SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions


Each week with thanks to Energia, broadcaster, entrepreneur and SME agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins Newstalk Drive to answer all your employment-related questions.

For the majority of people, a job is about far more than just the bottom line.

Dialogue, relationships and sometimes even confrontation are part and parcel of the daily grind for many of us and – at least until the robots take over – that is unlikely to change.

Chain of command forms the basis for many working relationships – but how do we ensure that we are not being taken for a ride?

This week, Bobby has the low-down on tackling some of the more awkward employment encounters - regardless of which end of the chain you find yourself on.

I have a manager who should work five days a week but comes and goes as she pleases, sometimes only working a three-day-week. She is a very forceful character and is prone to bullying - should I tell our area manager?

Knowledge is power and nobody likes to feel they are being taken advantage of – but for Bobby, if you are going to go over your boss’s head, you should tread very lightly.

“If you don’t do it the right way; if you don’t go in fully informed, armed with all the facts – it could end badly for you,” he says.

“I have seen it where somebody has genuinely made a complaint and ended up being the one that got fired.”

While there are a few different approaches on the table if you are certain you are being taken advantage of, “you have to make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you go anywhere.”

“That would be the advice I would be giving because it has to be absolutely water-tight,” he says.

“You always run the risk of ending up as the victim when you put your hand up – but that shouldn’t deter people in my view.”

Fergus in Dublin has been running his own logistics company for five years.

He writes that over the last 12 months his “right-hand-man” has been performing poorly. It is affecting the business and “after a lot of thought” he has decided he wants to let him go.

I am pretty sure I have followed all the internal steps – including issuing him with a written warning followed by some documented coaching afterwards but his performance continues to dis-improve.

He dropped the ball again last week and it resulted in a loyal, valuable customer almost taking his business elsewhere. I now want to fire him but I want to do so with confidence and I am concerned about the confrontation and possible fallout from that.

“I think Fergus in Dublin is in a good place here because he has clearly thought it through,” says Bobby, adding that as the process is now underway, it is all about moving forward confidently and calmly.

“He just has to make sure that he continues his good work here because he should not terminate without warning,” he says.

“He should do a meeting face-to-face. He should have a witness present. He should avoid any kind of lengthy confrontation. He shouldn’t argue or look for blame, he should just tell the person it is over and thank the person for their work.”

While an employee is entitled to an explanation, “it is not about entering debate.”

“You certainly keep your own dignity in relation to screaming and shouting,” he says. “You don’t show any emotion. You simply deliver the facts and reiterate the process you have gone through.”

“It is about referring back to the warning letter, referring back to the incident with the customer, referring to the reasons why – but it is not about negotiation.

“The decision is made and you are clinical in your estimation.”

Danny in Roscommon runs a small business that is profitable and going well – turning over €200,000 a year.

I want to improve the marketing of the business and ultimately the sales. I have a budget of €7,000 to spend per annum and everyone tells me I should be spending it digitally rather than traditionally, have you any thoughts?

A tough question to answer without more details on the business itself.

Bobby’s advice is that a good website, an online sales platform, proper brochures and a well-designed logo are just some of the basics that need to be in place before making the choice between digital and traditional.

“He has the right attitude, he is looking at sales but I think with different businesses you market different ways,” says Bobby.

There are no hard and fast rules and what is most important is understanding exactly what you are paying for – and exactly what kind of exposure you can expect form it.

“With digital marketing, if you are smart you can get a lot of bang for your buck but you just need to be careful because with Google ad words and that - they will take money off you all day,” he says.

“With all marketing and all campaigns, you just need to be able to measure them. So, whatever it is you are doing, whether it is brochures, whether it is print, whether it is text ads – measurement is key.”

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s Newstalk Drive here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to [email protected]

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