Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


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.


Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Improving Office Morale

3-16 Employee Hapiness smallEvery office goes through cycles – from motivated, focused productivity, to the doldrums of boredom and complaints.  When you see the need for a collective boost in spirits, try out these tips, guaranteed to get your staff back on track.

  1. Daily Huddle.  Try conducting brief, daily meetings designed to keep your team collectively focused.  Identify challenges and goals, then get right back to work.  I like to conduct these meetings with the entire team standing, so there’s no temptation to get too comfortable.
  2. Schedule change-up.  In nearly all cases, there’s really no reason to require every single member of your staff to work the same set hours.  If it makes sense for some folks to work unique schedules and manage their personal lives better, you’ll discover they’re more focused and ready to be productive when they’re on the clock.
  3. Focus on the Why, rather than the What.  Remembering why you started your business – and reminding your staff of your purpose – can help employees redirect their energy toward accomplishing big picture goals.  Look at the benefits you provide your community if you need inspiration to keep going.
  4. Say thank you.  It doesn’t cost you a cent to express your appreciation.  Make sure your staff knows how much you appreciate them, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile for you and your customers.
  5. Listen.  Just like dealing with an irate customer, you need to provide a private way for dissatisfied employees to air their grievances.  Getting the problem out in the open lets you manage office problems, and it keeps your employee from spreading dissatisfaction to the rest of the staff.  If your staff thinks you don’t care about their concerns, their productivity and morale will inevitably suffer.
  6. Take the bullet.  While you don’t want to fall into the trap of being the number one troubleshooter for your company, sometimes the very best thing you can do is swoop in to save the day.  Letting your staff know you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work will inspire them to greater heights.  If they know you have their backs, they’re more willing to be creative and innovative.
  7. Provide a change of scenery.  Monotony is the slayer of creativity.  When your staff tires of staring at their cubicle walls, take a field trip!  Whether you reward your employees with a day at the baseball park, or you band together for a community service day, sometimes giving your staff a change of scenery is all you need to reinvigorate them.

Most of us are operating on a budget and have more work to do than we have hours in a day, but you’ll be surprised at how effective an investment in your staff’s collective happiness can be for your company.  Keep ‘em focused.  Keep ‘em on track, and you’ll reap the benefits. 


How to Win Against the Biggest Time Wasters In Your Business

3-13 stop wasting time smallMany small business owners confuse being busy with being productive. You are busy, but are you always productive? Are you getting done what you want to complete every day? Wasting time is a luxury small business owners literally can’t afford. Interruptions typically dominate the workday and it becomes difficult to get anything done.

Here are the biggest time wasters in every small business and how to defeat them:

1. Meetings

Meetings are a huge drain on small business efficiency. It’s easy to fall into the habit of holding meetings on every subject and getting stuck in them back-to-back until the end of the working day. What is actually being gained in a particular meeting? What can only be accomplished by getting people together face to face or by phone?

Stop wasting time in meetings:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it. Begin and end on time. Make sure there are stated objectives and review follow ups before the meeting adjourns.
  • Stand up. For quick updates, don’t even give your team the chance to sit down and get comfortable. Hold a stand up meeting for a maximum of fifteen minutes.
  • Leave the phones outside (or turned off). Don’t allow distractions of these rings, buzzes and beeps.
  • Keep it lean. Carefully consider how many people really need to be involved. Too many people drain time and productivity, but a lack of key decision makers at the meeting will ensure that nothing gets accomplished.

2. Social Media

Business owners frequently spend little time on the marketing side of their business. Social media can be a huge time waster reading feeds, crafting tweets, Facebook updates, and writing content for their company blog.

Stop wasting time on social media:

  • Schedule with care. Invest in tools that will allow you to schedule what’s going out weeks in advance and keep track of your company’s entire social media presence in one spot.
  • Narrow your focus. It’s better to be really strong on one platform (hopefully the one where your customers spend the most time) than average across all platforms.

3. Email

Emails are never ending; your inbox seems to go from 0 to 60 unread messages in 3.5 seconds. New email notifications pop up or you check it a hundred times a day.

Stop wasting time with emails:

  • Just turn it off. Automatic email notifications are an interruption and absolutely kill productivity. You really don’t need to reply to every email that hits your inbox within five minutes. It sets the wrong expectation with clients and can mean tasks take twice as long. Only check your email intermittently throughout the day (e.g. first thing in the morning, lunch, before you leave).
  • Set expectations. Let your clients know you only check email certain times throughout the day and direct them to call or text you if they need a quick response.
  • Handle each email once. When reading an email, immediately reply, delete, file or set a follow up time to deal with it more fully. Distribute your emails into folders as soon as you read them. Save documents to your computer with appropriate names and file folders.
  • Unsubscribe. Most emails are subscription-based and now is the time to unsubscribe. Be honest with yourself about which ones you never ever read.

