Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


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.    


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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