Posts Tagged ‘Employee Management’


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Be Productive During the Holidays

Mother and Daughter Making Christmas Cookies for SantaAre you one of those small business owners whose holiday wish would be for “more hours in the day”? Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency, the holidays—with their hectic schedules, family visitors and employee vacation days—can throw everything off.

How can you stay productive and still enjoy the holidays? Try these tips.

Plan ahead. Let employees know how far ahead of time they should put in requests for time off. Employee scheduling software tools can make things simpler, especially if you run a business like a retail store or service provider that gets slammed this time of year. And be prepared for employees to call in sick at the last minute—that’s simply what happens this time of year, so have a backup plan in mind.

Prioritize. Both in your personal and your work lives, it’s important to know which battles to fight. If you’ll save time, money and sanity by sending e-cards this year instead of mailing 200 paper cards to your client list, do it! If you always knit scarves for family gifts but this year a huge project is getting in the way, take a break from the tradition to do something simpler. Know what you aren’t willing to compromise on, and stick to that decision.

Hand it off. You can delegate almost anything these days. Try services like TaskRabbit to handle time-consuming chores like running to the post office or picking up your drycleaning. Holding a family gathering? Hire a cleaning service and get the meal catered or at the very least, have your groceries delivered instead of heading to the store. The concept works for business, too—if your staff is overloaded, call a temporary help agency, enlist a teenage relative home from college to help out for a few days, or connect with a virtual assistant.

Tap technology. Use mobile devices, apps and cloud services to access your business files, data and documents wherever you are so you can get work done wherever you are. Devising templates, auto-responses and keyboard shortcuts lets you create files or reply to inquiries quickly so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.


Don’t Do This! 5 Mistakes You Can Avoid When Handling Your Staff

I’ve hired and fired enough people to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of managing staff.  When you’re dealing with people, things can be unpredictable, but I’ve learned a few lessons that always hold true.  Here’s my top list of things you should NOT do when you’re dealing with your staff.

  1. Expect the same dedication you bring to the office.  Your company is your baby.  It’s your dream, your vision, and your potential payoff.  Your staff – even the most vibrant, engaged employees – are in it for the paycheck.  They don’t stand to gain as much as you do if you succeed, and they don’t see the same value you do in sacrificing their energy, free time, and income.  If you expect your staff to give up their lives in service of your vision, you’re asking too much, and you’re certain to be disappointed.  Be realistic about what you can expect from your staff.
  2. Give a lofty title to a rookie.  In the absence of tons of free money, entrepreneurs sometimes have to be creative when it comes to rewarding their staff.  Don’t attempt to compensate your staff by giving them titles they haven’t earned.  If you hire on an admin to handle your corporate Facebook and Twitter account and put “Chief Marketing Officer” on the new business card, you’re setting yourself up for problems.  If your new Chief Marketing Officer learns that his title usually comes with a much higher salary out in the marketplace, he’s likely to become disgruntled and feel like he’s undercompensated.  Give your staff authentic titles.
  3. Not handling reviews on time.  Your employees know their start dates, and you should too.  Not only do formal, regular reviews give you a chance to address any problems, but they also give your staff valuable feedback on what they’re doing right.  Don’t overlook an opportunity to praise your staff.
  4. Train and pray.  It’s expensive to hire and fire staff, and one of the most commonly made mistakes in the way business owners handle their staff is to skimp on the training.  If you send an employee out with inadequate training, not only are you running the risk of disappointing your customers, but you’re also fostering uncertainty in your new hire.  Let your staff know that you care enough about them and your clients to train and support new hires properly.
  5. Messing up the first day.  Your new hire starts forming an impression of you and your company the second they walk through the door on the first day on the new job.  You can either impress your new employee with business cards, formal, supportive training, and a schedule for the first day, or you can put them in a corner and let them fill out paperwork.  Start your staff off right – thoughtfully, deliberately, and with a warm welcome that lets your employees know you’re glad they’re there.