4. Administrative Tasks

Too often, small-business owners waste time on tasks they don't like or stink at. A lot of these tasks are accounting related—invoicing, payroll, and chasing down bad debt. If you’re spent three hours reconciling a bank statement, you’re making poor use of your time.

  • Outsource. It may seem counterintuitive, but hiring out these tasks can actually be less expensive. How do you value your time? Put a price on it and compare it to the price of paying someone else.
  • Use an online tool. If you’re not quite ready to entirely outsource, make sure you are using online tools to ease your burdens. Accounting tools, for example, generate invoices, follow up with overdue invoices automatically, and give you fast overview of debits and credits so you always know what’s happening in your bank account.
  • Use one system. Use a unified communication solution (voice, video, mobile) like Nextiva so you never miss a customer interaction wherever your staff is located. Get all your messages coming to one place.

Most importantly, the evening before, pick your two “must completes” for the next day. Do those tasks in the morning before anything else and you can call the day a success!

Did your biggest time waster make the list?


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.


7 Creative Team Building Exercises

Soccer players celebrating a goalPerforming at a high level of productivity demands breaks from the daily routine. Take 30 minutes or less to try one of these seven team building exercises at your next company or department meeting to improve a certain skill.

Improving Communication

1. Two Truths and a Lie. Time required: 20 minutes.
This popular college game can be adapted for business when certain boundaries are used. Divide the group into teams and have each person introduce themselves and states two truths and one lie. Within the team, have a quick 30 second discussion to come to a consensus about which one is the lie. Award points to each team when they guess the lie correctly.

2. Classification Game. Time required: 10 minutes.

Split the room into teams of four. Instruct the participants to spend a couple minutes introducing themselves and quickly discuss some of their likes and dislikes. Then reveal to them that they have 60 seconds to classify themselves into two or three subgroups. Examples of subgroups can include night owls, morning people, or sushi lovers. Teams present more of their likes and dislikes in these subgroups to the entire room.

Problem Solving
3. Zoom. Time required: 30 minutes.
This activity requires the wordless picture book entitled “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. Hand out one picture to each participant, making sure a continuous sequence is being used. Give participants time to privately study their own picture. The participants must then place the pictures in sequential order by discussing what is featured in their picture and how it fits the overall pattern.

4. Sneak a Peek Game. Time required: 15 minutes.
Build a small structure out of Legos and hide it from the group. Divide participants into teams of four. Hand out building materials to each team, being sure to include enough to recreate the structure you made. Place the structure at the front of the room (but still hidden). One member from each team can come up at the same time and look it for ten seconds. They then have one minute to instruct their teams how to build a replica. Repeat with a new member and continue until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original structure.

Planning

5. The Paper Tower. Time Required: 10 minutes.

A quicker version of the Marshmallow Challenge, each person is given a single sheet of paper and told to construct the tallest free-standing structure in just five minutes using no other materials. Review the structures and discuss what worked well and what didn’t.

6. Lost at Sea. Time Required: 30 minutes.

Divide room into groups of four. Read each team the lost at sea scenario in which a boat catches fire, leaving you with only 15 items to survive. The group’s chances of survival depend on their ability to rank the salvaged items in relative order of importance. After the teams rank the items, reveal the rank of the items according to expert coastguards and determine the winning group.

Developing Trust

7. Eye contact. Time required: 5 minutes.
This exercise requires no special equipment, just an even number of participants. Instruct participants to find a partner. Have them sit or stand 2-3 feet away and face each other. Tell them to stare into their partner’s eyes and start the timer for 60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. There will be giggles and some will feel awkward at first, but this exercise will help co-workers become more trusting of each other.

Do you have others you want to suggest? Which one will you try?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Your Employees Have Emotional Intelligence?

Business Team Chatting at Their OfficeIn my recent post 5 Things to Look for When Hiring Customer Service Reps, I mentioned the concept of “emotional intelligence.” Since emotional intelligence is a very desirable quality in a customer service employee, I wanted to explore this topic a little further.

In the workplace, emotional intelligence (sometimes called EI or EQ for “emotional quotient”) means being able to identify, understand, manage and use emotions—your own, and others’—in positive ways to build teams, lessen stress and communicate more effectively.

