Posts Tagged ‘Employee Management’

4 Tips on Mentoring Employees for Everyone’s Benefit

Without inspiration from a former boss, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos might not be where he is today. In a mutual mentorship, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg turns to Washington Post CEO Donald Graham for advice on being a CEO; Graham turns to Zuckerberg for social media advice. But effective mentorship does not have to apply only to top brass. Nor does the mentoring relationship have to be formal or all-consuming — and the best partnerships are mutually-beneficial.

Here are four tips to help you learn the essentials of mentoring and how to do it for mutual benefit.

1. Mentor/Mentee Matches Often Begin Informally

Mentorships often begin when you offer a bit of advice to someone or when a person comes to you for advice. Whether a co-worker approaches you to learn your secret to handling difficult customers or you offer shortcut tips to a local print shop owner to improve scheduling, you are a mentor.

In fact, those few minutes may mark the entire mentor relationship. But, it may also mark the beginning of a long-term mentorship.

2. Scout for Likely Candidates

The ability to promote from within an organization is valuable, whether you run a small business or manage a department within a multi-national conglomerate. Why seek outside candidates when you have promising employees that already have experience with the company processes and culture? The key is to identify the employees that show promise for advancement.

If you are a small business owner, you probably already know the potential of your staff. Managers at large companies, on the other hand, do not have intimate knowledge of all of the people around them. If you are a large-company manager, you might suggest company-arranged (and funded) lunches to help spot the up-and-comers. These are the people who think beyond their job descriptions. They may regularly come up with money-saving ideas and they generally recognize that departments outside their own are affected by every decision. Their ideas consider this big picture.

3. Understand the Difference Between Mentoring and Training

Mentors help develop people into their best selves by guiding them to capitalize on their own abilities and attitudes. So, while you would train a person to follow steps 1, 2 and 3, you might mentor employees to make decisions by requiring them to practice their reasoning abilities.

Have you ever felt frustrated when someone answers a question with a question? This is known as the Socratic Method and it is very appropriate in mentoring. When a mentee asks how to handle two employees that need the same resources to meet identical deadlines, for example, this is the time to ask some questions. Are the deadlines equally important? What are the consequences of missing each deadline? Are there ways to share the resources? Do not tell mentees what you would do; teach them to think it out for themselves. This is the difference between mentoring and training.

Training develops a skill set — bookkeepers learn where to put the debits and credits, sales people learn the details of the product line, and everyone learns where paperwork goes for processing. Good mentors may recommend additional training, but great mentors might wait until their mentees recognize that they need training — and ask for it.

4. Know What's in it For You

Mentorship relationships are beneficial to mentors, too. If you are a work-overloaded manager, a talented mentee can take some of the load off, even freeing you up to better focus on high-level tasks. You also gain the loyalty of someone who is likely to help you in some important way in the future.

Still, if your company requires you to take someone under your wing, it is important to be clear on the benefits that you will receive. Will you receive monetary compensation if the mentorship creates more work? Or, will your mentoring efforts make it possible for you to move up the ladder while you groom your replacement? You might undertake an informal, short-term mentorship purely for altruistic reasons, but it is reasonable (and necessary) to expect more from a formal relationship.

Mentors Need Mentors, Too

You have many abilities to pass on to promising employees — particularly if you want to retain them over the long term. But don't forget that mentors need mentors, too — even the top gun. If you own a business or run a large organization, recognize that there is a vast array of resources outside of your company doors. As you network with other business owners or executives, don't be afraid to ask for advice to help you further your short- or long-term goals. And, don't be afraid to offer advice, either.

How to Retain Talented Employees In Your Small Business

9-23 Retail employees smallIn your business, your team is everything. Even if you follow the guidelines from my blog on how to hire your first employee on the best practices for hiring and interviewing candidates, some bad seeds will still find ways to slip through the cracks. It’s not just poor workers who will affect how your team pool changes. Millenials, who comprise the largest generation currently working, have exhibited a trend of job-hopping in search of the best job with the highest compensation. The goal for you, as a small business owner, is to prevent your most talented employees from jumping ship. Here are some tips for how to retain your best and brightest employees.

