Niloufar Molavi is now facing a challenge that she hadn’t seen in her years with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP — acquiring and retaining talent for the accounting firm in the light of fierce competition. The complicating factor is that thanks to a heavy presence of energy companies, young talent in the Houston area is in high demand and supplies are low.

Molavi, Houston market managing partner for PwC, is realizing that you have to pull out all the stops to have an edge over the competition.

It’s no secret that PricewaterhouseCoopers over the years has developed comprehensive internship and management development programs that attract desirable young talent. Molavi is betting on those programs to make a difference.

“The average age of our workforce is 27 — so that will give you a sense of how much we rely on and focus on young talent such as college interns,” Molavi says.

“The students like to have an experience while they are in college, and they really don’t know what to expect ultimately when they come out of school, so we just give them that glimpse,” she says.

But more importantly, the interns will get to know PwC, which hopefully will lead to their choice of PwC for employment.

“It has been a great tool for us to not only recruit but they will see what it is like before they have to make a decision that will have an impact on their long-term careers,” Molavi says.

Here is how Molavi uses internship and management programs at the Houston location of PricewaterhouseCoopers to help fill the 1,069 seats at the table and keep those seats occupied.

Look and listen

The practice of finding and hiring qualified job candidates has grown more sophisticated for most companies in recent years. Such was the case of PwC some years ago when it started its internship program, now a well-entrenched fixture.

With the competition to secure talented individuals, it is essential to look for the skills that clients are demanding.

“It’s important to sit back and make sure that you have identified not only the technical skills in people you hire but, more importantly, the soft skills or the intangible skills that you are looking for in people,” Molavi says. “Identify what those are, and recognize over time those change — just because we know today what we are looking for may change over time. We live in an ever-changing environment, and you need to revisit that as often as you can to ensure that those intangibles haven’t changed.”

Once you sound out your clients, you’ll have a better opportunity to know what will best match their needs.

“The most important thing is listening,” Molavi says. “Spend a lot of time with your clients to make sure that you are listening to their issues, issues that are important to them, issues that they are dealing with, challenges and opportunities that are at the forefront of their minds.”

There are several key qualities that should be “must haves” on the intangible resume of an internship seeker.

“Adaptability — someone who’s willing to come in and adapt to new opportunities and a new environment,” Molavi says. “It’s someone who comes with flexibility of different ways of doing things.”

Equally as important is the attitude that learning is a dynamic procedure that lasts an entire career.

“Another important element is the ability and the desire to continue to relearn; when you are in an environment that’s changing all the time, you need to be comfortable that you are always learning, and it doesn’t really matter what level in the organization you’re at,” Molavi says.

If the desire to learn is kept burning, it can help establish a long-term interest in a particular field. The possibilities of advancement are many.

“Even as a leader, you can continue to have opportunities to learn new things every day,” she says. “For me, that’s exciting. That’s really what’s kept me in the industry and at PwC.”

Find the right fit

It’s been said that in the military as well as other sectors, the age group of 18 to the mid-20s make the best soldiers or workers if properly trained. And those who are even more well-trained do even better.

While the business world can’t really compare its stresses to those of the military, the advantages of young recruits are unmistakable — and similar in both fields.

“Our clients are always interested in our talent because we bring in the young; we help develop them,” Molavi says. “Our talent gets to see a lot of different opportunities and things and they learn pretty quickly on the job because of the exposure they get to our clients. So they are in high demand in the market. And we know that; that has been something we’ve been dealing with for years.”

With a focus on young talent, new entry-level candidates coming right off the college campus, it’s critical to look at their abilities and what they’ve learned on campus and their technical skills.

“First of all, try to find the right fit for the organization,” Molavi says. “At that entry level, spend quite a bit of time not only in the interview process on campus but spend time with those individuals over a two- or three-week period to get to know them and build that relationship — and then offer the best ones an internship.”

A typical internship lasts 10 to 12 weeks. It’s an opportunity to get to know the interns and see how they can work in the environment — and is a great opportunity for them as well to see what opportunities they may have.

“Look at a lot of those intangible qualities in individuals,” Molavi says. “Teamwork is huge for us. We work in teams. We do not do anything alone. So watching the interns work in teams and how they perform is important. Relationships are very important, both within our organization as well as with our clients, and watching how they develop those relationships and their abilities to learn in that area is essential.”

