Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’


Making A Scene With Your Business

What impression are you trying to create–what feelings and thoughts are you trying to invoke–with your business? This is an important question.  The work you do here is what I call "setting a scene," a scene that supports the storyline, the plotline, of your business.

Every significant touchpoint of the customer experience can be conceived of as a scene.

For example: What scene do you want to set at the register in your clothing store: “Fast?” Undoubtedly, but that’s not enough. Yet “fast” is about all you’re going to measure with your KPI’s: fast, and maybe accurate.  But there’s so much more.  The register (or, at more forward looking merchants, the non-register) is one of the last moments in the customer’s retail journey.  Think about how much more than just “fast” it can be. Nordstrom thinks it should also be “warm,” reassuring, and streamlined, so they ensure that the counter is uncluttered, they make a point of coming around from behind the register to hand you the bag, making it more of a collegial, collaborative process than handing the bag over the barrier of the counter, and they accompany you to your car if you need or want an extra hand with your new loot.

All of which fits into the overall Nordstrom storyline, which is, I would say, “You can trust us beyond a doubt.”

Even a car repair shop can transform impressions through scene-setting. Jiffy Lube, not a name that probably springs immediately to mind when it comes to exceptional service with a human touch, has improved its service model by setting a different scene from what they did in the past.  By offloading transactional details that had previously preoccupied its employees and customers, rolling out an intricate nationwide database to store each customer’s vehicle history and manufacturer-prescribed service requirements. This information is now a couple of clicks away for every customer-facing Jiffy Lube employee, freeing them from onerous paperwork and allowing them to assist customers more easily and knowledgeably.

This fits as part of the overall storyline of Jiffy Lube, which I would describe, in a rhyming couplet of my own making, as “with a minimum of fuss, you can count on us.”

Or think about the experience of walking into an Apple Store.  Here, right smack dab in the center of the technology industry, we have a brand that has relentlessly worked to downplay all of the transactional items and processes that would bring you down to earth as a customer, that would make you feel that you’re doing something other than embarking on a great adventure into the future.  In an Apple Store, there are no cash registers or checkout lines, and no receipts or owner’s manuals in sight; the stores are uncluttered and the employees are empowered to provide a peerless retail experience. Apple has invested in training a large team of salespeople and customer service representatives to help customers on the floor and at the Genius Bar, where the diagnostic specialists are famously called “Geniuses.”

The storyline here? I’d say it’s along the lines of “We are about your experience, not about technology, processes, specs and minutae.” (Sorry, I couldn’t make that one rhyme; if you succeed in doing so, email me and I’ll update this article.)

What’s your business’s storyline? And do the scenes that customers encounter at your business support it? Think it through and get it right. It’s worth it.  Because customers don’t think of the little details they encounter at your business in isolation.  In their heads, they wrap their whole experience up with a bow and decide if they liked it or not, if they want to return or not.  Make sure they get the right impression, so they’ll make a business-friendly decision.


How to be a Successful Mompreneur

12-30 Working Moms smallBeing a mother is a full-time job. Once you have a little person, the most important thing in your life is the health and wellbeing of your child, and then there’s your marriage. Then when you add business owner to the mix, it’s like having three full-time jobs.  To say that striking a balance between home and your business is a challenge is a vast understatement. Mompreneurs who successfully balance motherhood and business make it look so easy, but there are a few key things to know that will help you not feel so overwhelmed. Here are a few secrets of successful mompreneurs.

1. Start Early

The rise-and-grind mentality is one that many business moms embrace, but I suggest you start the day by slowing down and thinking about how you want the day to unfold. I start my days in prayer because I want to take a minute to focus before chaos ensues. It’s helpful to mentally prepare myself for the day. I also take the time to have breakfast with my son and see him off to school before I jump into a productive day of work.

2. Limit Your To-Do List

Itemizing your priorities can be a useful tool so that you don’t overwhelm yourself! To maintain balance in your life, cut your to-do lists down to five things that you will get done during the day. Try to get those tasks done by 11am each day. Consider everything else you achieve to be a bonus. This will require some prioritizing the day before, but it will stop you from feeling like you never get anything done.

