Monthly Archives: May 2020


What’s Under the Disguise?


by on May 27, 2020 4:00 PM

Are You in Control or Hiding Behind a Disguise

I’m a control freak. This comes to no surprise to the many people I have worked with throughout the years. I like making decisions and guiding my own destiny. It’s one of the reasons why I started my first business at the age of 27 and continue to be an entrepreneur.

So, can you imagine how difficult the uncertainty of Covid-19 is for me? If you run a business, I’m sure you can relate. Many business owners, even those who are not fully self-aware, admit to possessing this characteristic. Actually, if you define being controlling as wanting to realize a particular outcome, then all of us should label ourselves as control freaks. As with any personality trait, however, there’s a dark side hidden under the disguise.

Often, owners (and their leadership teams) will express frustration about their employees and will try to justify their “control freak behavior” such as micro-managing and/or completely taking over. The reasons for their actions boil down to a belief that no one, other than themselves, can get the job done. I’m sure in some instances that this rings true, but is that the case all the time?

Think about this: Do you want to be in control or are you just disguising your own lack of trust and fear?

I have found that a lack of trust and fear is the real reason for not letting go. I know this because I have lived it and for me, it is a current struggle due to the uncertainty of these times. I have to make a conscious choice to change my behavior to my team; here are my suggestions to get over this hurdle:

Step 1. Understand the difference between what you should be doing vs. what you should be delegating.

Step 2. When you feel hesitant about releasing control, tell your team or the employee you’re working with about your reluctance.

Step 3. Come up with action steps that your team or employee can do which will help alleviate your lack of trust. For instance, your team could alert you when a task is complete.

Practicing these steps over time will build up your sense of trust. It will also allow you to seize control in the appropriate moments. Believe me, your employees will be grateful when the disguise comes off.


About Hal Levenson

Hal Levenson is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Trilogy Partners. Trilogy Partners is an advisory & implementation firm whose mission is to help companies grow and transform.  We accomplish this by focusing on 3 critical business areas: Financial, Strategy & People.

 

 

COVID-19 Professional Resources for Your Business


by on May 22, 2020 12:32 PM

COVID-19 Resources for Your Business

We thank the following professionals for providing guidance during this unprecedented time as subject matter experts on our weekly Town Hall calls. If your company needs a financial or legal resource, you can feel confident reaching out to any one of our trusted resources (listed alphabetically):

Accounting & Advisory

Haefele & Flanagan CPAs & Advisors

PragerMetis CPAs

Princeton Financial Group

Tarlow & Co., CPAs | Advisors

Withum Tax & Audit Advisory

Banking

Dogwood State Bank

Provident Bank

Legal

Greenwald Doherty, Counsel for Employers

Mandelbaum Salsburg, Attorneys at Law

Maselli Warren, P.C., Attorneys at Law

Norris McLaughlin P.A., Attorneys at Law

OlenderFeldman LLP, Attorneys at Law

Stark & Stark Attorneys at Law

In addition, the following businesses are providing COVID-specific services that may be needed for your business:

Commercial Cleaning Corporation

United Building Maintenance Associates

Kramer Industries (Commercial Hand Sanitizer)

Keep Calm & Carry On – Leading Under Stress


by on May 20, 2020 3:05 PM

Keep Calm & Carry On - Leading Under Stress

Since mid-March, all our lives and companies have been affected by COVID19. The change was quick and disruptive, resulting in varying levels of anxiety. This is particularly daunting for business owners and management who are expected to be a steady light through uncertainty.

On this week’s Town Hall call, Trilogy Alliance Partners, Dr. Marc Celentana and Bill Ehrhardt, led an insightful discussion on how to be a more effective, focused, and empathetic leader during stressful times.

Q & A:

How can I manage my own stress levels?