1. Think Long-Term

If it’s financially impossible to increase an employee’s compensation, you need to remind him/her that one day it will be. Be sure that all of your employees have a concrete idea of what your vision is for your business and what role they’ll play in helping your get there. Make them understand why you do what you do. If you voice how much you believe in yourself and your team, the desire to stay working for you and helping you reach that goal will follow. If you treat your employees well, they’ll trust you enough to know that when you become successful, so will they.

2. Compensate Fairly

Depending on the skill and education levels you require for your position, compensation will play a large role in obtaining and keeping talented people in your circle. A paycheck and its accompanying benefits are a huge factor when workers consider leaving for another employer. Do you offer health benefits, a retirement package or an annual review during which good work is rewarded with a raise? You should consider all of these things and figure out compensation that is fair to keep you best employees

3. Give Perks

While small business owners have the desire to compensate employees very well, we all know money can get in the way. If you can’t financially afford to pay your employees exactly what they deserve, figure out what else you can do to balance the scale. Sculpt a laidback, but professional, work culture where creativity and inter-office friendships are encouraged. Offer paid vacations and sick days, maternity and paternity leave or the use of your equipment for an employee’s side project. Time is free, and if you feel that your employees might deserve more than what they see in their paychecks, there’s no harm in offering other benefits to them.

4. Offer Growth Opportunities

Talented employees are people who crave responsibility and growth. If you’re sure an employee is someone you want to keep on your team, offer him/her the opportunity to take on more challenging and engaging work. This will keep your employee interested while also preventing the job from becoming mundane or predictable. Keep your talented employees on their toes with more demands. They will see and feel the trust and faith you have in them.

You need your employees and they need you too. You will run across your fair share of bad employees during your time as an entrepreneur, but when you begin adding really valuable, talented employees to your team you need to know how to hold on them. It will be the best thing you can do for your business.

Seven Steps Toward Customer-Focused Culture Change

Changing the culture at your company isn’t easy (It’s not that it’s necessarily complicated, it’s just an awful lot of work). But culture change done right can transform your company into a customer-centric and employee-embracing company. Here are seven steps that will help get you there.

  1. Make the decision.  If you don’t make the decision to drive cultural change at your company, make it loudly, proudly, and in a way that’s hard to turn back from, it’s not going to happen.
  2. Spell it out. Take a very, very few words–really, just a handful!–to say what your decision looks like. For example Mayo Clinic’s “The needs of the patient comes first.”  Seven words, none of them consultantese, only one of them longer than a syllable.  If you need more words than this, that’s OK.  The Ritz-Carlton not only has the timeless “We are ladies and gentlement serving ladies and gentlemen” but also “The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.
  3. Start talking about the change at every orientation. If you waste orientation talking about the employee fridge and how it’s emptied out on Fridays, how to file for vacation time or sick leave and such, you’re blowing it.  Orientation is a time when employees are (ironically), disoriented, and as such it’s a crucial time to have someone at the very highest level in the organization (at the Ritz-Carlton it’s the CEO, every time a new hotel opens; at Danny Meyer’s restaurants it’s Danny Meyer) talk about what is central and immutable in the organization’s culture.  Its purpose, in other words.
  4. Overhaul your hiring and personnel practices. Every single employee, from this moment forward, needs to be hired for reasons that are congruent with your newly stated values.  This is very, very important. And as far as personnel policies, no more docking people for coming in late from the lunch break to assist a customer they found in distress.  No more ranking based on average handle time on phone calls.  And so forth.  The CEO can make the highest of high-minded values statements, but here is where the rubber hits the road, where your culture can be supported or sabotaged
  5. Standardize (in the right way). Everything that can reasonably be expected to occur between you and your customers deserves to be standardized, explaining (to your employees) both what to do and the reason behind the suggested behavior (so that they can deviate from it when the situation calls for a different approach)
  6. Commit yourself to employee empowerment, including employee-directed job design. Jobs should not by default be considered activities that are done by employees but designed by their so-called superiors.  While, of course, to some extent this has to be true, especially in life-threatening situations–your employee can lead an evacuation down a fire escape but can't necessarily design standards for what is an acceptable or unacceptable level of smoke inhalation–it's important to simultaneously push against it, to let your employees know what they need to get done but not necessarily how they should go about designing their day and carrying out their duties.
  7. Keep the momentum going. Ongoing reinforcement is crucial.  Consider how the Ritz-Carlton has maintained its culture for decades, even in the face of leadership changes and some very challenging economic times.  The centerpiece is daily lineup approach:  a few minutes every day discussing just one of your list of cultural values or service standards, with the meeting led by a different employee every time. The result, added up over a year or years, is a lot of reinforcement. And it makes every single one of those days of that year or years better on its own.

