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How to Do Online Marketing on a Shoestring

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 08:00

It may not be rocket science, but it does take employee and leadership buy-in to start an effective grassroots online marketing program.

Jason Seiden is a hustler. You know, the good kind. The kind that can make things happen through sheer will, gumption, and thoughtful innovation. Jason, an online marketing expert, is making waves these days with the launch of BrandAmper – a SaaS application that improves the quantity, quality, and consistency of employee brand advocacy.

I sat down to get Jason’s ideas about how regular folks like you and me, who don’t count marketing as a primary responsibility and have minimal financial and time resources, can start an effective grassroots online marketing program.

Alex: So Jason, I’m not a big brand with deep pockets. It this even possible?

Jason: Possible?! Who started the rumor that online marketing requires a major marketing budget? The reason online marketing looks expensive is because the media tends to feature tools built to accommodate massively scaled consumer marketing programs with the goal of turning complete strangers into fans.

But if you start with loyal employees – people who already chose to work for you – your probability of success skyrockets. The data on starting with employees is compelling: employees are almost 6X more trusted than company spokespeople  and when you activate employees as ambassadors, you get immediate feedback about what’s working and what’s not.

Alex: But how do you win over employees so they want to be spokespeople?

Jason: First, make sure leadership is on board. They may be gray-haired digital immigrants, but they still set the tone, and it’s important that they lead by example. Second, make sure your employees have guidelines to follow. Has marketing ever created conversational treatments of your brand? Can an employee explain the company’s vision to a friend without sounding like a robot? Finally, activate your employees by running an internal communications campaign that gives them a reason to care, and then inviting them to sessions that show them how to convert their interest into action.

Alex: You’ve seen lots of big brands spend a fortune on marketing. What are the most important lessons we can take away without having to make the same mistakes?

Jason: One lesson we see over and over is that reach is nothing without resonance. All those retweets that no one cares about? Spam. All those likes you bought with the promise of a free iPad? Useless. When companies start with online marketing, they almost always chase that shiny viral object. They buy all these tools and content management platforms and measuring dashboards, and all anyone is measuring is how little people are engaging.

So if you’re just starting, skip that shiny object step. Start with your strategy, figure out what matters to you, put blinders on to everything else, and then blog and tweet and post and engage about that one thing until your fingers bleed.

Alex: What do you think scares people most about online marketing, and how do we get over that fear?

Jason: One-hundred percent of our clients have involved legal too early in the process to be healthy. Also: 100 percent of our clients have a manager who has expressed to us the fear that putting employees on social media will open them up to getting recruited by competitors. So based on our experiences, I’d say that the #1 organizational fear is the rogue tweet, and the #1 personal fear is losing one’s team.

To get over either fear, people need to get on the darn platforms. Seriously, rogue tweets are better managed by your presence than anything else, because as a leader, you set the tone for acceptable behavior. And as far as your employees go, who do you think is going to respond worse to your putting the kabosh on social media? It won’t be the complainers. They’ll complain but won’t do anything, because they never do anything. Your go getters are the ones who will take action. Specifically, they’ll show you why you’re out of touch, and then when you don’t join the 21st century, they’ll leave you with a bunch of complainer employees.

Alex: If you were starting an online marketing program from scratch, what are the first few things you would go out and do tomorrow?

Jason: Get leadership on board. But don’t start with a 50 person pilot. True story: Chipotle struggled when it was a part of McDonald’s because no matter how much it grew, its numbers amounted to a rounding error when compared to McDonald’s core business. When you start with a pilot in order to win over your executives, you’re creating a Chipotle/McDonald’s scenario because your tiny numbers don’t mean anything to the people you’re talking to. Find your executive sponsor first, then define success, then work with employees to define the program, and THEN run the pilot. If you want the shortest path to success, that means getting leadership’s attention before anything else.






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Ignite Change: How to Obtain Cooperation to Accelerate Action

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 08:00

If you want to be a change agent and pave a path in a new direction, you must come to understand the mindset of your leaders, colleagues, cross-functional partners, and surrounding teams.

Cooperation is a requirement for creating and sustaining change. You need to build a coalition because it takes more than one fired-up individual to effectively create and sustain change. Whether you have support or opposition depends on the beliefs, the motivation, and the habitual behaviors of those around you.

To determine the best way to obtain cooperation, first assess the level of agreement:

  • Agreement on END STATE. Is there a shared vision? Do people generally agree on what they want? What results do you seek, what values are supported, what is the biggest priority, and are we all willing to support the same tradeoff to make it happen? Sometimes the theme of the company culture, the mission, or the vision of the organization creates a strong pull.
  • Agreement on PROCESS. Does everyone have the same mental model? Is there a shared understanding that if we do X, then Y will occur? Is there agreement on which actions will lead to the desired outcome?

Agreement on End State, Agreement on Process

Interestingly when there is full agreement—both on end state and process—change is most difficult. It is by definition a status quo environment. When all individuals are in agreement on the process to execute the vision, they carry it out day after day. You have full cooperation… as long as you are going in the same direction. Though it may be tempting to not rock the boat, change in this case comes in incremental process improvement, storytelling to demonstrate a unique perspective, and hard numbers to convince people to change their viewpoint.

Agreement on End State, Disagreement on Process

Perhaps the most common scenario that creates a roadblock to change is when all stakeholders want the same thing, but they disagree on how it will be achieved. This is where classic, charismatic leadership works well. Articulating a clear vision of the future keeps people’s focus at the high-level and inspires them to just get started. It creates trust and comfort in risk-taking, often leading to persistent problem-solving, and resulting in unexpected innovation.

Disagreement on End State, Agreement on Process

In some cases, employees or teams have differing motives, in which case a unifying vision is either unrealistic or unproductive. Each is motivated by something unique so they have differing—and at times—competing, agendas. In this case, it is better to take the focus off of the end state and put it on the process. Many times you will find that a common process will take each party 80% of the way there to their respective destination. Gain momentum and keep it going by staying at the task-level; document standard operating procedures, provide training, set up short-range metrics, and focus on coordination of effort.

Disagreement on End State, Disagreement on Process

As a last resort, when there is little agreement on the destination or course of action, positional power or formal authority may be needed to spur action. When disparate groups cannot agree on what they want or who should do what, a leader with appropriate authority must take decisive action.






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How to Stay Productive During the Holidays

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 08:00

With so many distractions during the holiday season – from holiday parties to gift shopping to travel – how do you stay productive and focused when you’re at work? If you’re not deliberate about staying on track, it’s all too easy to find yourself dividing your attention between winter sales and eggnog, and coming back in January to unfinished work that you’d intended to complete.

But it’s not impossible to stay focused during the holidays. Here are five tips that will help.

1. Be deliberate about creating a work zone. Carve out space at work that’s free from holiday activities – so that when you’re at work, you’re resolved not to spend that time shopping for gifts, making lists for your family holiday dinner, sending e-cards, or otherwise dealing with the holiday pressures of your personal life. As tempting as it can be to just do a quick bit of online gift shopping between work calls, you can spend hours down the rabbit hole of bargain shopping for the perfect sweater before you realize how much time has gone by.

2. Schedule enough time for personal commitments. Most people’s personal to-do lists go way up at this time of year. Be realistic about how much you’ll need to get everything done outside of work, and schedule specific blocks of time for it. You might even take a personal day or two just to get your holiday shopping, cleaning, and cooking done. There’s nothing wrong with that – time off is there to be used, there’s usually less impact in using it at this time of year, and it will help you remain focused on work the rest of the time.

3. Be thoughtful about what has to get done this month and what can be put aside. It’s pretty common to get less accomplished this month than in other months (offices are quieter, people you may need items from might be away or similarly distracted, and things generally slow down). So be honest with yourself about what absolutely must get done this month, and then be intentional about prioritizing those must-dos and making sure that they get done.

4. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to everything. This is the season of social invitations, and if you feel yourself getting stretched thin, don’t be afraid to set some limits. It’s okay to down invitations if you can’t comfortably fit more commitments in, or you can set limits on how much you can participate (such as by dropping by an event for an hour and then leaving rather than staying all night).

5. If things are slow at your office, take advantage of that by giving yourself a break. Most people are more productive when their brain has a chance to rest and recharge. If your work and your office allow it, take advantage of the lull at this time of year to slow down yourself – whether that means taking more time off or just putting less pressure on yourself to produce at your normal rate. You’ll be more likely to come back refreshed and productive in January.






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Best Practices in Effectively Juggling Multiple Projects

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:00

Managing multiple projects effectively and efficiently comes down to finding the right balance between being organized and prioritizing. Being organized is a must because attention to details is necessary, and the details can get lost very quickly when pace picks up and when projects drag on over months or years.

But being organized and detail-oriented is not enough and it can even become a detriment to success. You must also be able to ruthlessly prioritize, and focus your attention on only the parts and pieces that require resources the most. Here are several tools that can assist:

One-page summary: For each project, create a one-page executive summary that contains key talking points. This is your marketing document, and the basis for all your presentations. It is likely you will need to sell or explain the key aspects to many people over an indeterminate time period (and they may need to present on your behalf). This document helps you tell a fresh, consistent story every time and avoid re-work while doing so.

One-page project plans: A quick overview of what needs to be done, categorized either by category or timeline (or both!). This pulls you out of the weeds when needed, demonstrates the amount of work that has gone in to a specific project, and creates a template for similar endeavors.

Resource allocation: Track and outline, however roughly, the number of hours spent on each category of task, or per block of time. If you are (or potentially could be) managing a team, also capture the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to execute the work. This helps you obtain more resources when needed; and when resources are most needed, you will not have capacity to come back and create these records. As a bonus, when projects turn into process, this creates your “before” metrics for validating process improvement.

Documentation: Catalog any resources that will help you or someone else create or recreate what you did. Syntax glossary, definitions, screenshots, FAQs, archive of letters, communications, step-by-step job aids or walkthroughs, abandoned drafts, problems solved/troubleshooting instructions, etc. When complete, draw a high-level account of your documentation collection.

Some of these may work for you, while some may not. The theme is to create your own standard process for how you organize and manage projects—one that works for you. Memory is faulty and you need your brain to solve the difficult problems. Don’t waste your cerebral resources on locating the correct version of a document or reverse engineering that report you created.





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The Biggest Mistakes Made in Hiring Sales People

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 08:00

Companies typically spend more hiring their sales forces than any other function in an organization, yet sales managers often aren’t adept at assessing the right skills to make good hires. It’s time to turn that around in order to drive better bottom-line results.

If you want people in the field to understand your strategic initiatives and demonstrate behaviors that will drive profitable growth, then there must be a clear roadmap to drive that alignment, says Frank Cespedes, author of “Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors That Drive Effective Selling.” He discusses the issue with Anita Bruzzese in the second part of this interview that looks at hiring and how sales will be affected by an improving economy.

AB: When it comes to hiring the kind of sales people that will help organizations to better align strategy and sales, what should hiring managers look for?

FC: That’s a great question. Everybody talks about talent management, and I’ve yet to meet the executive who is “against” talent!  But far fewer confront a basic fact: companies typically spend much more money and hire many more people, annually, in their sales function than they do anywhere else in the firm. Most people are surprised to know that even at online companies like Facebook, Google and Groupon, a much higher percentage of employees work in sales than in engineering or data mining.

To improve that hiring and the alignment of sales and strategy, the foundation is this:

  1. Understand the sales tasks that have high strategic impact. Some activities exhibit high performance variability but have little strategic impact. Think about PowerPoint presentations: some people are much better than others in doing this, but how much impact do the slides have versus other sales tasks? Other activities may be strategically important but have relatively little performance variability – because the tasks are standard, because technology has reduced variability, or because the business model limits the range of performance variance. Think about the difference between sales personnel at Nordstrom, where personalized service and advice are key to strategy execution, and Costco, where low price and product availability make selling activities less complex and variable. You want your stars in those areas that exhibit both high impact and high variability.
  2. Focus on how the salesperson makes a difference. Continually ask, “Where are we spending too much—and too little – time, money, and talent across our sales tasks?” Those tasks will change as the market changes. In subscription-based businesses like software and many consumer web services, key tasks early on are about customer acquisition. But as the market matures, key tasks tend to shift toward account management, reducing churn and up-selling or cross-selling additional services. Hiring and allocation of sales talent should change.
  3. Focus on behaviors in selection. Managers are excessively confident about their ability to evaluate candidates via one or two interviews. Studies across job categories indicate only about a 14% correlation between interview predictions and job success. This is especially true in sales.

Many sales managers hire in their own image because how each manager sold is what got him or her promoted and in a position to hire. But the best results occur when you observe the relevant job behaviors. Technology is making this more possible and affordable via game-like simulations, virtual video environments and online media.

The real constraint in many firms, however, is the lack of assessment skills by sales managers. This makes links between sales and HR important. Sales managers know (or should know) the key sales tasks. But HR managers typically know more about the tools, techniques, and options for assessing behaviors relevant to those tasks.

AB: The economy is beginning to grow stronger. How does that add to the challenge of implementing the changes you call for?

FC: Well, let’s hope the economy is growing stronger. It’s been a shaky, stutter-step recovery for years. A stronger economy is good news for society, but it does add to the challenge of aligning strategy and sales.

For one thing, it puts more pressure on hiring. Across industries, average annual turnover in sales organizations is about 25%, and higher when times are good and there are more job opportunities. This means that the equivalent of the entire sales force must be replaced at many firms every four years or so. That time frame shrinks if companies increase their revenue targets in a recovering economy.

Also, the prolonged recession had an impact on firms. During the past decade, the average S&P-500 company, of necessity, reduced its cost-of-goods-sold by about 250 basis points. That’s significant. But SG&A (selling, general, and administrative costs) as a percentage of revenue has not declined. Business success is about relative competitive advantage. The focus of productivity improvement is moving, quickly, from operations and back-office activities to customer-acquisition activities.

Finally, even a growing economy can take any company just so far. It’s tough to do good things in business without a strategy, and it’s even tougher to achieve growth goals without a sales force aligned with that strategy. Too many companies either ignore this truth or fail to deal actionably with what’s required to make it happen.






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Don’t Start a Change Management Process Before Asking This

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 08:00

Your business or department is growing, and your old processes are outdated and ready for an upgrade. To minimize loss in talent, experience, and productivity, don’t start at Step One. Start at Step Zero.

Here are three great questions to ask your team before you begin the change management process.

The change from old to new is famously loaded with anxiety for stakeholders, even a change that’s long overdue. A combination of lack of details and negative precedent from previous changes can fatigue those stakeholders. At best, this will give them impression that this is a shifting of resources; at worst, they could perceive it as a threat. But as a leader, you have a chance to allay any deep concerns the stakeholders may have.

These are a few questions that will, at least initially, help motivate and engage the team members who are most directly affected by whatever new changes are being developed:

How do you feel about the current process?

You should have already done your homework on whatever system or process is being changed: when and why it was adopted; how long it’s been a part of the infrastructure of your organization; and how it interacts with other departments. Now you are asking this question of the people using it every day.

This will give your stakeholders the opportunity to tell you in their own words what, if any, changes need to be made.  Pay close attention: You can learn the depth of knowledge they do or do not have, as well as what problems they have had in the past. This will be useful information later when pitching improvements in detail and getting buy-in. It can tell you a lot about the department you’re working with too, plus it will give you tools that will be useful through the change. The ability to explain and address the stakeholders concerns directly though the course of the change will be invaluable.