Hiring and firing employees is time consuming and can be very costly.  When you add in the immeasurable value of great staff, you’ll realize right away that making a conscious effort to handle your staff properly will pay dividends.  You’ll be able to retain great staff and continue to give your customers great value, and you’ll also free yourself up to develop new business, rather than dealing with staff troubles.

10-24 handing employees small


Everyone In Your Company Needs To Be Responsible For Complaints

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Here’s an important question to ask yourself: Whom do you feel should be responsible for the customer experience at your company?

How you (and others in your organization) answer this question can make or break your company.

Here's my answer.

Make everyone responsible for the customer experience.  Responsible for handling complaints. For suggesting improvements in your processes. For maintaining the customer-friendly processes you already have. If you don't,  you'll find the actual responsibility for the customer experience at your company devolves quickly "no one."

This answer isn't as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds. "Everyone" here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’

Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).


Great Customer Service Requires Effective Language

Your company, I expect, has put quite a bit of thought into the language used in your marketing campaigns and website. And quite a bit less thought into the words that your employees use directly with customers.

At least, this is the pattern I encounter as a customer experience consultant. And it's a serious mistake, because customers don’t generally get their make-or-break impressions of a company primarily from high-minded branding exercises. They get them primarily from day-to-day conversations with you.

Language underlies all other components of customer satisfaction.

For example:

  • A perfect product won’t be experienced as perfect unless you also use the right language in describing it to customers.
  • Even your best-intentioned, technically flawless employees can alienate customers if they use the wrong language.
  • When you have a service failure, the right words can be your best ally.

If you haven’t given much thought to selecting and controlling your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

Establish a Consistent Style of Speech

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. You should therefore work to achieve a consistent (although not stilted or overly scripted-sounding) style of service speech.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve trained them in a different language style.

Happily, engineering a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, my customer service consulting clients have found it to be a pretty easy sell companywide.

Heres how to make it happen

Study the language that works best with your own customers, and identify harmful phrases that should be avoided. Codify this for your employees in a brief lexicon or language handbook that can be learned and referred to on the job. In the lexicon, you’ll spell out which words and phrases are best to use and which should be avoided in various common situations.

Putting together a language handbook is a relatively simple undertaking. It doesn’t require an English degree (although those are great to have). But it does require forethought, experimentation, and some pondering about human nature.

Here, for example, are some good/bad language choices I use in the lexicon I’ve prepared for my own businesses and those for whom I'm a customer service consultant. These are certainly not surgical rocketry, as you’ll see.

Bad: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Good: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’need to do jack, buddy—Im your customer!’’)
Good: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Good: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen to the callers answer)

Time to worry about  “No worries!”

Good lexicons will vary depending on industry, clientele, and location. A cheerful ‘‘No worries!’’ sounds fine coming from the clerk at a Bose audio store in Portland (an informal business in an informal town) but bizarre if spoken by the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan.

Choose language to put customers at ease, not to put them down

No matter what your business is, make it your mission to avoid having your employees use any condescending or coercive language. Sometimes these language put-downs are obvious, but sometimes they're quite subtle. Here are examples of both:

Subtly insulting: In an informal business, if a customer asks, ‘‘How are you?’’ the response, ‘‘I’m well,’’ may make you feel like you're using proper-sounding grammar—but may not be the best choice. Hearing this  Victorian-sounding response may make your customers momentarily self-conscious about whether their own grammar is less than perfect. It may be better to have your employees choose from more familiar alternatives like, ‘‘I’m doing great!’’ or ‘’Super!’’

(Most important, of course, is to follow up with an inquiry about the customer’s own well-being: ‘‘And how are you, this morning?’’)

Unsubtly coercive: I’m not likely to forget the famous steakhouse that trained staff to ask our party as they seated us, ‘‘Which bottled water will you be enjoying with us this evening, still, or sparkling?’’ We took that phrasing to mean we weren’t permitted to ask for tap water.

