Archive for the ‘Team Building’ Category


Mondays with Mike: Secret Weapons – Contractors You Can’t Live Without

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoThe traditional office, staffed with full-time employees with full-time benefits is a relic from Mad Men days.  Most of us have to move quickly and operate on razor-thin margins that make it impossible to afford a complement of workers waiting for something to do.  It’s become far more feasible and profitable to assemble a team of contractors – specialists in their niches – who are on call, command high rates for their expertise, and appreciate the flexibility of working when they want to. 

What’s essential is that you assemble your contractors ahead of time – locate, vet, and create a relationship before you need them for big projects so you don’t have to scramble last minute.  Here are the people you should look for:

  1. Web Designer – There’s really no good excuse for a lousy website.  Most people will encounter your company on the web, and you want to put your best foot forward.  Finding a web designer who designs your site and stays on call to give you the ability to adapt your website to particular client needs or conditions is key. 
  2. Web Administrator – As more of us move our businesses online, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of web security and web reliability.  This position is perhaps the most important contractor you’ll hire, because they’ll literally have the keys to your online kingdom.  When there’s a problem with your system, you want immediate availability from your administrator.
  3. Core Competency – Find extra local talent in your field and keep them ready for when you have big jobs that require you to be able to scale up rapidly.  Whether you’re a chef who needs catering staff for special events or you’re an accountant who needs additional help at tax time, doing the legwork ahead of time can give you a competitive edge when it comes to winning new clients in a clutch situation.
  4. Writer – We may not want to own up to it, but most of us aren’t great writers.  As important as our written messages are, it’s worth locating a skilled wordsmith to polish our prose.  Weigh your options:  you could spend all day working on a company newsletter (and hope no one catches the grammatical mistakes,) or you can call your professional writer, share the details, and get to work doing what you do best while your writer pens a perfect account of what’s current in your company.
  5. Translator – If you don’t need one now, odds are very good that you will before long.  The broadening global marketplace means that if you’re not working with clients in other countries, then you’re probably missing opportunities.  Identify the languages that are most likely to be relevant in your field and line up translators before you start losing jobs because you’re not fluent in Mandarin or Spanish.
  6. Administrative Assistant – This position is your key, backup, catch-all.  Whether you need timely follow-up on a new marketing campaign, or whether your full-time admin needs help handling the seasonal rush in your field, it’s wise to find a good admin to be at the ready.

So where do you find these folks?  You’ll be shocked at how many resources are out there.  Freelance websites like Elance and ODesk connect you with contractors all over the world in a variety of niches, and community-based sites like Craigslist or Patch can connect you with local talent.  The keys to successfully working with contractors are these:  first, get them lined up and vetted – with a small project to start – before you have a critical need for their services.   Second, always pay them promptly and treat them like gold.  You want that contractor to always be happy to get your call and eager to get to work on your next project. 


20 Team Building Ideas for Your Company

The Nextiva team has discovered that some of our best brainstorming sessions and bonding moments happen outside of the office. It’s sometimes easier to toss around ideas and let your personality shine when you’re not restricted to the agenda and formality of an office meeting. Here are some ways to let your employees break out of the workplace and enjoy each other’s company:

1. Dave & Buster’s – In addition to arcade games, billiards, and bowling, D&B’s offers their own Team Building Packages to help customize your event.

Cost: $$$

2. On-Site Fitness Sessions – Schedule a trainer to come by your office at lunchtime and utilize an open area to teach yoga, aerobics, or Zumba to your employees.

Cost: $$

3. Flag Football – Nextiva holds an annual flag football game each January before the NFL Super Bowl, and the winning team gets a trophy (and bragging rights) for the remainder of the year.

Cost: $

Check out our 2014 Amazing Super Bowl game here:

4. Lunch & Learn – Cater a yummy lunch for your employees to enjoy while you train them on new products or skills, host a guest speaker, or do a simple arts & crafts project.

Cost: $$

5. Scavenger Hunt – Plan a small scavenger hunt around the office, or go all out and send groups of employees around the city on a day-long adventure.

Cost: $

6. Adventure Course – Find an outdoor adventure course near your town and plan a day trip that can include rope courses, rappelling, zip lines, and more.

Cost: $$$$

7. Local Sporting Events – Choose a local sporting event and hold a tailgating party in the parking lot for employees (and their families!) before the game.

