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Marriage and Finances

If you’re getting married you probably have a lot of questions on how your life will change in regards to finances. It can be tricky business merging to financial lives together. If you want to have a long, healthy, and happy life together you have to sort things out financially. The leading cause of divorce is money matters so if you don’t have a clear understanding on how you both operate in regards to money, you’re stacking the odds against you. Here are some quick tips you can use to make your marriage stand the test of time:Are you compatible? Money is a sensitive subject and many couples avoid discussing the finances with each other. Finances are just one of the many issues that you need to talk about before getting married. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you say “I do.” Many officiates will offer pre-marital counseling and this is a good time to bring up the subject of money, especially if you suspect you might have problems with it down the road.Think of the taxes. Your tax bill could be higher as a married couple than it is now. So considerably higher that you might want to plan your wedding around it. The only way to find out exactly how it will effect you is to break out a tax return, put in you and your partner’s numbers and see how the IRS will treat you after you’re married.Make joint goals. If you both have differing ideas of what you should be doing with your money it’s as if you’re both tethered to each other but trying to run in different directions. You won’t get very far until you synchronize your efforts. You won’t know what the other person feels is important until you sit down and talk about your financial goals.How will you handle finances? Some married couples pool their money together while others keep things mostly separated. Mixing money can have its good and its bad qualities. Talk with your partner about how you both think money should be handled once you’re husband and wife.Team up on employer benefits. If you’re both employed full time and are receiving benefits you’ll want to compare them and see which one offers better coverage for you both. One of you will likely have better benefits than the other, and you’ll want to switch your coverage to the better one.Talk about insurance. If you both are dependent on each other’s income then you’ll want to insure each other in the even that something happens. If you can make do without the other’s income then you probably don’t need to worry about the added cost of getting insurance.Keep your wills current. Updating your wills is an important thing to do and you should make one if you haven’t done so yet. With any major life change you’ll want to keep your will current and also reconsider the beneficiaries you have listed.

Photography Tips For the Photo Doldrums – Icy Streams and Rain, Icicles and Snowflakes

More Of Water’s Cold Season Photo OpsIn this article we’ll cover photography tips for overcoming the photo doldrums with water as icy streams, freezing rain, icicles and snowflakes:#1 – Icy Streams: A quietly running stream won’t make “tenacious grace” but after it thinly freezes over, it may sculpt the underside of the ice with the gently running water and any air bubbles that get trapped there. The resulting patterns can be very photogenic.#2 – Freezing Rain: A special instance of ice is freezing rain. Look for interesting things – grasses, leaves, branches and twigs, etc encased in it. Exposure can be tricky with the reflected light, so bracket your exposures!#3 – Icicles: Spikes of ice formed when ice or snow is melted by sunlight or some other heat source, and the resulting melted water runs or drips into an area where the temperature is below the freezing point, causing the water to refreeze. Over time continued water runoff/dripping causes the icicle to grow. Icicles can be found under roof edges of buildings and on branches and twigs, etc. Whether solitary or in groups, they can be very photogenic when back or side lit or hanging against a dark background.#4 – Snowflakes: You take these pictures outside by catching the flakes on a towel, then transferring the flakes with a short plastic stick to a microscope slide, then placing the slide on a somewhat larger piece of glass which is suspended about 6″ above a sheet of colored poster board, then shoot straight down with a macro-focusing lens. For more sophisticated tools and techniques, just do an online search using “snowflake photos.”Self-Assignments For Above Photography TipsChoose the projects that interest you most. Follow the photography tips conscientiously. Re-shoot when you aren’t satisfied. Do it til you are satisfied. It’ll take all your patience and passion. Your skills and eye will improve with the practice. Shoot especially in early and late light. Use a tripod as much as possible. Edit your results relentlessly. Pin small samples on the wall for a few days to study before making final prints for wall art.Photography Tip #1 – Icy Streams: Locate a quietly running stream in freezing weather and it will probably form smooth ice on top. The underside of the ice will be etched by the running water and any air bubbles in it, creating lines and patterns. Shoot straight down on it for an overall sharp picture.Photography Tip #2 – Freezing Rain: When a heavy freezing rain falls, the problem becomes one of too many interesting things to shoot! Take your time and look around to find something really outstanding, more or less by itself, with a dark or strongly colored background and shoot it.Photography Tip #3 – Icicles: In freezing weather check out the eaves troughs around rooftops of houses and heated garages, looking for icicles. Try, if possible, to find them around eye level or slightly lower so you can keep the entire icicle(s) sharp top to bottom when you take your pictures.Photography Tip #4 – Snowflakes: Set up your snowflake “studio” and proceed to get a couple of flakes together on your microscope slide. Place the slide above a piece of medium-dark blue poster board, and then shoot straight down on the flakes.In the final article of this set we’ll consider photography tips for overcoming the photo doldrums with two more of water’s cold season photo op’s: snow scenes and snow storms.