An internship is also a type of probationary period. It’s time to spot any red flags.

“I have had at least one person who interned with us, and at the end of the internship, she and I sat down together — she realized that accounting wasn’t for her and had never really been her passion,” Molavi says. “She had made certain decisions to go into the accounting field, and although she did a great job, she decided that her passion was somewhere else.”

Remember that interns are still students. Most will still have another year of college to finish.

“Internships happen generally right after their junior year for most individuals, so we don’t expect them to come in and know everything,” Molavi says. “We are not testing them on the technical knowledge that they are bringing to the table on day one, but you want to really look for those qualities for a good fit. Then put them on jobs that you would as brand-new associates so they get to experience what it’s like when they join as a full-time hire.”

One of the more important steps any organization needs to consider when you bring in interns is if you will have the opportunities for them to learn and develop in that short period of time.

“If they come in and they are not getting those opportunities, then it is going to be difficult,” Molavi says. “I think any business needs to look at how it is structured and what opportunities it can offer to an intern.

“I know that many of my clients even use internships to give students a sneak peek of an industry by bringing them in over a summer period and rotating them through various parts of their organization.”

Focus on the basics

It’s a serious undertaking for an organization to operate an effective internship program. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ program, while a significant commitment for the company, looks at it more as on-the-job training.

“On-the-job learning and development is really important,” Molavi says. “We do that quite a bit, and it’s easy too. I mean it doesn’t cost you a lot of money; you’ve just got to make sure that you are paying attention to it.

“You take the opportunity as you would a project — you stop and make sure that your team understands what you’re doing, why you are doing it, why it is important to your client, what they are going to learn from it so that it doesn’t just become a task; rather, it becomes a learning opportunity.”

As you develop your training programs over the months and years, design as much on-the-job training into it as possible, and it will help pay dividends.

“When we look at our training programs, about 70 percent of it is actually on-the-job training — every day on projects, at clients, real-time feedback and learning,” Molavi says.

PwC’s program has evolved over time to its current configuration: Each intern is mentored by three colleagues.

“One, they will have a buddy,” Molavi says. “They will have an associate who is closer to age and in experience to them, someone they can go to from day one with any questions they may have. They could be administrative, technical or industry questions. The buddy is someone with whom they can engage on a day-to-day basis.”

In addition to a buddy, each intern has a mentor who is a manager/coach.

“The manager ensures that they are getting the experiences, the exposure, the developmental opportunities,” she says. “The managers are responsible for their assignments during that period and help the interns through that.”

The last is a mentor who will nurture what are often called soft skills.

“The interns also get a relationship partner so they will actually have a mentor who will be engaging with them and spending the time to talk about opportunities in the profession, and more importantly for our interns, the opportunities at PwC that they will have in the long term,” Molavi says.

“The program involves quite a bit of investment but again it has become a very important source for our full-time hiring, and we believe the investment ultimately pays off both for us and the recruits.”

Another aspect of an internship program is shadowing. Interns are given the opportunity to shadow a partner for one day to get a glimpse into a day of a partner’s life.

“Because they see us in bits and pieces, the interns probably don’t really realize everything in which a partner may be involved,” she says.

“One of my interns a couple of years ago had the opportunity to shadow me,” Molavi says. “She had a fantastic experience. It just happened to be one of those days where I was doing a lot of different things. We started off the day when I was actually in a coaching session with one of my ‘coachees,’ and moved on to an interview that I was doing that day with a publication. She got to sit in on that.

“We went to lunch with a client. We had a client meeting that she attended with me. Then we came back and dealt with some of my internal roles.

“She was just amazed at what I touch in one day and saw things that she would be very interested in down the road. So hopefully those kinds of looks give the interns a little bit more in terms of what a day could be as they go through a shadowing process.”

Develop new leaders

If your organization has made it a practice to have an internship program, it needs an employee advancement plan to get the most advantage of the intern program.

Tapping outside talent for management posts is not an easy process today, and it is beneficial to promote from within, not only to recognize that individual but to prepare in case a manager should leave. Talent that started as interns is an excellent source for management positions because of the familiarity with the company and work records that show advancement through the ranks.

