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Get Out Of The Building - Lean Startup Machine
DLNG5617 by Tech Yizu is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Kristen Prinz

I had the pleasure of mentoring budding entrepreneurs at Chicago’s Lean Startup Machine weekend on June 22. It was exciting to see first-hand how valuable the lean startup model can be to an entrepreneur. It was also interesting to see that, much like in the real world of business, nearly 70% of participants had given up and closed up shop by the time I started my 5 hour mentoring session.

The first step in the lean startup methodology is to figure out a problem to be solved and develop a minimum viable product (MVP) to test the market. It is a fantastic starting point because sometimes the problems we think exist are individual problems and not market problems. Solving an individual problem is a hobby. Solving a market problem is a business.

Many of the participants who dropped out found that they either only identified an individual problem or that they didn’t have a solution to the market problem. You need a solution to create an MVP.

Once you get to the MVP, the lean startup methodology asks that you validate your assumptions regarding the market. This is where you test the market and the solution. And, this is the second opportunity to learn whether your idea is a viable business. (It was also the next big drop off point).

The ultimate philosophy of the lean startup methodology is Build-Measure-Learn. Not every business idea will be successful. The point is to learn early whether you can stick it out, pivot, and create something the market needs (whether it knew it or not). Using this methodology before you invest thousands of dollars into development, employees and attorneys’ fees is a smart way to go.

There were great ideas presented over the weekend and I hope that all the participants can build their ideas, regardless of whether they find a hobby or a business.

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By Jessica Fayerman

SCA at Career Day

SCA at Career Day by SCA Svenska is licensed under CC SA 2.0

Since executives spend so much of their time making management decisions and driving revenue, it can be challenging to devote time to their own career development. If executives take even a small fraction of the time they spend strategizing on behalf of their companies to strategizing about their own futures, climbing the corporate ladder can become a much more obtainable goal. Here are three strategies that executives can use to not only determine their career goals, but to develop specific steps to reach them.

Regularly self-evaluate with feedback from trusted advisors.
Many executives do not take the time to honestly self-reflect and to determine areas for improvement. Every skill-set is different, and it is important to be able to separate out areas that are strong and areas that require improvement. When an executive is forced to make use of a skill that he or she has not yet adequately developed, it can drain the executive’s energy and make him or her less productive. Asking for assistance from a trusted advisor can assist the executive with identifying areas of strength and weakness and formulating a strategic plan for improvement.

Seek additional experience that applies to long-term goals.
Even though it may be uncomfortable to work with skills in an executive’s area of weakness, this may be the only way for genuine growth to occur. If an executive is, for example, uncomfortable with public speaking, seeking out speaking opportunities may cause short-term stress but will carry long-term rewards. The extra time expended now will certainly pay off in terms of productivity in the future.

Maintain networking activities.
Networking is an activity that leads to a double benefit – not only can the executive help improve the company’s bottom line, but he or she can also build the necessary connections for future career growth. Networking may take time and effort, but it is a high-payoff activity that any executive should try to build into his or her week.

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Only for now

There’s been a lot of media hype about some pretty overt resignations including YouTube videos and even a SuperBowl commercial.

Although you may be at a breaking point where you wish you could march through your office with a marching band to announce that you are quitting, or you’d love to have a billboard expressing the same, these are not the best choices for your long-term career. It’s important to make sure you leave with a good reputation because you never know who you might run into in the future – from the janitor to the CEO – and it is important to have a good rapport with everyone you interact with. Here are some tips if you are planning to leave your current employer:

Think about what you want.
You may want to leave your current employer because you are not happy. But, what is it that will make you happy? Make sure you don’t make a decision you will regret. Think about what you want and make a plan to make it happen.

Search for a new job while still employed.
It’s easier to find a job when you have one. Plus, you won’t have to answer why you left you last job.

Start packing slowly.
Some employers will ask you to leave the same day when you provide notice of your intent to resign. That leaves you with little time to pack up your personal belongings. At the same time, you don’t want to abruptly clean up and tip off your boss prematurely. Start to slowly take things home so that you just have a few things left when you finally provide notice.

Review your employer’s leave policies.
Generally, you will be able to be paid out for any vacation you have accrued and unused. However, the same is not true for sick time. Review your leave policy and make sure you know what will happen with your benefits and compensation when you leave.

Provide notice to your employer.
Although you may feel like up and walking off the job sometimes, it is important for your long-term reputation to provide you manager with notice of your intention to leave.

Send a note of thanks to colleagues.
With permission from your employer, send a note to your co-workers to thank them for their support and provide them with your personal contact information.