What do you expect the benefits and challenges to be? 

This should help get the level of the room, and by that I mean determine who is immediately on board and who’s going to drag the process down. There are no wrong answers on the part of the associates, only chances to enlighten and inform. Change is rarely sudden, and you might have a groundswell of concern bordering on fear if rumors have already been circulated.

The people to look closely for are the early adopters and the skeptics, and you should address both extremes with caution: They can each contribute and hinder momentum in their own way.

The enthusiasm generated by the early adopters can be contagious. However, you do not want the early adopters to have any greater affect than the associates who are showing a lot of reluctance, because you don’t want to single anyone out for reward or penalty this early in the process.

More importantly, if you are too eager to see early progress and paying too much attention the overly enthusiastic, it could give the impression you aren’t listening to everyone. That you are favoring the select few who took an instant shine to the new ideas. Still, don’t be afraid to capitalize on positive emotion. Just be careful. You might even be able to rely on the early adopters to help find the silver lining when the unexpected occurs.

The skeptics may have practical experience with previous changes or improvements that will be very useful. Winning them over is a challenge worth taking, since they’re probably more experienced than much of the rest of the staff. Of course, the majority will be hovering somewhere between unwillingness and skepticism. They’re likely waiting to see how change is affecting them and taking their own ownership of the change. They’ll be swayed toward skepticism or enthusiasm but will at all times be looking for leadership.

Keep in mind that regardless of whether they’re moving to one extreme or hovering around the middle you’ll want your entire team to be comfortable with giving good feedback to avoid what might be, to everyone else, a bad course of action.

What haven’t I asked?

The virtue in this question is its simplicity. Where the first two questions gathered information, the last is a statement of inexperience to the stakeholders. By telling them, “I clearly don’t know everything,” you’re giving them the opportunity to take on some leadership, to educate and own the change process. This is empowering.

If asked with honesty and confidence, you open the door to input that could mean the life or death of your project. This will also give you a very good chance to start working on moving the hesitant toward a more eager acceptance of the new system.

There are many variations to these questions, of course. But my experiences have only reinforced the idea that stakeholder engagement is critical to success. The most effective change involves listening to and dealing with the anxiety. Remember, the associate who has the smallest voice individually frequently makes the greatest contribution to effective change at the ground level.

When change is managed well, it can streamline your processes and invigorate the people doing the work. These three questions will give you the opportunity to perform both fulfilling tasks at once.






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Linda Rottenberg on Overcoming Fears When Scaling Up

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 08:00

When your dream of owning a successful business becomes a reality, the next step is to consider how to scale up. However, it may not be finances or production that may be your biggest obstacle to growing your business – it may be your own fear. A top entrepreneurial expert provides tips on how you can scale up your business and overcome your own psychological and emotional roadblocks.

Linda Rottenberg says she loves “Shark Tank,” the ABC television reality show featuring aspiring entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to a panel of potential investors.

Rottenberg, considered one of America’s top experts on entrepreneurship and leadership, says that she‘s a fan of the show because “it’s not just about boys in hoodies – it’s not just about techie ideas,” as demonstrated recently when investor Mark Cuban put up $1 million for one-third of a small company that makes neon-colored fruit wine sold in a box.

But it’s at this point that Rottenberg confesses she has a problem with the show. Once an investor like Cuban throws in his financial support, some may believe the product and company will now “go big” without any problems.

Not so fast, Rottenberg says.

“I have found that at the go-big phase, so many of the problems are human, are psychological,” she says.

Such problems include the sometimes messy things that go along with scaling up a business, such as firing unproductive relatives and giving up a day job to finally go all in on a new venture, she says.

Which is why she has included those important topics in her new book, “Crazy is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags.”

Rottenberg, named a 100 “innovators for the 21st Century” by Time magazine, says that through her work with hundreds of entrepreneurs reaching the “crucial” stage of growing their business, she has developed a list of the most common fears and how to tackle them.

They are:

  1. Closing doors.  “People will cling to their old life out of fear,” she says. “We’re told to keep our doors open, but you have to give yourself permission to go big and that can mean closing doors.” For example, Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, a multi-million dollar undergarment company, kept selling fax machines until she was booked on Oprah’s show. When you’re ready to scale big, it’s better to “cut the umbilical cord” because you’re clinging to your old job out of fear, not necessity, she says.
  2. Overlapping personal and professional interests.  Rottenberg, co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, says her company’s research found that three-fourths of entrepreneurs in the organization’s network had launched a business with a partner. Of those partners, 70% were best friends, family members, spouses or in-laws.  The study found that the worst-performing entrepreneurs did not have a shareholder agreement among partners, which can mean trouble when interests begin to differ. “That’s why you need a startup prenup,” she says. “When emotions are low, talking about what will happen in different scenarios. Talk about rights and responsibilities.”
  3. The small idea.  The problem with stories that show how Facebook or Apple started small and became huge breakouts is that such over-the-top successes often discouraged others from scaling up their ideas because they think they have to have the same results, she says. “Most entrepreneurs don’t have big ideas at all; they have lots of small ones,” she says. She advises entrepreneurs to “stop trying to shoot the moon all the time” and instead embrace the idea that the smarter move is to make incremental adjustments, becaue what she calls “minnovation” captures more markets.
  4. Maintaining focus. Research on start-ups shows that those entrepreneurs who make one or two changes raised two and a half times more money, had almost four times more user growth – and were 50% more likely to scale prematurely than start-ups that pivoted either more than twice or not at all. Rottenberg says such results suggest that you have to be open to change, but not too open. “Don’t muddy up your brand with too many peripheral products or services,” Rottenberg advises. “Focus on what you do well, and exploit it fully.” While you want to experiment and explore, sometimes the best thing is turning away from the shiny new things and avoid getting distracted. As Steve Jobs said: “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
  5. Executing correctly.  When scaling up, make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself.  Research on startups finds that most start-ups fail not because of competition, but because they self-destruct when they try to go too big too early.  It’s OK to dream big, but you don’t want to scale up so quickly that you can’t execute well.
  6. Keeping calm.  Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, says that while lots of gurus on entrepreneurship compare launching a business to running a marathon or riding a roller coaster, he compares it to settling the American West. “In charting the new frontier, they didn’t scale the plains every day. They broke up the trip into many legs. Step by step, day by day, they got closer to their dream,” he says.  Rottenberg says that going big doesn’t always mean going fast. “Surviving the onslaught of tests during the scale-up phase often requires slowing down at points,” she says.

What do you see as human issues that interfere with a business scaling up?

You May Also Like:
Mistakes to Avoid When Scaling a Business – Interview with Brad Feld
Vinod Kosla on Operating and Scaling a Business






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10 Funniest Workplace Holiday Disasters

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 07:30

Celebrating the holiday season at work can be full of landmines – like inappropriate gifts, disastrous decorations, and parties gone awry. I recently asked readers to tell me about their funniest workplace holiday disasters. Here are my 10 favorites.

1. Christmas tantrum

“A woman who had worked at our office for more than twenty years pouted and threw tantrums like a child if she didn’t win a door prize at the annual Christmas dinner. Every time someone else’s name was randomly drawn, she would yell, ‘FIX!”’ or ‘CHEAT!’ or something similar. And one year, she just snatched a prize she really wanted from the table and told the person who won the prize, ‘I DESERVE this,’ and walked away with it.”

2. Most likely to kiss under mistletoe

“We had a people scavenger hunt based on self-volunteered random facts. The facts were pretty innocuous, but one girl used it as an opportunity to flirt with a coworker. Her facts about herself were ‘Won Most Flirtatious in High School,’ ‘Voted as Homecoming Queen,’ and ‘Most likely to kiss under mistletoe.’”

