Archive for the ‘Team Building’ Category


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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Mondays with Mike: Appeal to Customers with your Authenticity

A couple of years ago I was scheduled to attend an accounting seminar, and I was dreading it every bit as much as you’d expect.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and my experience is that accountants typically aren’t the most lively public speakers.  I arrived at the seminar, armed myself with about a gallon of coffee, and settled in to see if maybe, just maybe, the guy running the show might actually keep me awake.

It was just as awful as I’d feared.  Not only did the accountant show up in a suit that looked like a 1980s KGB castoff, but he also sported a world-class monotone.  He looked like a robot facing the room as he methodically slogged through the agenda.  I found some toothpicks, propped my eyelids open, and I managed to stay alert enough to realize that the information he presented was actually really useful.  As the robot accountant finished up the seminar, I jotted down his name and made a note to NEVER attend another of his meetings.  Even though the guy was smart, he could put a hyperactive Chihuahua to sleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  I attended a party at a friend’s house, and I was headed out back to help with the grill when I saw him.  The robot accountant was at the party.  Panicked, I fled to the bathroom to avoid another snooze fest.  Eventually, however, I had to get back out to the party, and – as you might imagine – there he was.  I was trapped, and of course he recognized me.

Even before we started to talk, though, I realized that he was dressed casually and seemed much more relaxed than he had in the seminar.  He thanked me for having attended, and we made a little small talk.  I was surprised to discover that he was actually really funny, and we were laughing about a joke he’d made when he said something that floored me and inspired this article.  He said, “I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

Wow.

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I took two important things away from that party.  First, Mr. Robot is now my accountant – the very best one I’ve ever had.  Second, I realized the disservice we do ourselves when we conceal our a

uthentic personalities from our customers to try to achieve some “professional” demeanor.  Now, I’m not advocating littering your next presentation with f-bombs, but when we act rigid and formal, we’re hiding who we really are and missing an opportunity to connect with clients in a more meaningful way.

I’m reminded of Dr. Seuss, who wrote some lines that we should keep in mind when we’re deciding whether to be a robot professional or ourselves for our next meeting.  He said, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  The fact is that not all clients are a perfect fit for you.  Now it’s possible for you to put on a faux persona and woo them, but then you’ve landed a customer for whom you’re going to continually have to put on a show.  Far better to find the clients who actually like the way you work naturally than to spin your wheels chasing customers who aren’t a great fit for you.

Authenticity creates trust, and being yourself lets you connect with the clients for whom you’re a natural fit.  Resist the temptation to act like a robot professional, and you’ll not only be happier, but you’ll also be more successful.


Delegation Tips for Delegation Haters

Generally speaking, small business owners aren’t the biggest fans of delegating. And it is easy to understand why. Most of them built their companies from the ground up and worry that the addition of a new person may disrupt their business environment and possibly scare away clients. But as Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best, explains, delegation is essential to building a business.

“You will never succeed as a business owner unless you let go,” she says. Here are a few of her top delegation tips for business owners who hate to delegate.

Tap into your network

Talk to fellow businesspeople in your area to get the names of possible candidates. If you are new to your city, Matuson recommends joining the local Chamber of Commerce or contacting a nearby college and posting ads on an alumni job board.

Start with small tasks

Now that you’ve hired your first employee (or contract assistant), it is time to give him or her a few job assignments. “Start by giving them tasks that you are confident they can accomplish,” she recommends. “And allow them to do those tasks the way they want. Accept the fact that your way may not be the best way in all situations.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on training

Don’t expect your new hire to know how to do everything, even if he or she has a lot of experience. You may do things differently in your business, so it is important to provide specific training.  “Give them what they need,” recommends Matuson. “You can’t throw something into someone’s lap and expect them to learn how to do it by osmosis. Give them the tools and then get out of their way.”

Be careful what you delegate

You may want to hold on to major tasks like entertaining a new client at a dinner or attending a conference call that helps close a sale. “Delegate the things that are weighing you down so you can be free to do what you need to grow you business,” she says. “An important meeting may better be suited for you, not your assistant.”

Don’t micromanage

Many of us have had experiences working for micromanagers—experiences that most likely didn’t last long (because you quit). Stop yourself from being too overbearing with your new employee by checking in semi-frequently. “There isn’t a rule of thumb for how often you should check in, but I’d say it is best to see how they are doing once per week,” says Matuson. “Every day can be a bit much.” 