Delegate — but Don’t Abdicate — with Service Providers

7-37 Delegatiing & reviewing smallYou hire accountants, lawyers and other professionals because they have specialized knowledge that you don't have. This means that you can count on them to do their work without supervision, right? Well, not so fast.

Everyone makes occasional errors. As long as the name of your business appears on the paperwork, you have ultimate responsibility. So, whether you need to stay out of the line of sight of a possible IRS audit or you want to ensure that your advertising is accurate, you need to periodically check the work of the people that you hire to help with your business.

Here are some guidelines for checking the work of people who know their business better than you do.

Accountants Know Where the Debits Go, but You Can Still Check the Numbers

Before the advent of tax software, one accountant admitted that he knew the accounting rules in impressive detail, but he was quick to make mathematical errors. Happily, the software now eliminates mathematical errors, but entering accurate data in the right place is still largely a human effort.

While W2 earnings generally come straight from a computer, a more common area of error is the 1099 reporting of non-employee earnings. Granted, these recipients will be quick to tell you about errors, but it is far less work to get it right before you send the forms to the IRS. And, if you do have to send corrected 1099s, don't do it before you make sure the "CORRECTED" box is checked. Otherwise, these forms will start to seem like a second career.

You also want to look at the big picture and trust your intuition if you think that something is wrong. For example, if your tax forms (or even your financial statements) show earnings or profits significantly different than you expected them to be, you may not know how to dig into the financial weeds to find out if the number is accurate. But, you certainly can ask the accountant to explain it to you.

Lawyers Know the Law, but You Know the Questions

Your eyes may glaze over after reading the first sentence of a contract or other legal document, but your signature commits you to every word of legalese. Lawyers will tell you that the legalese is necessary for the sake of precision, but it certainly seems like it is intended to discourage careful review by laypeople.

So, make yourself an 8-ounce cup of espresso (or a highly-caffeinated beverage of choice), and read every word before signing. Check every number for accuracy and make sure that you understand every nuance of what you are committing to. Then, discuss your questions with your lawyer. If you don't understand the answers, insist that he or she speak to you in English.

Advertising Agencies Know How to Sell, but You Know How to Proofread

It is not uncommon to leave your company's ad campaign largely in the hands of advertising professionals. But, understand that creative people do not always do the best job with details, so don't let them release print or broadcast ads without conducting a full review.

Remember that just one character can make a huge difference. Do you really want to commit to a 100 percent discount when you intended it to be 10 percent? Or do you want customers beating a path to 2000 Orchard Street when your store is a mile away at 2000 Orchard Lane? Don't allow any ad to go out before you thoroughly check the fine points.

Software Does Things Consistently, but You Know When it's Consistently Wrong

Today's off-the-shelf software is generally pretty accurate, but it's not perfect, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the details. For example, a great way to monitor tax preparation software is to watch the results of your entries on the tax totals that are typically displayed on every screen. If you enter a known deduction and then see the taxes increase, there's something seriously wrong that you need to investigate.

When you hire a company to produce custom software for your business, you need to get involved in testing before taking it live. Make sure that the company uses test data that you provide because you can then predict the results. Even when tests run clean, you should also run the new software in parallel with your old system over an extended time period to make sure that the results are accurate to the penny.