3. Holiday skit gone wrong

“I used to work for an organization that was dysfunctional in the extreme. Each Christmas, one particular program director, who thought he was an artist, would write a skit for some staff to perform. There were choreographed dances, original songs, and worst of all, the entire skit was meant to be a parody of a particular issue that had come up in the past year. In the right hands and with enthusiastic participation, this might have worked, but believe me when I say that all of the jokes and plot points were in the worst possible taste – mocked people, brought up sore points in a condescending way, made those acting in the skit the butt of jokes about themselves, made off-color jokes about senior staff members. It. was. excruciating.”

4. Hanukkah balls

“I am a Jewish 26-year-old. I’ve been on the job about a year, and I moved from a large city to a smaller suburb of New York City for this job. My family is not super religious but we certainly never celebrated Christmas growing up.

My boss, a usually nice lady, has taken it upon herself to educate me about Christmas this season. She is super into the holidays, which I appreciated for Halloween, but has been declaring to the whole office how this is ‘Jane’s First Christmas’ and taking that opportunity to spend well over $500 on Christmas decorations which she has strategically placed mostly around her and my office. She has bought me my own Christmas stocking and ornament which says ‘Jane’s first Christmas’ with a date and her signature on it. She has placed red velvet bows around anything they will stick to and she has replaced our office coffee K-cups with eggnog. She has put up lights in the hallways and decked my door with some kind of tinsel that keeps sticking to my clothes and following me home.

She keeps reminding me what ornaments are and is amazed when I told her that I know the words to some Christmas songs.

She also has invited me to her home for Christmas because ‘no one should celebrate their first Christmas by themselves.’ When I mentioned something about celebrating Hanukkah instead of Christmas, she went out and bought this Hanukkah inspired contraption, which was really just eight round traditional ornaments with a light in each of them. She said they were Hanukkah balls.”

5. Hands off the holiday decorations

“One of my coworkers got holiday decorations banned permanently after he found all the human and animal shaped decorations (elves, Santas, reindeer, etc.) in the office and arranged them in compromising positions late at night.”

6. Keep your mom away from the holiday party

“My coworker’s mother decided it was a good idea to join us for drinks at our holiday party. She then proceeded to tell me how long it took her son to find a job, how it was not what he wanted to do or was good at, and how his lack of self confidence was due to the way his father treated him for most of his life. I wished I would have heard what she later on told our CEO.”

7. When your boss is the grinch

“Our team of five went out for a Christmas lunch last year and my (admittedly crazy) boss made a show of giving everyone but me a gift ($100 gift card each) …and then she made a show of pointing out how she didn’t give me one.”

8. Odd trophies

“I had a supervisor who was very unprofessional, and her being in her position was a bit of a scandal in the first place. Well, she decided to do an award ceremony during our holiday party, but instead of buying cheap trophies or printing out awards on paper, she went to all of the thrift stores in the area and bought a bunch of old Barbie dolls. She stripped them, spray painted them gold, and called them “trophies” that she presented to staff as an award. No printed certificate or anything to go with them, just nude, gold, spray painted Barbies.”

9. Holiday card misstep

“I very briefly worked at a law firm a few years ago, and my short time there included the holidays. A couple of weeks before Christmas, we all (about 15 employees) received a card with a prepaid Visa inside (about $25). The front of the card was a professional photograph of the managing partner with his wife and three children, standing in front of their enormous house out of state. One of the employees was his son from his prior marriage, who I am sure appreciated the beautiful photo of dad’s new family that did not include him.”

10. Holiday lies

“We had a fancy holiday dinner held at the boss’s house, and wine was served. My coworker’s husband takes it upon himself to get rip snorting drunk and tell the boss off for all the wrongs done to the coworker. The problem? None of those things actually happened. Apparently, the coworker would go home and tell her husband a bunch of sob stories about fictional incidents at the office, to get sympathy about her horrible day. She quit soon after.”





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Jeanne Bliss on How to Manage a Customer Service Operation

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 08:00

I spoke to Jeanne Bliss, who is a customer experience expert. As the Customer Leadership Executive for five large U.S. market leaders, Jeanne fought valiantly to get the customer on the strategic agenda, redirecting priorities and creating transformational changes to the brands’ customer loyalty. She has driven achievement of 95 percent loyalty rates, changing customer experiences across 50,000-person organizations. Jeanne developed her passion for customer loyalty at Lands’ End, Inc., where she reported to the company’s founder and executive committee as leader for the Lands’ End customer experience. She was Senior Vice President of Franchise Services for Coldwell Banker Corporation. Jeanne served Allstate Corporation as its chief officer for customer loyalty & retention. She was Microsoft Corporation’s General Manager of Worldwide Customer & Partner Loyalty. At Mazda Motor of America she initiated the brand’s retention effort. In the following brief interview, Bliss talks about  the biggest customer service issues she’s seen, ways to turn angry customers into loyal ones, how she managed service requests and more.

Dan Schawbel: You’ve worked at a lot of companies in customer focused roles. What are some of the biggest customer service issues you’ve faced in your experience?

Jeanne Bliss: The biggest issues come from the right hand and the left hand of an organization not coordinating their efforts. A frustrated customer calls or emails, then that person gets passed around, as each area moves them to another area. Then once someone commits to helping, there are multiple layers of approval. This is happening around the world with great regularity. Customer hot potato. Customers leave because of it.

Schawbel: What are some ways to turn angry customers into loyal ones?

Bliss: First, “own” the customers’ experience. Start by asking about the customers’ life and what happened.  Don’t start with the policy number or order number or begin by spelling out the policies that prevent the customer being helped. Care about the customer. For real. Then solve the problem. And apologize. People want to hear the words that you are sorry that the customer had a disappointing experience. Then follow up.

Schawbel: At Lands’ End, for example, how did you manage customer service requests from issue to resolution? Was this different than at other companies you worked for like Allstate?

Bliss: Lands’ End was grown from the ground up with a commitment to believing in and supporting the people who helped customers. Our operators (about 2000 at the time) did not have talk time. We coached them to deliver an experience. They were given tools and training but then were trusted. It’s important to note that this business was retail – without the complexity of insurance.

The insurance industry is working hard at turning itself into a customer focused operation and Allstate is one of those companies working hard at that. There are many more rules and policies in industries with government regulations. But with all my clients in these types of industries, the goal is to elevate the person who talks to the customer as the “navigator” — someone who navigates the customer through the complexity. Unfortunately that sometimes means the customer doesn’t get everything he or she wants, but they feel that they have been listened to and honored.

Schawbel: What do most companies get wrong about customer service and how should they correct it?

Bliss: Most companies think of the work as ‘customer service’ which is reactive – problem solving after something has gone wrong. We are focusing with clients on “Customer Experience” – meaning to be deliberate in connecting the silos to delver an experience across the customer journey. Customer service is part of the journey but it is only the reactive part.

Schawbel: What have been some of the innovations in the customer service world and what tools are companies using these days to handle this change?

Bliss: Regarding specifically helping customers in distress, companies are changing the rigor on the metrics that only align to internally driven operational goals, such as talk time. Instead, they are starting with who they hire in terms of personality, empathy – then they train to skill. They are coaching now to improve the outcome of the experience versus comply with those operational metrics.

Regarding the more holistic customer experience work – we are seeing this embraced with vigor around the world as companies (finally) realize that the entire experience is the brand and that being reliable is the only real way to earn word of mouth. That said, this work can be considered early days.  But we have executive attention and are gaining traction because we can connect this work directly to business growth.

Schawbel: How can a customer service department be more proactive instead of reactive?

Bliss: Here’s one thing Customer Service departments can put into practice right away to help their frontline and customers:

Sit with the frontline and inventory the major reasons they often need to get permission. Rather than making them go through that step, work through their options at those moments. Train them and let the frontline be the judge of picking the correct option.