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By Jessica Fayerman

High-level executives usually rely on employment law attorneys to negotiate employment contracts, and for good reason: it’s an opportunity to clearly outline expectations and minimize future disputes. In any employment contract, compensation and benefits are key. However, there are many other factors that are essential to a productive and mutually rewarding employment relationship and should therefore be included in a contract. When we assist an executive in negotiating an employment contract, here are four of the key points we typically focus on:

Term and Termination
In the absence of a contract term that specifies otherwise, the default rule is that the employment relationship is “at-will.” This means that either the employer or the executive can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without notice, for any reason or for no reason. For executives who devote extensive time and resources to pursuing a career at a specific company, the threat of being let go at any time may be too much of a risk. For this reason, many executives negotiate terms into their contracts with specific provisions detailing the narrow circumstances in which the employment relationship can end.

Typically, the law does not require companies to pay severance to departing employees. When employers do pay out severance, they may condition it on an employee’s willingness to sign away his or her rights to bring legal claims against the company. By adding severance provisions to an employment agreement that are not tied to an employee’s agreement not to sue, an executive will be in a better position to protect the investment put into his or her career.

Restrictive Covenants
Employers may insist on including restrictive covenants in employment contracts with high-level executives. Restrictive covenants can include non-competition provisions, non-solicitation provisions, confidentiality provisions, and other items designed to help protect the employer’s investment in the employee. These covenants can significantly impact an executive’s ability to continue working in his or her chosen field after the employment relationship ends. It is essential to negotiate these provisions in order to minimize the burden on the employee to the extent possible.

Arbitration Provisions
Many employment contracts include language addressing how disputes regarding the employment relationship should be resolved. Some employers insist on requiring executives to give up the right to file a lawsuit and instead submit any dispute to arbitration. Arbitration sometimes gives executives much less legal protection that litigation in court, so it is important to recognize what an employee may be giving up when he or she signs a contract with an arbitration provision.

If you have a question about a job offer or employment agreement that you have received, please contact us.

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects the jobs of eligible employees who take time off from work to take care of their own serious health condition, to take care of the serious health condition of an immediate family member, or to take care of a newly born or newly adopted child. When the law works as it should, employers grant eligible employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a year, and then allow those employees to return to their same job or an equivalent job at the end of the leave.

In practice, however, this process does not always work as smoothly as it should. Sometimes employers wrongfully deny leave requests or take some other action to interfere with an employee’s right to take FMLA leave. Sometimes employers refuse to allow an employee to return to work upon the conclusion of FMLA leave, or take other steps to retaliate against the employee for asserting his or her rights under the FMLA. As an employee, there are several steps that you can take to ensure that your right to take time off and then to return to work at the end of your leave will be protected:

Make sure that your request for leave is clear.
While the law does not require an employee to specifically request “FMLA leave” by name, it does require the employee to inform the employer that: 1.) a leave-qualifying condition may be present.; and 2.) the employee is requesting leave. It is not enough for the employee simply to say, for example, that “I’m sick.” If your request for leave is clear, it will become less likely that your employer will be able to claim later on that you never made a request for leave at all.

Make sure that you follow your employer’s requests for documentation.
Your employer, within certain limits, may request you to document your need for leave before it grants your request. Typically, your employer will ask you to have your doctor (or your family member’s doctor) complete official FMLA forms that specify the nature of the leave-qualifying condition and how long it is expected to last. The law requires your employer to give you a reasonable period of time to return the form. Within certain parameters, your employer may also request a second opinion, at the employer’s expense, or even a third opinion. Even after your employer approves your request for leave, it can still – within certain limits – require you to certify or recertify your need for leave. It is important to follow your employer’s requests for documentation so as to not sacrifice your right to take leave.

Make sure that you pay any required health insurance premiums during your leave.
The law requires that your employer not cancel your health insurance or any other employee benefits while you are on leave. However, your employer can legally request you to pay the portion of your health insurance premium that your employer typically pays while you are out on leave. If your employer has such a policy, make sure that you pay the premiums in a timely manner. Especially if the reason you are taking FMLA leave is because of your own serious health condition, you do not want to risk the cancellation of your policy because you have not paid the required premium.

Make sure you communicate with your employer regarding your intended return to work.
Within certain limits, your employer can require you to check in periodically during your leave regarding the date of your intended return to work. Make sure that you inform your employer of the date that you intend to return to work so that your employer can make the necessary arrangements with your temporary replacement or other employees. If you are in sufficient communication, it will become less likely that your employer will claim that you abandoned your job or give you any problems with returning to work.

