Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


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. 


Mondays with Mike: Productivity Killers – Apps You Should Prohibit in the Office

I don’t consider myself a dictator, but I do operate on the principle that no one cares about my company as much as I do.  I keep up on current research, and I’ve experimented with ways to boost my own productivity, and one thing is certain:  there are applications that have NO business in your workplace.  Assuming that you don’t run your office in order to entertain your employees, here are some apps that you absolutely must banish from the office:

  1. social-mediaSocial Media.  Facebook., Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr … not a single one of these apps belongs in your office (with the possible exception of the staff who handles social media for your company.)  They’re colossal time-suckers, and in addition to offering your staff games, quizzes, and celebrity news to occupy their work time, these platforms also offer a window into your office that you can’t control.  Do you want your competitors knowing that your customer service reps have the highest Candy Crush scores in the industry?  These apps – used on company time – provide absolutely zero benefit to your business.
  2. Media Players.  While it’s technically possible to come up with a legitimate business reason you might need YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Google Play on your computers, the odds are much greater that these apps will be used to divert your staff’s attention from their work.  Don’t make it harder than it already is for your staff to stay focused.  Have your IT folks block these apps from your company computers.
  3. Addictive Games.  The aforementioned Candy Crush, as well as Angry Birds, Words with Friends, the notorious Flappy Bird – all of these games are expressly designed to keep us playing longer than we’d planned.  While we all need breaks in order to stay productive, it’s much better to stand up, walk around, and get a change of scenery, rather than wasting half an hour trying to match up candies on a smartphone.  Games like these do not belong in the office.  ßSee the period?
  4. Illegal Sites.  It should go without saying, but prohibiting your staff from accessing pornography and gambling sites from the computers you own is just common sense.  Not only are these sites productivity slayers, but they also often contain illegal material that you could be prosecuted for.  Head these problems off before they start.
  5. Interoffice Chat and Text.  Now you may balk at this one, but I’ve found that almost never have these apps made my staff more productive.  You not only run the risk of your message not being conveyed as clearly as it could be by simply walking down the hall and delivering it in person, but you also wind up with off topic material that distracts your employees from their work.  An icon that chimes each time a new message comes in is a distraction that requires recovery and refocusing time to overcome.  Just eliminate it altogether.

Employee satisfaction is hugely important to me and other successful entrepreneurs who know that keeping good people on staff is cost effective.  What I’ve learned, though, is that while you may ruffle a few feathers by banning Facebook in the office, it’s always worth it.  If you’re serious about pushing your staff to produce work they’re proud of, you’ll be able to create that culture by banishing unwanted distractions.    


The Small Business Advantage to Snagging the Best Employees

One of my contacts worked for a young, growing company that paid top dollar for software engineers in preparation for the day that they would be needed to meet client demand.  When she expressed concern about the overspending, one partner told her that if she was in charge, the company would be defunct in a year.  Six months later, their doors closed forever.

That partner was not wrong in recognizing the need for exceptionally-skilled workers.  The error was in seeing spending as the only way to attract and keep the best talent.  Large corporations may have ready cash to pay top wages and benefits, but small business owners can attract and keep the finest employees through their entrepreneurial spirit.  Here are some great ways to get your workers involved in your business vision and develop a relationship that few big businesses can match.

Offer Creative Compensation

Economic downturns may create a buyer’s market for hiring, but that doesn’t mean that the most skilled applicants will agree to take a position that offers substandard incentives.  You may not have the funds to pay a top salary when making an offer — or even when it’s time for an annual review.  But as a small business, your company can offer achievement-based bonuses that can really motivate your employees while increasing your revenues.  So, when certain sales reps are responsible for accelerated sales or when engineers enhance a product to make it more attractive to the marketplace, make sure that they receive their fair share of the profits.

Encourage Active Involvement in the Company

Choosing to work for a small company carries certain inherent risks, but it also offers benefits that cannot be matched by working for a huge organization.  When you welcome and act on employee ideas and suggestions, your employees become partners who recognize their unique value to the company as they work alongside you to realize shared goals.

Make sure to listen to their feedback and acknowledge them too- the value of these soft incentives is highly underrated—not to mention easy for small business owners to embrace.