Cost: $$$

8. Field Trips – Tour a location that is relevant to your company, or just let your team play hooky for the day to see a movie, go to the zoo, or visit a museum.

Cost: $$-$$$

9. Contests – The Nextiva Sales Team holds monthly contests, allowing team members who meet their personal goal to partake in silly rewards like shaving their manager’s head or throwing a pie in an exec’s face.

Cost: $

10. BBQ – Reserve a pavilion at a local park and invite your team to enjoy burgers, sand volleyball and bag toss. Add to the fun by including employees’ family members and children’s activites!

Cost: $$$

11. Book Club – Each month, pick a business book (these are our faves!) or a popular novel for your employees to read. Once a week, get together during lunch and share your opinions and ideas.

Cost: $

12. Potluck Lunches – Celebrate wacky holidays (our design team had a Pi Day Potluck this year!) with a group lunch that lets everyone contribute their signature dish.

Cost: $

13. Happy Hour – The Nextiva team encourages cross-departmental mingling by inviting a few people from each department to a weekly happy hour each Thursday.

Cost: $$

14. Volunteer – Reach out to the Red Cross or a local philanthropic organization to find volunteer opportunities in your area. Your employees will improve their leadership skills and feel a real sense of purpose at the end of the day!

Cost: $

15. Holiday Parties – It can be a low-key event in the office, or a lavish evening with food and entertainment. Nextiva holds a January Kickoff Party that includes dinner and drinks, and we’ve also featured a DJ, caricaturists, photo booth, flame throwers, magicians, and more!

Cost: $$$$

Get a peek inside of Nextiva’s 2014 Kickoff Party:

16. Sports sponsorships – Encourage employees to sign up for coed softball or volleyball leagues at a park or rec center and sponsor their team. Bonus: add your logo to their t-shirts for some cheap marketing!

Cost: $$

17. Charity events – Pay employee registration for 5K runs or half marathons and a celebratory brunch after the race.

Cost: $$

18. 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament – A casual tournament at a local park or gym on a weekend afternoon can be a great stress reliever.

Cost: $

19. BowlingLucky Strike in downtown Phoenix is a favorite for the Nextiva Marketing team! Most bowling alleys will offer special promotions for large groups.

Cost: $$$

20. Go Kart Racing – A favorite activity for the Nextiva Sales Team, it will let your employees experience speed and exhilaration while getting a little competitive.

Cost: $$$

Check out our most recent event at Octane Raceway in Scottsdale, Arizona:


The Small Business Advantage to Snagging the Best Employees

One of my contacts worked for a young, growing company that paid top dollar for software engineers in preparation for the day that they would be needed to meet client demand.  When she expressed concern about the overspending, one partner told her that if she was in charge, the company would be defunct in a year.  Six months later, their doors closed forever.

That partner was not wrong in recognizing the need for exceptionally-skilled workers.  The error was in seeing spending as the only way to attract and keep the best talent.  Large corporations may have ready cash to pay top wages and benefits, but small business owners can attract and keep the finest employees through their entrepreneurial spirit.  Here are some great ways to get your workers involved in your business vision and develop a relationship that few big businesses can match.

Offer Creative Compensation

Economic downturns may create a buyer’s market for hiring, but that doesn’t mean that the most skilled applicants will agree to take a position that offers substandard incentives.  You may not have the funds to pay a top salary when making an offer — or even when it’s time for an annual review.  But as a small business, your company can offer achievement-based bonuses that can really motivate your employees while increasing your revenues.  So, when certain sales reps are responsible for accelerated sales or when engineers enhance a product to make it more attractive to the marketplace, make sure that they receive their fair share of the profits.

Encourage Active Involvement in the Company

Choosing to work for a small company carries certain inherent risks, but it also offers benefits that cannot be matched by working for a huge organization.  When you welcome and act on employee ideas and suggestions, your employees become partners who recognize their unique value to the company as they work alongside you to realize shared goals.

Make sure to listen to their feedback and acknowledge them too- the value of these soft incentives is highly underrated—not to mention easy for small business owners to embrace.

Give Employees the Power to Spread Their Wings

I know a writer who worked for many small software businesses, enlisting her full creativity to develop low-cost, but award-winning manuals.  When she moved to a large company, she vehemently complained that she no longer wrote documentation, so much as manufactured it in accordance with strict, detailed procedures.  She didn’t last long in this position.

