Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


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.


Everyone In Your Company Needs To Be Responsible For Complaints

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

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

Here's my answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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


5 Tips to Increase Employee Efficiency

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

Reduce Quality Checks While Increasing Accuracy

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

Identify and Address Bottlenecks

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

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

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

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

Incentivize Increased Productivity

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

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

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

Hire a Professional

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

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

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

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

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


How to Handle the Bad Boys (and Girls) in Your Company

Do you have a Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson working at your business? These are the incredibly talented employees whose behavior is destructive to the culture of your company. They may be the top salesperson that never comes to work on time. It may be the most senior employee that is always bad mouthing the customers. While you pretend that these standouts and your business can coexist, they are in fact destroying your company from the inside out. What makes it worse, every other employee knows it and, in fact, it affects their own performance.

Remember that you teach what you tolerate. By allowing their behavior, you are sending the message they are special and that the rules do not apply to them. Your short term thinking further encourages their harmful behavior. The sooner that the business owner realizes the overall effect, the faster the company can move forward.

To be proactive, here are the steps to take today:

  1. Envision a company without them. Imagining your business without these star players is scary. But think of how all the performances of the other team members will improve without them.
  2. Counsel them. They will be surprised when you first approach them that their behavior is detrimental to the rest of the team since you have tolerated it for so long. They will think that their performance more than makes up for any other bad behavior. Instead, review exactly what you expect and how you will monitor their future behavior. Most likely, they will agree to try to change.
  3. Hold them accountable for their behavior. Since change is difficult, the star employee needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. Each time they exhibit the bad behavior again, review the change you expect. Repeat on an ongoing basis.
  4. Fire them (if necessary). In reality, few of these star employees will be able to change and in most cases, they will need to be fired. Be prepared to have to replace this person and have the timing fit when it is optimal for the company. Use documentation that you have monitored to complete the separation process.
  5. Share with the team. Tell the team why the star employee was let go and what the plan is to move forward without them. Most of them will applaud your decision and will work harder to help with the transition.

Who are the bad boys and girls inside your company?

Businessmen at Work


Win More Customers with These Body Language Adjustments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Small business owners get out of practice. They spend so much time in their offices and online that they sometimes forget how to act when they come face to face with a prospect or customer. While many professionals spend time practicing what they will say in a meeting, few focus on what their body language looks like. This is unfortunate since studies show over half how we communicate comes from our facial expression and body positions.

Here is what you can do to win over more customers:

  1. Smile. The first thing a person sees when meeting is your facial expression. This begins on your approach and will set the tone for the entire meeting. Prepare for this by remembering positive things that make you smile about a minute before beginning that meeting. This will make smiling more unconscious and authentic. In the meeting, looking someone straight in the eye and smiling will instantly make them more comfortable. It will also make you more likable which increases the chance of a sale.
  2. Sit up straight. Customers get more confidence from people that hold themselves up straight then those that slouch. Most small business owners have poor posture from being at computers all day or talking on a smart phone. Before the meeting, stand with feet shoulder width apart and get a grounded footing. Then stand straight as if someone had a string attached to the top of your head. This will help you stand, walk and sit straighter. Customers will buy more from people that show confidence in themselves with this type of posture.
  3. Lean in. The physical orientation of two people together says a lot about their relationship. Slouching back in a chair or sitting straight on the end doesn’t make the other person comfortable. Instead, leaning forward will engage people in any conversation. This also enables you to talk more softly so people need to tune in to what you are saying. Leaning in can also show a greater intent to listen which the customer will appreciate. However, be careful not to invade their personal space. Also, try to sit side by side with someone you are trying to win over rather than two opposing chairs or across a desk or a table. This will help them feel you are both on the “same side”.
  4. Matching body language. When you “mirror” similar body language to the customer, it builds feelings of trust because it generates unconscious positive feelings of affirmation. It will make them think you agree with what they are saying which increases the likability factor.  This does not mean that every time the customer crosses their leg, you need to do the same. Instead, look for body language cues to copy over the course of your meeting.

Remember that business body language differs by culture. All of this takes practice so always make it a standard part of your pre-meeting preparation.


5 Tips To Building a Successful Team for Your Small Business

??????????????????????As a solopreneur, you can only do so much. But as your business grows, you’ll need to expand your staff. Finding and hiring the right people will help your company become more successful faster. Here we look at five tips that will not only help you find quality talent but also nurture them so they feel vested in your company and want to help it thrive.

1. Know What You Need

Pinpoint exactly the skillsets you need to fill to round out your team.  Each person should have a slightly different background and experience so that they complement one another. But really drill down into your needs. Do you need to hire someone who has skills in social media? What specific social sites do you need help with? The more you know about your needs, the better fit your hire will be.