Give Employees the Power to Spread Their Wings

I know a writer who worked for many small software businesses, enlisting her full creativity to develop low-cost, but award-winning manuals.  When she moved to a large company, she vehemently complained that she no longer wrote documentation, so much as manufactured it in accordance with strict, detailed procedures.  She didn’t last long in this position.

Big businesses need to put their employees in specific boxes and keep them there to get their allotted portion of the job done.  As a business owner, you know that one of the greatest rewards comes with seeing a project through from beginning to final results.  Employees can feel that same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment — if you empower them to take on this type of challenge.  As they stretch their abilities, be available to provide upfront and ongoing guidance as needed, but give them latitude to do it their way.  As their abilities grow from new experiences, their investment in the company’s interests will grow as well.

Praise in Public

??????????????????????????????????????A job well done deserves praise and your employees never mind being called to your office to receive your personal kudos.  But when employees receive your commendations at a company meeting or in front of a customer who benefitted from their hard work, they clearly see their true value.  Naturally, public praise helps inspire all employees, but it also lets your customers recognize how the depth of your products and services helps them get the attention and consideration they deserve.

Promote from Within

When a key position opens up in your company, always look first to the members of the team that work hard for you every day.  Granted, some positions require very specific educational requirements not available in your organization, such as a degree in accounting.  But remember that your staff members already have a solid foundation and a deeper understanding of your company culture and how things work.  You probably have to spend time and effort training employees in new concepts and procedures.  Or, they may need to take a class or two to obtain additional knowledge.  But you can’t teach loyalty and dedication, and these traits grow even more when you reward them with advancement.

No large company can match the excitement employees experience going in to a job where they know that they make a vital difference every day.  As their efforts help grow your business, make sure you help them continue to grow as well.  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 10 Warning Signs an Employee’s Ready to Quit

Do you think taking lots of sick days, coming to work dressed up and then going to a “doctor’s appointment,” or leaving on the dot of 5:00 are warning signs an employee is about to quit? Then you could be missing subtler, more serious signs.

A study by Utah State University associate professor Tim Gardner identified 10 behaviors employees who are planning to quit ????????????????????????????????????????typically display:

  1. They offered fewer suggestions in meetings.
  2. They became reluctant to commit to long-term projects.
  3. They became quieter and more reserved.
  4. They became less interested in advancing in their jobs.
  5. They were less interested in pleasing the boss.
  6. They avoided interacting socially with their boss or other managers.
  7. They were less likely to suggest new ideas or innovative approaches.
  8. They started doing the bare minimum at work and stopped going above and beyond the call of duty.
  9. They became less interested in workplace training and development programs.
  10. Their productivity at work declined.

According to Gardner, if an employee displays at least six of these behaviors, he can predict with 80 percent accuracy that the person is about to quit.

What can you do if you spot these behaviors in a key employee? Since the behaviors typically arise one to two months before quitting, there’s not much time to change the employee’s mind—so you need to be proactive.

As a busy boss, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own work and not engage with your employees much. Walk around, talk to your team every day and really listen—not just to what they say, but also to their body language and how they act. Is a formerly chatty employee now staring at her computer every time you come by? Does a formerly jovial employee no longer look you in the eye?

If you suspect a key employee is ready to jump ship, call the person in for an honest talk. If they are considering leaving but haven’t yet made a firm decision, what can you offer that would make them reconsider? Perhaps employees feel their ideas aren’t taken seriously, that there’s no room for advancement or not enough workplace training. Can you address these issues?

If the employee has already accepted or is about to accept a job offer, you face a bigger challenge—but you may still be able to keep the person on board by making a counteroffer or addressing his or her concerns.

If the employee does leave, conduct an exit interview to probe what prompted the decision. It’s likely this employee isn’t the only one bothered by the same issues, and by becoming more aware, you can remedy the problem before other employees leave, too.  


How to Launch a Philanthropic Program Within Your Company

The concept of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is incredibly popular in large companies where deep budgets allow employees time off to participate in community-oriented projects. But what about small businesses? Without big budgets, is it possible for the little guys to make an impact?

“Absolutely, yes,” says Lauri Flaquer, small business expert and owner of Saltar Solutions, a business consultancy in St. Paul, Minnesota. “In fact, I’ve been seeing a ton of small businesses develop their own philanthropic programs as of late.”

Interested in getting involved in your community? If so, here are some helpful steps to get you started.