3. Keep Your Schedule

It’s incredibly important to budget your time if you want to be a successful mompreneur. This means that whether your hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., they need to stay consistent to keep your schedule. You might be tempted to become a workaholic, but resist the urge. You family needs you as much as your business does. Give 100 percent and be productive during your workday. Don’t be distracted by social media or your cell phone, get your work done!

4. Use One Calendar

As a mompreneur, your have a work calendar and your family has multiple calendars. Use one calendar to manage the master family schedule. Using a single calendar for all of your commitments will make sure you don’t drop any balls. In doing this, you’ll never absent-mindedly forget about the school play or schedule a business meeting that conflicts with that dance recital.

5. Self-Care is Key

Mompreneurs fire on all cylinders, so self-care is key. You move from home to work to school, and if you are really organized, you’re able to hit the gym too. If you want to be a success mompreneur, you’ve got to take care of yourself. This means eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. If you’re sick, take the day off. Your business and your family need you to be healthy. I also try to get regular massages to reduce stress. You can’t be productive at work or attentive at home if you aren’t healthy.

6. Hire help

As soon as you can afford it, hire help. You can get a college student, retired person, or another mom in your community to help with your children. Drop off and pick up can be quite time consuming, and you want to focus your time on high revenue activities, so that you can afford to do special things with your children.           

7. Unplug

I firmly believe that everyone who works should take the time to completely shut off. This means that you are not checking emails at the dinner table, you’re not taking calls in the middle of bedtime stories and you are not looking at your computer in bed. Once your workday is over, go home and enjoy your children, at least until bedtime. You are never going to get this time back with your family. Do not sleep with your cellphone in the bedroom.

Being a busy Mompreneur can be a challenge. Your work never ends, but if you can set reasonable limits for yourself and follow the tips outlined above, you’ll see that you really can have it all.


Mondays with Mike: 4 Ways to Make Better Decisions in 2016

12-28 2016 business decisions smallEven though I can hardly believe it, it’s that time of year again – when we resolve to do better than we have before.  While I’m not a big fan of grandiose resolutions that are built for breaking, I am a proponent of stepping back, looking at your year, and making thoughtful, deliberate changes for the better.  While some of your 2016 will depend on factors beyond your control, you will be making decisions.  Here are four concrete strategies to make them good ones.

  1. Employ a 10-10-10 strategy.  Suze Orman deserves the credit for this strategy that guides your choices for the short, medium, and long-term.  Ask yourself about the effects of your decisions in ten hours, ten months, and ten years.  What you’ll inevitably discover is that often short-term discomfort from having to make a hard choice is mitigated by the long-term benefits of that decision.  Don’t short-change your company’s future simply because you don’t want to deliver bad news or disappoint a colleague. 
  2. Try to make your plan fail.  Okay, I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me.  Once you’ve made up your mind, start thinking about all the things that can go wrong with your decision.  Then, on a very small scale, see if you can hunt for weaknesses, find pitfalls you might not have anticipated.  Though it sounds counterintuitive, finding ways to make your plan fail actually prepares you for success.  When you’ve explored all the possible negative outcomes, then you’re ready to launch full-scale.  You’ve refined your plan so its odds of success are dramatically improved.
  3. Implement a stop loss.  Everyone wants to succeed, but the truth of the matter is not every decision you make is a good one.  It’s critical that you establish – ahead of time – how you’ll measure your decision’s success, and at what point you’ll abandon your new idea.  Part of making better decisions is being willing to admit when one has flopped.  Cut your losses and move on when it becomes clear your plan isn’t working out the way you’d hoped.
  4. Avoid an either/or perspective.  Real innovators see beyond the obvious binary options and realize the best ideas often require thinking outside the box.  When you’re planning your next move, push yourself to look for solutions that didn’t immediately occur to you.  Brainstorm for inspiration and push yourself to find the best – rather than just the easy – options.  Don’t forget about your staff; you’ve hired great people, and it’s possible one of them sees a solution that didn’t occur to you.  Cast your net wide when you’re evaluating your options.