(In this situation, one that comes up in many restaurants, what is a better choice of words? How about: ‘‘Would you prefer ice water or bottled water with your meal?’’ Or, considering that this question offers an early chance for the waitstaff to build rapport with guests, add some local flavor. In Chicago, a friend’s restaurant a few years back was asking, ‘‘Will you be having bottled water or The Mayor’s finest aqua with your meal?’’)

Danny Meyer-ize or the classic Ritz-Carlton approach: It's your choice.

Getting employees to say the right thing is a tough and touchy subject. And there are two ways to write your company lexicon–your language handbook. You should choose whichever method suits you better.

One is the classic ‘‘Say This While Avoiding This’’ language guide style, made famous for many years by the work of the Ritz-Carlton.   This optimizes customer satisfaction in most businesses and helps bind staff members into a team. It also helps you work with a wider variety of employees, with a wider variety of educational backgrounds, who may appreciate the help choosing the most appropriate phrase.

But if it strikes you as too prescriptive (or too much work) to develop scripted phrases and specific word choices for your employees, at least consider developing a brief ‘‘Negative Lexicon.’’ A Negative Lexicon is just a list of crucial Thou Shalt Nots.

I call the Negative Lexicon the Danny Meyer approach, after the teachings of the New York restaurateur and master of hospitality. Meyer feels uncomfortable giving his staff a list of what to say, but he doesn’t hesitate to specifically ban phrases that grate on his ears (‘‘Are we still working on the lamb?’’)

A Negative Lexicon can be kept short, sweet, and easy to learn. Of course, new problematic words and phrases are sure to crop up as time moves on. Ideally, you’ll update your Negative Lexicon frequently.

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Developing a Quality Employee Review Process

10-12 employee reviewIt’s in your own best interest to nurture your staff and make sure they’re productive and thriving at your company. After all, turnover costs you money, in searching for a new hire and training him, so you’re better off making sure the staff you have is optimized. One way to do that is to set up an employee review process that not only helps you, but also helps your team understand your expectations and strive to meet them.

Set Them Up Regularly

You can adhere to the typical once-a-year employee review schedule…or you can meet more often, like two or three times a year. More frequent (and more informal) reviews can keep your employees on track to goals, and leave less time in between reviews so they stay motivated.

Think about your timing: is December really the best time for your reviews, given that half the staff is out of the office, and you’re time-crunched getting work done before the end of the year? Instead, schedule them based on their hire date so you don’t have dozens of reviews to get through in a single month.

Establish Goals Together

As I said, your review process should benefit you and your employee. Discuss goals together that each individual staff member can strive for. Perhaps you’d like to see one turn out two extra reports a week. That’s a reasonable goal.

Or if he’s angling for a promotion, make a list of goals he needs to accomplish in order for you to consider him for that promotion. This makes getting a promotion very black and white: if he can’t successfully accomplish the list, he won’t be eligible for something he wants.

Provide Constructive Criticism

This isn’t a time to sugarcoat your honest assessment of an employee’s work. Nor is it an opportunity to berate someone if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Emotions shouldn’t be in the review process.

Find ways to constructively tell an employee about something you want him to work on. For example, if you find his work as of late to not be the quality it used to be, you could say:

“A few months ago, you were delivering top-notch work, and I was so impressed. But lately it feels like you haven’t been putting in that same effort. Is there a reason why?”

This approach does several things. First, it puts him at ease, because you start off with an honest compliment. It also opens the door for further conversation. Maybe he recently had a baby, and his lack of sleep is attributing to his lower quality work. Or maybe he didn’t feel you appreciated his efforts, so he slacked off a bit. Taking the right approach can mean the difference between you putting your employee up in arms and actually getting to the bottom of what’s changed.

Develop Metrics

The only way you’ll be able to measure where your employee is next year is if you first set up a baseline to measure against. Consider it your report card. Pick the areas that are most important to you (timeliness, quality work, motivation are a few examples) and give him a number, 1-10, for each. Then next year you can compare the new numbers to the previous ones and see if there has been an improvement.