  •  Recognize that stress is a natural response to things out of norm.
  • Acknowledge that you have stress and don’t try to mask.
  • Don’t deny how you feel from a health perspective.
  • “Manage” is synonymous with practicing good techniques:
    – Eating – includes meal prep and healthy food options
    – Sleeping – define what is optimal for you
    – Exercise – figure out your regiment. Research has shown that exercise equals increased levels of distress.
    – Consider other healthy habits such as meditation/mindfulness

How do I instill a sense of calm and confidence with my team with all the uncertainty?

  • Understand that “instilling calm and confidence” is a positive leadership trait.
    – Everyone (employees/vendors/customers/strategic partners, etc.) is “taking notes” and will remember how you navigated the ship when this is over.
    – Be aware that you may not realize that you are putting out signs of stress.
  • Ask yourself, what was my normal pre-Covid behavior and can I practice some of these behaviors now? For example, if you had frequent interaction with employees at the office, is there a way to mirror that behavior from home?
  •  Don’t come across too optimistic but talk about the future.
  • Ask employees: What are the opportunities and what have we learned?
  • In times of chaos, individuals look to leaders as a guide for behavior so lead by example.
  • Examples: If you want employees to practice good customer service, model that behavior. If you want employees to practice stress management techniques, share what you are doing.

How can I better help my employees with their stress?

  •  Recognize that even in best of times, employees feel stress.
  • Have frequent but shorter check-ins.
  • Help employees understand what is going on in the organization and their important role.
  • If employees are disconnected from one another, are there ways to bridge that gap? (i.e., Zoom happy hours, agreement to rally around one charity or cause).

How do I motivate employees with all the uncertainty?

  • What are the core values and the culture? Leaders must ask what they are doing to maintain the company’s culture and values during this time.
  •  Use technology to find ways to do the things that you would normally do. For example, weekly 1:1 check-in can now be done via Zoom or phone.
  •  When there is uncertainty, insert certainty.
    – Reach out and address areas of uncertainty
    – Be as transparent as possible.
  • Express appreciation.

How do I effectively communicate and lead in a virtual environment?

  • Continue to focus on culture and core values so the organization does not shift away from your foundation.
  • Overcommunicate and use a variety of technology to facilitate dialogue.
  • Decide how much communication is appropriate (Daily? Weekly?)
  • Leadership takes an active role on 1:1 calls:
    – Encourage 1:1 contact at every leadership level throughout the organization.

How do I get out of fighting fires and allocate some time to strategy and opportunity?

  • Be mindful that due to all the uncertainty, leaders may engage in areas that they were not involved in before.
  • Important to set aside time each day to think about strategy, opportunity, lessons learned, innovation, and best practices.
    – How much time you spend on strategy is an individual decision but it’s time to get your head back in the clouds.
    – Encourage your middle managers to do the same.
    – This can be therapeutic and will be allow you/your company to be ready for whatever happens next.
  •  Looking at everything beyond the NOW. How are we learning from this experience?
  • Think about the worst thing that happened to you professionally. How did that experience change you and your company? Focus on that outcome now as fuel to move your company forward.

How do I get out of my own way in today’s virtual world? Am I an impediment to my employees or my company being able to move forward?

  • Leadership is not about a given title; it’s about how you manage during times of ambiguity.
  • Think about best practices that allow for positive behaviors and outcomes. Some examples are frequent communication, bringing people into conversation, asking for opinions, and showing an interest in developing others.
  • Be an open-minded entrepreneur. By adopting new solutions, company will be primed for the uncertainty of the next 6-12 months.

How can I demonstrate vulnerability as a strength?

  • Most leaders are not comfortable being vulnerable, Covid is forcing owners to acknowledge their discomfort and some have had to show their hand.
  • Recognize that employees will appreciate your honesty and these relationships will continue long after COVID19.

I do not have a good support system; what do I do?