Though ruminating on your failures (and we all have ‘em) isn’t the most productive way to move forward, it can be helpful to look back at your year and assess what worked and what didn’t.  Priming yourself for success in 2016 can be as simple as resolving not to repeat behaviors that didn’t yield desired results.  Get yourself ready for a bright new year by improving your decision-making skills. 


How to Boost Your Business Over the Holidays

11-18 holiday shopping smallOnce Halloween passes, it’s a mad dash to the year’s finish line, kicking off at Thanksgiving and moving through New Years. If you haven’t already started thinking about how you can utilize the holidays to your advantage, don’t wait any longer! Big box stores may have a stronghold on the holiday season but small businesses clean up this time of year, too, and it’s all about how they market and what they offer. Follow these tips on how to effectively boost your business over the holidays.

1. Set the Scenery

Make it festive in your store. Use decorations: Put Christmas trees in every corner, string lights on every pole; a well-thought out window display is inviting to shoppers. When a store appears to cater to the holidays, customers assume (or at least become curious enough to walk in and check) that there are holiday sales happening in that store.

2. Cater to Every Budget

Chances are that no matter what you sell, your various products fall at different price points. An effective marketing tool includes the promotion of items targeted towards the specific budgets of your shoppers. This method doesn’t even require an actual “sale,” per se, just the advertisement of your products as they are. For example, you can advertise “$25 Steals” or “Great Gifts for Under $50!” You can change the dollar amounts as you like, but the idea is to catch the eye of those on any kind of budget.

3. Use Social Media

While email promotions are a great way to reach your loyal customer base, you should also be sharing your holiday specials with your social media following. You may continue to share your overall promotional deals to your fan base but you can also offer them “special” perks for following you. Offering your Facebook fans a percentage off their purchases is two-fold: it is a good way to draw in potential new customers, plus that discount can also be promoted via email to prospects and customers who may not like your page yet. “Like us on Facebook for special holiday offers” can be a great way to raise your fan count and bring in sales.

4. Don’t Forget the Extras

There are many things you can offer customers to get them to buy from your store versus the behemoths big box retailers– and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Providing free gift-wrapping on every purchase can really sway shoppers who either hate the task or are too busy to do it. Free shipping is great for online sales and you can also promote quick site-to-store pickups or store-to-home delivery.

5. Make Connections

Use the influx of holiday shoppers to bolster your email list for future sales and non-holiday promotions. This can be as simple as asking for an email address at the time of checkout or leaving a clipboard out on the counter of your shop. This is also a good time to promote your Yelp, Google+ and Facebook pages in order to gain positive reviews from satisfied customers.

Don’t forget: holiday shopping season isn’t just a stretch of days in November and December; it’s an opportunity for you to build long-lasting relationships with prospects and customers. Follow these tips and get see your business boom during – and long after – the holidays.


6 Tips to Run a Successful Home-Based Business

Many entrepreneurs make their homes into their businesses. With no mandatory meetings, set schedule or co-workers, this might sound like the perfect work situation, but if you are not personally disciplined you might not get very much done.  While using your home as your business office gives you a great commute, you’ll also face challenges that you might not have considered. You might even need to change some bad habits in order to make working from home work for you.

Here are six tips to run a successful home-based business.

1. Dress the Part

Working at home in your pajamas all day sounds appealing, but what effect does it have on your productivity? Even if you’re working at home, you need to shower and get dressed as it will help you start your day. No one is saying you should throw on your best suit, but getting ready in the morning will help you get your mind on the business.

2. Set a Schedule

One of the perks of working for home is that you aren’t running on anyone else’s schedule. This can be a great thing because you can truly make your own hours. Flexibility is great, but to get the most out of your business, you still need to have a set schdule. Since you work from home, you may decide you don’t want to be nine-to-five; maybe you want to work noon to 8 p.m. It’s completely up to you – but stick to it, and be productive in those eight hours.

3. Discipline

When running a home-based business, discipline will be an important factor. If you want take a two-hour lunch break, no one is there to stop you! Still, you must remain focused and dedicated to your daily tasks. The last thing you want to do is make a habit out of slacking off. Your lack of productivity and sales will be obvious at the end of the month.