Staying in touch with your staff this way helps you avoid potential loss of productivity and keeps your staff better, now that they know your expectations.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Plan Now for a Smashing Holiday Party

New Year: Woman Having Fun On New Year'sAre you planning a holiday party for employees at your small business this year? Last year a whopping 96 percent of companies held holiday parties, according to a just-released survey—nearly an all-time high.

Even if you haven’t held a holiday party for the past several years due to budget cuts or other financial concerns, there are several reasons you might want to restart the tradition this year.

  1. To boost morale: This is the most popular motivation for company holiday parties, according to the survey.
  2. To celebrate a good year: If your business did well this year, why not thank the people responsible—your employees—with a party?
  3. To project optimism for the coming year: Even if you’re not actually feeling that optimistic about 2015, canceling the holiday party can send the wrong message to employees and customers, while carrying on with the carryings-on conveys confidence in your business’s future. 

Here are some ideas for a holiday party that’s fun and memorable for everyone.

  • Make a splash with a company party outside the office. Sure, a potluck party at work saves money, but let’s face it: It’s kind of boring. A festive dinner at a local hotel or restaurant, on the other hand, gets everyone in the holiday spirit and makes them feel like you’re treating them. (If you really need to budget, you can keep costs down by hosting a luncheon instead, or holding a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres and beverages instead of a sit-down meal.)
  • Include significant others. If you don’t have many other staff events during the year, allowing employees to bring their spouses or significant others to the party helps build bonds. Plus, involving employees’ families in the celebration helps them feel more invested in the business.
  • Plan activities. A holiday party can quickly devolve into everyone chatting in their same little cliques. To get your staff mingling, include some creative events like a dance contest or limbo, Secret Santa gifting or White Elephant exchange. The goal: Get everyone laughing!
  • Speak your piece. As the business owner, be sure you take some time to acknowledge your staff not just by funding the party, but also by taking the microphone to thank everyone for their hard work, acting as master of ceremonies for the activities, or handing out awards—either silly or serious—to employees. 

5 Tips to Increase Employee Efficiency

11-7 money is time smallTime is money may be a cliché, but it’s also a universal truth in business. Your employees’ efficiency directly impacts productivity, which, in turn, affects profits. As a business owner, maintaining hawk-like vigilance on employees’ on-the-job procedures can make a notable difference to your bottom line. Here are some areas that may need improvement.

Reduce Quality Checks While Increasing Accuracy

High-quality products and services are the cornerstone of every business, so you naturally want top-level accuracy in every process. But sometimes, too much checking can actually reduce accuracy. Double-checking every point in a 10-step process, for example, can place employees so close to the process that they don’t see the errors. Even if you can’t wait until step 10 to look for errors, you can establish the one or two touch points (including the last step) in the process where errors are likely to be most apparent. End result: reduced time with more errors found.

Identify and Address Bottlenecks

From making sandwiches during the lunch hour rush to developing custom software, business tasks often resemble assembly lines. If you find one or more employees sitting idle, you have a bottleneck. But fixing a bottleneck is not as simple as speeding up the preceding processes or even re-distributing the workload. You need to figure out precisely what’s broken before you can fix it.

Shadowing workers or videotaping them is great if they work in a prison laundry facility, but spying makes most employees nervous, often creating more inefficiency. You’re the boss. Between you and the process supervisors, you probably already know every step in the process. You need to create a visual image of the process, so that you can step back to see the big picture.

Sticky notes are a great way to draw a flowchart of the steps. You don’t even have to use your conference room wall any more —they now make special easel pads just for this purpose. If you see that one person performs all of the laborious tasks, work redistribution is a possible solution. Or, perhaps just changing the order of the steps will get the work flowing more efficiently.

As you formulate solutions, keep your sticky note chart up-to-date so that everyone involved has a clear idea of the new procedures. And don’t throw out that flowchart. The new workflow may create new bottlenecks that require adjustment.