Also consider what types of employees you need. Not every addition to your team needs to be a full-time staff member. You can hire part-time, intern, or freelancer if your needs in one area are less than full-time.

2. Look to Your Network

Before you hit the job boards to find your next employees, ask your network for referrals. They’re cheaper to hire, faster to get on board, and have a retention rate of 46% after being at a company a year. Ask your colleagues, friends, employees, family, and business contacts if they know of talent that would be a good fit for your company.

3. Set Up Your Onboarding Process

The more training materials and processes you have set up, the faster a new hire will feel acclimated to your company and start being a productive member of your team. Have general training materials for your company, as well as those specific to the role you’re hiring for.

If you plan to work with a freelancer or agency, give them access to all the documents, login info, and details they need to be successful at helping you.

4. Foster Team Activities

Hiring one person is a small success. Integrating them into your team is another. Make sure your team is apprised throughout the hiring process so they feel vested and connected to this new addition. Encourage communication among team members, and consider setting up a team-building activity, like attending an event together or even having dinner after work.

Even if you as the business owner aren’t involved in the day-to-day with your team, you want to leave them to be able to build and foster their own relationships with one another.

5. Check Back In Often

A month after you’ve hired a new team member, check back to see how she’s doing. Get open feedback from her, and do your best to remove any obstacles she might be experiencing that keep her from being 100% productive.

Once you’ve done this successfully, make it your road map for future additions to your team.


Three Ways to Improve Your Business Messaging

All businesses need to communicate a consistent story that describes who they are, what they do and why customers need their products or services.  But even relatively small businesses count on a number of employees to deliver the story in everything from advertising to bids.  Add social media to the mix and your business can become victim to issues ranging from sales errors to serious legal concerns.  To avoid potential financial losses or hits to your company’s reputation, you need to take control over every aspect of your business messaging to keep it correct and consistent.

Here are three methods for ensuring that the public hears the message that you intend to send.

Provide a Single Source of Key Company Information

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When a newspaper ad shows a 20 percent discount until July while your website shows a 10 percent discount until May, you have to honor the better offer.  You also have to honor bids offered to customers by sales reps who quoted lower prices shortly after you increased prices across your entire product line.  These can be costly errors that you can control by developing a better communication system with your employees.

Everyone in your company needs to turn to a single source where they can find the up-to-date information that they need to do their jobs effectively and accurately.  Here are two of the most typical examples of systems that can be worth the initial effort:

  • Marketing information can be maintained in word processing documents on your company’s network.  With an easy-to-follow organization and identification system, your employees can copy and paste this content into their advertising or other business documents to deliver a consistent message to the public.  But to be effective, the content needs to be up-to-the minute, so make sure that timely updates are a number one priority for the individuals who are responsible for them.
  • Product pricing information can be easy to find if your sales staff members can use their smart phones to gain instant access to a secure online database.  If your company’s growth requires you to find a high-tech solution to help your sales reps, this type of system might be a good investment to consider.  But even if your young company is operating on a shoe string budget, your reps should make a quick phone call to confirm prices before handing a quote over to a customer.

Channel All Important Communications Through One Person for Review

No matter how many safeguards that you use to ensure consistency, the most current information may not always be available.  In fact, your employees may not even be aware of your plans to target new types of customers or change prices within the next few weeks.

This is why you need to select a very small group of inner-circle staff members to have signing authority for the release of important messaging,- even if that “small group” consists of just you! 

Reserve Social Media Messaging for Employees That You Trust

Even in the hands of experts, social media campaigns can unexpectedly go wrong, as was the case in 2012, when McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign and customers decided to use it to post complaints.  But social media has become an important part of company marketing tools, especially for small businesses looking to get maximum return on their limited advertising dollars.

Twitter quickly becomes a double-edged sword in the hands of your employees, even if their intentions are honorable.  What would happen if a loyal employee decides to respond in kind when a customer tweets a rudely-worded complaint?  The original complaint will likely fade out in a short time.  But a snarky response issued under your company’s name can catch the attention of the news media, causing serious damage to your brand.

Rule of thumb:  Grant permission to only a few individuals to broadcast messages on social media accounts that bear the company name.  And, while you may not have control over their private activities, strongly encourage all employees to keep your company name out of their personal Tweets, as well.  Also, consider putting together a style and communications guide to minimize the potential for off-message posts.

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Clearly, the words that you broadcast to the world can make a tremendous difference to your company’s reputation and bottom line.  Taking control over your company’s message takes some effort, but it is a task that you should make a priority.




 
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