Schawbel: How can companies best hire for a customer support team so they best fit into the culture?

Bliss:

  • Hire for values and personality first.
  • Model the behavior from your best folks and watch someone take calls to see if they model the same behavior.
  • Do a ‘customer service tryout’ where someone comes on for 1 week as a trial.

Speaking of trials, you can try Intuit QuickBase for customer service free for 30 days.






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Spread Holiday Cheer at Work – Without Spiking the Punch

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 08:00

You don’t have to be Santa Claus to spread holiday cheer at work. Here are five things you can do to make your workplace a more joyous one this month – and no, we’re not talking about spiking the punch.

1. Spread “good gossip.” You might have a visceral reaction against the idea of gossiping, but good gossip is different from bad gossip. Good gossip means spreading positive thoughts around – things that you wouldn’t mind getting back to the person you’re talking about. For instance, mention how much you like working with Sarah, or how great Joe’s presentation was, or how wowed you are by the new guy’s writing skills. Be sincere, of course, but speak up about this kind of thing! It will make you feel good, please the recipient if it gets back to them, and raise the overall spirits in your office.

2. Help someone when you don’t have to. If you see a colleague struggling to complete a piece of work that you could help with, and you could assist without compromising your own work, offer to pitch in! It could be something as simple as lending an eye and letting a coworker bounce ideas off of you, or offering to edit a memo, or helping to defuse an angry customer, or just pitching in so someone isn’t stuck late at the office. If you’ve ever received a helping hand when you really needed it, then you know how grateful your coworker might be – and how much it can create a feeling of camaraderie and cooperation in your office.

3. Thank someone for making your job easier this year. Did a colleague or vendor make your life easier this year? Save your hide with your boss by catching a mistake before it was too late? Make what could have been an arduous project easy and pleasant? Maybe someone was simply a joy to work with on a regular basis. Tell them. Whether you stop by their office to deliver a heartfelt thanks or write a short letter explaining your appreciation, it’s likely to make a huge impression on the recipient.

4. Show up for at least one workplace holiday function cheerfully, even if you’d rather be at home. If you dread office holiday parties (and you’re in good company if you do), make a point this year of showing up and being cheerful about it. You probably won’t be miserable, but if you are, find someone else who looks miserable and talk with them. You can make it your mission to save others from tedium. Or if that’s too Pollyanna-ish for you, at least make an appearance for an hour or so, eat some cookies, circulate, and then head home.

5. Be kind, even if you’re stressed out. Holidays can be a hectic time of year – people are rushing to shop, attend holiday functions, travel, host family, and attend to myriad other obligations. That stress can spill over to work, and you might find yourself being short with colleagues. Make sure you don’t let that happen! Vow to be kind this month, even if your fuse is short and you’re counting down the days until your vacation.






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Management Isn’t For Everyone – And That’s Okay

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 07:30

Who would step down as the CEO of one of the most influential financial institutions in the world? Bill Gross, that’s who.

Even if you’re not intimately familiar with the bond market, you’ve probably heard of powerhouse bond house Pimco and its founder Bill Gross.

Gross, known internationally as the “Bond King,” made headlines last month when he quit the house he founded over 40 years ago for a far less lucrative position managing a new fund at Janus Capital. Allegedly, he tired of the constant clashes with other members of the Pimco management team.

Good riddance!

One might expect that Gross would be devastated, his ego battered and bruised. But instead, the creator of a $200 billion fund told Barrons that he was thrilled to give up his management responsibilities.

“I was always an investment guy, and the other stuff – hiring, paying people, planning, and so on – became a problem for me,” he said.  “I am uniquely exuberant about clearing all that stuff off my dish. I’ll still be intense, but the intensity and decibel level drop a bit in a smaller place. Also, common sense suggests that it will be easier to implement ideas in a $100 million portfolio than in a fund with more than $200 billion.”

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes

This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite quotes this year. It illustrates that Bill Gross knows himself, and also recognizes that leadership and contribution don’t require a CEO title. Not everyone is cut out for – or enjoys – the tremendous challenges and pace associated with running a large organization. Not everyone wants to lose the day-to-day participation in the projects they love in favor of becoming a generalist removed to the boardroom.

Some, depending on their personalities and work styles, will be far happier and more effective operating on a smaller scale, or even as individual contributors with no direct reports.

We’ve been taught since birth that we should always be climbing – trying to get from A to B to C – when in fact that’s a very personal choice. Career paths in the 21st century are highly individualized, and what is right for your neighbor or your mentor might not be right for you.

Saying no to CEO

I’ve turned down promotions in favor of lateral moves so that I could acquire more diverse experiences and skills, and more recently I made a Bill Gross-like move by stepping away from an opportunity to grow my business.

The move would require me to focus more on administration and finance than providing direct assistance to the people who inspired me to get into this line of work in the first place. And as most of you know, I’m also raising two young children. CEOs don’t generally have much time for family life, and that’s not acceptable to me.

As I told some of my colleagues, “forging an empire is not in the cards. A comfortable salary, publishing books and articles, and speaking to audiences who can use my advice are all I need.” And the thing is, I genuinely feel this way. My inner sense of power comes from helping people, not from controlling the huge global chess board of the modern organization.

There’s nothing wrong with my point of view and Bill Gross’, they’re just different. And if the decisions we’ve made resonate with you, don’t assume the “boss track” is a foregone conclusion. How you leverage your unique talents is up to you, not anyone else.






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How to Deal With the Narcissist at Work

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 08:00

The term “narcissism” is often misused, but if you’ve got a bona fide narcissist at work you may face constant obstacles as those with this personality disorder can be annoying – and break down an organization’s efficiency and productivity.

When you think of narcissists, names like Kim Kardashian and Lance Armstrong may come to mind with their constant focus on themselves and need for admiration.

But that’s the celebrity world, and it’s not so common for the average person to have such an inflated sense of self-importance (since most of us get that knocked out of us in our 20s).

Despite that, narcissism is a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially when you’re dealing with an annoying personality at work. But is that jerk at work really a narcissist?

The Mayo Clinic defines narcissism as a mental disorder “in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration.” Those with the disorder believe that “they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings,” the clinic states. “But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that narcissists often can be difficult to work with as their sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and focus on ““me, me, me” can impede work getting done.

One of the biggest problems is that narcissists often are very bright, and may cover their darker tendencies under the guise of having career ambition. They can turn on the charm when needed, and often are described as charismatic. They are driven – but can also be manipulative and self-centered and can seriously impact a team’s efficiency and productivity.

For example, say a sales meeting is called to discuss the upcoming quarter. But as the boss tries to get input from everyone, the narcissist constantly interrupts to talk about himself and his successes. Later, when there are informal gatherings of the sales staff to discuss strategies, the narcissist constantly interrupts to again direct the conversation to an area he or she wants to discuss.

“These people are always trying to shine the light on themselves. They always want the glory,” Whitbourne explains. “They like to derail things. They constantly have to be attended to. They can be very aggravating.”

So, the result is that a sales team may miss its projections because they can’t do effective planning with the narcissist’s interruptions, or may be so irked by the behavior they find it hard to concentrate and do their jobs.

The bottom line is that narcissists can really throw a wrench in the works when it comes to others doing their jobs effectively, Whitbourne says.

But, there are strategies to help you cope better with the narcissist at work. Whitbourne suggests:

  • Becoming educated. Before you label someone as a narcissist, take some time to really observe the behavior. “Vulnerable” narcissists may actually have low self-esteem while “grandiose” narcissists are more low-key with their emotions so may undercut you more subtly. In work teams, the grandiose narcissist might be a strong ally as long as you can get the person to buy into your team’s goals.
  • Pinpointing your aggravation. Once you begin studying the narcissist, you may see that what bugs you the most is the person constantly interrupting you and demanding attention. But once you see that, you can learn to soothe the narcissist’s insecurities, which helps redirect him or her away from bothering you.
  • Be flexible. Just as you have your own insecurities, so does a narcissist. That means you need to recognize particular triggers for that person – such as losing out on a promotion that can trigger insecurities – and then respond accordingly. For example, you may need to simply ignore spiteful behavior because you know it comes from a place of insecurity and unhappiness.