  • Find one that works for you. Look for a place where you feel safe and free from judgement.
  • Your support system may be:
    – more traditional: a work team, upper management, family, a professional association, networking with like-minded business owners
    – or untraditional: friends offering more professional support, a consultant, business coach, therapist, or even a social club

How do I sort through all the “advice” that’s out there?

  • Check sources of information; listen, evaluate, and confirm with a reliable source.
  • Decipher what is credible and who has company’s best interest at heart
  • Use external sources to support internal decisions.

How do I get my employees to maintain their highest productivity while working from home (WFH)?

  • Know what employees were doing before and expect a similar level of quality and productivity while recognizing the challenges of WFH and its impact on productivity.
    – Look at the big picture and do not micromanage by trying to determine work units in hours and minutes.
    – Ask yourself if the work is getting completed at the best level possible for this unprecedented time?
  • Open dialogue and allow for flexibility.
    – May be a shift in the way work is done to accommodate WFH.
  • Get comfortable with technology that allows for business continuity and be open to new ideas.

What are the negative effects of employee stress?

  • Stress is often caused when you expect one thing and it turns out differently.
    – Concentration, productivity, trust, and communication may be impacted when under stress.
  • Leaders should be empathetic to the reality that mental health issues, poor diet and/or lack of exercise, limited social interaction, work-at-home and/or working outside of traditional time boundaries are just some of the factors that can lead to heightened stress.
  • Allow for employees to set boundaries and be inaccessible.

How can my organization implement stress management training while everyone is working from home (WFH)? 

  • Come to an agreement that working from home is inherently stressful during this time and make a conscious decision to want to do best by your employees.
    – Recognize added challenge of the work environment; we are fixed in front of a computer which does not mimic office environment where you can communicate with movement.
  • Ask your employees what stress management techniques they are practicing and encourage their activities.
  • Promote mindful, meditation – can be individually or as group to become centered & grounded (productivity/connection).

About Hal Levenson

Hal Levenson is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Trilogy Partners. Trilogy Partners is an advisory & implementation firm whose mission is to help companies grow and transform.  We accomplish this by focusing on 3 critical business areas: Financial, Strategy & People.

 

DISCLAIMER: Please check with your trusted professionals prior to acting for your business. This Q & A recap should not replace professional services from legal, financial, payroll, HR, insurance, or consulting professionals. If you need a resource in one of these areas, please reach out to Hal Levenson at hlevenson@gettrilogypartners.com or contact Trilogy Partners at 609-688-0428.

Also, as expressed by the professionals on the call, it is critical that you do a personal examination of the many factors of your business to make the best decision for you and your employees.

Are You Confused About the PPP Loan?


by on May 14, 2020 1:25 PM

Are You Confused About the PPP Loan

Now that most companies have received the PPP loan, there are still unanswered questions about how to utilize the funds, the forgiveness process, timing, etc. On this week’s Trilogy Town Hall call, we asked our guests, Jim Haefele, CPA, Partner at Haefele Flanagan and Dennis Alessi, Esq., Partner at Mandelbaum Salsburg to provide some guidance around this complex issue.

Questions for Our Guests:

When does the 8 weeks start? When I applied for the loan, when I was approved, or when the money was deposited into my account?

  • 8 weeks begins as soon as you are funded, and the money has hit your bank account.

What is the rule about accepting the loan and/or loan forgiveness if you are profitable during this period?

  • It is unclear yet unlikely that being profitable during the 8-week period impacts your loan forgiveness.

Per IRS Notice 2020-32, the forgivable portion of the loan is non-deductible as it triggers IRS code section 265, which denies the deductibility of any expenses applicable to exempt income. If these forgivable PPP expenses are not deductible, then effectively business owners are paying tax on this loan. Can our guests comment on this?

  • The IRS is under a lot of pressure to reconsider their position. The intention was for it to be non-taxable. The Senate just introduced a bill pertaining to this. Stay tuned.

Is it true that all businesses who received the PPP will be audited?

  • There has been some discussion about auditing companies with loans over 2m but whether the manpower exists to do this remains in question.