For example, PwC uses a global leadership development program called Genesis Park for employees who are approaching some nine years of experience — a senior manager or director. This is a 10-week residential program for about 50 people, three times a year, which moves around the globe.

“You bring in individuals from around the world so every one of these 10-week residential programs is very global and very diverse,” Molavi says. “You are bringing people together who have never worked with each other — to work with each other.

“It takes individuals through what I call real-life experiences. This is not a situation where they’re going to role-play. It gives them the opportunities to work on real projects for either a particular territory, PwC territory or a global issue that our global leadership is dealing with.

“They’ll have the opportunity to work on that project and come back with solutions and thoughts. So they are really learning and having that experience of working with individuals they didn’t know before, bringing different talents together, putting their minds together and driving innovation to come up with solutions.”

Programs such as Genesis Park allow employees to not only continue to develop professionally but personally, as well, with leadership skills.

“My coachee who went through came back out in some ways a different person,” Molavi says. “The most important change that I noticed was the self-confidence that she gained from being part of that team and part of that opportunity, and knowing that, she exhibited an attitude, ‘Wow, I did this, and I was able to have a very different experience, and it felt good, and I learned a lot.’”

How to reach: PricewaterhouseCoopers, or (713) 356-4000


The Molavi File

Niloufar Molavi

Houston market managing partner

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Born: Tehran, Iran

Education: University of Texas at Austin, with both my bachelor’s in business administration and master’s in accounting

What was your first job?

My very first job that I got paid for was working during summer school at Houston Memorial High School, and I helped the staff in the office, running a lot of different errands.

What has been the best business advice you ever received?

To be willing to take risks. In terms of my career development, this has been the best advice that anyone could give me — the fact that someone took the time to sit me down and talk about the fact that unless you take risks, you’re not going to learn, you’re not going to develop, you’re not going to see new opportunities. You need to step out of your comfort zone and do it often.

When you become complacent and you’re getting comfortable with something, it’s time to do something different. So that is something that has certainly stuck with me. My sponsors early on pushed me and gave me those opportunities, opened those doors for me to step out of my comfort zone and do different things. It certainly has been very important to me, and I have seen it help me in my career and in the advice that I give others.

Who do you admire in the business world?

There are a lot of individuals who have accomplished great things, so maybe the way I would put it is not so much the individuals but those people who going back to what I was taught who had been authentic. They are not trying to be someone who they’re not. They are authentic leaders. They have at times put their necks out there and done something different that was not conventional, taking the risk, and then been successful at it.

Those are the people that I look to, those individuals who aren’t always going to be sitting at the top of organizations. They’re not necessarily going to be the CEOs but individuals who have had significant impact on success with an organization, for-profit or nonprofit as well.

What is your definition of business success?

For me, I think it is really simple: if you think about the success and the legacy that is behind, to be able to have clients who would say, ‘Well, she was our business partner and she was able to help us achieve our business goals.’ Being a tax practitioner, it is important to make sure that we are helping our clients achieve their goals. I think that would be to me a great legacy to leave behind if I could look back at the number of partners I have personally made so that they could be successful.

Published in Houston

Companies typically want to do what’s right for those they serve. Key priorities should be customers, investors, employees and the communities in which the company is located — but not necessarily always in this order. The dilemma, however, is that many times short-term decisions can prove to be long-term problems that cause more pain than the initial gain.

It’s difficult to make all constituents happy every time. As a result, management must prioritize decisions with a clear understanding that each action has ramifications, which could manifest themselves in the short, intermediate or long term. Seldom does a single decision serve all of the same timelines. There are no easy answers and anyone who has spent even a short amount of time running a business has already learned this fact of life. So what’s a leader to do?

It’s a sure bet that investors want a better return, employees want more money and benefits, and customers want better quality products, higher levels of service and, oh yes, lower prices. This simply all goes with the territory and is a part of the game. The problem can be that, most times, it’s hard to give without taking something away from someone else. Here are a couple of examples.

Take the case of deciding to improve employee compensation packages. Ask the auto companies what happened when they added a multitude of perks over the years, as demanded by the unions? The auto titans thought they didn’t have much choice, lest they run the risk of alienating their gigantic workforces. History has shown us the ramifications of their actions as the majority of these manufacturers came close to going belly up, which would have resulted in huge job losses and an economic tsunami.