There are four aspects of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Understanding one’s own emotions is the first step in EI. By paying attention to their own emotional reactions, employees can learn to recognize the physical, mental and emotional signs of emotions such as stress, anger or sadness that can hinder good customer service.
  2. Self-management: Self-aware employees are in a better position to manage their own emotions. For an example, an employee who recognizes that a stomachache is a sign of stress can take steps to ease the stress before it becomes overwhelming. When they realize that emotions are interfering with their job, employees can make positive choices to defuse these emotions.
  3. Social awareness: The third part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand what others are feeling, empathize with them and react appropriately. For instance, if a customer is sighing heavily during a customer service call, an employee with social awareness will recognize this might indicate growing frustration, and “check in” on the customer’s emotional temperature.
  4. Managing relationships: Employees who possess the three other aspects of EI will be more successful at managing their interactions with other people. By being aware of their own emotions, managing them in a positive fashion, and responding appropriately to others’ emotions, these customer service employees can defuse conflicts, improve customers’ moods and build customer loyalty.

Want to assess and improve your employees (or your own) EI? Here are some emotional intelligence exercises and an emotional intelligence toolkit to assess and improve EI. 


6 Steps to Systemizing Your Business

2-13 business systems smallWhether you recognize it or not, your business already has a system. But when tasks take too long, cost too much or create substandard results, your system needs anything from a little Botox to a full face lift. Here are six-steps to help you see what you’ve got, identify where it’s going wrong and fix your system to get your business humming.

Step 1: Document Your Current System

Without documentation, you can’t get a clear picture of what you’re doing now, much less how to make it better. Don’t assume that you know what each employee does. Talk to them before you write down every step, identifying who is responsible for performing each task and the flow of work from one employee to the next.

Many employees will have opinions regarding what tasks need to change (or go away entirely). Encourage them to voice their thoughts so that you can note down that information, too. You are now armed with a playbook that you can review before moving to the next step.

Step 2: Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks

Scan your documentation for clearly unnecessary or redundant tasks (including those exposed during employee feedback), and get rid of them. If your employees are performing ten steps when five steps would do the job without loss of quality, they are wasting valuable time. And the extra steps may even make their work less accurate.

This is not a do-it-yourself process. Before eliminating tasks, talk again to the people who perform them, as well as everyone connected with the process. If Joe recommends eliminating two quality checks in his process, but Mary says she spends too much time correcting Joe’s errors, you need to figure out why Joe is so error-prone, and then fix it.

Make sure that you enter these and other changes into your documentation. You’re going to need it later (and forever).

Step 3: Automate

Your employees can become more effective when you judiciously introduce some automation to the process. With technology costs coming down and becoming easily accessible through the cloud, this is now more viable than ever.  Sometimes, you can also automate with a simple tweak. A tool as simple as setting up an auto-responder provides amazing value by buying extra time for responding to email requests.

Step 4: Monitor Results

Until you try out your new system, you cannot be sure of its success. After implementation, keep a sharp eye on the results. Are operations moving along more efficiently in the hands of happier employees? Or is the process hitting bottlenecks while your employees have become numb with boredom? If the latter, work may slow down, leaving you with a system that looks good on paper, but requires further adjustment.

Step 5: Make Tweaks

If you expect to get everything right the first time, think again. This is typically an iterative process involving testing, tweaking and documenting. You probably will see improvements on your first attempt, but no system is perfect. A tweak made to one task may create issues in a later step.

After tweaking problem areas, change the documentation so that your employees will know the steps that they need to perform, and monitor the results again. Rinse and repeat until the system works well.

Step 6: Update Documentation

Once you are satisfied with your new system, it’s time to formalize the documentation. Your employees will need to follow a procedures manual until they know all of the steps. And, when you hire new employees, you can reduce training time while increasing accuracy when they have a step-by-step manual at their fingertips.

Of course, no system is forever. As your business changes, additional changes to the process are almost inevitable. And, let’s face it: busy business owners don’t have the free time to change documentation on the fly — or even think about it, so put a periodic review on your calendar.

Your review may uncover missing information or, more importantly, the need for system enhancements. A semi-annual or annual review requires only a small effort (sort of like regularly straightening your closets, rather than waiting for a major mess). This effort ensures that your information is accurate, while alerting you if it’s time to go back to Step 2.

A Good System Does Not Stifle Creativity

Remember: a great system for your business does not equate to a mindless factory assembly line. Remove unnecessary, confusing or redundant tasks, and you free minds to develop new ideas. Everyone, from yourself on down, can add meaningful contributions to your business.