It is my understanding that I don’t have to bring back the same employees I had, just the same total amount of employees. Is that correct?

  • It is strictly headcount – does not need to be the same people.
  • There is an obligation to let unemployment know if employees decline to return to work.

Can we hire new employees in the middle of the 8-week PPP forgiveness tracking and have their payroll included for forgiveness?

  • Yes

Can we start payroll at the beginning of our payroll cycle, or does it start when we are funded?

  • Payroll intended to begin at the start of funding, not an arbitrary date
  • May need to run a short payroll at the end to include full 8-weeks

If I bring back an employee at their regular rate (ex. $1000 per week), and if after the 8 weeks, we are still not in business due to the lockdown or the state or CDC not allowing us to do business and we have no income coming in, can I keep the employee on at a reduced rate (say $500 a week) and still receive the forgiveness or do I have to keep it at the regular rate?

  • You do not have to keep employee at current rate following the 8-week period to receive forgiveness.

Which insurance premiums are covered for forgiveness?

  • Anything related to group healthcare benefits
  • Sole proprietor – unclear if healthcare would be included

What does “Transportation” mean as it applies to PPP? It is listed under the deductible utilities.

  • No guidance provided but likely related to normal day-to-day work travel.

Should we open a separate account to track PPP funds?

  • No, but maintain a separate ledger.

Is there a difference between allowable uses and forgivable expenses?

  • The list of expenses eligible for forgiveness is narrower than the list of allowable expenses under the PPP.
  • Not more than 25% of the loan forgiveness amount may be attributable to non-payroll costs.

 

Do forgivable costs need to be “incurred,” “paid” or both during the eight-week period after the loan is made?

  • Intent is to have 8 weeks of expenses forgiven.
  • Past due utilities can be paid during 8-week period but no more than 25% can be attributed to non-payroll costs.

To what extent can bonuses be forgiven, or salary if it exceeds the amount included in the 12-month period used to calculate loan amount?

  • Bonuses can be paid if earned during that time for salaries up to $100K maximum
  • Cannot prepay salary or bonuses

Which rental expenses are included?

  • Mortgage and leases signed prior to Feb 15, 2020
  • Property/equipment leases (i.e., copier)
  • Triple Net, if part of your lease agreement

How do you determine the loan forgiveness amount and what is the ordering rule for calculating the reductions thereon?

  • Verify with your lender.
  • Quick math: Eligible expenses minus (i) headcount reductions, (ii) wage reductions, (iii) the limit regarding the principal amount of the loan and (iv) the limitation that overhead (i.e., non-payroll) expenses cannot exceed 25% of the loan forgiveness amount = loan forgiveness amount

Are partners in a partnership eligible for loan forgiveness?

  • Yes, must apply as a partnership for partners to qualify for loan forgiveness.

How is a full-time equivalent (“FTE”) defined and calculated?

  • All the hours worked in a month divided by 30 = FTEs

If you received EIDL money and use it for other expenses that are non-PPP related, do you need to subtract that amount from the PPP amount to be forgiven?

  • The EIDL loan is not part of the PPP forgiveness.

About Hal Levenson

Hal Levenson is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Trilogy Partners. Trilogy Partners is an advisory & implementation firm whose mission is to help companies grow and transform.  We accomplish this by focusing on 3 critical business areas: Financial, Strategy & People.

 

DISCLAIMER: Please check with your trusted professionals prior to acting for your business. This Q & A recap should not replace professional services from legal, financial, payroll, HR, insurance, or consulting professionals. If you need a resource in one of these areas, please reach out to Hal Levenson at hlevenson@gettrilogypartners.com or contact Trilogy Partners at 609-688-0428.

Also, as expressed by the professionals on the call, it is critical that you do a personal examination of the many factors of your business to make the best decision for you and your employees.