Big businesses need to put their employees in specific boxes and keep them there to get their allotted portion of the job done.  As a business owner, you know that one of the greatest rewards comes with seeing a project through from beginning to final results.  Employees can feel that same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment — if you empower them to take on this type of challenge.  As they stretch their abilities, be available to provide upfront and ongoing guidance as needed, but give them latitude to do it their way.  As their abilities grow from new experiences, their investment in the company’s interests will grow as well.

Praise in Public

??????????????????????????????????????A job well done deserves praise and your employees never mind being called to your office to receive your personal kudos.  But when employees receive your commendations at a company meeting or in front of a customer who benefitted from their hard work, they clearly see their true value.  Naturally, public praise helps inspire all employees, but it also lets your customers recognize how the depth of your products and services helps them get the attention and consideration they deserve.

Promote from Within

When a key position opens up in your company, always look first to the members of the team that work hard for you every day.  Granted, some positions require very specific educational requirements not available in your organization, such as a degree in accounting.  But remember that your staff members already have a solid foundation and a deeper understanding of your company culture and how things work.  You probably have to spend time and effort training employees in new concepts and procedures.  Or, they may need to take a class or two to obtain additional knowledge.  But you can’t teach loyalty and dedication, and these traits grow even more when you reward them with advancement.

No large company can match the excitement employees experience going in to a job where they know that they make a vital difference every day.  As their efforts help grow your business, make sure you help them continue to grow as well.  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 10 Warning Signs an Employee’s Ready to Quit

Do you think taking lots of sick days, coming to work dressed up and then going to a “doctor’s appointment,” or leaving on the dot of 5:00 are warning signs an employee is about to quit? Then you could be missing subtler, more serious signs.

A study by Utah State University associate professor Tim Gardner identified 10 behaviors employees who are planning to quit ????????????????????????????????????????typically display:

  1. They offered fewer suggestions in meetings.
  2. They became reluctant to commit to long-term projects.
  3. They became quieter and more reserved.
  4. They became less interested in advancing in their jobs.
  5. They were less interested in pleasing the boss.
  6. They avoided interacting socially with their boss or other managers.
  7. They were less likely to suggest new ideas or innovative approaches.
  8. They started doing the bare minimum at work and stopped going above and beyond the call of duty.
  9. They became less interested in workplace training and development programs.
  10. Their productivity at work declined.

According to Gardner, if an employee displays at least six of these behaviors, he can predict with 80 percent accuracy that the person is about to quit.

What can you do if you spot these behaviors in a key employee? Since the behaviors typically arise one to two months before quitting, there’s not much time to change the employee’s mind—so you need to be proactive.

As a busy boss, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own work and not engage with your employees much. Walk around, talk to your team every day and really listen—not just to what they say, but also to their body language and how they act. Is a formerly chatty employee now staring at her computer every time you come by? Does a formerly jovial employee no longer look you in the eye?

If you suspect a key employee is ready to jump ship, call the person in for an honest talk. If they are considering leaving but haven’t yet made a firm decision, what can you offer that would make them reconsider? Perhaps employees feel their ideas aren’t taken seriously, that there’s no room for advancement or not enough workplace training. Can you address these issues?

If the employee has already accepted or is about to accept a job offer, you face a bigger challenge—but you may still be able to keep the person on board by making a counteroffer or addressing his or her concerns.

If the employee does leave, conduct an exit interview to probe what prompted the decision. It’s likely this employee isn’t the only one bothered by the same issues, and by becoming more aware, you can remedy the problem before other employees leave, too.  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Get the Most From a Temporary Employee

??????????????????????????????????Are you using (or considering) temporary employees in your small business? Last year we told you why hiring temps can be a smart way to staff up without the hassles of hiring permanent employees. These tips will help you get the most out of your temporary employee relationships.

Welcome temporary employees on board. Too many temporary employees are met with blank stares when they arrive at a new job, then essentially ignored for the duration of their employment. Just as with any new employee, your temporary workers should receive a warm welcome to your business. (This is especially important if you think you may eventually want to hire the temp full-time.) It’s a good idea to match the temp with an employee on staff who can show him or her the ropes of company culture. Talk to your full-time employees about the importance of making sure they help the temp fit in.

Provide adequate orientation and training. Sure, a temp will come to you with knowledge of a skill, such as how to use Excel spreadsheets, code websites or operate a certain type of machinery. But that doesn’t mean he or she knows how the particular job he or she is doing at your company works. No matter how impatient you are for the temp to get to work immediately, spend some time orienting temps as to where their job fits in within the company, what the goals of the job are, and how to perform the specific duties of the job. It will be time well spent.