Can You Beat the Marshmallow Challenge?

1-30 marshmallow challenge smallHow can twenty sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow help build a stronger team?

The Marshmallow Challenge has become a popular exercise in which small groups are asked to build the “tallest free-standing structure” out of the materials provided. The teams have eighteen minutes to complete this task including the entire marshmallow on top. It’s a fun and instructive exercise that allows teams to experience simple lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The challenge has been conducted with business school graduates, CEOs, architects, engineers, and even kindergarteners. There have been surprising findings for which groups perform most successfully. Surprisingly, recent business school graduates are among the worst performers and kindergarteners often excel at this challenge. The children don’t spend time fighting to be the leader of the group. Instead, they just start playing and in the process begin prototyping. Business school grads spend most of the time talking, planning and building, which means they don’t have much time to change the design when it finally comes time to put the marshmallow on top which is usually too heavy for the structure that was built.

The teambuilding lessons from this challenge include:

Always test assumptions through prototyping: Participants think that marshmallows are light and will be easily supported, but when teams start building the structure, it suddenly tips it over. Only through realizing that every idea has value and then prototyping various solutions can the teams find out what works.

Don’t focus on being the tallest. When the instruction is given that the tallest will win, teams assume that height will win the contest. As a result, they wrongly focus on how high they can build the structure instead of the stability its base. Many times, companies try to grow too fast before they have a solid business.

Use what is available. Development of every product has limitations and teams can only use what they have and not get resources they want to build something better. In business, there is never unlimited resources or the perfect environment to grow.

Use only what is needed. There are some things that are given in the exercise that do not need to be used like the string. Teams have to figure out what is useful and what needs to be discarded in developing any solutions.

Give up perfection. Teams start out dreaming about building an elegant structure like the Eiffel Tower. They have to give up this idea of perfection and build something (even if it is ugly) that works that can be “good enough” to win.

If you’re looking for a fun way to kick start a meeting or get a team into a creative frame of mind, try running a marshmallow challenge of your own. Is your team up to it?


How Bosses Can Deal with Smartphone-Addicted Employees

Group of friends all using smart phonesSmartphones have become more than communication tools. As phones have evolved to include email, internet browsing, and social media connectivity, consumers have begun increasing their screen time each day. These devices have gone beyond being a way to make phone calls to becoming a lifeline for most people.

As The Washington Post pointed out, the modern smartphone is a way for people to protect themselves, allowing people something to do. But mobile devices too often take priority over the people in the room with someone, which is problem enough when it happens in social settings. In business meetings, it can be disruptive and insubordinate. In a world that seems to be increasingly tech-addicted, how do bosses handle employees who can’t seem to go five seconds without texting, tweeting, or checking email? Here are some things leaders can do to deal with distracted workers in the office.

Set Policies

As restrictive as it can be, employers need to set boundaries when it comes to tech use in the workplace. An across-the-board ban against personal cell phone use in the workplace isn’t reasonable in today’s environment. But it’s perfectly reasonable to ask phones to be turned off in meetings, especially if they’re with clients.

The problem comes in when employees are checking work email in meetings. Important work emails could be missed during a no-phones-allowed staff meeting, yet it’s often impossible to differentiate between company-related interactions and personal.

Address the Problem

As with any personal technology use in the workplace, it’s often easier to address the real problem than the symptoms of that problem. In other words, if someone wastes an untold amount of time texting throughout the day, he’s likely not getting his work done. If he is, it might be time to determine whether he has enough to do. A co-worker may be overloaded with work that could be shifted over to a smartphone-addicted colleague, solving two issues at once.

If an employee’s work performance is suffering as a result of his device use, begin documenting missed deadlines or failure to meet standards. Use this documentation to discuss these standards with the employee and state what he needs to do to improve. In some cases once an employee realizes his job is at stake, he’ll spend less time on the phone and more time working.

Offer Help

While it may sound extreme, technology addiction is such a problem there is now a name for it: nomophobia. Instead of taking your employees’ vices away, consider offering help. You don’t have to send them off to rehab or enter them in a 12-step program. Instead, bring in an expert to speak to employees about how they can break their smartphone addictions and get more done in a day.

If a workshop isn’t helpful and disciplining employees for poor performance isn’t successful, it’s likely time to directly address the problem. As long as your discipline is consistent, without showing favoritism, you may reduce workers’ disruptive smartphone use and have a more productive, collaborative workplace.




 
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