A Pound of Prevention

“A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure” is a phrase I heard for the first time this week.

I was at lunch with an attorney who specializes in employment law, and she said that phrase as we were talking about clients who don’t see the benefit of proactive, preventative measures and instead just hope everything turns out alright. I immediately wrote it down and googled when I got home, and the internet says it’s a Benjamin Franklin quote. Apparently, Franklin wrote an anonymous letter to his own newspaper in Philadelphia in 1735 about the importance of preparing for possible fires ahead of time versus waiting until the fire is burning to make a plan. 

How many of us have waited until the metaphorical (or literal) fire was burning to actually do something? 

One of the common “fires” companies face is invaluable leaders retiring or leaving for other opportunities. Many organizations do not spend enough time proactively planning for succession, and then they find themselves without a VP or other critical leader and have to scramble to find a suitable replacement. We speak to this in our recent blog post “Who Is Your Successor?”

Another fire that can burn quickly is non-compliance – knowingly or unknowingly failing to comply with employment law. This is common for small businesses who see rapid growth and suddenly find themselves crossing the FTE thresholds for various legislation (e.g. the Affordable Care Act typically applies at 50 FTEs). As a business owner and/or leader, you are responsible for ensuring that your organization complies with federal, state, and local employment laws. If you operate your business in more than one state, you may need to take another look at your policies. Having an updated employee handbook – and actually having every employee read and agree to it – is a pound of prevention that every single organization needs to take seriously. 

Last, but certainly not least, is employment contracts. I have encountered organizations that do not have employment contracts, and every single time I do a little *gasp* in my head. Employment contracts not only protect both the employer and the employee, they can also set expectations about job responsibilities and performance management practices. Stanford’s Social Entrepreneurship Hub has resources for new and growing businesses, including employment best practices and a sample employment contract. Not all contracts need to be this formal, but this provides a standard framework to get companies thinking about expectations and policies. 

We don’t wait until the fire is burning to buy an extinguisher. Let’s not wait until there’s trouble to protect our organizations and our employees.

Jillian Miles Massey

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