The 10 Best Interview Questions of All Time

??????????????????????????????????????????While unemployment is the lowest in 5 years, it is still challenging to find the best employees for your company. Not only do they need the skills to perform their job well, but they also have to fit within the company’s culture.

To hire the perfect people, it’s important to ask the right questions. This is a challenge for many small business owners because they typically talk more than the job candidate or they just ask questions which review their resume. Here are the best 10 questions to ask:

  1. Tell me about yourself. This is always a good introductory question. Ask and then don’t say another thing until they are done. What they actually say is not critical, but how they answer this question is. Do they focus on personal or professional details? How do they see themselves? Does this view fit into the culture of the company.
  2. Tell me about a time when…Many job candidates can talk in generalities about their skills and accomplishments. However, asking for a specific example is a much more effective why to discover what they have really achieved. For example, when interviewing a sales candidate, ask “Tell me about a time when you won a customer from a competitor.”
  3. How will you contribute to the company? This will highlight their goals for the specific job and which of their skills would be most beneficial for the company. It also will tell you how they see themselves as part of a team. Remember, their goals should match the company’s. When they deviate, employees leave.
  4. What is a specific example of the biggest professional challenge you have faced? How a candidate faces adversity is key. Even if a project didn’t go as planned, it’s important to find out how the applicant would reacted and would remedy the problem in the future.
  5. Test them. In a professional setting, these are typically hypothetical situations or ones that have actually occurred at the company. They should demonstrate job-specific and problem solving skills. Don’t be afraid to ask them to solve problems they would face in the first month of their job at the actual interview.
  6. Why are you here? Andrew Alexander, President of Red Roof Inn, says it helps reveal what the person’s passion is. The applicant should want to work at the company, not just want a job. Employees that are passionate about the company’s mission excel at their position.
  7. What is your ideal job? Liz Bingham, Partner at Ernst & Young, says it helps match if the person is suitable for the open job. It reveals what their passions and strengths are.
  8. What areas of improvement were identified in your last job review? Andrew Shapin, CEO of Long Tall Sally, says it can show self-awareness and weaknesses when people answer this question honestly.
  9. Where’s your passion? Hilarie Bass, co-president of Greenberg Traurig, says they only hire people who are passionate about that profession. It helps attract committed employees that will make the business successful.
  10. How do you measure success? This answer will tell you what the candidate values and if it matches the job compensation structure.

What are your favorite interview questions?


How to Improve Your Work/Life Balance in 2014

work-life-balance-life-purposeAll of us would like to strike a balance between our work life and personal life, but accomplishing such harmony can be easier said than done. Here, Dr. Rachel Elahee, a life coach based in Atlanta, offers a few pointers on how to feel a more relaxed this year.

Take inventory of your activities

As a business owner, you most likely started your company because of a deep-felt passion in a product or service. Maybe you love to bake and wanted to bring your cakes to the masses or you are fan of the latest fashion trends and wanted to bring your tastes to the women in your community. Take a moment to think about what you do on a day-to-day basis and ask yourself: Are you still doing what you love?

“We often get trapped by doing what we need to get done and lose sight of our original spark,” says Elahee. “When you move away from your original passion, you can get lost. Try to gain an awareness in your every day activities and determine if you are still doing what you really enjoy.”

Schedule your down time

Your love for painting or taking yoga classes has fallen by the wayside since you launched your business. Now your days are filled with meetings and worrying about your next sale. Instead of staying on the moving walkway that is your life, try stepping off for a minute to do something that you adore.

“When I recommend business owners do something they love to do, they will immediately tell me that they just don’t have the time and talk themselves out of it,” she says. “But I’m here to tell you that there is almost always time during your week that you are wasting. Carve out one or two hours each week for yourself. If you still can’t, take that as a cue that you really need this.”  

Refocus and delegate

How many hats do you wear on any given day? 10? 12? More? Business owners, especially those with early-stage companies, are known to take on the creative side of the business in addition to the sales side, the technical side, the advertising side and the bookkeeping side, just to name a few. Elahee says it is a good idea to take stock of your daily responsibilities and consider farming some of them out to others.

“If you try to do everything, you will bury yourself under all of your tasks,” she says. “Consult with someone to take things off your plate. You will feel so much better when you do.” 


