Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


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: 5 Foolproof Tips To Make Better Decisions

Stocksy_txpfff38493BN6000_Small_45968When you think about it, running a business is all about making decisions.  Let’s face it: if you didn’t have the drive to be a decision maker, you’d work for someone else, right?  As an entrepreneur, you’re faced with decisions every day – whether it’s a question about hiring a new employee, embarking on a new marketing plan, or managing costs by improving efficiency.  Successful business owners make good decisions, and the good news is that you can improve your decision making skills by following these tips:

  1. Follow the 10-10-10 rule.  Biz guru Suzy Welch gives us this technique for making decisions based on their long-term effects.  Consider the outcome of your decision in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years.  Let’s say you’re struggling with a particularly difficult client – the one who sucks up all of your time and energy and provides little in the way of revenue.  You’re trying to decide if you should kiss up to them for the umpteenth time to smooth over their latest ridiculous complaint or if you should cut your losses, fire them, and move on.   If you fire them, you know that in ten minutes, you’ll be panicked, worried about the loss of revenue.  But in ten months, you’ll realize that you’ll be happier for having eliminated the anguish this client produced, and in ten years, you’ll have been able to generate far more income from new, less problematic clients that you’ve been able to bring in with your renewed energy and freed-up time.  Think long-term.
  2. Create a stop-loss plan.  And follow it!  Entrepreneurs are seldom devoid of ego, and it’s far too easy to make a decision, ignore all the signs that the decision wasn’t the wisest, and continue well past the point at which you should have thrown in the towel.  A stop-loss plan forces you to evaluate your decision based on predetermined, concrete parameters, rather than on the results you’re hoping for.  Whether it’s a trial period for the pricy new sales rep you hired on, or whether it’s a minimum requirement for a new advertising campaign, you’ll make better decisions if they’re based on results, rather than hopes and ego.
  3. Employ split testing.  When you’re torn between two (or more) equally plausible choices, use split testing to try both options out before you commit to one.  Let’s say the sales rep for the community circular that you advertise in brings you two options for your next ad.  If you have the chance to run both ads, perhaps in different areas, or in different months, you can find out definitively whether the ad that touts your long-established history in the area is more effective than the ad that shows off your reasonable prices.  The idea is to make a decision based on hard data, rather than assumptions.  Online advertising makes it particularly easy to run split testing, as you can create and employ multiple variations with ease.
  4. Do thorough research.  You’d feel like a fool if you tried and failed with some radical new tactic to bring in new business only to discover afterwards that your competitor had already tried and failed with that tactic.  Look around you.  See what your competition is up to, and look to history to give you insight into proven – and disproven – strategies.  Fortune does favor the bold – those folks who forge new pathways – but fortune also favors those who do their homework.
  5. Sleep on it.  This last tip is the easiest and most foolproof of all.  People make decisions based on emotion, and that’s often a mistake.  Simply giving yourself time to think a decision over will almost always lead you in the right direction.

Hiring, firing, spending, saving … all decisions that we face every day.  Commit to making better decisions, and you’ll find those good decisions reflected in your bottom line.  


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.

  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Keys to Success in a Family Business

Stocksy_txp9b4a083fTr5000_Small_64619Did you know that 70 percent of family businesses never make it to the second generation? How can you avoid your family business becoming that kind of sad statistic? The key to keeping a family business surviving—and thriving—is communication. Here are five keys to good communication in your family-owned business.

  1. Pay attention. Is someone making a lot of bitter comments, showing up to work late (or not at all), or otherwise acting out? Keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you can nip communication problems in the bud.
  2. Address issues openly. Rightly or wrongly, many families “communicate” (or don’t) by sweeping things under the rug or denying that problems exist. When this kind of miscommunication infects the workplace, it can destroy your business. No matter how tough it is, make it a point to bring up problems before they fester.
  3. Keep it all in the family. Family business conflicts should be addressed openly, but that doesn’t mean they should be discussed in front of non-family employees. Call a family meeting or hold a one-on-one with the individual involved to hash out the problem before you involve non-family workers.
  4. Never assume. Because people are family, you may assume they will respond to things in certain ways or assign certain behaviors to them. (“Susan always gets offended by little things.”) Try to get beyond the “roles” that siblings, parents or other family members play in the family (the smart one, the peacemaker) and focus on the roles they play in the business. Give your family employees the same respect you’d give non-family employees and don’t attribute feelings to them without actually asking them how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
  5. Air the grievances. Let each family member get their feelings out in the open, even if you feel that one person is obviously right and the other wrong. An outside advisor, such as a family business consultant, your board of advisors or even a family therapist, can be helpful in mediating family business issues impartially. (It’s important, though, to make sure all family business members agree on who the outside advisor/s should be—ideally, before any problems arise.)