Make sure that you protect your right to be returned to your same job or to an equivalent one.
The FMLA requires that your employer reinstate you to your previous position (or to an equivalent one) upon your return to work. There is no specific bright line rule as to what constitutes an “equivalent” job, but courts will often look at whether the new job is comparable in terms of salary, duties, and rank. If your employer refuses to allow you to return to work or demotes you upon your return, you may want to consult an attorney to help your protect your right to reinstatement.

If you have any questions about your rights under the FMLA, please contact us.

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Executives who are committed to career growth know that even while planning the next step, they must be top performers in their current jobs. This post offers advice on becoming the go-to person at work, which not only can help you earn a promotion, but can also help you obtain a lucrative position elsewhere if you decide it’s time to shake up your career.

It goes without saying that in order to be indispensable at work, you should perform your job to the best of your ability. However, the following character traits – which you can hone and develop over time – will truly help you become the MVP of your office.

  • Flexibility: Management will appreciate an employee who can easily adapt to changing demands and conditions. If you are the employee in the office who graciously accepts a completely unexpected project, or even a last-minute business trip, then it is likely that management will remember and reward that flexibility in the future. How can you hone and develop your flexibility? Develop a contingency plan in your life that will allow you to be more responsive to your employer’s needs in the event of an emergency or a last-minute project.

  • Integrity: Many workplaces are competitive environments, and it can be tempting to prize coming out ahead of your co-workers above all other considerations. After a period of time, many executives find themselves burned out not only because of this overly competitive attitude, but because they have abandoned their own values in the drive to get ahead. Even worse, some executives refuse to acknowledge, or even conceal, their workplace mistakes in order to avoid losing stature in the office. Safeguarding your sense of personal integrity can not only make you feel better about your career, but it can help make sure your workplace operates in an ethical way. How can you hone and develop your integrity? When faced with a difficult decision, consider how making either choice would cause you perceive yourself. If you do not believe that you would feel good about yourself after making a certain decision – even if it would allow you to be more competitive in the workplace – it would be wise to consider that warning sign carefully.

  • Humility: Many executives believe that the more they show off their abilities to management, the faster they will get ahead. Sometimes, however, management will not value an employee who is too transparently competitive. Management may perceive that overly competitive workers value themselves more than the team and are more likely to take self-serving actions than others. How can you hone and develop your humility? Recognize that your job is about the team, and not just yourself.

  • Leadership: Leadership is about more than simply distributing projects and evaluating the results. An effective leader is someone who employees trust to have their best interests in mind, who will motivate them perform to the best of their abilities, and who will provide assertive, yet compassionate, direction. Management will appreciate a leader who not only generates good results from his or her employees, but who is also perceived as approachable, generous, and understanding. Becoming that leader can greatly increase your chances for promotion. How can you hone and develop your leadership skills? If an employee comes to you for support, try to place yourself in his or her position and try and think of what you would find helpful for a leader or mentor. This change in reference can spur you to make wiser and more effective decisions when managing others.

Despite your best efforts to become an indispensable employee, sometimes the employment relationship still breaks down. If you are concerned that your employer has violated your rights in any way, you may want to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.

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Failure is inescapable. At some point in your career or business, you will make a mistake of some kind that will lead to a flop, ranging from a mere disappointment to a full-scale disaster. Perhaps a project you managed went wildly awry – the deliverable was unacceptable to the client and now your job is on the line. Perhaps it was your dream endeavor (a cake shop) in which you sank your heart and soul (and capital) that fell catastrophically flat. Perhaps it is a failure to land the job at all. These sorts of events transpire every day – and we routinely help clients pick up the pieces. 