Basic math caused the problems. The prices charged for cars could not cover all of the legacy costs that accrued over the years, much like barnacles building up on the bottom of a ship to the point where the ship could sink from the weight. Hindsight is 20/20, and, of course, the auto companies should have been more circumspect about creating benefit packages that could not be sustained. Yes, the employees received an increase to their standard of living for a time anyway, but at the end of the day, a company cannot spend more than it takes in and stay in business for long.

Investors in public companies can present a different set of problems because they can have divergent objectives. There are the buy-and-hold investors, albeit a shrinking breed, who understand that for a company to have long-term success, it must invest in the present to build for the future. The term “immediate gratification” is not in their lexicon; they’re in it for the long haul. Another type of investor might know or care little about a company’s future, other than whether its earnings per share beat Wall Street estimates. These investors buy low and sell high, sometimes flipping the stock in hours or days. And, actually, both types are doing what’s right for them. The issue becomes how to serve the needs and goals of both groups. When a company effectively articulates its strategy, it tends to attract the right type of investors who are buying in for the right reason. This will avoid enticing the wrong investors who turn hostile because they want something that the company won’t deliver.

When interviewing and before hiring employees, it is imperative that candidates know where the company wants to go and how it plans to get there. Many times, this means telling the prospective newbie that the short-term compensation and benefits may not be as good as the competitors’ down the street, but in the longer term, the company anticipates being able to significantly enhance employee packages, with the objective of eventually outmatching the best payers because of the investments in equipment being made today.

The key to satisfying employees (present and prospective), investors, et al, is communicating the types of decisions a company will make over a specific period of time. Communication from the get-go is integral to the rules of engagement and can alleviate huge problems that can otherwise lead to dissatisfaction.

Knowing what is right for your company, based on your stated plan that has been well-communicated, will help ensure that you do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at

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Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:44

People first

When visiting one of InfoCision’s offices, you’ll notice more than the tables, chairs and water cooler found in a typical workplace. It is not out of the ordinary to pass a yoga class practicing downward dog, a physician scribbling a prescription or a preschool class reciting the alphabet.

While these scenes may be out of place in many employers’ offices, InfoCision has worked hard to make them a staple. The company recognizes its employees are the heart of its business, so it focuses on recruiting and retaining them with a variety of amenities and benefits, says Kim Murphy, vice president of employee benefits at InfoCision.

"We strive to give our employees a work-life balance," Murphy says. "We want to provide opportunities for employees to handle things like exercising at work so when they go home, they can focus on their families. And we believe that contributes to a happier, healthier employee."

Amenities include:

  • InfoFitness centers: These 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot gyms include top-of-the-line equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and recumbent bicycles. The centers also offer classes such as aerobics or yoga, and are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They are free for InfoCision employees and family members covered under the company’s health plans. Many InfoCision employees and even entire departments attend classes together. "My department works through lunch, then at 4 p.m. we all go down as a group," Murphy says. "It's nice to have that support — on the days when you don't want to go, you have your coworkers pushing you, and it makes it a lot easier."

  • InfoWellness clinics and programs: InfoCision provides on-site doctors for both employees and family members regardless if they participate in its health plans. The company also has a prescription concierge service so employees don't need to run out to pick up their medications. Other wellness programs include free smoking-cessation programs and subsidized weight-loss programs.

  • InfoKids Early Learning Center: This fully licensed child care center at InfoCision's corporate headquarters in Akron can care for more than 90 children ages 6 weeks to 14 years. The center offers summer programs, two infant rooms and toddler and preschool rooms, play areas, educational toys and computers. It provides a creative curriculum education model. InfoCision's satellite call centers offer subsidized child care options.

  • InfoCision Management Corporate University: Geared toward salaried staff who have a clear path of advancement within the company, IMCU offers free or discounted workforce development through on-site programs as well as outside classes and workshops through the University of Akron and other local institutions.

  • Employee assistance program: InfoCision provides employees with a toll-free number to call for financial advice or free counseling sessions for anything from a death in the family to a divorce. The employee receives recommended local counseling services, and he or she can use the services as much as he or she needs.

