Posts Tagged ‘Human resources’


Mondays with Mike: How To Vaccinate Your Job Applicants

I’ll start this article with a nod to Dan and Chip Heath, whose book, Decisive, has had an enormous impact on the way I handle making important decisions.  I’ve learned over the years that while sometimes all you can do is trust your gut instinct, there’s a lot to be said for making decisions as deliberately as possible.  The vaccination technique in the hiring process plays the very important role of eliminating a number of the poor options, leaving you with the applicants who are best suited for your position.

Here’s how the vaccination technique works:  Let’s say that you’re hiring for a customer service position.  Before you write your job ad, think back to the problems you’ve had with previous employees in that position and make a list of the parts of the job that presented the biggest challenges.  Now, include those parts of the job description in the ad.  If it feels like you’re warning people off the job, then you’re doing it right!  Your goal should be to accurately describe the job, warts and all.

Why would you want to focus on the difficult aspects?

Stocksy_txpbfc73dd2sR8000_Small_175628You’re inoculating your applicants.  You’re giving the candidates who don’t want to deal with irate customers’ complaints a reason not to apply.  You’re telling the folks who don’t ever want to work weekends that they’re not going to be happy in the position.  You’re essentially screening out unsuitable folks so you don’t have to waste time interviewing, hiring, training, and ultimately firing them. 

My favorite way to write an ad is as a challenge to just the right candidate.  Emphasize that it’s a very special person you’re looking for, with just the right unique skill set.  People who read your ad and say “That’s me!” are the ones you’re looking for.  They’re dedicated and prepared to face the challenges of being your customer service rep.

In addition to screening out candidates who aren’t a good fit for your job, vaccination also ensures that your applicants know what they’re getting onto.  They won’t legitimately be able to complain that they didn’t know they’d have to work evenings and holidays if you included those details in the ad.  Think about the alternative – you gush about what a great company you’ve built, how wonderful the staff is, and how rewarding the work is – some employees may feel like they’ve been misled when they encounter their first real challenge.  Oversell the difficulties and let them discover for themselves how wonderful your company is.

When you’ve weeded out the unsuitable candidates, what you’re left with is a short list of much better options, and that means that you’ll be able to make a better decision since you’ve taken the time to deliberately sift out the cream of the crop before you even schedule the first interview.  Good decision making is a habit, and eliminating unwise choices is one of the surest ways to improve your long term outcomes and bring on staff who’s in it for the long haul.  


Does Business Etiquette Still Matter?

?????????????In recent years, business has become very casual. Gone are the work days of suits, stationary, big titles, corner offices, secretaries, and power lunches. Small business is now done through email, video chats, texting, meet ups, social media and casual attire.

However, etiquette still matters in business and can be a competitive advantage for you. Here is how:

Attire: How you look still matters. While John T. Molloy’s classic “Dress for Success” maybe outdated, someone who is dressed too sloppy or casual will still not be trusted as a person that is dressed as well as their customer. Appropriate attire choices also must made for video chats unless you want to show your customer your workout outfit.

Writing: Since so much of communication is done in short informal manner, there is greater chance of miscommunication. Being able to write effective email communications is still an important skill and requires increased practice. This can be done by sending an email to a customer and then following up immediately by phone to make sure that they understood exactly what you wrote.

Dining: A lot can be learned by having a meal with a business associate. People can win or lose a deal, promotion or job based on their table manners. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the right fork, but still includes RSVPs, keeping your napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, and chewing with your mouth closed. Not sure of your habits? Have a friend take note at your next lunch.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): More companies are not issuing smart phones, but instead are having employees bring their own smart phones.  As a result, personal and business data are mixing on the same device. It is critical to set the rules in advance as to what type of access the employer has for inspection of that device and whether it can be wiped cleaned when that employee leaves.

Travel: More small companies are doing business in different countries.  They need to be aware of various business and dining customs, business hierarchies, displays of affection and alcohol use. Important customs vary by country and culture.

Social Networking: Many small business owners and employees have separate social media sites for business and personal use. However, their brand image on both sites need to be consistent since customers will do a web search that will cover all of them. Personal and professional lives can no longer be practically separated.

Also remember that different generations will prefer different etiquette so this will add to its overall complexity. A great guide for the small business owner is the 2014 version of Emily Post’s “The Etiquette Business Advantage

What business etiquette is most important to you?


Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.


