Has anyone else been hearing about 20% being the new normal when it comes to tipping at restaurants?  It can be hard to keep track of the rules of social etiquette – particularly for executives who are wondering how to treat their direct reports. Acting appropriately toward staff when it comes to special occasions, milestones and the like can pose a real challenge. Here are some tips to steer you in the right direction.
Find a way to do avoid perceptions of favoritism when some deserve more than others.  It will be hard to get away with giving one administrative assistant flowers for her birthday and nothing for your other one. The problem is that there are going to be employees who you feel closer to or more grateful towards. And to you, these staff deserve more special attention. In this case, you can give them a more significant gift as long as you can pull it off more covertly. 
This is a bit of a gamble, so don’t be buying an employee the front row seats at the Leafs game or the Hermes scarf unless you’re certain that he or she will be able to keep it quiet. Naturally, having the rest of your staff resent you and/or loathe the favoured direct report will undo any good you can do by buying that preferred employee a better gift.
Don’t do this year what you will not be able to do the next. To a certain extent employees are forgiving when it comes to understanding that some years are financially better for companies than others. Sometimes, they may even accept that salary increases can happen one fiscal year and perhaps not the next. But this level of understanding is conveniently absent when it comes to perks that are not related to compensation – it’s surprising how quickly special perks can be coloured with the entitlement brush. 
If an employee mentions it’s his 10th wedding anniversary and he’s told you where he’s going for dinner with his wife, suffice it to say that sending a bottle of wine is a thoughtful gesture which he will not expect for a non milestone event like his 11th anniversary. However, if you take an employee out for lunch for her 38th birthday and then totally overlook her 39th, you might as well have just done nothing for both. Remember, there is a flipside to every kind, over-the-top gesture. They set an expectation which when unmet, can be worse than when there is no expectation at all. 
Don’t underestimate the value of an occasional premium gift. Executives are often commiserating about the talent wars – how do you attract and keep the best people? There are so many elements to this including total compensation, culture, management relationships, etc. If on top of all that, you can throw in a $2500 long weekend in the Bahamas for your VP Operations and her husband after an especially successful quarter or a $500 sports watch for your Director of IT to wear up at his cottage after a very busy, stressful month, it goes a long way. 
Many executives know this, but don’t do it because they fear that others will be upset if they don’t get the same, or because they don’t see the value of spending in this way on their staff. First off, even when giving something to a select individual, the key is to remember tip #1: if it’s not something that you can do, or at least do a version of for everyone at the same level, then at least keep it quiet. Don’t feel guilty though, especially when you know the lucky staff member deserves the special gift. In organizational life, not everyone is equal – some contribute more than others and your thoughtfulness can send that message. Secondly, even if you spend the $2500 on your VP, you will get it back ten fold. 
Remember that small talk can be huge. Monday morning small talk can be seen by executives as too personal or as a waste of time. If you engage in the obligatory small talk every single Monday, it may in fact come across as phony, and may feel so as well. But, when one of your directors tells you they are competing in a mountain bike race for the first time, asking them about it on can show the kind of thoughtfulness that staff will remember for a long time. Taking note of special circumstances in an employee’s life – a special vacation, an ill relative, or a milestone of some kind – really should be noticed verbally by executives. To say nothing when you are aware of such circumstances would be a mistake. Your employees will notice, but will never tell you.

Who am I?

I used to think that discovering “who we are” was limited to adolescence.  But it seems that the Presidents, CEOs and owners of small and medium sized organizations are also struggling with their identities. In my work with a number of privately owned, small to medium sized organizations, I have noticed that as they grow, even slightly, the CEOs’ begin to wonder what exactly their role has become or will become. Whether the CEO was focused on selling or doing a bit of everything when the company was small, growth necessitates defining the CEO/President role before it becomes a problem. 
Starting a small business is an onerous task, especially at the beginning. I often think of it as starting a path in the woods: At the beginning you have to hold down all the grass yourself. Until you get the chance to have others use the path, you have to trample it yourself, over and over. Eventually, you will be so busy with walking the back end of the path, that you’ll need some help trampling the front end. So…your hire someone to help, and then someone else, etc. Soon, with all the help, the path no longer needs a “path starter” and your initial role is no longer required. But you still want to be part of the path, right? You are still the boss of the path, right? This path was “your vision”, right? Now what?
In one organization I work with, the President/CEO had actually been recruited from outside of this medium sized, family run business to grow it. He had taken a very “hands on” role due to the family culture, and played a role in hiring, vision, strategy, finance and especially sales. After one year, he had brought on (either through replacement or hiring) several specialized staff to take on specific responsibilities including HR, Finance and Sales. He wanted senior staff that could “hit the ground running” and could take on responsibility for decisions he just not have the time to do. The company had grown from 50 to 80 in one year and he had to pass on some tasks to these new players. Now, while he has done a great job, he had inadvertently made his original role less valuable. 
With some help, he was eventually able to redefine his role as being focused on sales and strategy and has been able to re-frame his role as President /VP Sales. This way, he prevented his role from becoming totally redundant, which would have altered his level of credibility in the organization and made any vision or strategy decisions difficult to move ahead. He was also able to ensure that his role focused on what he is best at, rather than abandoning it in the interest of being the “boss”. He was able to focus on what he needed to “do” as opposed to what he thought he should “be”. A wise choice. 
In another case, the CEO of a medium sized creative organization had been less lucky. This company had also grown, and where the CEO had once been focused on all areas of the business, his staff had been gradually taking over specific responsibilities. As well, this CEO truly wanted to empower his staff, so over time, he gave them even more autonomy and decision making authority. Eventually, he had given so much autonomy to his senior staff that they began to leave him out of basic processes – processes he had once taken joy in. In the early days, he would love to look at creative work before it went out the door. Now, his input was not required. And when he tried to insist on looking at the work, he was seen as micromanaging and going back on his promise to empower employees. He could no longer exercise his passion in business, in this business he helped to build. 
With some assistance, this CEO was able to figure out what was happening and to make some changes. CEO’s and Presidents in this same situation need to be able to see why they are less involved and not blame others for their ill-defined role. Then, they need to express that they feel left out, without feeling shameful for doing so. Organizations need to focus strategic planning during times of growth on articulating the role of the CEO or President, before it disappears. Presidents, CEO’s and other small/medium business owners need to discover what tasks and duties they need to keep and which ones they can let go during growth. For example, aspects of the organization’s strategic direction, vision and values ought to involve the President. But others may be best “let go” by the big boss, including some hiring and compensation decisions as well as deciding the paper stock for business cards, or the clolor of paint for the boardroom. Most importantly, CEO’s, Presidents and owners need to be sure to focus on what the business needs them to do, as opposed to what they or others think they should be.