  • On-site delis: InfoCision's Café 5 on-site delis offer healthy hot and cold meals, snacks and gourmet coffee. In addition, InfoCision's vending machines now offer healthy choices.

InfoCision also offers a comprehensive benefits package for both salaried and hourly employees, Murphy says. These benefits are available upon hire and include health care, vision and dental plans, paid holidays, free life and disability insurance, paid personal and vacation time, quarterly bonuses, paid training and tuition reimbursement. InfoCision also offers 401(k) participation after 90 days of employment.

Aside from amenities and benefits, InfoCision also strives to create a work environment in which employees can excel. "For as big as we’ve gotten, we still have a family feel," Murphy says.

"It starts when you enter the front doors and the receptionist greets you like you're family even if you've never been here before. We also have a newsletter for employees every month, and our executives speak regularly to our employees and are open for questions or available to talk afterwards. That open communication really makes a big difference."

InfoCision also has a group that travels to its facilities and speaks with employees about what's happening at the company and in the workplace. This program, in conjunction with an employee suggestion box, is meant to provide an open forum for employees to voice ideas or concern.

"We have an open-door policy," Murphy says. "Our employees have the opportunity to speak to not only to their supervisors and team leaders — as our supervisor to communicator ratio is one to nine — but our executives as well. That's not something that's typically found at other companies, but we believe it is a key part of recruitment and retention."

For more information on employee benefits and amenities, contact Kim Murphy at or visit

Published in Cleveland

Current statistics show an average of three in five employers offer wellness programs, so it’s no surprise employers are seeking help from their benefits administrators and insurers to get employees interested and engaged.

“Getting employee participation and buy-in can be a struggle for some employers introducing a wellness program in their workplace,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc.  “Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to increase your chances of having a successful program.”

Smart Business spoke to Hauser about things employers should consider to get employee buy-in and participation when implementing a new wellness program.

What is the most important factor when implementing a wellness program?

Before you commit to and implement a wellness program, make sure you have dedicated resources within your company who can give your wellness program the attention it needs and deserves. Coordinating a successful wellness program requires at least three to four hours of attention each week, and it means more than simply hanging or displaying posters and sharing health tips. Having an internal employee committed to sharing information about the wellness program, answering questions that may come up from other employees and acting as the ‘go-to’ person to assist with any necessary preparations for wellness-related events will increase your chances of having a successful program.

A successful and well-managed wellness program involves on-site activities, including events such as flu shot clinics, worksite wellness seminars, fairs and information sessions, and even group exercise classes.

It is also important to make sure you have more than just senior level buy-in; a wellness program requires time and attention from others in your company who can help make it happen.

How can I get employees in my company involved and committed to a wellness program?

Two questions we often receive from employers that have implemented wellness programs in their workplaces are, ‘Why are our programs not working?’ and, ‘Why are our employees not engaged?’ Simply put, wellness requires attention and nurturing, and a successful wellness program needs ‘cheerleaders’ to support it.

One way to get your employees involved and committed to a wellness program is to create a wellness committee comprising representatives from several areas or departments in your workplace. Forming a wellness committee that includes employees acting as representatives will allow for more feedback about the wellness program you are offering, while serving as a listening platform for challenges and questions among other employees in different areas of the company. These employees and committee members are great sounding boards for what is working and what isn’t, and they can help lead and coordinate the programs and services.

The other benefit of having employees on your wellness committee is that they, too, can and will encourage wellness and participation from their co-workers and friends. Co-workers are likely to support others who are leading wellness efforts, and these relationships can turn into future opportunities for wellness initiatives and activities, such as healthy brown bag lunch days, walking and weight-loss clubs and more.

What kind of wellness program is most popular and attractive to employees?

Wellness programs that offer incentives for participation are successful at getting employees involved. The fact is, people like — and sometimes expect — to be rewarded for good behavior. Offering perks for involvement can help give your wellness program longevity.

When incentives for participation are offered, employees are more likely to be motivated to participate, and this is especially true when the incentives for participation involve money. With this in mind, many employers are moving to an outcome-based rewards program that essentially gives employees the opportunity to earn money back on premiums they pay if certain pre-established wellness goals are met. Outcome-based rewards are popular incentives to influence the behavior of your employees and have a better chance at encouraging behavior and lifestyle changes because of the opportunity to ‘pay less’ for premiums. Because these rewards are often tied to employees’ paychecks and premiums paid for benefits, they are more likely to be motivated to participate when they see the effects of their participation — or lack thereof — on their regular pay stubs.