How to Reinvent Your Business Beyond Covid19


by on May 6, 2020 2:38 PM

How to Reinvent Your Business Beyond Covid19

On this week’s Trilogy Town Hall Call, we exchanged ideas on how businesses can adapt and reinvent to remain relevant as the economy begins to slowly re-open.

A special thank you to our guests, Trilogy Alliance Partners John Baldino, President of Humareso and Denise Yosafat, President of Choice Executive Solutions for their time and expertise.

Questions for our Guests:

1. Why do I need to develop contingency or continuity of business plans if I have been able to adapt to the current situation?

  • There are still a lot of unknowns and what ifs that lend themselves to creating contingency plans.
  • Adapting is different than functioning. If your company continued to function during this time, is this good enough moving forward?
  • Continuity plan sets expectations regarding current approach to work if not at the level that would normally be delivered and identifies guidelines when normal business operations resumes.
  • Contingency plans show what could have been improved and provide the wisdom to make that determination.

2. If I haven’t repurposed my business yet, how do I go about doing that; where do I start?

Take an inventory of assets, skills and strengths to see what you can do to pivot at this time. Example: while core manufacturing halted, one business identified that they had the resources and supply chain to manufacture hand sanitizer.

3. My business doesn’t readily lend itself to producing new products or services. Can I reallocate my assets and resources in another way to preserve my profitability?

Yes, but it’s a matter of knowing what you will do temporarily and what will be permanent. Ask yourself, what are we really good at, can we put this into place, does it meet our mission, values, and our brand reputation?

  • For example, high end restaurants sell meat online like Omaha Steaks’ business model. Represents a way to support clients and maintain reputation.

4. How do I explore the “what if” scenarios if we don’t return to work for another 3, 6, 9 months, etc.?

Need to look at each time frame individually and ask the same questions for each. See examples below but not limited to:

  • How can I serve my clients?
  • What products/services will I sell?
  • Will my supply chain be intact?
  • What will my staffing needs be?
  • Essentially conducting a mini SWOT analysis as if the situation is real for each time frame.
  • What if the climate improves and we are optimistic? What would those scenarios look like at 3,6,9 months?

5. How do you get yourself, your company or team to think and/or act outside their comfort zone?

Working from home does not equal working at home – critical to understand the factors that may impact an employee from moving beyond comfort zone.

Define what CHANGE should look like, reset your own expectations, and meet employees where they are.

Ask questions to expand the mind beyond the norm:

  • Let’s think about what we didn’t do before that we are doing.
  • Could we be wrong about other things?
  • What more can we do?

6. How can I engage my employees so that they offer ideas for moving forward and feel like they are part of the solution? How much should I involve them in the brainstorming process?

Whiteboard thinking – start with a blank canvas.

Goes back to Question #1: who are the thinkers that need to be in the room?

  • What are the possibilities?
  • What are the demands now and how can you meet those demands?
  • Explain that not every idea is a doable idea but allow for expression.
  • Identify that every great idea, may not be practical or feasible. For example, while an employee might suggest private bathrooms upon return to work, it is not possible.

7. How can I best communicate to the employees about the current status of my business as well as potential future opportunities? How transparent should I be?

Define transparency – employees know that business has changed.

  • Share what it may look like in the short term and beyond. Be honest and explain that goal is to emerge even stronger.
  • Explain that roles may change temporarily and that they are needed in a different way. Give timelines if possible. For example, limo drivers pivoting to grocery delivery. Not a long-term solution but a practical change.

The more you can involve your people in the process, the more buy in you will have.

  • Much is tied to culture – is the employee tied to the work or to the salary?
  • Talk about a necessary shift in business and the reason to accordingly: For example, a cleaning service was once perceived to be about the appearance of the workplace, now the focus is on health. Allows everyone to keep working while providing safe work environments.
  • Ask for their ideas.