Retail Operations – Effective Branch Manager Support and Guidance

Performance and behaviour management is by far the most difficult aspect of any manager’s job and the reluctance to ‘grasp the nettle’ when performance or behaviour issues emerge is certainly a concern in many organisations. But at the end of the day that is what managers are paid to do and not doing so will certainly affect service, team morale, sales and ultimately the bottom line.Why does this reluctance exist, why do so many mangers back away from confrontation? The problems and challenges that need to be overcome are many and the common reasons and ‘excuses’ for not doing so are as follows:It is Risky – There is a worry in the back of the manager’s mind that discussions could turn into heated arguments and that they may open themselves up for harassment or bullying accusations. There is also a concern that team moral and motivation may be damaged by tackling an under-performer and that the team may even turn against the manager.It is Complicated and Difficult- Performance and behaviour management is not straight forward, it is very seldom clear cut or black and white. It is ‘grey area’ stuff and often involves opinions, perceptions and subjectivity. As managers feel they cannot quantify and then justify their concerns clearly enough they do not attempt to do so.It is Hard Work and Time Consuming – Many managers feel they do not have the time to sort out under-performers and that it is low on the priority list. “It is not worth the hassle” is a common comment to be heard.Denial – Many managers are either blind to the fact that a person is under-performing or behaving unacceptably or they do not see it is a serious enough issue to address. There are even managers who believe that it is not their job to tackle performance and behaviour issues and that some day, someone will come along and do it for them.Many of the aforementioned points tend to be excuses rather than reasons but there are a number of more important points that need to be taken into consideration:Lack of Training – No new manager has any previous experience of performance and behaviour issues when they move into a manager role for the first time. New managers often inherit performance or behaviour issues from the previous manager and yet are not given relevant training for tackling these issues from the onset. Giving managers basic employment law training and the company procedures to read is not the ‘practical’ training they need and is certainly insufficient on its own. All managers need a thorough grounding in the use of the performance management tools and practice in their use. Job specs, probationary periods, reviews, counselling sessions, appraisals and the disciplinary procedures are all useful performance and behaviour tools when used correctly and at the right time. Yet this vital training is not made on someone’s appointment, often it is made later in their careers when much damage has been done.Courage and Confidence – Doing something risky, difficult and complicated requires both courage and confidence. Unfortunately many branch managers lack both. Even if managers are given the knowledge and skill to tackle performance or behaviour issues, they will not do so without these essential qualities.The problems and challenges are undoubtedly great and many may see the issue as un-resolvable however there is someone available to branch managers who can help them overcome many of the problems and challenges and that someone is their boss the Area Manager.Guidance, Coaching and Support
The area manger is the only person who can guide, coach and support branch managers in the addressing of performance or behaviour issues. They can un-complicate the issues and help managers build a strong case for presenting to an employee. The area manager can also help the manager minimise the risk of harassment or bullying claims by ensuring the correct procedures are being used and that the managers say the right things in the correct way.More importantly a good area manager will ‘encourage’ and give the manager much needed confidence. The area manager is the only one who can do this but unfortunately in many instances this is not happening and by not doing so area managers are unconsciously (or consciously) influencing a reluctance to tackle performance or behaviour issues within their branches.Why is this happening?Asking for support and guidance – Many branch managers are certainly reluctant to approach their area manager when they experience performance or behaviour issues within the team. If the matter falls into the gross misconduct category then managers will contact the area manager (and HR function) in the first instance. But for ‘grey area’ performance or behaviour matters they tend to keep the issues to themselves.