Are You a Fake?

a-penguin-imposterMany small business owners suffer from the imposter syndrome. They feel that their customers or employees will find out "who they really are" and lose confidence in their ability to run the company. This fear holds many people back from displaying who they really are at work. This becomes a problem in the transparent world of the Internet where "being human" and authentic are highly valued by customers.

Customers buy from who they believe, like, and trust. Without being authentic as a leader and a company, this will never happen and it will become impossible to build a profitable company. Here is what to do:

1. Tell the truth. This is more difficult than it first seems in small business. Most owners have good intentions, but sometimes are afraid to disclose to employees and customers what is really happening. How to be authentic: Focus on the companies strengths. Always deliver good and bad news in a timely fashion. Don't be afraid to be humble and show personal or company warts. Build a culture of openness and frequent communication. 

2. Stick to the brand. Many times, companies want to be everything to everybody. This leads to telling the customer that the company can do things that they really can't. This leads to frustrated employees, disappointed customers and an unprofitable businesses. How to be authentic: Determine the exact customer segment served and the pain solved. Get clear on what the company cares about. Stay focused on delivering outstanding results in this niche area.

3. Hire employees that want to be part of the company's culture. Too many times, owners hire a person to fit a particular job. They rush into a decision and don't understand how that person would work in the overall company culture. How to be authentic: Hire for attitude over skill. Think about how the new employee will complement the rest of the team. Have team members give feedback on prospective employees.

4. Be consistent. Too many times, the company's brand does not match it's culture. The friendly company persona contradicts the cut throat office atmosphere. The boss is sometimes an angel and other times an ogre. How to be authentic: Live the company brand. Be the same person inside and outside the office. Be the same in front of managers, staff and customers. Have no hidden agendas. Set an example by practicing whatever is preached.

Are you authentic? How do you demonstrate it? 


Mondays with Mike: 7 Simple Steps to Improving Office Morale

Worried about post-holiday doldrums in the office?  Afraid that short of spiking the coffee with Prozac, there’s little you can do about it?  Fear not!  These simple tips can help you brighten the mood and invigorate your staff.

  1. 10-tips-for-boosting-employee-morale-pop_6697Daily Huddle.  Don’t sweep your office problems under the rug.  Take a few minutes each day to air out concerns and address practical solutions.  Let your staff know that you’re making changes by giving them regular updates on the concerns they’ve expressed.  Tip:  Hold the meeting standing up.  You’re more likely to keep people on topic and to-the-point.
  2. Schedule Change-Up.  Offer your staff a chance to shift their schedules a bit.  It’s amazing what a little flex-time can do.  You’ll see refreshed, focused faces if you give your employees the chance to get out of their rut.
  3. Focus on the Why, rather than the What.  No matter what you do, you can benefit from reflecting on why you’ve chosen your field.  Accountants’ offices may not be the most exciting places to work, but if you can get your team focused on the real benefits they provide to your clients, then you can invigorate your staff and get them ready to tackle even the crunch of tax time.  Focus on your purpose.
  4. Say Thank You.   Simple.  Free.  So important.  Take the time to let your staff know that you appreciate their hard work.
  5. Listen.  Any good customer service rep will tell you that the first step to resolving a problem is to let the customer vent.  If a member of your staff has a complaint, it’s important that they be able to voice their concerns.  If a frustrated employee has no place to vent appropriately, then the dissatisfaction will spread to other members of the staff.  The important tip here is to let your staff air their grievances in private if possible, preventing the negative attitude from multiplying and giving you the opportunity to address legitimate complaints.
  6. Take the Bullet.  Does your staff have a gripe about a particularly unpleasant or difficult task?  Is there something standing in their way – an obstacle that needs to be overcome?  Be the hero!  If you step in and show that you’re not just willing to pitch in, but able to solve problems for your staff from time to time, you cement your position as the solution-finder extraordinaire.  By modeling the willingness to roll up your sleeves and get dirty on occasion, you’re setting the example of being a problem-solver.
  7. Change of Scenery.  Monotony is the slayer of enthusiasm.  Get your employees out of the office for a day and see how their collective outlook improves.  Pick a charity and spend the day volunteering, and when you return, have a new coffee maker or new desk chairs for your staff waiting for them.  Shaking up the routine can make your staff as enthusiastic as they were on their first day.

You’re the captain of the ship.  Keep tabs on morale and make sure you brighten up the office when necessary.  




 
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