When it Comes to Your Business, You are the Ultimate Expert

As a small business owner, you wear many hats, but you can't be an expert in every aspect of your company. Even though you cannot match the knowledge of the outside resources that you hire, they can't match your knowledge either. In the end, everything boils down to details that you can — and should — check.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How (and Why) to Improve Your Internal Customer Service

6-16 internal customer service smallYou’re all about customer service—but how well does your company handle internal customer service? Internal customers are the employees at your business, all of whom depend on—that is, are “customers” of—other employees to get their jobs done.

Internal customer service is important because if it isn’t up to par, your business will function less efficiently and professionally, and your external customer service will suffer. Here are 4 steps to improving your internal customer service.  

  1. Make sure employees understand the relationships among their roles. As your business grows, employees may become less familiar with what each person does and how their jobs support each other. You can introduce the concept of internal customer service by using an organizational chart and explaining what each department does and how its functions support other departments. For example, your marketing team generates leads that your salespeople pursue to make sales, while your fulfillment department ships the orders. If marketing doesn’t do its job, the salespeople can’t sell. If fulfillment messes up the orders, salespeople’s efforts are in vain.
  2. Cross train employees. Cross training employees to handle each other’s jobs gives them a real sense of how important each job is to internal customer service. It can also open their eyes to the challenges of other jobs, and ways they could be making their teammates’ jobs easier or more difficult.
  3. Improve your systems and processes. Work with your employee to identify sticking points in your existing systems and processes that are preventing good internal customer service. For instance, if salespeople aren't inputting orders in a timely fashion, this slows fulfillment and overloads customer service with angry calls.
  4. Build team spirit. Poor internal customer service often comes from personal rifts or misunderstandings between employees. When employees see each other as comrades and even friends, however, providing great internal customer service comes naturally. Encourage employee bonding by hosting regular events like Friday potluck or pizza lunches, company picnics and other outings. Model the behavior you want to see by being friendly, upbeat and getting to know your employees.

Encouraging employees to see each one another as customers will spark better behavior and greater professionalism. That means a happier team…and happier customers. 

How to Lower Your Work Stress in Five Minutes or Less

Feeling anxious or stressed? Many times I feel both.

This is very common among small business owners. Roger Cohen in the New York Times says “there’s a lot of status anxiety going about these days. People live suspended between the anxiety of being deluged in communication and the agony of receiving none. They have always wanted to be liked, but now they must also be “liked”…They are either on top of things, a momentary illusion, or overwhelmed, a permanent state intermittently denied. They look around wondering how it is possible to keep up. They have access to everything and certainty about nothing. They zigzag between indulgence and denial, frenetic states and cleansing cures, their busy selves and their better selves…They amass to-do lists that cannot get done.”

Diet, exercise and sleep are three of the best ways to battle this permanent state of stress. But what about right now during a very hectic day? Here are seven strategies to lower your stress in five minutes or less.

1. Create “happy” passwords

Pick passwords that make you smile or feel inspired each time you type them. Try including a name of someone you love, a few words from your favorite quote, or a word that sparks a favorite memory. For example, Be@chH0u$e could represent fond family memories at the beach.

2. Let go of those thoughts

Write down on paper the thoughts that keep repeating in your head. Start writing a list, a rant, or whatever is most troubling. You will be surprised how much less stressful things appear on paper than they do in your head.

3. Practice controlled breathing

Sit in your chair with your back straight. Breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. Repeat for five minutes. This technique, “4-7-8 breathing, is a version of meditation that will help you get centered.

4. Play brain games

Brain games are easy mental activities that help channel thinking away from stressful thoughts. Brain games include counting backwards by three starting at 100, reciting the lyrics of an entire song without the music or creating a sentence where every word must begin with the same letter.

5. Grab some food

6-5 stressed and anxious smallFoods affect our emotional and mental well-being. Foods high in omega-3s, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B, A, K can help beat stress. They include eggs, dark, leafy greens like kale, pumpkin seeds, salmon or canned tuna, flaxseed, and dark chocolate. If you’re not hungry, grab a green apple to alleviate a headache!

