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Ask PETS+: Can You Ask Staff to Sign a COVID-19 Liability Waiver?

And what’s wrong with SMART goals?




arrows miss the target

Year after year, I set SMART goals for my staff, which we never meet. Any ideas what we’re doing wrong?

To the rational mind, it’s hard to argue with the SMART mnemonic — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely — when it comes to goals. At the heart of it is achievable, after all. When it comes to managing humans, though, it’s best to be wary of anything that gives off the clinical odor of rationality. In the place of SMART goals, we propose an experiment for you: In 2021, try some Vague and Seemingly Irrelevant goals (yep, the sort of targets that can’t even be counted on to form a clever acronym). Clear goals such as “Increase sales by 20 percent” can be motivating, but also create extra hurdles to fail at, which can throw the human mind into a tizzy (like a yellow Post-it sticker on your mirror that says “Don’t eat a donut today!”) Worse, they risk distorting behavior. Vague goals, on the other hand, can be liberating. As for “seemingly irrelevant” the key word is “seemingly.” This is management at a higher level. Identify the secret drivers to business success — be it actions that result in a positive review on social media or a promotion that boosts revenues in a particular category — and you may actually get the specific financial results you desire. In his book The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman tells the story of a Formula One pit crew whose members were told they would no longer be assessed on the basis of speed; they would be rated on style instead. Instructed to focus on acting “smoothly,” rather than on beating their current time, they wound up performing faster. It’s a seductive story. Could you do the same with your staff?

Can I ask my staff to sign a blanket “liability waiver” to protect me from claims if an employee is infected with COVID-19?

No. It’s simply not enforceable, says attorney Tiffany Stevens, who specializes in offering legal advice to retailers. A better approach is to create policies for your business, give every employee a handbook spelling out what you’re doing to ensure their safety and ask employees to agree to take reasonable safety measures. Stevens recommends you hire a local employment attorney for advice on the employee handbook, as state and local laws change frequently.

Do veterans make good employees? Is there anything to the stereotype of them being rigid and rule-bound and — if they’ve served in combat — likely to have mental issues?

There’s probably not a worse thing to base a hiring decision on than a stereotype. Of course, an ex-military hire could turn out to be a dud — it’s a huge organization — but that risk is more than offset by the potential positives: Not just anyone can enlist. The recruitment process does much of the filtering for you, screening out people with criminal records, histories of drug use, problematic financial records and even some long-term health issues. Even better is that pretty much no one joins the military simply to pick up a paycheck, which is probably the worst kind of employee. Vets may have joined for patriotic reasons, to get help with a college education or for the experience, but the ethos is about accomplishing a mission or a goal. There’s a chance a freshly retired vet will take some adjustment if your workplace is highly individualistic and competitive as opposed to team-based. But if you’ve got a candidate with the skills (and the military trains or distributes scholarships to hundreds of veterinarians, dog handlers and other animal specialists every year), keep in mind they bring a lot to the table. The military has helped mold someone into a team player, and likely given them a good dose of discipline and a solid work ethic. Now do your job as a business owner to see if they have the relevant skills and personality to fit your culture.



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