4. Leverage Technology

If you’re going to run a business from your home, you need all of the same amenities you would have at an office. You will need a computer, high speed internet, a landline phone, and a reliable all-in-one machine with copy, fax ans scan capabilities. You also want to get a smart phone so that you can catch calls and emails on the fly. You need to be prepared to communicate however a client or customer wants to.

5. Create a work area

Working from your couch all day sounds good in theory, but trying to be super productive in an area where you’d normally kick back and relax is counterintuitive. Set up a space dedicated to getting work done and get in the “work” mindset while you’re there. It’s best if it’s a work space with a door.

6. Protect your personal time

When you are working at home, it can be easy to forget how many hours you’ve actually worked each week. You don’t want to slip into being an unhealthy workaholic. At the end of your day, shut down your computer, plug up your cellphone in your office and don’t check email anymore. Even though you are working out of your home, you need to keep your work life and personal life separate.

There’s no set way to run a successful business. If you’ve decided run a home-based business, follow these steps so that you can stay on track.


5 Ways to Win the War Against Digital Distractions

10-23 digitally multi-tasking smallIn a 2009 National Public Radio interview, Dr. Clifford Nass, who was a noted Stanford educator, harshly referred to multitaskers as "suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant." He was referring largely to students under the control of their digital devices, but it applies to the business world as well, because multitasking does not increase productivity; it reduces it.

Where multitasking was once considered an essential skill for anyone pursuing advancement in the business world, newer research asserts that the human brain best handles one thing at a time. Unfortunately, most workers are faced with constant interruptions on a daily basis and every digital advance makes matters worse. With a little common sense and dedication, you can take control over digital distractions. Here are five habits to start developing today.

1. Use Personal Peak Times Effectively

Your brain is still more powerful than any electronic device — provided that you schedule your day based on its ebbs and flows.

For example, as a general rule, high-thought level work is best handled in the period from late morning to midday due to body changes after awakening. This is the time to turn off any unnecessary devices and allow your brain to handle high-level tasks, such as creating presentations or analyzing financial reports. Between about noon and 4pm, distractions take hold of the brain more easily, so it makes sense to hold off on emails, texts and any other unessential digital interruptions until this time.

Of course, not everyone follows the same circadian rhythm. You need to monitor your own patterns to determine when to put all unnecessary devices away and when to allow distractions.

2. Exercise Device Control

Just about everyone in the working world has a PC. Most have smart phones and an increasing number of workers have tablets, as well. But, how many of these devices pertain strictly to business?

Electronic devices make it easy to take your work home with you, but they also let you bring your home life into the office. Granted, this is only fair if you want any form of work-life balance. But, if you want your work quality to be high, you need to avoid the temptation of personal distractions whenever possible. Keep work-related devices active while on the job and schedule appropriate time into your day for device-checking and social media updates.

3. Choose the Right Device for the Task

Just because you can browse the web from your smart phone, doesn't make it the right tool for remaining on-task. Jumping from window to window on a three-inch screen or being forced to close an app when you run out of memory are other types of distractions. Don't be fooled into thinking that a phone in the hand will save valuable time. Even if you have to walk over to your PC or tablet, you will save time and focus by having the power and screen size to properly perform the job at hand.

4. Put Web Site Distractions Off to the Side

Speaking of distractions, every web page seems to have a million links. It's just about impossible to avoid clicking tempting web page links, but a great way to forget what you're doing is to jump from link to link. So, open those links in a new tab or window, and immediately return to the original page to maintain your primary flow. Once you finish with the present page, the distraction will be there when you want it — if you haven't lost interest.

5. Placemark the Original Task

How much time do you spend back-tracking when you return to a previously-interrupted task? You cannot avoid important customer calls, but you can get in the habit of marking your place before you start talking. So, if the phone rings while you are mid-sentence in a report or adding up numbers in a column, ask the caller to hold on for just a moment. Finish that sentence, or at least jot down a quick note describing where you left off. Don't worry — the interrupter will understand.

Only the Cream of Interruptions Should Rise to the Top

Scheduling interruptions is a lofty goal, but no one — from office workers to top brass — is immune from someone waiting in the wings to disrupt that schedule. Interruptions may be unavoidable, but they also short change the people who need your help. Not every interruption ranks priority one. Power off unnecessary devices and take a critical look at remaining interruptions to give top-notch service to your customers and your company.