Finally, try to stay positive and even laugh at outrageous narcissistic behavior sometimes, Whitbourne says.

“Narcissists,” she says, “are not easily wounded.”

You May Also Like:
10 Ways You’re Making Your Employees Less Productive - INFOGRAPHIC
7 Ways You’re Annoying Your Manager without Realizing It

Have you had an experience dealing with a narcissist?






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How to Teach Any Worker to Become a Great Leader

Sat, 12/06/2014 - 08:00

Managers might be overjoyed to have a team full of driven, self-motivated workers who take ownership of everything they do – although many would argue that’s a crazy dream that will never happen. But it might be a reality if managers would just learn to tap the leadership potential in everyone.

There has been much criticism of helicopter parents, those moms and dads who hover over their beloved offspring from birth until….forever.

Mom and Dad, worried about what will happen if they turn their back on little Madison or Joshua, are there every step of the way. They remove obstacles, they advocate with authority figures and generally ensure that their children don’t have to grow up in the school of hard knocks.

But now the question is: Are managers doing the same thing to their employees?

Are bosses spending too much time hand-holding workers? Are they following up on every little detail and ensuring there are no bumps in the road? And if the answer is “yes,” does that mean employees are waiting longer and longer to become leaders in their own right?

Jack Zenger ,CEO of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, says that data shows of the 17,000 worldwide leaders participating in his company’s training program, the average age was 42. More than half were between 36 and 49, and less than 10% were under age 30. Less than 5% were under age 27.

Interestingly, Zenger says that the average age of supervisors at those firms was 33, with most taking on supervisory titles around age 30 and staying in those positions until about age 39.

“It follows then, that if they’re not entering leadership training programs until they’re 42, they are getting no leadership training at all as supervisors. And they’re operating within the company untrained, on average, for over a decade,” he says.

The problem is that if leaders are not getting necessary training, then they may develop bad habits that can undermine an organization’s success, he argues. Part of the problem with the lack of better leadership, he suggests, could be that we simply wait too long to develop the right skills in our managers.

So what can managers do to develop employees to be better leaders earlier? It might be time to:

  1. Let them make mistakes.  You want to encourage employees to be innovative, confident and motivated, but they won’t be any of these things if they fear that making a mistake will get them written up or fired. If they make a mistake as they’re growing, help them discover ways to recover so that they will develop resiliency and resourcefulness, key ingredients for great leadership. Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET cable network, says that she tells her team that failure “is OK if you tried something for the right reasons and you’re able to learn and move forward.”
  2. Take away the safety net.  If you were a trapeze artist, wouldn’t you double-double check all your equipment before you did a stunt if you knew you were operating without a net? While you don’t want to throw employees into high risk situations with no support, you also need to instill a sense of ownership in what they do. So, instead of proofreading a financial report, for example, you tell the employee that he or she is the final word. Giving employees the authority to make more and more decisions gives them confidence in their decision-making, and a keener sense of responsibility. Joel Garfinkle, an executive coach and author of “Getting Ahead,” suggests blocking out an hour or two of daily closed-door time. “During that time, people don’t come to you unless it’s an emergency,” he says, which will help teach them to be more self-reliant. “Right now, all you need is for them to get the concept. They have to want it. They have to want to move to the next level.”
  3. Invest in their learning.  If you have the budget, send employees to seminars on effective leadership or industry events where they can mingle with experienced leaders. But even if resources are limited, there are numerous podcasts, webinars and online learning sessions that allow employees to educate themselves on topics such as conducting effective meetings, negotiating or using body language to convey authority and confidence.
  4. Model the right behavior.  Kids learn how to grow and take on responsibility by watching adults around them. The same can be true in the workplace. Ilya Pozin, founder of Pluto.TV, Open Me and Ciplex, says that there is a difference between a manager and a leader. For example, managers want credit, while leaders credit their teams. “[E]ffective leaders understand the importance of crediting their teams for the big wins. This pays off in the long run for creating a workplace with a more positive company culture and employees who are driven toward more successes as a team,” he says. The key, he stresses, is not forcing employees to be leaders, but rather influencing them to be leaders.
  5. Stress the long view.  Urge employees to consider the long-term impact of their actions, how they plan to react to changing market conditions and to simply think about where they are headed. Great leaders need to be able to look at the big picture and not get so caught up in nitty-gritty details that they become micromanaging managers that drive everyone crazy.

Finally, it’s important for leaders to remind themselves – and those they are training – that great leadership isn’t about prestige and more money. It’s important that employees see a higher purpose in what they do and who they serve so that they make better decisions and work to mentor the next generation of leaders.






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Should I Get Certified as a Project Manager?

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 08:00

In the first post of this two-part series, we examine the reasons why PM certification might be the right move.

The field of project management is always changing, and it’s up to us as masters of the profession to keep up. But is official certification the way to do it? Only you can answer that question for yourself, but here are some rationales from the Project Management Institute to consider.

Objective Third-Party Endorsement

A PMI certification reflects your project management knowledge, skills and abilities. As a respected institution in the industry, PMI can provide unbiased support for your project management expertise and professional experience.

Proof of Achievement

A PMI certification shows that you have demonstrated excellence in the field by meeting standard requirements established by global project management practitioners. The global aspect is critical because there may come a time very soon when the ability to manage cross-national project teams is imperative.

More Moolah

A PMI certification can lead to greater earnings. Many certification holders experience salary increases because of their certification status, and these increases definitely add up over the course of a career.

Opportunity Knocking

A PMI certification identifies you as a practitioner who has demonstrated competency in general project management processes or in specialty areas of practice based on industry standards. This may well lead to recruitment into a sexier area of project management or a role that’s a step up from your current one.

Employer Recognition

Employers like to see candidates and employees who invest in their own professional development. Certification shows your commitment to the field and illustrates that you are to in it to win it. This perception makes it likely that the most prestigious employers will consider hiring you for their open PM positions.

Value Proposition

A PMI certification makes it easier for potential employers to evaluate you against other candidates with similar experience and ultimately decide that you have the edge. In a competitive job market, a certification can be your differentiator, the unique value you bring to the table.

Despite its benefits, though, certification isn’t for everyone. It does, of course, take time and financial resources, and if you aren’t sure that project management is the field for you, then it may not be worth it.

But for those who do decide it’s the right decision, getting this type of education is easier than ever. Certifications like those from PMI represent the future of what is called micro-credentialing, or leveraging a shorter-term education program (often in place of a traditional degree) to show competence in a specific skill area. In the next post, we’ll discuss the different types of PM certification you can currently obtain.






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How Cloud Based Contract Management Saves Nonprofit Time

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 07:30

Engaging Schools is a nonprofit that works with 3,600 educators and administrators yearly to create safe, caring environments where students can learn. It’s a business built on long-term relationships that take time to establish and maintain.

Engaging Schools had a Microsoft Access database for managing contract information, but users felt the system was too complex and quickly abandoned it. Even basic functionality like generating reports required technical assistance.

“There was no user-friendliness to Access. The way it was built, every report had to be created by a consultant, which was very expensive. It simply didn’t make sense for us to continue using it,” says Geoffrey Bertram, IT manager and finance associate at Engaging Schools.

Engaging Schools opted to implement Intuit QuickBase to automate and simplify its contract management tasks. With contract management tasks automated and simplified within QuickBase, Bertram estimates that Engaging Schools has reclaimed 25–30 hours of valuable staff time per week that can now be better used on their mission to help schools.