6. Give yourself an ear massage

An ear massage releases calming endorphins in the brain. Start by using your thumbs to massage the ears from lobes to temples, then follow these four steps to ease the tension of a stressful moment.

7. Smile!

Even when you don’t feel like it, smile. It’s difficult to have stressful thoughts when you are smiling. A facial smile will make you search for happier thoughts. Sit at your desk with your eyes closed and smile for two to three minutes, or walk around and smile at others. You can’t help but feel better.

Which strategy will you use to lower your stress at work? 

Stop Treating Your Customers as an Interruption

Barbeque: Customer Unhappy with FoodI want to encourage you to look at the ways that you, your business, and your employees may be making your customers feel like they’re interrupting your business, rather than that they are the point of your business.  If you make them feel like an interruption, they’ll get a pretty clear message that their patronage as a customer doesn’t mean that much to you. A feeling that they’ll ultimately reciprocate, by not forming much of an attachment to your business, either. 

Here are specific behaviors, some general and some specific to particular types of workplaces, that are guaranteed to make a customer feel like an interruption, rather than central to your company’s existence.

• Foodservice workers: Remember to yield at any potential collision point within your restaurant. In fact, not only should you be yielding if a collision is otherwise imminent, you should be using your senses to allow you to yield before the guest even realizes that there is a potential collision point.

• Physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners: Stop standing in the exam room while talking with (seated) patients. And please, please get your hand off the doorknob (making it seem like you wish that you were already out the door).

All customer-facing employees: Never talk with your co-workers—never—without situating yourself in a way that allows you to use your direct or peripheral senses to allow you to stop when a customer approaches, before the customer is made to feel that they’re taking you away from how you’d rather be spending your time.   (To put this bluntly: Your customer probably won’t appreciate coming in contact with your backside before your face.) When you do talk with co-workers, never—even for a minute–make a customer or potential customer wait for you to finish your conversation, even if your conversation is work-related. Drop that conversation mid-sentence, assist the customer, and then come back to it after.


To summarize what these points have in common: You make your customers feel like an interruption when you fail to serve them with speed and enthusiasm.  In many business situations, of course the customer will, eventually, be served; there’s no way to definitively ignore them.  If a customer’s standing at a counter awaiting service, they’re not going to be flat-out turned down. But will they get served after the nearest employee puts down her cell phone with a tiny accompanying grimace? After she finishes the note she is writing? After she finishes the sentence or paragraph she is sharing with her co-worker? Or right away, and with a smile?  The difference here is a matter of seconds, or even just milliseconds. But that brief time span, and the attitude it evokes, makes all the difference in how the customer feels about your company.

The Importance Of New-Employee Orientation – And How To Do It Right

3-6 employee orientation smallDo you know—for certain—what the first day of work is like for your employees? Is there a chance you’re frittering away orientation–a key part of building your corporate culture–on inconsequential details? (‘‘This is the break room. We clean the employee fridge out each Friday.’’)

Each day, all around the world, careless orientations like this one are creating lasting negative expectations among employees. And executives and managers typically have no idea it’s happening. Be sure your precious first moments with an employee aren’t squandered (or worse). Institute a careful, effective orientation process.

Use Orientation to Instill New Values, Attitudes, and Beliefs

Employees are especially impressionable during their first days—and especially their very first day—on the job. This is because beginning any new job is disorienting, and psychologists have shown that during periods of disorientation, people are particularly susceptible to adopting new roles, goals, and values. Those new values and beliefs might turn out to be destructive ones, or constructive ones like you want to seed. It depends largely on your orientation program.

With this in mind, I recommend that you focus your orientation process not on instilling practical know-how, but rather on instilling the most useful attitudes, beliefs, and goals possible. Keep the focus on what is most crucial for your business: core customer service principles, your company values, and why and how your employee is an essential part of the company’s overall mission.