Take care of the proper paperwork. Just because a temporary agency is handling the temp’s payroll doesn’t mean you’re off the hook legally. Temporary employees can still file claims against your company if they feel discriminated against, harassed or if you are breaking wage and hour laws. Make sure each temporary employee reviews your employee handbook and signs a document that he or she has read and understood it. Also review your contract with the temporary agency carefully so you know what forms you need to have the temp complete, what records you’re required to keep about the person’s employment, and how long you need to maintain them after he or she leaves. By dotting all the i’s and crossing your t’s, you’ll protect yourself and your business. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Should You Hire Your Spouse to Work in Your Business?

Stocksy_txpb6090cd68s3000_Small_17056If you have trouble finding workers with the dedication and loyalty you need, there’s a solution that can offer the best of both worlds: hiring your spouse. You get an employee who you know truly cares about your business, and the money you pay your spouse stays “all in the family.”

But before you broach the idea to your spouse, there are some important factors to consider.

How will working together affect your relationship? Some spouses can work together all day long and enjoy a happy marriage after hours, while others find business stresses spilling over into their personal lives. Clearly define roles within the business so each of you knows what he or she is responsible for. Also set boundaries outside the business, such as not discussing business over dinner or taking regular weekends off.

What does your spouse expect from the job? Perhaps your spouse expects to work closely together and spend lots of time with you, while you expect to scarcely see each other because you’ll both be so busy handling your separate duties. Clarify your expectations from the beginning and make sure you are both on the same page. Is this a short-term arrangement or a permanent move? Will your spouse need to work for free if money is tight?

How will a spouse working in the business affect your company’s dynamic? When you bring a family member into the business, nonfamily employees may assume your spouse will get favored treatment, that they will be passed over for promotions or that they can’t be honest with you about problems with your spouse. Discuss these issues openly to ease their worries.

What are the legal and tax implications? The way that you report and pay taxes for a spouse in the business will vary depending on whether your spouse is considered an employee or partner/co-owner. If the spouse is an employee, you need to withhold appropriate taxes from his or her pay just as with any employee. If your spouse has an equal say in the business and/or contributes capital, he or she is considered a partner, which affects your business’s tax reporting and payments. (See this IRS article for more information.) To avoid unpleasant surprises, consult your attorney and accountant regarding the tax and legal implications of bringing a spouse on board. 


Mondays with Mike: The Quick Qualifier – The Secret To Better, Faster Hiring

For entrepreneurs with a sizeable staff, payroll can be one of the biggest expenses.  That expense can multiply quickly if we don’t hire the right people, so any techniques we can find to improve our hiring outcomes can make a huge difference in our bottom lines.  The fact is that there aren’t a whole lot of shortcuts when it comes to running your business better, but I’m going to share one that can help you simultaneously speed up your hiring process while sifting out your best choices – automatically.

????????????????????????????????Conventional wisdom may tell you that casting as wide a net as possible in your hiring search will yield the highest quality result, but given today’s job market, your problem is unlikely to be a shortage of applications.  Rather, you’re likely to be buried under a sea of resumes, and your greatest challenge will be separating the wheat from the chaff – reducing the flood to a manageable stack of resumes from qualified, competent folks.  That’s where my technique comes into play.

When I post an ad for a job, about 75% of the way through the ad, I insert the following:  “To prove that you’re a meticulous reader, you have to include the following sentence when you send your resume: ‘It is with my utmost respect that I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.’”

Now here’s where the automation comes in.  You create an email filter that searches for the specified sentence, and sorts all of the qualifying resumes into a folder for you to review.  Think it won’t make a big difference?  Think again!  I’ve had as many as 80% of the resumes for a specific position eliminated by this filtering tactic.  Now you may be worried that you might discard a great resume, but let me tell you why this technique works:

  1. The unemployment rate is still so high that folks are desperate, sending off resumes to any ad they read, regardless of whether or not they’re qualified.  In fact, the applicants who don’t include the sentence may not have even read the application, and might have zero relevant experience.  They’re not the employees you’re looking for.
  2. Regardless of the field, attention to detail is crucial, and including the sentence demonstrates that an applicant cares enough to get it right.
  3. You’re looking for candidates who can follow instructions, and applicants who comply with your directions demonstrate a willingness to do what you expect them to.  They’re eager to please, and that’s important for nearly every position in a business.