Staffers can now access real-time information within QuickBase and generate reports on demand, without the cost or time delays associated with relying on outside IT resources. And, finally, Engaging Schools has the information they need, at their fingertips, to maximize their school relationships as they are converted from leads into signed contracts.

“QuickBase unlocked the potential for Engaging Schools staff to do better things. Their time is used so much more efficiently now than before,” says Bertram.

Read the full case study on the Intuit QuickBase customer page.






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How Can You Stay Organized When You’re On the Road?

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 08:00

A reader asks:

At my new job, I must follow up on items of varying priority through the day. I am on the road, meeting clients in different locations, and frequently leave a meeting with a small to-do list (phone calls, emails, document edits, material preparation). The items have varying timelines, and some require additional follow-up steps. Some items are urgent, while others can wait for weeks. I’ve tried several systems to keep track of these “action items,” to no avail: brightly colored notecards, handwritten and virtual To Do lists, post-it notes on my desktop background, writing notes in my calendar, etc. 

My schedule frequently changes (for example, this week I worked only in the afternoons/evenings – next week I have two crack of dawn appointments). Because my schedule is constantly shifting, I can’t set aside a routine time for follow up. I am increasingly frustrated that I don’t have a reliable system to manage this minor job duty efficiently.

There’s no question that it’s harder to stay organized and juggle lots of details when you’re on the road: you might be working out of hotel rooms, hallways, or a rental car, you might not have all your files easily accessible, and if your organizational systems are anything other than virtual, you might be lost after a few days without them.

Here are three key ways to stay organized on the road.

1. Do prep work in advance. Before you head out on travel, it’s worth it to spend some time getting yourself organized. Sync your calendars across all your devices, organize all the materials you’ll need to use into one place, and make sure that you have well-organized systems to capture the information that comes up on your trip.

2. Build a period for follow-up work into each day. Get in the habit of taking a few minutes to jot down any follow-up items after each meeting. And at the end of each day, allot some time to look back on your day and capture any action items that arose (as well as taking care of any quick ones on the spot). How much time you’ll need will depend on the nature of your work, but don’t shortchange yourself here by allowing 15 minutes if experience tells you that you’ll need an hour. (And if your schedule changes too much to reliably do this at the end of the day, schedule it wherever it will fit – but consider it a must-do to fit it in somewhere on your calendar each day, or at least every other day.)

3. Take advantage of technology to make your life easier. Leverage the cloud by using Google Docs to store key presentations, documents, and other tools so that they’re accessible from any device with Internet, and so that you can collaborate on them with others. Also make sure that you have a solid CRM that lets you operate virtually. (Of course, you could get all of this and more if your team was using Intuit QuickBase!) Consider using an app like Evernote for taking notes, and tracking and editing documents that you use frequently from the road. And don’t forget to travel with extra battery packs and a service like MiFi so that you have power and Internet wherever you are!






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Is Six Sigma Dead?

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 07:30

Now that one of Six Sigma’s biggest supporters is cutting back its investment, is the writing on the wall?

Xerox, the Connecticut-based printing and business process outsourcing giant, has publicly acknowledged that it is cutting back on efforts and jobs related to Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma.

In a memo to employees this fall, Xerox president of corporate operations Herve Tessler said this, “having met our goal of embedding the principles and practices of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) within the business … we no longer have a need for a centralized LSS function and will disband the corporate LSS team.”

You can form your own opinion, but to me this sounds like the politically correct way of saying that the implementation of Six Sigma is no longer a priority.

Where it all began

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement developed by Motorola in 1986 and made famous by Jack Welch’s implementation at General Electric in 1995.

The system aims to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of errors and minimizing variability in business processes through the use of statistics-based, quality management methods.

Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified value targets, for example: reduce process cycle time, reduce costs, increase profits, and increase customer satisfaction.

Becoming an expert in Six Sigma is a science. As you become more knowledgeable, you proceed from a novice Yellow Belt to a head-of-the-pack Champion, and through the last years of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st, an entire industry sprung up around training employees in Six Sigma.

How the mighty have fallen

It seemed like Six Sigma might be a trend that withstood the test of time – until now.  I was interested in a recent study cited by FLO Partners that documented the gradual downfall of Six Sigma. The results illustrated that Six Sigma “has continued its decline from the heady heights of 2005 when 71 percent of respondents reported using pure play Six Sigma to 33 percent in 2013.”

“Companies are moving away from overly structured and rigid approaches to process excellence. Instead, many are taking a more pragmatic approach and drawing on a wide range of tools that fit the business situation and need,” commented the study.

But why now?

There are several reasons why Six Sigma might not gel as well in 21st century organizations. In her article for the Huffington Post, Ruth Henderson, president of Whiteboard Consulting, explains that the need for flexibility in today’s service-driven organizations plays an important role.

“Traditional and, dare I say it, soon to become old school methodologies like Six Sigma are based on strict methodologies that work really well in some organizations – usually those in a manufacturing or highly repetitive/operational industry,” she says.  “In other industries, particularly serviced-based, these methods have a more difficult time taking root.”

On Forbes.com, Rick Smith has another idea. He suggests that systems like Six Sigma squash organization’s attempts to be innovative. “As a result of Six Sigma or similar approaches, many organizations are operating at very high levels of efficiency,” he says. “But as leaders now shift their focus to the acceleration of growth, they are discovering that the very culture of little to no variance that allowed them to achieve their efficiency goals is suffocating their growth potential.”

But variance, says Rick, is essential for innovation and growth. Six Sigma encourages us to avoid it, but we should actually be promoting it if our organizations are to remain competitive. “Success requires embracing the alternative paths that markets randomly present in order to find an organization’s unique place to grow and thrive.”

Do you still use Six Sigma? Do you believe it has a future in your organization?






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How to Run All Aspects Of a Startup

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 08:00

I spoke to Glen Gilmore, who is an internationally-recognized digital marketing strategist. He is also a practicing attorney and teaches Digital Marketing, Crisis Communications and Social Media Law at Rutgers University Center for Management Development. Glen was ranked two years in a row near the top of the Forbes’ list of “Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers.” In the following brief interview, he talks about his tips for running a startup, what founders should pay attention to, managing a team, and more.

Dan Schawbel: What are some of your tips for running a startup company from an operational standpoint?

Glen Gilmore: As a startup begins to take off, founders need to pay close attention to the energy and efficiency of their team. To bring the enterprise to scale, they need to invest in filling in gaps in expertise and shifting resources to customer service.

1.  Energy.  The energy of your team is critical to the ongoing success of your startup and the founders need to make sure that the energy and enthusiasm of the team remain high.  This often simply requires taking moments to recognize team members for their sacrifices and talent in the face of uncertain outcomes and often low pay.

2.  Efficiency.  Efficiency is about keeping an eye on roles and goals within the enterprise. If everyone is doing everything, you’ll waste of lot of time and effort. Assigning specific responsibilities and benchmarking tasks will help track your team’s efficiency and help it to know when to pivot to keep efficiencies improving.

3.  Expertise.  Success will reveal gaps within your startup. Constantly ask if you have the expertise you need to have to reach the next performance plateau. For example, if you find that customers are complaining about the process of placing orders online, it may be time for you to find new talent that understands that process better than anyone on your existing team. Being realistic about the expertise of your team and talent acquisition will drive success.

4.  Customer Service.  Too often, startups pour heart and soul into launching a product or service, then, don’t give it a chance to succeed by neglecting to put the same effort into customer service. Stellar customer service will get your startup through rocky roads with your community.

From launch to scale, keep figuring out what inspires your customers, what discourages them, and tend to both. This means inviting your community to comment and listen and respond when they do.

Schawbel: What should founders pay attention to and what mistakes do they usually make?