Poll your employees

You want your company to get involved, but you aren’t sure where to allocate your resources. Chances are good that some of your employees may already volunteer or give to specific charities in their off time, so start by involving them in the development of your CSR program.

“Ask your employees what organizations they think the company should give to or volunteer with. Then, task those who are passionate with giving a presentation on their pet causes and ask the group to vote,” recommends Flaquer.

Be choosy

Don’t have any takers for a charity presentation? Find your own non-profit to support. Flaquer recommends looking at organizations that are somehow connected the mission of your company.  “If you own a water filtration business, for example, try supporting a charity that promotes clean water,” she says. “Or if you are in the publishing industry, maybe join a non-profit that prevents the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.”

Do your homework. Flaquer recommends checking with the IRS to make sure the organization is a 501c3 (tax code for non-profit) and with the Better Business Bureau to research on its reputation in the community.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Schedule volunteer time strategically

Too busy to volunteer? Flaquer recommends scheduling volunteer days (or hours) when your business is in a lull. “If your organization is cyclical, choose a time when it isn’t all that busy,” she suggests.

Transform a volunteering activity into a team building activity. Instead of renting an expensive hall and calling a catering company, opt to spend a day out of the office, cleaning a local park. Then spring for some pizza at nearby picnic tables. The event will end up costing you less and your employees will probably enjoy it more, too.

Set boundaries early

“When you are volunteering your time, it is easy for that time to take over your full-time job because you feel so good about helping others,” Flaquer says. “I recommend that before you start your program, set out exactly how much time you and your company will spend giving back, how much money you will spend and how many resources you will.

“Those guidelines will help you feel good about the impact you are making, but also help you keep an eye on your core business.” 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Creating a More Harmonious Workplace

Is conflict between employees hurting your business? While disagreements and ill will between team members may seem like minor issues not worth the boss’s while, in reality employee conflicts can damage everything from morale and productivity to customer service and your business’s image. Don’t sweep employee conflict under the rug—take these steps to defuse it.

  1. Pay attention. Many small business owners get so occupied with their own duties they ignore employee relationships. Spend some time every day walking around your workplace and seeing how people are doing. In addition to verbal interaction, pay attention to facial expressions and body language, and you’ll quickly notice when employees aren’t getting along. If you’re truly clueless and not a “people person,” enlist a key employee or manager to keep a finger on the pulse of the office mood and let you know when problems are brewing.
  2. Investigate. To keep problems from festering, start by finding out what’s going on. Meet with each of the employees involved to get their side of the story and find out what they think the problem is.
  3. Mediate. Once you have both sides’ input, get the affected employees together to discuss the problem and what can be done. Keep the discussion business-focused rather than personal by explaining how their attitudes are negatively affecting other employees and the business. Then ask them to come up with solutions for the issue. Your role is to mediate and guide the discussion into fruitful areas.
  4. Set consequences. Once you come up with solutions, develop next steps that each employee is to take, set a date to follow up on the issue, and create consequences if the problem isn’t resolved. For instance, explain that relating positively to others is part of their annual reviews, and failing to do so could lead to further discipline or cause them to miss out on a promotion.
  5. Be prepared. Part of your employee handbook (you do have one, right?) should specify how employee conflicts are handled and the consequences if they are not resolved. Having a plan in place protects your business in case an employee ever files a lawsuit claiming that your workplace was a negative work environment where harassment was allowed to fester. 

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Keeping Your Business Organized Whether You’re a “Piler” or a “Filer”

Stocksy_txp4883eb03663000_Small_53161Take a tour of any office and you are likely to see some immaculate desks and others covered with stacks of papers.  But don’t assume that the neat desks belong to more organized people than the messy ones.  The appearance of a desk often has little to do with how well-organized a person may be (which is good news for me, given that my desk looks like a war zone…).

Your personal sense of organization may depend on something called brain hemispheric dominance.  People controlled more by the left sides of their brains tend to rely heavily on logic.  As long as you can find things when you need them, a clean desk surface typically means that you are left-brained.  If you keep piles of paper on your desktop, your right brain is probably in control.

Regardless of whether you are a “filer” or a “piler”, running a business requires you to find information quickly, successfully manage deadlines and meet all accounting and legal requirements. But fighting your natural tendencies leads to disorganization.  You need to embrace your personality type and use the following tips to develop a system that works for you.

