare for winter. By making this fall home maintenance into a tradition, you’ll have peace of mind in the winter and more time to hibernate.

Indoor Tasks

Heating system checkup
Be sure to change the air filter in your furnace and check its efficiency before the cold weather begins. Call in an HVAC contractor to test the heating output and give the system a tune-up. This technician can also check for and correct possibly hazardous carbon monoxide levels generated by your heating system. Stock up on several air filters for the winter and change them every month. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, purchase one for the system to help lower your energy costs.

After your furnace has been tuned up to its maximum efficiency, take a moment to inspect your heating ducts and vents. Dust them off and clear away anything that may have gotten into them over the summer. Then check your windows for any leaks that may compromise your heating efficiency. If you feel cold air coming in, purchase a plastic sealing kit from the hardware store and place the plastic around the window to keep the heat from escaping. Be sure to check your doors as well and fix their weather-stripping if needed.

Check the fireplace and chimney
Most chimney sweeps recommend an annual sweeping, but depending on how often you use the fireplace, you might be able to wait on a full sweep. But if you will be using the fireplace often, call a chimney sweep for an inspection.

Hopefully, you will have your older, seasoned firewood now ready for use after sitting for the spring and summer. It’s recommended to keep the firewood at least 30 feet from the house and covered. Seasoned wood is best for fires, as it burns cleaner and longer.

Review home fire safety
The introduction of the heating season brings new potential for fire hazards, so take a moment to review fire safety in your home. Check and replace fire extinguishers if necessary and change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Also, go over the home fire evacuation plan with your family.

 

Outdoor Tasks

The gutters
It’s best to inspect and clean the gutters a few times during the fall, especially if there are many leafy trees around your house. If gutters remain clogged, water will spill over them and onto the ground next to the foundation, which may cause damage to the foundation. Gutters and downspouts should be kept clean and should direct water away from the foundation, as well as from walkways and driveways so that they do not become slippery or icy.

Yard maintenance
The orange, yellow, and brown colors of the autumn leaves don’t look as nice on the ground as they do on the trees. Rake the leaves into piles and scoop them into yard waste bags. Most areas have ordinances about burning leaves, so check with your local area government first. When sweeping the leaves off your patio, don’t forget to clean, pack up, and store any patio furniture for the winter. Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the section of pipe just inside the house.

In the garage
It is recommended that you empty out unused fuel from any gas-powered equipment stored in the garage, such as a lawnmower because sediment can build up and clog the fuel lines. Store gasoline in tanks out of children’s reach and have it ready for use in your snow blower or emergency generator if need be.

Test your emergency generator
It’s a good idea to have an emergency generator if you live in an area that sees a lot of ice storms, as these are a major cause of blackouts during the winter. So, if you have one, haul it out and give it a test run to see if it is in good working order. Make sure you never run the generator in any enclosed space – like your garage – as it will present a carbon monoxide hazard. If you are looking to purchase a generator, talk to your insurance agent about exclusive offers such as those offered on Generac generators by State Farm® for its customers.

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The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm®. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. The information is not intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. Nor is it intended to effect coverage under our policy. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

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A Financial Success Story

Earlier this year, I began working with a new client, a 61-year-old male who just lost his wife to a long battle with cancer. He was emotionally distraught in addition to confused and frustrated with thinking through what to do financially. He spent weeks sorting through documents, updating records, and speaking with pension and retirement […]

Earlier this year, I began working with a new client, a 61-year-old male who just lost his wife to a long battle with cancer. He was emotionally distraught in addition to confused and frustrated with thinking through what to do financially. He spent weeks sorting through documents, updating records, and speaking with pension and retirement plan specialists at her former employer, her life insurance provider, and bank representatives, all while planning a funeral. We finally had the opportunity to get together three months after her passing, and he came prepared with the following information: bank and credit union statements, his IRA statement, her lump-sum pension quote, and retirement plan statement, and his permanent life insurance policy statement.

His request was simple and common, “I want to be sure I have enough to live on in retirement, and I want to leave a legacy for the children.” They were adults now; he had two kids of his own, and she had one. He wanted her child to inherit most of her retirement plan and pension, however, he also knew he needed to use these assets when he retired in a few years. He already had taken care of his children by making them 50/50 beneficiaries on his life insurance and IRA. The two issues he wanted me to help with were his retirement income and taking care of her son financially.

This client is very conservative with no desire of account values decreasing, outside of pulling income, so investing into a growth-oriented portfolio was out of the question. My recommendation for the client began with shifting some of the inherited retirement assets into an annuity that guarantees him a minimum $1,200 per month income when he retires. The remainder we invested into a very conservative bond portfolio with half in government-backed bonds. I also recommended applying for a permanent life insurance policy because if he can get approved, we fund the premium using the bond portfolio and name her son as the beneficiary. He did get approved, and we put a permanent death benefit in place which grows each year as premiums are paid. Meanwhile, we are only putting about 4.5% of the bond portfolio toward the premium each year. The premium is low enough as to not deplete the bond portfolio, yet the tax-free death benefit is enough that it will be worth almost as much as the wife’s inherited retirement assets. From the cash in the bank and credit union accounts, we used half to purchase a fixed annuity which matures just before retirement and guarantees a steady interest rate each year. We also added a portion of his IRA to the annuity we bought with part of the wife’s retirement assets, which guarantees at least another $2,800 per month to the client.

The client has now secured $48,000 annually of guaranteed1 retirement income in addition to Social Security and a pension. He also has secured a death benefit to pass to her child upon his death, while his kids are already taken care of. Lastly, he will have significant liquid assets to use in retirement as needed, not including what he is still able to save over the next few years while working. I share this story for two reasons; the first being to encourage everyone to always prepare for the unexpected. Life always brings challenges and throws us curve balls; the best we can do is be as prepared as possible. Second, create a financial plan early and review often. Work with a financial professional to establish goals and to guide you through changes in life, the ups and downs, and the financial impact of losing loved ones.

This client I wrote about now has clarity of his financial plan and is very confident moving forward. It has been extremely rewarding to assist him and see the weight being lifted off his shoulders. Working with clients every day to improve their situation is my “why” and if I can help a few people take some initiatives or seek a second opinion on what they are currently doing, then I consider that a big win.

1 Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.
References to specific securities, asset classes, or portfolio models are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute a solicitation, offer, or recommendation to purchase or sell a security. Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries, and such opinions are subject to change without notice.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to certain risks including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, and inflation risk. Equities may decline in value due to both real and perceived general market, economic, and industry conditions. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

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