I’ve used this technique repeatedly, and it’s proven to help select the very best candidates for my careful consideration.  In fact, one of the best employees I’ve ever hired responded by writing: “Yes, I’m so detail-oriented I am including the sentence you requested. However, I also noticed you spelled the word ‘meticulous’ incorrectly, and here’s the correct way to spell it.”  She ended up being a partner in one of my companies.


How to Launch a Philanthropic Program Within Your Company

The concept of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is incredibly popular in large companies where deep budgets allow employees time off to participate in community-oriented projects. But what about small businesses? Without big budgets, is it possible for the little guys to make an impact?

“Absolutely, yes,” says Lauri Flaquer, small business expert and owner of Saltar Solutions, a business consultancy in St. Paul, Minnesota. “In fact, I’ve been seeing a ton of small businesses develop their own philanthropic programs as of late.”

Interested in getting involved in your community? If so, here are some helpful steps to get you started.

Poll your employees

You want your company to get involved, but you aren’t sure where to allocate your resources. Chances are good that some of your employees may already volunteer or give to specific charities in their off time, so start by involving them in the development of your CSR program.

“Ask your employees what organizations they think the company should give to or volunteer with. Then, task those who are passionate with giving a presentation on their pet causes and ask the group to vote,” recommends Flaquer.

Be choosy

Don’t have any takers for a charity presentation? Find your own non-profit to support. Flaquer recommends looking at organizations that are somehow connected the mission of your company.  “If you own a water filtration business, for example, try supporting a charity that promotes clean water,” she says. “Or if you are in the publishing industry, maybe join a non-profit that prevents the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.”

Do your homework. Flaquer recommends checking with the IRS to make sure the organization is a 501c3 (tax code for non-profit) and with the Better Business Bureau to research on its reputation in the community.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Schedule volunteer time strategically

Too busy to volunteer? Flaquer recommends scheduling volunteer days (or hours) when your business is in a lull. “If your organization is cyclical, choose a time when it isn’t all that busy,” she suggests.

Transform a volunteering activity into a team building activity. Instead of renting an expensive hall and calling a catering company, opt to spend a day out of the office, cleaning a local park. Then spring for some pizza at nearby picnic tables. The event will end up costing you less and your employees will probably enjoy it more, too.

Set boundaries early

“When you are volunteering your time, it is easy for that time to take over your full-time job because you feel so good about helping others,” Flaquer says. “I recommend that before you start your program, set out exactly how much time you and your company will spend giving back, how much money you will spend and how many resources you will.

“Those guidelines will help you feel good about the impact you are making, but also help you keep an eye on your core business.” 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Creating a More Harmonious Workplace

Is conflict between employees hurting your business? While disagreements and ill will between team members may seem like minor issues not worth the boss’s while, in reality employee conflicts can damage everything from morale and productivity to customer service and your business’s image. Don’t sweep employee conflict under the rug—take these steps to defuse it.

  1. Pay attention. Many small business owners get so occupied with their own duties they ignore employee relationships. Spend some time every day walking around your workplace and seeing how people are doing. In addition to verbal interaction, pay attention to facial expressions and body language, and you’ll quickly notice when employees aren’t getting along. If you’re truly clueless and not a “people person,” enlist a key employee or manager to keep a finger on the pulse of the office mood and let you know when problems are brewing.
  2. Investigate. To keep problems from festering, start by finding out what’s going on. Meet with each of the employees involved to get their side of the story and find out what they think the problem is.
  3. Mediate. Once you have both sides’ input, get the affected employees together to discuss the problem and what can be done. Keep the discussion business-focused rather than personal by explaining how their attitudes are negatively affecting other employees and the business. Then ask them to come up with solutions for the issue. Your role is to mediate and guide the discussion into fruitful areas.
  4. Set consequences. Once you come up with solutions, develop next steps that each employee is to take, set a date to follow up on the issue, and create consequences if the problem isn’t resolved. For instance, explain that relating positively to others is part of their annual reviews, and failing to do so could lead to further discipline or cause them to miss out on a promotion.
  5. Be prepared. Part of your employee handbook (you do have one, right?) should specify how employee conflicts are handled and the consequences if they are not resolved. Having a plan in place protects your business in case an employee ever files a lawsuit claiming that your workplace was a negative work environment where harassment was allowed to fester. 

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