Flexible Work Environments: Today’s Workforce Wants Them

The standard 9-to-5 job is no longer the norm, it’s the exception. People want to be able to work when they want, where they want without sacrificing productivity. In order to do this, your business needs to utilize a variety of communications tools that allow for real-time communication between employees, teams and customers, no matter where they are that day.

Below are four communications tools I rely on, and your business can benefit from implementing, to stay productive and get work done whether you’re in the office, working from a coffee shop or on a flight.

Email Access from Anywhere

Can you imagine conducting business without email? It seems impossible in today’s world. Email allows you to communicate and share information with people across the world. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was able to work from my hotel room, from the back seat of my Uber, and while waiting for a delayed flight at the airport all thanks to email access on my cell phone. This type of flexibility and mobility wasn’t available a few years ago, but now I can’t imagine working without it.

Instant messenger/Chat

Instant messaging (or chat) is to email what a phone call is to sending a letter. It allows for real-time communication between employees and customers. If your business doesn’t currently use a company-wide instant messaging system, you’re missing out on an easy and effective communication channel. There are a ton of free instant messenger options out there, but for more advanced features and usability, you may need to pay a small fee (worth it!). An added bonus, many solutions come with mobile apps so you can chat with co-workers even when you’re away from your computer.

Business cloud phone system

There are times when email and instant massager aren’t enough; you need to actually speak with a colleague or customer on the phone. Business cloud phone systems, such as Nextiva, allow you to take your business phone with you anywhere. There’s no need for two different phones or to provide people with an office and cell number anymore. Think of your phone number as any “anywhere” number when you have a cloud phone system. People can call one number and reach you in the office, on your home office phone or on your mobile device via the Nextiva App—really any device that has your number assigned to it. Even if you don’t have the mobile app, you can forward calls to a device of your choice based on a schedule or number of rings.

Online project management system

If you frequently collaborate on projects with different team members or departments, an online project management system will be a game changer. Emails are easy to miss, but housing all communication related to a project within a single system (Asana and Slack are popular, low-cost options), ensures nothing is missed. You can receive alerts for projects you are a part of when team members comment or add attachments. You can create tasks and sub-tasks that need to be completed for a project and they will all be housed within the larger project, keeping everything organized an in one place. Also, assign tasks to different team members and set due dates to keep people accountable and on track. Since the project management system is hosted online, you can access documents and see progress anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Moving everyday work systems to the cloud has not only cut down on expensive IT costs, but it enables employees to be productive wherever and whenever they want.

What is your favorite communications tool to use when working outside of the office?


Four Ways to Make Employee Peer Reviews Effective

9-5 peer reviews smallMany employees and managers alike quake with fear when they learn that their company is implementing a system that involves peers in the performance review process. Employees see writing reviews as a waste of time, even as they foresee co-worker conflict in their futures. Recognizing that peer reviews are not typically accurate, managers see them as an unnecessary complication to an already-stressful process.

The good news is that well-designed peer review programs can add value to performance reviews. Here are four ways to make them effective.

1. Choose Appropriate Reviewers for Each Employee

On the surface, it seems kinder and gentler to allow employees to choose the peers they want to write their reviews, but this approach can go wrong in two primary ways. At one extreme, friends give gushing praise to each other. At the other end of the coin, co-workers become overly-critical in an attempt to appear fair. Either way, you cannot fully trust the feedback that you receive to be accurate.

As a manager, you are in the best position to choose the right employees to review the work of their peers. Naturally, your decision needs include peers who regularly work together — and whose work may be affected by the employee who is under review. You also have to consider interpersonal relationships. While you don't want to choose a best friend, you also don't want to select a clear competitor.

Whomever you choose, make sure that everyone understands that your choice is as confidential as wage and salary information. Without confidentiality, the peer review process can easily lead to significant morale issues.