If you are interested in offering a wellness program that offers incentives and/or an outcome-based rewards program, it’s a good idea to start small and slowly cultivate your program based on employee feedback. In the first year or two, you can offer employees small incentives for participation in activities such as screenings and/or completion of a Health Risk Appraisal, and in the next couple years build up to an outcome-based rewards program with varying levels of rewards depending on goals met.

It’s also important to note that under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, employers will be permitted to offer employees rewards of up to 30 percent, potentially increasing to 50 percent, of the cost of coverage for participating in a wellness program and meeting certain health-related standards. This would give employees an even better incentive for living a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, could give you greater employee engagement.

Regardless of what kind of wellness program you decide to implement, it is important to check with your legal department and labor laws before committing to any program.

The key to any successful program is the support it receives, as well as communicating the program to employees. Discuss your company’s culture and wellness goals with your benefits administrator or insurer so they can help you select a wellness program that is right for you.

Marty Hauser is the CEO of SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Summa Care, Inc.

Published in Akron/Canton

Who have you hired lately? What do you know about their backgrounds? Is the information they provided on their resume or application accurate? The National Credit Verification Service says that 25 percent of the MBA degrees it verifies on resumes are false. College and university registrars report that at least 60 percent of the degrees they are asked to verify are falsified. The Wall Street Journal reports that 34 percent of all job applications contain lies regarding experience, education and the ability to perform essential functions of the job.

Smart Business spoke to Ron Williams at Talon Companies about how business owners can avoid the liability of making a bad — or dangerous — hire through the proper use of background checks.

Why should employers be concerned with accurate background checks?

Consider these statistics:

  • 30 percent of small business failure is caused by employee theft
  • Internal employee-related thefts occur 15 times more often than external theft
  • Embezzlement losses exceed $4 billion every year
  • ‘Other’ employee crimes cost businesses an estimated $50 billion annually

What do business leaders need to know when hiring employees?

Even more deadly than fiscal loss due to employee dishonesty is workplace violence. Not to mention the harm it causes employees and the company’s reputation, statistics show that the average award in a workplace violence lawsuit exceeds $1 million per case and, overall, on-the-job violence costs employers $36 billion per year.

One of the easiest and most effective ways a company can protect itself and its assets against loss of any type is to hire the right people. Although obvious, this advice is seldom heeded by employers, who rely on intuition in making hiring decisions more often than established facts learned through background checks.

Most businesses have neither the expertise nor the time to wade through the mountains of information from an almost infinite number of sources, all available to verify and check the background of an applicant. By failing to perform even the most rudimentary background check on a potential employee, employers are exposing themselves to liability for negligent hiring and, after the fact, for negligent retention.

What is negligent hiring?

Today, it is fairly common knowledge that employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment for their employees. But not everyone is aware of the consequences that can stem from negligent hiring and/or negligent retention of employees.

Negligent hiring occurs when an employer does not exercise ‘reasonable care’ in hiring a new employee. More and more, legal actions are resulting in judgements that find employers liable for negligent hiring situations when an employee was hired into a position without the proper checks in place to verify that individual’s history. An employer who hires someone with a history of criminal behavior, when that emp;loyee harms another employee, client, or vendor, is likely to be held accountable. Additionally, employers run the risk of being held liable for negligent retention if they do not respond appropriately to signals from current employees that they may pose a threat to those with whom they associate through work.

What can happen to an employer who does not conduct appropriate background checks?

As an example, an armored truck company in Los Angeles paid a $12 million settlement in a negligent hiring and training lawsuit. The suit alleged that the company did not adequately investigate an employee’s past work record or provide adequate driver training.

In a federal court in Tennessee, a store customer was inured when restrained by a security guard who had identified the customer as a shoplifter. The customer was awarded $10 million in damages, claiming negligent hiring and failure to properly train the guard.