The reasons for this are as follows:Many branch managers feel:* The area manager may see it as a trivial matter and not important enough to bring to their attention.* That seeking advice and guidance will be seen in a negative way by the area manager.* The area manager will go into fault finding mode rather than helping find solutions.* The area manager may start questioning the branch manager’s ability to do the job.Many managers have in the past gone to their area mangers for advice and support on team performance issues but received such a negative, unhelpful reply that many were put off from ever doing so again, even when they changed to a different area manager.There is also a feeling that area managers themselves do not know what to do either. “Bring me solutions not problems” is a common comment heard by branch managers when they have taken a ‘people’ issue to their area manager.Offering support and guidanceIt is a fact that very few area managers actively encourage branch managers to talk about their ‘people’ issues or are prepared to probe below the surface to identify possible performance or behaviour problems that may be affecting the business. There are many examples where area managers have placed managers in ‘problem’ branches without preparing them for the issues they will face or helped or supported them once they have taken up the position. Basically they throw them to the wolves and then leave them to get on with it.Another common issue is when the assistant manager of the branch is turned down for the manager position. Very few area managers are competent in explaining why an individual was not appointed and give excuses rather than valid reasons. This results in the new manager having to experience considerable hostility and resentment from not only their deputy but from many of the team also.Why do many area managers not offer support or guidance or dig below the surface looking for performance issues? There are a number of reasons for this.Unconscious CompetenceThere is a saying that “Good Management will result in good people staying and not-so-good people either improving or leaving. Where as Bad Management will result in good people leaving and not-so-good people staying and possibly getting even worse”.During their time as branch managers, many area managers did not experience risky, difficult or complicated people issues. If they did, they often resolved them unconsciously. They just acted as good managers should, which resulted in the issues being resolved quickly. Ask any manager who is competent in performance or behaviour management “how do you do it or what do you do?” and you will probably receive a shrug of the shoulders and a comment like “I don’t know specifically, I just do it” (Unconscious Competence)Unconscious competence is not acceptable at area management level as a key requirement of the job is to coach and train branch managers in performance management. Area managers can only fulfil this critical function if they know exactly what is to be done and how to do it. (Conscious competence)Conscious IncompetenceUnfortunately there are area managers in existence who ‘know’ they are not personally competent in dealing with performance and behaviour issues and will go to great lengths not to expose this weakness to others. (Conscious incompetence) These area managers tend to encourage branch managers to not make waves, maintaining the status quo and to tolerate rather than develop. They certainly do not dig below the surface in a branch seeking ‘people’ issues that may be affecting the business.One of the most disappointing comments I heard from a seasoned area manager when asked why he was not supporting his managers was “I am not allowed to get involved as I am the next step of the appeal process”.A good measure of an area manager’s competence is to look at the performance and behaviour of the area manager’s branch manager team. It is pretty certain that if they cannot coach and encourage branch mangers in the tackling of performance and behaviour issues then you can be sure they themselves are not tackling branch manager performance or behaviour issues.Possible SolutionsIf a retail organisation needs to tackle performance or behaviour issues at branch levels, I believe they need to develop the skills and competence of performance management at area management level first as area managers alone have the authority and are the biggest influence on branch manager effectiveness.Unconscious competent area managers need to become consciously competent so they can not only develop others but also develop themselves further. Conscious incompetent area managers need to admit that they are not effective in performance or behaviour management and be prepared to learn and develop the necessary skills. If they are not prepared to do so then they themselves need to be performance managed by the company. After all, Executives cannot demand that branch managers tackle performance and behaviour issues one moment and then not do so themselves when they need to. That isn’t leading by example