2. Provide Reviewers with Detailed Guidelines

Not all employees are managers; they probably have little experience and training to accurately review a peer’s performance. Avoid essay questions in favor of a set of multiple-choice questions that you want them to answer. Their choices can range from "Exceptional" on the high end, and avoid overly-negative terms for the low-end score. "Needs Improvement" might be as negative as you want to go. Then, make sure that they clearly understand the precise definition for each point on the scale.

Just as important, make sure that all employees understand the overall purpose of their peer reviews. While they may provide managers with new insights into their employees, they cannot directly affect any employee's official performance rating.

3. Ask the Right Questions

Employees are not privy to each other's job descriptions or to the expectations that you may have set forth. It is your job to review each employee's performance. You are the only one who should look at issues like accuracy, speed and errors. Peer reviews should enhance the process by focusing on the factors that you cannot witness on a daily basis.

In other words, the questions on your performance review should not overlap with those on the peer review forms. Co-workers are in the best position to provide meaningful feedback when rating attributes like the following:

  • Ability to solve problems on the fly
  • Natural leadership abilities
  • Willingness to help other employees
  • Ability to interact effectively with employees at all levels within the organization
  • Consistent display of motivation for the job

4. Keep Peer Reviews in Perspective

No manager can constantly observe all activities on the floor, so peer reviews are a good way to help managers gain insight into what's happening when they're not around. But they should not receive too much weight in the formal performance review process. Positive or negative, they might say more about managers' successes and failures than they say about employee performance.

Peer reviews can enlighten your insights about your employees, but they cannot — and should not — carry as much weight as the assessment of the immediate supervisor. In fact, it is best to avoid the temptation to roll the peer rankings in with your own rankings, which are typically more objective.

Peer reviews can be invaluable in helping you address the future direction of your employees. For example, negative reviews pertaining to interpersonal skills or attitude can help you formulate a plan to help an employee improve in these critical areas. Just as important, positive feedback on leadership  and motivational abilities can help you work with employees to identify how they can move upward within the organization.

Peer Reviews Have a Bad Rap

In their original form, employee peer reviews were typically blatantly unfair, wasting time and often causing disharmony within the ranks. With finesse and forethought, however, peer reviews can add a valuable new dimension to the review process.


4 Tips to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Next Conference Call

9-1 Conference Call smallAs workforces become increasingly remote and colleagues are no longer located in the same office, conference calls are now a large part of every day life (that we often dread). For anyone that has participated in a conference call lately, they know this is how they typically unfold. But why succumb to this fate? With a little effort and planning, you can improve the effectiveness of your conference calls. Stop wasting valuable time and increase your company’s productivity with these four steps. Keep them in mind when planning your next conference call.

These steps may seem simple and obvious, but they will change the way you communicate with your colleagues, vendors and customers.

Have a clear leader for the meeting that schedules the call, maintains the balance in conversation and directs questions to the appropriate participant(s).

Defining the leader before the conference call starts will save everyone time and frustration during the call. It will cut down on confusion of who should be speaking when, who will be providing follow-up and action items at the end of the meeting, and who to reach out to for any questions regarding the topics discussed.

Have a clear objective for the call.

This may seem obvious, but think back on recent conference calls you were on. Was the objective of the call clear before it began? This should be step #1 when planning a conference call.  No one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time on a conference call that has no clear direction, focus or purpose.

Define the topics of discussion.  

An agenda (especially one sent before the call) is key to keeping everyone on track and reduce the amount of time wasted on discussions that do not relate to the objective of the meeting. In short, stay on topic and everyone will be very appreciative.

Be mindful of others time.

Punctuality is very important. Start the meeting on time, end the meeting on time (or early), and treat the meeting with the same importance you would an in-person meeting.

Take additional topics of conversation off-line.

Going off track is easy to do, but can quickly derail the entire meeting. Be mindful of the objective of the call and topics of discussion outlined by the leader. Take these additional conversations and topics off-line, especially if they are only relevant to a few people on the call. Everyone will thank you for saying, “We can take this off-line and finish this conversation later.”

We’re always looking for ways to simplify business communication and increase your company’s productivity and efficiency. Nextiva offers an affordable conference call feature, aptly named Meet-Me-Conferencing, that will meet your conferencing needs and improve your company’s communication. Visit www.nextiva.com to learn more.




 
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