How to Make Great Hires in Your Small Business

Stocksy_txp9a65d8f63x6000_Small_34724As your small business grows, you begin to consider hiring help to take some of the workload and stress off of you. After all, if you can delegate some of the work that isn’t required to be done by you, you free yourself up to work on tasks that generate revenue. These tasks include things such as developing your company’s overall strategy, scheduling pitch meetings or being the face people see when they walk in your door.

That being said, moving into the land of becoming an employer is far from easy. Turnover in industries like restaurants can be shockingly high, at around 60%, and every time you hire an employee that will leave after a few short months, you’ve got to invest more time and money in finding a replacement.

These tips will alleviate some of these headaches and help you make great hires in your small business.

1. Know What You’re Looking For

The more specific you are in your hiring needs, the better you will be able to find it. Start by determining whether you even need a full-time employee. Possibly you only need a little help, which can be fixed by hiring a part-timer or a freelancer or agency who can take on project work like writing or design.

Then, decide what skills and experience you need. This will help you write a concise job description that will only attract the people that are qualified for the role you’re seeking to hire. Consider:

  • Any special skills that will make the job easier
  • Experience you want in a given industry
  • Job history working in similar positions

Obviously, if you’re hiring an ice cream scooper for the summer, the requirements will be lower than if you are hiring a marketing manager, but it’s still important to determine the qualities the person should have. Ideally, you want people who are hard workers and are committed to your company, who are looking for a job they can grow from over a long period of time.

2. Look in the Right Places

Job boards are the easy (and rather lazy) choice for employers to find employees, but fewer employees are finding value in the masses of unqualified resumes they get as a result. Many call job boards a “cattle call.”

Did you realize 92% of companies use social media for recruiting? Social media may be the right place to begin your search if you’re looking for professionals specializing in marketing or business services.

And don’t overlook your own local network. You may know people who can refer the perfect candidate to you, and since referrals tend to retain employees longer (46% after one year compared to only 22% from job boards), your golfing buddy might be your ticket to finding an employee who will stick with you.

You can also work with a recruiter, especially if you’re seeking to hire a professional with highly-specific skills. While a recruiter will take a bite out of your budget, it may take him less time to find the best talent for the job than it would you.

3. Make Your Company Enticing

Remember: job candidates will be interviewing you just as much as you them. And with unemployment less of a threat than it was a few years ago, they can often afford to be picky about where they work. Make sure your company is positioned to appeal to them.

You can’t expect someone accepting an entry-level position to want to stay in that role for years, so ensure that you have a clear path to growth so that when they’re ready to move up the ladder, they don’t have to leave your company to do so.

Also look at your employee benefits offerings. Are you competitive against what other local businesses provide their staff? Health insurance, vacation time, and other perks should be included in your hiring budget and plan, and should be appealing enough to make anyone clamor to work for you.

Part of finding and keeping good employees is doing your best to clearly identify what you’re looking for in a hire. The rest comes from solid management and providing that employee every reason to want to continue working for you.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Could Seniors Be Your Secret Customer Service Weapon?

Stocksy_txpbe336fabXT6000_Small_6767There’s a reason Walmart hires senior citizens as greeters at its stores: Seniors who are seeking employment are generally “people persons” who like socializing and engaging with others. That’s one of the findings of a survey by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that asked hiring managers about hiring senior citizens.

If you’re looking to enhance your company’s customer service, hiring seniors could be a great idea. Here are a few of the reasons managers in the SHRM survey say seniors are valuable employees:

  • Seniors tend to be more patient than younger people when dealing with customers.
  • Because seniors have a lot of life experience, they’re often good at coming up with solutions to problems.
  • Hiring seniors who have past experience in your industry enables you to tap into their decades of knowledge.
  • Seniors often enjoy mentoring or passing their expertise on to younger employees.
  • If your business relies on referrals or word-of-mouth to gain new customers, you’ll be able to tap into seniors’ vast networks of contacts from years in the work force.
  • Seniors typically aren’t dealing with children at home, and they may be widowed or widowers, so they have more free time to dedicate to their jobs.
  • Most seniors have a strong work ethic and are highly reliable.

How can you make the most of seniors at your business?

  • Take advantage of their natural skills and past experience. A senior may not do as well in a fast-paced environment. You can still tap into the senior employee’s abilities by having younger workers “triage” customer service calls and pass them on to the senior employee to handle in detail. This way, customers feel they are being responded to quickly, but also feel cared for by the detail-oriented senior employees.
  • Train them on technology to get them up to speed. Although they didn’t grow up with technology, seniors who are in the work force are typically eager to learn. Most seniors use the Internet, email and social media in their personal lives, so you won’t be starting totally from scratch.
  • Treat them with respect. Give seniors an opportunity to share their insights and experiences with younger employees on your team. Their approach to solving customer problems will likely shed new light on common issues your customer service staff faces.