Overcommunicate – in the absence of knowledge, it is human nature to make up stories that may not be true. Ask Questions:

  • Are we communicating enough?
  • What more would you like to know?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What most worries you?
  • What do you need to return to work?
  • Are there reasonable hurdles that you can work with?

Questions from Participants:

8. We’re struggling with getting employees back to work, and we are considered essential. Although many clients are not allowing us to resume same volumes. Our lowest volume season is winter, and we never got ramped up. Of 55 – 60 field technicians, that were on board pre-Covid, and normally we ramp up in Spring, we have only been able to bring 35 back to work. Many are “fearful” to return to work, they say. Many, we suspect are enjoying staying home, earning unemployment plus bonus. We require some training to perform our work. Any suggestions on “encouraging”, insisting, attempting to get people back to work. 

Goes back to Question #7 about transparency. It’s a very complicated question as much is tied to culture and whether employee is tied to work or to compensation. Open dialogue and ask questions to determine the underlying reasons that they do not want to return to work; reasons may extend beyond what you suspect, and accommodations can be made.

9. Thoughts and discussion appreciated regarding key and highly compensated staff, earning well above $100,000. I ask for approaches for reducing staff salaries, as our business volume has so seriously been impacted. Creative and productive approaches to this would be most appreciated, that align staff to support success and possibly create contingencies for that with revised salary structures. 

Answer is a combination of Question #1 & Question #8:

  • Preparing a contingency plan and what ifs allows you to have more concrete ideas about the company’s direction if business remains the same, doesn’t improve or improves.
  • An understanding of the business’ position will allow you to have honest and transparent conversations that may align staff.
  • Asking questions will help identify employees’ concerns as well as which employees are tied to compensation or mission, vision & values of the organization.

10. Are we conscious that work that is being done, correctly, as needed, remotely now is work that cannot continue to be done remotely? 

Yes, and goes back to Question #1. A continuity plan sets expectations regarding current approach to work if not at the level that would normally be delivered and will not continue when company resumes normal operations. For example, if sales proposals are currently presented via Zoom Meeting, the expectation is that when we can return to work that these will be presented face-to-face.

Questions for Participants:

11. Is your Company still relevant today? If so, do you believe it will be relevant 1 year from now?

Consistently need to reassess where your business is in the areas of talent, technology, services and products. For example, a wholesaler helped his retailers by modifying his current website into an interactive retail website that allows consumer to view products in their home and purchase through the retailer.

12. Have you identified which activities that you will stop/start/continue as the restrictions for businesses are lifted?

  • Looking at work schedules. Has allowing for working at home demands demonstrated greater productivity and employee engagement? Can we apply to return to work scenario?
  • Remote services such as coaching may be as efficient and productive as face-to-face and exposes an opportunity for the company.
  • What does the market tell us to do? Redirect and retool to that.

13. Thinking ahead, for those who feel the need to pivot or reinvent their businesses –  Will you utilize an independent outsiders or internal people?

Some business owners suggest reaching out to consultants and/or trusted advisors for guidance.

  • Allows for a wider expanded view of the organization.
  • Breaks routine of doing things the same way.

14. Do you have strategic people or visionaries in your firm? If so, how do you utilize them and provide them a forum to express their ideas?

  • Allow for visionaries to express and identify what is practical and viable.

About Hal Levenson

Hal Levenson is the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Trilogy Partners. Trilogy Partners is an advisory & implementation firm whose mission is to help companies grow and transform.  We accomplish this by focusing on 3 critical business areas: Financial, Strategy & People.

 

DISCLAIMER: Please check with your trusted professionals prior to acting for your business. This Q & A recap should not replace professional services from legal, financial, payroll, HR, insurance, or consulting professionals. If you need a resource in one of these areas, please reach out to Hal Levenson at hlevenson@gettrilogypartners.com or contact Trilogy Partners at 609-688-0428.

Also, as expressed by the professionals on the call, it is critical that you do a personal examination of the many factors of your business to make the best decision for you and your employees.