Gilmore: The only way to start riding a bike is by riding a bike. Too many founders are afraid of speed and of falling, so they never get to ride the bike.

Sticking with the biking analogy, knowing that you’re going to have falls is something every founder has got to come to grips with and be prepared to move beyond. Falling off a bike doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to ride a bike, it just means you haven’t gotten the swing of it.

For novice bike riders, falling on their bike usually means they weren’t moving forward fast enough or that they didn’t listen to the advice of those with a bit more experience in successful bike riding — or that they just gave into their doubts.

Founders need to understand the importance of moving forward, actually heed some of the advice that they are given, and know that falling off a bike a few times is generally a perquisite to a lifetime of bicycling joys.

Schawbel: What is the importance of social media when trying to build a brand and how do employees be part of that?

Gilmore: Building a community is really the secret to building a successful business, whatever the business might be. It’s all about relationship building.

Social media is where the conversation is happening and it’s where startups need to be. By listening in social media, startups will learn better what drives their community. They’ll learn in real-time what people don’t like about the product or service. They’ll also be able to join the conversation to promote brand awareness, address customer issues, and inspire brand advocates. No ad lets you build relations like a conversation in social media does.

Employees, especially in a startup, should be encouraged and empowered to be brand advocates. This means giving employees some guidance on how they can best promote the startup in a transparent way and some training in techniques that leverage the uniqueness of the various social platforms.

Employees know the startup better than anyone else and if they are trained and trusted to be brand ambassadors, they are likely to do a spectacular job of it. Enterprises like IBM and Mayo Clinic have even created their own in-house training programs to help their employees tap into social media. There’s every incentive for a startup that may not be able to afford a marketing firm to tap into a resource that is likely eager to help.

Schawbel: What are some ways to manage a team while trying to scale a business?

Gilmore: Trust your employees to know how best they work, while also bench-marking how each is contributing to the startup’s success.

Management should be about empowering. Keep asking what your team needs to succeed to get over the next hurdle and how to optimize their individual talents.

Giving and inviting feedback is crucial to bringing the startup to scale.

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How to Get the Recognition You Deserve in Year-End Reviews

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 08:00

Nervous about year-end performance evaluations? Worried that you won’t get the recognition that your work deserves? Instead of staying anxious, why not take proactive steps right now to increase the chances that your evaluation will line up with your own assessment of your work?

Here are three ways you can help ensure that your work gets recognized when year-end reviews are done.

1. Write your own self-assessment. Instead of just waiting to receive an evaluation from your manager, why not do an as-objective-as-you-can-make-it assessment of your performance and share that with your manager ahead of time? Doing this can help you frame the discussion about your performance, jog your manager’s memory about accomplishments that might have slipped off her radar, and highlight any other factors in your favor.

Many companies include self-assessments in their performance evaluation process. If yours does, make sure you turn it into your manager early – you want her to have it before she starts writing her own evaluation of you. But even if your company doesn’t normally do self-assessments, you can still write up your own and provide it to your manager. It doesn’t have to be formal; a quick bulleted list of your achievements this year and any special highlights works well.

If you provide this kind of document to your manager before she does her own evaluation of you, you might find she even pulls directly from it when she writes her own.

2. Ask your colleagues to give feedback to your manager. Ideally, as your manager prepares your evaluation, she would solicit input from people who work closely with you. But not every manager does this, so if you have colleagues who have insightful perspectives on your work, ask them if they’d share their input with your boss. For example, you might say, “Sarah and I are preparing to do my annual performance review, and if you have feedback on my work that you think would be helpful, I’d love it if you’d share it with her.”

3. Start planning for your evaluation early. If you get a performance evaluation every December, start thinking about your evaluation 12 months earlier, in January. Ask yourself what you want your evaluation to say at the end of the year, and then plan out what you need to do to achieve that. You can even put together a plan with monthly or quarterly milestones to make sure that you’re on track – which is far better than not thinking about it until December and then realizing that you should have done things differently throughout the year.

In addition, it’s helpful to keep an evaluation file that you add to throughout the year. If you try to remember in December what you achieved months ago, you might struggle to remember specifics – and you’re likely to forget that you got a great piece of praise from your VP in March and a glowing testimonial from a client in June. But if you keep a file where you jot down notes on successes, it will be easy to pull information from it at evaluation time.

Of course, it might be too late to apply this advice this year – but you can plan now to apply it next year!

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How to Identify Your Team’s Best Change Agents

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 08:00

When organizations believe they must change to survive, they often bring in an outsider to drive that transformation. But that can be as disruptive as it is stressful, leading to turnover, reduced productivity and sinking morale. The better solution may be in harnessing the power of existing teams to come up with ideas that trigger change and drive innovation.

“Change agent” is no longer just a term for an outside consultant or someone in the C-suite who is charged with transforming an organization.

More organizations now realize they must have leaders and employees who are change agents, capable of looking at what they do in a different way and bringing about change in order to be competitive.

Allen Barclay, a management professor for Colorado State University, explains in his research that it makes sense that employers should turn to employees to be change agents, since in times of change “it is often up to the employees to make the change work.” In addition, tapping employees as change agents can be critical to truly transforming an organization or process as employees who provide input about making changes are more likely to support it and ensure it’s successful, he says.

“Within change, we are not normally changing the organization; we are changing the people in the organization. This reinforces the need to shift focus from the organization and management and instead target employees,” he says. “Employees should be charged with the ability to foster positive change by management, but more so, by themselves.”

To do that, Barclay suggests employees who are considering whether they would be good change agents should ask themselves:

  • Is there something I can do to make the organization a better place?
  • Is there something I personally need to change to make myself a better employee?

Employees who are willing to work to make the organization or themselves better not only demonstrate leadership potential, but begin to see change as less daunting and more a part of their everyday routine, he argues.

“If a true team member is continuously asking how they can improve, and they are the ones tied to the actual work, then this should lead to supportive buy-in, performance, and overall more effective and efficient change,” he says.

But sometimes it’s not clear who  is just giving lip service to supporting change and who is a team member who has the right attitude, skills and knowledge to make a difference.

That’s why when an organization is trying to identify team members who will be effective change agents, they should look for those who:

  • Demonstrate persistence.  Look for individuals who keep their cool when things get tough. They don’t lash out, fall apart or head for happy hour every time things get difficult. They may even be the ones who crack a joke during the most difficult or stressful times.
  • Set goals. Think about workers who have expressed a desire for career development.  They’re the first ones to volunteer for projects, to ask to attend cross-functional training or are active networkers. Ambitious individuals often are good change agents because they look at challenges as a way to advance their own career.
  • Possess the right attitude. Those team members who just go along with the group to avoid arguments or who seem to ruffle the feathers of everyone they meet are going to impede change instead of propelling it. You need confident people whose top priority is ensuring goals are met.
  • Get it. Change agents need to be well connected, both with senior managers and those in other departments. They need to understand the business and industry, not just their department. These employees grasp the importance of staying connected to others in the organization, and continue to forge strong ties with their networking. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that change agents who were most successful were the ones who networked across disconnected groups and were close to individuals considered “fence-sitters.”
  • Are graceful under pressure. Think back to times when a project has gone off course, or deadlines were very tight.  Who managed to stay focused? Who did others turn to when they ran into problems? Who seemed to maintain a healthy balance during such times? Change agents need to be able to maintain their perspective and not become overwhelmed.
  • Show empathy.  Change is often very difficult for some people, and change agents need to be prepared to listen to the doubts and anxieties of others. They can’t ignore resistance, because that will only make changes more stressful. Who has shown a willingness to hear the arguments of others during meetings, or often asks open-ended questions? These are the people who are good listeners and will take the time to help others move past resistance to change.

Finally, many experts say that a key question to ask when seeking key change agents is: Who would you miss if your company went out of business tomorrow, and why?






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