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How Do Your Employees Really Feel About the 24/7 Workplace?

Is your small business using technologies that enable employees to stay connected to work even outside of work hours? If so, are you concerned your employees might feel overloaded by the need to check in with work when they’re off the clock?

Well, stop worrying. According to a recent Gallup Poll of full-time U.S. employees, nearly 80 percent of them feel somewhat or very positive about being able to use computers and/or mobile devices to stay connected to their jobs outside of normal working hours.

???????????????????????????????????A cynic would say perhaps one reason so many people feel good about being able to check in with work after-hours is that most of them don’t actually do it. About one-third (36 percent) frequently connect with work online after-hours, while 64 percent admit to doing so occasionally, rarely or not at all. (Apparently, they just like knowing the option is available.)

However, don’t be so cynical just yet. The study also reveals that 86 percent of those who regularly check in with work of their own accord, and 81 percent of those whose employers require them to do so, think it’s a positive development.

Of course, employees like being able to connect with their jobs outside regular working hours because it enables them to do things like attend their children’s school functions, take time off or work flexible hours. But work-life balance can quickly tip out of balance, as every small business owner knows from experience.

How can you ensure that the ability to work after-hours continues to have an upside for your team? Here are 3 tips:

  • Pay attention. If you notice employees seem like they’re starting to burn out, grumble or complain, assess what’s going wrong. Sometimes the ability to check in 24/7 can lead to a compulsion to do so.
  • Encourage downtime. Make sure employees have “disconnect” time to recharge their personal batteries by unplugging from their devices. Model this behavior yourself.
  • Pull back. Even if you require employees to be available and check in after normal work hours, try to set reasonable limits. For example, you could say that employees must be available up until 10 p.m and after 7 a.m. Even if employees have to be available 24/7, try staggering that responsibility so everyone gets some days off. 

Mondays with Mike: Words To Strive For – Stellar Customer Service

Most of the entrepreneurs who read my articles and my blog aren’t necessarily famous in their fields.  Most of us aren’t considered industry experts, and we don’t have the Wall Street Journal calling us for our opinions on current business events.  If there’s one way in which we can excel, though, and I mean really stand out from our peers, it’s in our customer service.  You may not be able to service all the customers, but you can service the happiest customers. 

All of my employees who have customer contact are armed with the following four phrases that encapsulate our attitude as a company committed to delivering stellar customer service … every time.

  1. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????“I don’t know, but here’s what I’ll do.”  It’s unrealistic to expect every member of your company to have the answer to every possible question or the solution to every problem.  What is reasonable is to require that they commit to finding that answer and following up with the customer.  Train your staff to clearly communicate their plan: “I’m going to get that answer for you and call you back by 2pm,” or “I will do some research and let you know before noon tomorrow.”  When customers understand that your staff takes their needs seriously, and that your staff will follow up on time, every time, you’re setting yourself up as a leader in customer service.
  2. “I am very sorry.”  When a customer’s unhappy because your company has failed to meet their reasonable expectations, they want you to own up to your mistakes.   Acknowledging that customers are right (when they really are) helps to defuse potentially angry clients and gets your staff started in the direction of resolving the complaint.  One caveat:  save the apologies for when you’ve genuinely made a mistake.  We’ve all dealt with clients who are impossible to please, and apologies for not having met wildly unrealistic expectations don’t accomplish anything productive.
  3. “Yes.”  “Yes” is the magic word that consumers want to hear more than any other, and your customer service reps should strive to say it as often as they reasonably can.  Now you’re going to have to empower your reps with a little discretionary power, but imagine how this scenario plays out.  A customer comes in displeased with their carryout food order from the night before.  Your cashier offers them a free sandwich to replace the one they didn’t care for, and they walk out impressed with your company’s handling of their complaint.  If your cashier has to fetch a manager, the customer seethes, perhaps causes a scene, and still walks out with a free sandwich that it cost you two employees to handle in addition to the potential fallout from an unhappy customer in your restaurant.  If you can reasonably accommodate a customer’s wishes, then do it right away!
  4. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  Whether you’re wrapping up on the phone or in person, using this phrase accomplishes two goals:  it lets you ensure that your customer is satisfied, and it also lets the customer have the pleasure of having the last word.  Whether they leave after telling you that they’re completely satisfied or they give you one more opportunity to meet their needs, you’ve won with this phrase.

The key to superior customer service is authentically caring about your clients’ satisfaction.  Training yourself and your staff to use these phrases creates a climate in which serving customers is the highest priority.


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.    




 
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