Involve the highest leadership level possible, ideally the CEO, to personally provide the orientation on values, beliefs, and purpose. Sound impractical, even impossible? Consider this: The CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company conducts, personally, every single Day One event at every hotel and resort Ritz-Carlton opens, no matter where it is in the world.

So, figure out a way. You only get one Day One.

Improve Your Customer Service–By Letting Us See Your Tats!

2-20 tattoos at work smallResponding to tens of thousands of employee requests, Starbucks recently announced sweeping changes to its tattoo policy, now allowing customer-facing employees to exhibit them everywhere except on the employee’s face. (Previously, employees had to hide tattoos under long clothing, which as you can imagine made things uncomfortable in a long day working over hot steam.) Dress codes, too, have been loosened to allow more expression in accoutrements, scarves, and the like, and piercings have been significantly deregulated.

Are these sensible, bottom-line minded moves Starbucks is making, and that you should consider for yourself as a leader and businessperson? I would argue that the answer to both questions is yes.

Customers are searching for the genuine, the authentic

Today’s customers have a well-developed sense of the genuine, and "genuine" is something that they look for from a brand.  I find as a customer service consultant that my clients who allow their employees self-expression on the job–in language, clothing, and, yes, tattoos–are better able to deliver a genuine customer experience that connects with the customer.

Letting employees express their personal style, tats and all

In other words: letting employees revel in their own style is a way to project how genuine you are as a brand to employees and to the customers they support. Your customers—including the important millennial generation that will soon be the dominant breed of consumer in the marketplace—project their own style through their clothing choices, tattoos, and hairstyles, and by and large they're fine with your employees doing the same. As fellow customer service designer Tim Miller expressed it to me recently, in a customer-facing business you should strive for a visible symbiosis between the people working at your establishment because it fits their lifestyle, and the customers doing business with you because it fits their lifestyle.

Choosing the best employees, not just the ones without tattoos and piercing

The second reason is even more important: Employees with the potential to be great all share certain key personality traits (Warmth, Empathy, Teamwork, Conscientiousness, Optimism [WETCO] is my list),  but what they don’t share is a particular look. And as an employer, what you’re looking for, praying for, dreaming of, are great employees. Not necessarily Darien-bred or Oxbridge-accented employees (in fact, sometimes these are exactly the kinds of employees you want to avoid in the service industry, if they come with an attitude to match), but employees with the potential to be great in all the empathetic and creative ways that a customer-facing employee needs to be great.

This principle is epitomized by a front-of-house service professional in Bermuda named Nick DeRosa, about whom I've written before.  Mr. DeRosa is head doorman at the Fairmont Southampton and one of the greatest front-of-house employees you’ll ever meet.

DeRosa has a tattoo on his neck, all capital letters that says “NICK” so large and visibly that his much-smaller name tag serves pretty much as decoration rather than identification.

Based on an appearance checklist, Nick would hardly be the likeliest candidate to be chosen as the first person guests encounter at this grand luxury hotel, yet they selected him anyway, based on his personality and smile, and it’s clear it’s one of the best personnel decisions the hotel has ever made. Not only is his own performance stellar but he is an inspiration to the employees who work for and with him to up their own game. So I hold the example of DeRosa out to you and ask you this: Why lose a potentially great service person who made a questionable (to you) stylistic choice earlier in their lives—or even made one last night?

Get over your hiring inhibitions

You may get some pushback from whoever your pushbackers are, saying that some studies do show that, all things being equal, an untattooed, unpierced employee is viewed more favorably by mainstream customers than one who is decorated in the modern fashion. But all things are never equal. All employees are not equal. And I would argue that you want the tattooed employee if the tattooed employee is otherwise a future star for you.

Revise your HR guidelines

So: Are you reluctant to (and/or do your hiring guidelines prohibit you to) employ otherwise-qualified candidates who sport tattoos, weird hair, cheek piercings, and the like?

Well, if so, I do understand. I really do. But I want to challenge you to consider that, perhaps, your thinking is out of date. Anachronistic. Please evolve as quickly as you can, for the sake of your employees, your customers, and your bottom line.

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