The Pilers’ Motto– Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you are right-brain dominant, filing important information in a drawer often amounts to losing it forever. This doesn’t mean that you are more forgetful than anyone else, but keeping items in view provides the visual cues that you need to stay organized.  Take comfort in the famous quote from Albert Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”  Then, use the following concepts to keep your stacks under control while easing the minds of co-workers who cannot tolerate the seeming disarray:

  • Using file folders is still important:  When a stack of labeled folders replaces a stack of loose papers on your desk, the papers look neater and corresponding information stays together.  Plus, the labels provide a better visual cue, enhancing your productivity.
  • Add visibility to the clutter: Multi-tiered vertical desktop organizers are a great way to keep folders in front of you.  They are neat, they let you see exactly what’s in them with a quick glance and they free up surface area so that you can do your work more easily.
  • Keep appearances in mind:  Face it —customers visiting your office can lose confidence in your abilities if they see you surrounded by clutter.  Not to mention that new accountant you want to hire is likely to quote you a higher rate if he or she expects to deal with excess confusion.  Use attractive systems and color coding to illustrate organizational skills.

For Filers, a Cluttered Desk Equals a Cluttered Mind

For left-brain dominant people, any excess clutter can draw focus away from the task at hand.  Your natural instinct is to create elaborate file systems organized by categories and subcategories.  You keep files on the desk only when you need them and get them out of sight as soon as you’re done.  But too much organization can affect efficiency, so keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid over-categorization: Keep information that you use at one time together.  If you need to extract 20 related file folders just to get through the day’s invoicing, you’ll lose efficiency shuffling through the paperwork — and lose key information in the process.
  • Keep related items together with color: If you can’t resist splitting items into multiple chunks, use a color coding system.  You are less likely to overlook important paperwork if you pull out all green-labeled folders when you do the daily invoicing.
  • Stay organized while away from the office: As you go on sales calls or visit vendors, important notes are likely to get lost without some organizational system.  Shop around until you find a daily planner book, an electronic organizing system or a smart phone app that lets you  organize every random thought in a way that permits you to recall it instantly when you need it.

So, pile or file away using a method that will keep you organized in a way that is consistent with your strengths and preferences.


Delegation Tips for Delegation Haters

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

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

Tap into your network

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

Start with small tasks

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

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

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

Be careful what you delegate

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

Don’t micromanage

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


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Perfecting the “Dreaded” Employee Review

Stocksy_txp17ae6739N13000_Small_143559Few small business owners relish reviewing employees, but regular reviews are crucial to making your staff the best it can be. Follow these steps for effective reviews:

Be consistent. Use the same review form for each employee in the same capacity—such as all your hourly employees, all your customer service employees, etc. Check out the forms at DocStoc or Microsoft Office templates.

Be prepared. Reviews should be based on specifics, not on your general feeling as to how the person has done in the last three weeks. Document the employee’s performance during the year, both positive and negative, so you can refer to specific examples during the review.

Get input from the employee. Have the employee complete a self-evaluation before the review and give yourself time to read it thoroughly. This will tell you if the employee’s opinion of his or her performance is accurate or way off base.

Provide a balance of positive and negative feedback. Even the best employees need some ideas for how to stretch or improve, or they will become bored. Conversely, even the worst performers need some positive strokes in order not to be completely demoralized. Find something positive and constructive to say so that the review isn’t all lopsided.

Look back and ahead. In addition to reviewing the person’s performance since the last review, look ahead to what the outcomes will be if the person takes (or doesn’t) the steps you’ll recommend during the review. Will he or she be in line for a promotion, or at risk of termination?

Get feedback. It’s easy for the employer to do all the talking, especially in a review that is strongly negative or positive. But be sure you give the employee time to speak so he or she can clarify any issues that may arise. If you ask employees to share ideas for how they can improve, they are more likely to be invested in the outcome.

Clarify next steps.

  • If the employee got a good review, perhaps he or she is getting a promotion and/or a raise. Let the person know the new title, new wage or salary and when both will take effect.
  • If the person got a poor review, you’ll need to specify what remedial actions have to be taken by what date, and what will happen if the person does or does not achieve these milestones.

Codify the discussion. After the review, complete the form, making sure it’s accurate and that you fill in any details that arose during the review. Have the employee sign and date the review form, and add it to the personnel file.




 
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