Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


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.


How to Improve Your Work/Life Balance in 2014

work-life-balance-life-purposeAll of us would like to strike a balance between our work life and personal life, but accomplishing such harmony can be easier said than done. Here, Dr. Rachel Elahee, a life coach based in Atlanta, offers a few pointers on how to feel a more relaxed this year.

Take inventory of your activities

As a business owner, you most likely started your company because of a deep-felt passion in a product or service. Maybe you love to bake and wanted to bring your cakes to the masses or you are fan of the latest fashion trends and wanted to bring your tastes to the women in your community. Take a moment to think about what you do on a day-to-day basis and ask yourself: Are you still doing what you love?

“We often get trapped by doing what we need to get done and lose sight of our original spark,” says Elahee. “When you move away from your original passion, you can get lost. Try to gain an awareness in your every day activities and determine if you are still doing what you really enjoy.”

Schedule your down time

Your love for painting or taking yoga classes has fallen by the wayside since you launched your business. Now your days are filled with meetings and worrying about your next sale. Instead of staying on the moving walkway that is your life, try stepping off for a minute to do something that you adore.

“When I recommend business owners do something they love to do, they will immediately tell me that they just don’t have the time and talk themselves out of it,” she says. “But I’m here to tell you that there is almost always time during your week that you are wasting. Carve out one or two hours each week for yourself. If you still can’t, take that as a cue that you really need this.”  

Refocus and delegate

How many hats do you wear on any given day? 10? 12? More? Business owners, especially those with early-stage companies, are known to take on the creative side of the business in addition to the sales side, the technical side, the advertising side and the bookkeeping side, just to name a few. Elahee says it is a good idea to take stock of your daily responsibilities and consider farming some of them out to others.

“If you try to do everything, you will bury yourself under all of your tasks,” she says. “Consult with someone to take things off your plate. You will feel so much better when you do.” 


Are You a Fake?

a-penguin-imposterMany small business owners suffer from the imposter syndrome. They feel that their customers or employees will find out "who they really are" and lose confidence in their ability to run the company. This fear holds many people back from displaying who they really are at work. This becomes a problem in the transparent world of the Internet where "being human" and authentic are highly valued by customers.

Customers buy from who they believe, like, and trust. Without being authentic as a leader and a company, this will never happen and it will become impossible to build a profitable company. Here is what to do:

1. Tell the truth. This is more difficult than it first seems in small business. Most owners have good intentions, but sometimes are afraid to disclose to employees and customers what is really happening. How to be authentic: Focus on the companies strengths. Always deliver good and bad news in a timely fashion. Don't be afraid to be humble and show personal or company warts. Build a culture of openness and frequent communication. 

2. Stick to the brand. Many times, companies want to be everything to everybody. This leads to telling the customer that the company can do things that they really can't. This leads to frustrated employees, disappointed customers and an unprofitable businesses. How to be authentic: Determine the exact customer segment served and the pain solved. Get clear on what the company cares about. Stay focused on delivering outstanding results in this niche area.

3. Hire employees that want to be part of the company's culture. Too many times, owners hire a person to fit a particular job. They rush into a decision and don't understand how that person would work in the overall company culture. How to be authentic: Hire for attitude over skill. Think about how the new employee will complement the rest of the team. Have team members give feedback on prospective employees.

4. Be consistent. Too many times, the company's brand does not match it's culture. The friendly company persona contradicts the cut throat office atmosphere. The boss is sometimes an angel and other times an ogre. How to be authentic: Live the company brand. Be the same person inside and outside the office. Be the same in front of managers, staff and customers. Have no hidden agendas. Set an example by practicing whatever is preached.

Are you authentic? How do you demonstrate it? 


Mondays with Mike: The Four Steps of Ripple Innovation

Sand_ripplesWe’ve all been there.  You know – that period in your business when it all feels stale and tired.  When you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up to the same old thing.  You know you need to shake things up, but you’re not sure where to start.  You could hire some know-it-all consultant and pay them to provide you with a band-aid that’s a temporary fix.  You could hold yet another brainstorming meeting and leave with the same five ideas you got last year.