What separates the average from the truly exceptional is the response to a humbling or devastating business blunder. Mistakes and failures can shape us as employees, managers, business-owners, and individuals, but only if we take time to reflect on what led to the failure in the first place. Resist the very human urge to run from your failure and relish the opportunity for learning instead. Below are a few tips for constructively managing a business or career disappointment: 
1. Conduct a post-failure assessment. 
Privately, or with your team, begin with a post-mortem. Working backward, make a list of each step that led to the failure. Evaluate the resulting list to determine what steps should have been taken or avoided to reach success. Look for patterns. Avoid the tendency to blame others (instead of “Jim bungled the pitch for the project,” think “I should have predicted that Jim would have been better suited writing the proposal”). There are surely events on the list that you could not have foreseen or that were beyond your control. However, taking responsibility where you can will help identify the factors inhibiting your success. 
2. Ask for feedback. 
Where possible, seek feedback from others that were witness to your failure. Seeking criticism may be the most difficult step because it requires a great deal of humility. The best perspective on your failure is often not from those closest to it. Decide whether a face-to-face meeting is best (a morning coffee) or whether a simple e-mail allowing the recipient time for a thoughtful response is better. Ask broad, open-ended questions, like: Do you have any thoughts on what I could have done to make my business successful? Can you tell me what I might have done in the interview to make myself a stronger candidate? Why didn’t you choose our firm for your project? 
3. Set goals and redefine success. 
After a failure, your five-year career or business plan may be out the window. Using what you learned from your assessment and feedback, set daily, weekly, and monthly goals to get back on track. Start small – begin with easily-managed, attainable tasks that will move you forward in some measureable way. Define your ultimate goal – which may look different than it did pre-failure. Perhaps an ouster from the C-Suite has kindled a desire for the type of control over your destiny and fortune that being a business-owner can provide. Perhaps you realized you lost the client because you are not committed to your job and you long to work in another area altogether. Write out your goals and ensure that you do one thing each day, however small, to reach them. 
4. Get help. 
Sometimes the fallout may be too much for you to handle alone. Whether it is from a friend, manager, mentor, counselor, or attorney, you may need advice while sifting through the wreckage and moving forward. Together with your advisor, identify the lessons learned, create a plan to wind down your partnership, business, career, or project, and design a vision for the future. Your advisor can also serve as a point of accountability to ensure you avoid making the same mistake twice. 

5. Do not be defined by failure. 
Though it sounds like a platitude, terrible errors really can help bridge us to the pinnacle of our careers. [See this recent Business Insider story about success after failure for inspiration.] Learn what you can from your failure and then move forward. And do not be afraid to fail again – even Winston Churchill defined success as “stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

By Christina Hynes Mesco
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Like many others, I have been on both sides of the employer/employee fence. Even when you own the business, you’re working for someone. No matter what role you are in, we are all trying to achieve more in our careers and lives. We all think we are doing everything and our bosses or employees are either not paying attention or not doing enough. It’s hard to step outside yourself and maintain perspective.

I’ve heard so many stories from clients, friends and even family members about everyone’s bad boss.

  • The boss that micro-manages
  • The boss that steals credit for your work
  • The boss that criticizes everything
  • The boss that’s lazy
  • The boss that bullies
  • The workaholic boss
  • The boss that’s jealous or intimidated

The list goes on and on. All of these horrible boss types can be stifling to career growth, but it is critical that you distinguish the truly bad bosses from the ones who are just unaware.

The truly bad boss will never change and staying with a truly bad boss will almost always hinder your career growth. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to find another job ASAP. But you should devise a strategy to either move within the company, work around the bad boss behavior, or exit on your own terms.

The fact is, we are all responsible for our own career growth and development. I’m not saying that bad bosses shouldn’t be taken to task – that’s what my office is here for. But I am saying that focusing solely on your bad boss’s behavior is not going to further your career. 

You have to further your career. Sometimes that means documenting your accomplishments to other stakeholders. Sometimes it means hiring a lawyer. But sometimes it means making your bad boss look good.
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Change happens fast. And often when we least expect it. That’s one of the reasons we see so much job turnover. Companies typically forecast and plan ahead. Executives do so for their departments, but what about their careers? Too many individuals think they are just along for the ride.

I was recently listening to an economist on the radio discussing why any individual with a high income potential should outsource all activities that they either don’t enjoy or don’t produce a financial return. It’s advice that’s given to business owners all the time, but is often over looked by professionals. It was especially interesting because the economist was arguing that it’s not just a rule for high-income earners, but for anyone with high income potential.

Obviously, it’s not possible for every individual at every point in life to outsource everything we either dislike doing or doesn’t have a financial return. However, having a personal dream team is a good idea for most professionals.

Below are a few good “dream team” players for executives:

Having a great accountant not only protects you from IRS missteps, but they can usually save you money and help you prevent catastrophe when change happens.

Financial Advisor
Your accountant shouldn’t manage your money. In fact, you should be the best person to manage your own money. But, having a third party who can give you advice and help you keep you on track towards meeting your goals is almost always a good idea.

This one is self-serving, but negotiating for your company or anyone else is easy. However, we are all too close to our own situations to maintain perspective. A good lawyer who understands employment concerns should not only help you with disputes, but should also be a sounding board when negotiating employment agreements, raises, bonuses and exit strategies.

Executive Coach
I used to be one of those people who thought I could figure it all out on my own. Then I realized that I didn’t get where I was without some help along the way, and I won’t get where I want to go alone either. Whether it is an informal relationship with a mentor or a formal relationship with a coach, getting the outside view is critical to professional development.

It doesn’t matter how many players you have on your team or whether you choose a whole different type of team altogether, the important thing is having people around you with expertise that can help you use change to your advantage and achieve your goals.