There are plenty of senior job boards, such as JobsOver50 or Senior Job Bank, where you can list openings to attract this age group; you can also contact local organizations for seniors in your community. 


Mondays with Mike: 5 Steps To Drama-Free Discipline

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Over and over, I hear from entrepreneurs who fret over the prospect of needing to discipline an employee.  I get it.  You want harmony and happy, productive employees in your office, and you worry that you’re going to upset your staff when you call a performance problem to their attention.  Stop for a minute, though.  Discipline doesn’t have to equal drama.  Here’s how you resolve problems, keep the office calm, and get right back on track without missing a beat.

  1. Start on day one.  On new employees’ very first day, I always take the time to ask them how they like to handle issues that arise.  I say, “How should I bring things to your attention?” but you can word it any way you like.  Your goal should be to acknowledge up front that there will be issues that need to be addressed, and you’re setting the stage to handle it professionally, calmly, and in a way that doesn’t stress your employee out. 
  2. Document your employee’s preference.  Even small businesses need HR files, and I always make a note of an employee’s stated preference for conflict resolution.  Some staff members like to have problems pointed out immediately; some prefer a closed-door meeting at the end of the workday.  Resolving conflict isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you’ll have much better results if you take your employees’ preferences into account.
  3. Respect your employee’s preference.  When a problem comes up, use the technique you’ve agreed on, and call attention to the fact that you’re respecting the staff member’s request.  When you deliver your message in a way that feels comfortable, your employee will actually hear what you’re saying, rather than getting all wrapped up in the emotion of having to handle a dramatic conflict. 
  4. Document the incident.  Now you may not need to keep a letter on file just because you discover your IT guy passing around a Superbowl block pool during business hours, but you do need to be mindful of the possibility of frivolous employment lawsuits and unjustified unemployment claims.  CYA.  Cover Your Ass(ets,) and make sure that you document serious issues.
  5. Focus on the solution, and follow up if necessary.  The whole point of bringing a problem to an employee’s attention is to solve the problem and move on, so your meeting needs to focus on resolution.  Lay out the problem, briefly discuss the consequences of that problem, and make a plan – with your employee’s assistance – to fix the problem.  Whether you agree to check back in to review sales performance or review a time card in the event of chronic lateness, make sure you follow up and ensure that your employee’s back on track.

You can’t avoid conflict, not if you strive for excellence.  Demonstrating that you respect your staff enough to resolve problems without drama shows that you are committed to them and to the health of your business.  Your staff, in turn, will be far more likely to strive to meet or exceed your performance standards.


A Great Customer Experience Depends on Great Hiring

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

A great customer experience depends on great employees. To get those great employees, you need to know what to look for in an employee you’re going to put in a customer-facing position.

The trick is to hire your customer-facing team based on the following psychological traits, even before you start thinking about the specific skill set you’re looking for.  (Yes, the appropriate technical skills also matter. You can’t hire an empathetic surgeon who is also a klutz. But for most customer-facing positions, the technical skills are largely teachable, while the underlying personality traits can be much more easily hired than taught.) 

WETCO: The five crucial traits of customer-facing employees

Employees Only: Do Not Open Door-Snake Pit (humorous signage from Wall Drug, Wall, ND) © Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Wall Drug, N.D. (c) micah@micahsolomon.com

The traits I consider crucial for customer-facing work are contained in my acronym “WETCO.” My suggestion is to picture a big, wet dog at PETCO, and you’ll never forget this acronym.

Warmth: Simple human kindness. Warmth is perhaps the simplest and yet most fundamental of these five personality traits. In essence, it means enjoying our human commonality, flaws and all.

Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling. Empathy is a step up from warmth; empathy moves beyond the plateau of liking other people and is more like reading hearts—the ability to sense what a customer needs or wants, whether or not this desire is even yet apparent to the customer.

Teamwork: An inclination toward ‘‘Lets work together to make this happen’’ and against ‘‘Id rather do it all myself.’’   On the one hand, customers do need the help of entrepreneurially minded employees who will take charge of the situation without prodding, people who are willing to fix a problem all by themselves, if necessary. But that attitude needs to be seasoned by an inclination to favor a team approach, or your organization will soon suffer from the friction created.

Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion. Conscientiousness is a key trait for successfully serving customers, and unfortunately may not always be found in those who are otherwise suited to customer service work. The quintessential ‘‘people person’’ may lack conscientiousness, and this one flaw can be fatal: An employee can smile, empathize, and play well with the team, but if he can’t remember to follow through on the promises he made to customers, he’ll kill your company image.

Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges. Optimism is a necessity in customer-facing positions. Employees who can’t shake off a drubbing from a customer won’t last long. Support from management is, of course, important here, but the employees themselves need a positive, optimistic self-image as well to propel themselves forward in the face of daily adversity.

How to select for WETCO

How to select such people? An ideal approach is to match candidates to the psychological profiles of existing, successful employees. You may not have gathered this data for yourself yet, in which case you’ll be dependent on an outside company to provide it. That’s okay, because some of the available external tools are excellent. But you need to use your chosen methodology consistently: on every hire, rather than as the whim hits you. If you use scientific methods only sporadically you’ll never know what worked and what didn’t. Instead, the selectiveness of your inherently biased—that is, human—memory will trick you and you’ll continue to favor unscientific, ineffective hiring patterns that will hamper your organization for years to come.

If you start with externally generated profiles, as you grow be sure to gather data specific to your company. This process isn’t that complicated. Have your best performers answer profile questions and then bank these results. Have your average performers do the same, and then bank those results. If you show a consistently measurable difference between these two categories of employee, you have a valid test.

The necessity of a trial period

Great companies tend to have a lengthy trial period before newly hired employees become ‘‘brand ambassadors’’—that is, are ready to be foisted on the public. This is important in providing consistently great service, because how your brand is perceived is only as strong as the weakest cliche´—sorry, link. There’s no truer truism than the simile of the weak link; it’s one of the unnerving truths about providing customer service. You never want those potentially weak links out there representing your brand, whether at the returns counter, the contact center, or connected via their workstations to customers.

The trial period is also important for protecting your company culture. Even in the best-handled hiring scenario, it can take ninety days to know if you have a fit. Most often, it takes that much time for the employee to know if there’s a fit. At the Ritz-Carlton, for example, the first twenty-one days are treated as crucial, and if you’re not there for the big, transitional ‘‘Day 21,’’ you’re taken out of the work schedule. They don’t cut corners here, and neither should you.

Article © 2014 Micah Solomon


Mondays with Mike: Do This BEFORE You Hire An Employee

Most entrepreneurs start out as the sole employee of their company.  There are benefits to this setup – you know exactly who forgot to clean out the coffee maker, and you’ll never forget a staff birthday.  But eventually, if you want to grow your business, you know that you’ll have to hire someone to work for you.  You want to accomplish more, and you need additional staff to make that happen.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this decision.  It’s estimated that the cost of acquiring, hiring, and training a new employee is around 15% of their annual salary.  That’s a hefty chunk of change, which means that you need to invest it wisely.  One thing that I’ve discovered is that you can dramatically improve the odds of your first hire being a successful one if you prepare properly.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Evaluate the work you do.  Now you may think that you already know what position you want to hire for, but humor me here.  When you’re finished with this step, you’ll thank me.  You need to take a step back from the work you do every day and look at all of the roles you’re filling – sales, customer service, accounting, technical support, collections, etc.  The list may be longer than you realize!  Then you create an organizational chart, give each position a title, and arrange it on the chart based on who reports to whom.  Post this chart on the wall, and as you go through the next week, jot down the tasks that you perform under each of the positions.
  2. Define the position you’re hiring for.  Take a look at your chart after the week has elapsed and decide which of the roles is the best one to delegate to another person.  You’re not quite ready to hire yet, but you are already prepared with a list of the tasks that your future employee will be charged with.
  3. ???????????Make it concrete.  So if you’ve decided that you’re going to hire someone to handle your accounting and billing, you need to get their physical workspace set up.  You get a desk, computer, chair, adding machine … basically everything that they’ll need to do the job, and you start performing all of the new position’s tasks in the new workspace.  By physically moving to the new desk, you’ll ensure that everything the position requires is handy.  By the time you’re finally ready to hire, you’ll be ready to train your new employee (because you’ve listed all of the tasks) and you’ll already have had the chance to troubleshoot the new workspace.

Systematization is the key to efficiency, and by taking the time to analyze and systematize the new position that you want to fill, you’re setting yourself and your new employee up for success.  Employees who feel like their bosses are competent and organized will be more likely to emulate those qualities and stick around for the long haul.

  


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. 




 
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