Incentivize Increased Productivity

You can choose between a carrot and a stick to achieve the efficiency levels that your business needs to survive and grow. A rewards-based system encourages more productivity while keeping employees interested and happy. Here are a few incentive programs to consider:

  • Contests where employees earn anything from framed award certificates to gift cards create friendly competition and team spirit;
  • Privileges like flex-time or even telecommuting options (if appropriate) can help keep employees happy and productive; and/or
  • Sharing the rewards of increased productivity creates a win-win situation. If greater efficiency translates to a great bottom line, top-notch employees deserve to share in the profits via salary increases or bonuses.

Make sure that you increase productivity without losing quality. The goal is to encourage employees to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their jobs. As an extra bonus, you will have a list of likely candidates for promotion when higher-level jobs become available in the company.

Hire a Professional

Small business owners are often too close to daily operations to pinpoint why productivity is low. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, an efficiency consultant may help find the answers. Experienced consultants have an uncanny ability to hone in on issues that you cannot see. Plus, they are more attuned to effective technology and other solutions, so you won’t have to resort to a trial-and-error approach. By getting it right the first time, you can see a return on the consulting fees more quickly than you might expect.

Make “We’ve Always Done it This Way” a Banished Phrase

Your employees do the job every day. But they won’t offer suggestions if they believe the company motto is “we’ve always done it this way.” Invite their input by making it clear that “we’re flexible” is your true credo.

Flexibility does not mean that you should say “yes” to inappropriate suggestions, but you don’t need to reject suggestions outright, either. Rather, initiate a brainstorming session. Your different viewpoints can work synergistically to unearth a more effective process.  Plus, you can always initiate trial periods for a new set of tactics before fully committing to change.

No one wants to waste time performing unnecessary steps or take too long to produce the final product or service. The tedium alone can sap workers’ interest and spirit. As you work together to improve every process, you make the work more engaging while enhancing employee investment in the outcome. Team spirit creates a high-energy environment that makes everyone look forward to going to work. 


How Tech Tools Can Bring Your Remote Workers into the Office

Woman working from homeThe internet has made it possible for businesses to work with talented professionals located on the other side of the world. Instead of filling an office with employees, you can either hire salaried employees or contract workers who work directly from their own home. Even your field workers no longer have a need to come into the office every day, freeing them up to go directly from their homes to their daily calls without stopping by your building.

The move toward remote workers has presented a challenge for businesses, however. Keeping all team members involved in day-to-day activities is difficult when only some of those employees are on site. Fortunately, the same technology that allows you to work with employees wherever they are can also keep them actively involved in your team.

Instant Access

At one time, it might have been easy for remote workers to feel disconnected but the many technologies available today have changed that. In fact, in one study 80 percent of respondents said they felt more connected to their co-workers while working offsite. Those who had access to unified communications reported a higher feeling of inclusion than those who solely communicated by videoconference or phone. Using tools like private group chat, instant messaging, and project management solutions, a business can facilitate conversation between employees whether they’re in the office, working from home, or on the road.

Social Collaboration

Both consumers and marketers utilize social media to communicate with friends, family, and customers. That same technology can be employed privately within an enterprise to encourage ongoing communication between team members. Using enterprise-level collaboration tools, teams can brainstorm ideas, post project status updates, share and work together on files, and even post polls to vote for the best location for this year’s Christmas party. Since information can be updated on an ongoing basis using smartphones or PCs, these collaboration tools are often more effective than in-person meetings or videoconferences.

Electronic Staff Meetings

The growing popularity of telework is redefining the traditional staff meeting concept. Instead of gathering teams around a table once a week, entrepreneurs must rely on email and phone chats for status updates. For businesses with multiple remote workers, video-based staff meetings eventually become more effective. Many of these tools now include the ability to share your screen for conducting presentations or updating spreadsheets while the rest of the team adds their thoughts. Consider hooking up to a projector in your conference room so that on-site employees can interact with those who are attending by phone for a more team-building experience.

With more businesses using remote workers, it’s important to find ways to find ways to encourage team member communication. With so many collaboration tools available for enterprises, business leaders can set up a way for employees to work together, even when they’re separated by many miles. If it’s possible to occasionally get all remote workers together for retreats or conferences, business should, but technology makes it possible to simulate a face-to-face meeting without incurring travel expenses.




 
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