But I suggest that you approach this revitalization project differently.  Find a problem in your business that you need to solve.  Whether it’s a need to cut costs, bring in new customers, streamline a process – whatever your challenge, articulate it and try using ripple innovation to solve your problem in a novel way.

  1. Ripple 1: Find the solution inside your company.  We’re often blind to potential solutions because we’re victims of rigid thinking.  Try applying fixes from one area of your business to another.  For example, ask your customer service reps for suggestions about how to improve they ways in which you bring in prospective clients.  Get your sales reps to share input about ways in which IT can be improved.  Share expertise among departments and you’ll come up with fresh perspectives.
  2. Ripple 2: Find the solution inside your industry.  Check out your competition.  Say you run a commercial cleaning business.  Take a look at your competitors’ ads if you’re looking to bring in new business.  Find out where other companies buy their cleaning supplies and see if you can get a better deal in exchange for a contract.  See what other companies are doing right and adapt their practices to improve your own business.
  3. Ripple 3: Find the solution in any industry.  Broaden your perspective and look at the ways in which other businesses face challenges and present solutions.  Look at companies who have all the customers they can handle and are making money hand over fist and see what you can learn from them.  The ice cream shop around the corner that always has long lines….maybe their Facebook page gives customers a heads up on new flavors and daily specials.  The automotive repair shop that has customers waiting for an appointment because of their outstanding guarantee of services….they’ve actively managed and promoted word-of-mouth by rewarding customers for referrals.  You can translate these lessons to your industry as well! 
  4. Ripple 4: Find the solution in nature.  Coming up with nothing fresh?  Take a look at the world around you, and you’ll discover that nature is the ultimate innovator and inventor.  If you’re having trouble retaining new employees despite the fact that you’re paying great wages, maybe you need to look at the ways in which animals protect their young and provide a longer, more nurturing training period so that your staff feels more confident and capable when you finally launch them on their own.

The big lesson in ripple innovation is that you’ll benefit from broadening your perspective and learning about why solutions work and how you can adapt the principles of those solutions to solve your particular problems.  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Getting Organized Using Project Management Software

91c5acd957b95442_Organize_Your_Desk.previewWas one of your New Year’s resolutions to be more organized in your business? If you work with a lot of freelancers, outside contractors and vendors in addition to your in-house employees, you know that managing all of the deadlines, data and scheduling involved can get confusing. Project management software can help you get it all under control.

Basecamp and Zoho Projects are two project management tools I’ve used and like, but there are plenty of others out there to investigate as well. Begin by figuring out what you need from a project management tool and whether you want to replace, or simply augment, your existing systems. For example, do you need to schedule and assign tasks, then track completion? Do you need to collaborate on documents and projects online? Do you need to track employees’ or freelancers’ time and billable hours? There are tools that can do some or all of this.

As you research different project management tools, keep these factors in mind:

Size: How many people will be using the tool, including both in-house staff and outside contractors, vendors or clients? Choose something that can grow with your business, but isn’t too big or cumbersome for your current needs.

Ease of use: Some tools are very simple while others are more complex and allow for a greater level of detail. If a tool is too complex for you and your team to learn easily, you probably won’t use it—so be realistic.

Cost: Most project management tools are either free, offer free trials or have free versions with lesser options. Don’t assume you can get away with a free option, though—if you need more than the free tools provide, make room for it in your budget.

Security: Sharing company data can get risky, so make sure the project management tool you select has the controls you need for security, such as enabling you to set different levels of access or permission. You don’t want a client viewing sensitive internal documents by accident.

Of course, the most important step in making project management work is getting everyone trained on the tool and ensuring they actually use it. Don’t let people slip back to old ways or do a mish-mosh of old and new. Set an example by using the new tool yourself and getting everyone on board. 




 
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