In Dallas, Texas, a suit against the owners and management of an apartment complex was settled for $5 million. The suite filed by family members of a deceased tenant, alleged that the tenant was killed by the assistant manager’s brother. The suit claimed that management was negligent in hiring as assistant manager without conducting a criminal background check. In this example, it was not even an employee who was identified as the murderer, yet the employer was cited for not conducting simple criminal background checks.

What should employers do to prevent these kinds of suits?

Because employers are held accountable if they knew, should have known, or had any reason to believe that an employee or prospective employee posed a risk of threat to others, it is essential that thorough background checks be conducted and documented.

At a minimum, every employer should carefully inspect the information recorded by an applicant on his or her application. Are any patterns of short-term employment noted? Ask the applicant for his or her explanation, then verify their explanations through a reliable background check agency. Social Security number verification, criminal and civil record searches and credit reports should all be part of an employer’s pre-employment screening program.

Proper screening of employees makes it possible for an employer to make an informed decision about applicants before they are hired and brought into the workplace. Such basic practices give an employer the ability to create a safe and profitable work environment and protect against loss.

For more information on background checks of all types, please contact Talon at (714) 434-7476.

Ron Williams is the CEO at Talon Companies. Reach him at (800) 808-2566 or Reach Talon Companies Headquarters at, (800) 808-2566, or

Talon Cyber Tec is a subsidiary of Talon Executive Services, an independent risk management firm providing full spectrum services to secure corporate assets and prevent loss due to malevolent acts.

Published in Los Angeles

How many times have you been disappointed because one of your employees or associates didn’t produce as promised or as you expected? How many times when this occurred did you merely chalk it up as a black mark against the offender? If this is a recurring theme with those who work for you, then perhaps you should look in the mirror as the problem may be with you — not them.

The fact is that most employees want to do it right. Most actually work diligently at doing what they believe is expected. The best of these employees aggressively make that extra effort to take their performance to the next level.

In order for employees to deliver and excel, it is your job to first thoroughly explain what is expected of them on every major new effort. Failures come in all sizes and shapes, but there is typically one common denominator underlying the miss. It usually starts with a failure to communicate, including defining the key elements necessary to effectively accomplish the goal. Secondly, the necessary check points probably were not established from the get-go to prevent the project from straying off course. Finally, the person doing the work may not have been told the importance of the assignment, and that he or she must ask for help if problems were to arise. Human nature is to “whistle in the dark” and forge ahead even if there is that nagging sense that all is not right.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If you want something done and done correctly you must take the time and make the effort to simply explain the task and provide the pertinent details. If the people undertaking the work understand the purpose and the expected benefits, they’ll be more deliberate in producing an appropriate finished product. Understanding the goals dramatically increases the odds of success. If people don’t know why they are being told to do something, it’s not realistic to expect them to even care.

Too frequently, bosses think that employees will understand what must be done and think this will come about through some magical process or by osmosis. This would be nice, but it just doesn’t work that way. Many times you won’t get feedback on the task’s progress because too many people believe it’s a sign of weakness to report in or to ask questions. There is an easy fix to that problem; if you’re not getting a sense of the status of what’s happening and it’s an important effort — you go to them. When you lose touch with the evolution of a significant project, your people could sense this as a sign that it’s not important to you.

Too frequently when an effort results in disappointments, everything hits the fan. This causes various degrees of angst on numerous fronts and, most important, radically reduces productivity, leads to missed deadlines and, even worse, may result in a costly lost opportunity.

If a project goes south it’s mandatory that you find out why. Many times it’s too easy and convenient for the boss to say, “handle it,” without explaining what “it” means. The combination of those two words, followed by the assignee stating, “I’m on it,” without having all the blanks properly filled in, makes it a good bet that the end results will not be pretty.

Clearly, not every undertaking requires a detailed explanation or a well-documented work plan, but even the simplest task needs to be articulated clearly and requires an answer to this question: Is this a “down and dirty” job or do you need near perfection? Also you must provide a deadline. If you don’t give one, the employee can’t prioritize his or her work.

The much-quoted statement dating back to the War of 1812 proclaimed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Business is tough enough as it is; make sure you’re not the enemy contributing to a failure because you didn’t communicate what needs to be known by all involved so there are no surprises. The first rule of being a leader is to provide explicit directions to those who must follow you. If the employee fails, you’re not the only one who will be disappointed — he or she will be, too.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at

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