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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?


  • 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!


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, 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.

You May Also Like:
Hurry Up and Fail if You Want to Succeed


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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!

You May Also Like:
How to Get Your Manager to Give You Useful Feedback
How Can I Get Faster Responses from My Colleagues?
Manage Performance Reviews – a QuickBase app


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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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When to Give Your Employee a Promotion Or Not

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 08:00

Once upon a time, a manager noticed a direct report excelling in his area of expertise. So she gave him a promotion. The end.

We wish every story were that simple.

Unfortunately, not every manager can “automagically” know when an employee has earned the responsibility that comes with a higher rung up the corporate ladder. And actually, it’s tempting to promote for emotional reasons: sympathy for a hire with financial troubles; a belief that longevity at the company in itself deserves a promotion; even pressure from an employee who pushes for one.

But before you promote your underling to an overling, it’s important to consider the reasons not to promote someone first.

When You Should Not Promote

First, giving someone a promotion means giving them more responsibility, perhaps management responsibility—and not every person is right for management. If the person you are promoting has a track record of looking down on their peers, not being able to say no politely, or is either too aggressive or too passive, they may not have the temperament for management. You can be setting someone up to fail, and the failure of a new manager also can mean failure for his or her team…and even failure for the company.

Second, promoting one person on your team can cause conflicts with the rest of the staff who are “left behind.”  Other staff could question your judgment, especially if you promote the wrong person for the wrong reasons. Also consider whether the person would be able to supervise their current co-workers; if they are too emotionally close, it may be difficult for the change in roles to work.

Third and finally, requesting a promotion for your staff means asking for more funding for your department, and in cases where a company isn’t rapidly expanding, that can mean another department won’t have the funds to promote their staff.

With this in mind, there are two checklists to consider when evaluating whether your report is ready for promotion. The first is a basic threshold of qualities that are necessary, but not sufficient for promotion. The second list indicates a staff member is truly ready.

If your staff member isn’t hitting the mark on the list below, don’t even consider a promotion:

  • The staff member is reliable, shows up on time, and maintains a positive attitude.
  • The staff member keeps up with their work and perhaps is taking on a higher volume of work than they are expected to do.
  • The staff member is receiving consistently positive responses from clients or customers, handles their work well, consistently achieves their goals—and you have measurable, concrete data to prove it.

When You Should Promote

Assuming your staff member meets all of the above criteria, the more you check off this list, the more likely the staff member is to be ready for promotion:

  • The staff member presents new ideas to you or proposes and implements successful new initiatives.
  • They volunteer to take on projects or deliverables to take things off your plate, and they follow through and succeed in these new initiatives.
  • During times of growth in the company, the staff member can actually take on new responsibilities and job functions, such as supervising new staff.
  • The staff member has technical competency, but also has the potential to lead and train others to achieve success.
  • You have given the staff member a plan of action for achieving their career goal, and they can show you specific achievements that are in line with that plan.
  • You are aware of the person’s strengths and weaknesses, and you have given them clear feedback, mentoring, or training to improve their weaknesses and leverage their strengths. By documenting their strengths through ongoing evaluation, you create a paper trail about their achievements that will be helpful when requesting their promotion.
  • You have taken the time to be objective in your assessment of the person, and have tried to set aside your biases, fears, and even your personal liking for him or her.
  • You have spoken with the person about the decision to promote him or her to the next level, and potentially, you have even interviewed them as if for a new position.

Promoting the wrong person at the wrong time can cause lasting damage. Done thoughtfully, promoting from within is one of the best ways to grow a company’s talent.

If you–or your company–isn’t ready to promote consider alternatives: Create a senior specialist role, which would allow a top technical performer to progress but without management responsibilities; add new job functions to an existing staff member and provide a gradual promotion pathway without an abrupt and radical new job role; or provide a bonus or other recognition aside from a full promotion.

Even if your staff member doesn’t get the promotion, recognizing that you’re being a go-getting champion is, for some people, its own reward.

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Avoid These Office Gift Debacles and Holiday Party Disasters

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 07:30

The holiday season officially kicks off today – happy Thanksgiving!

To commemorate the start of the season, we’re presenting five of our favorite holiday posts from the past to help you avoid a similar fate, and even increase your productivity:

1. The 10 Worst Holiday Party Disasters
Stories of drunken CEOs, music-less karaoke, the worst icebreaker in the world, and more. Ho ho ho!

2. 10 Funniest Workplace Gift Debacles
Don’t miss the story about the office that was pressured to fund the CEO’s family ski trip!

3. 7 Ways to Wreck Employee Morale During the Holidays
Be sure you don’t make the holiday missteps that can send employee morale plummeting at this time of year.

4. The Ethical Dilemma of Holiday Gifts
Can gifts from clients and business associates cost you?

5. How the Holiday Craziness Can Make You More Productive & Creative
Workplaces often slow down around the holidays — but here are some ways to keep your productivity high and your creativity flowing (and no, they don’t involve excessive amounts of cookies and punch).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Ron Karr on Effectively Managing a Sales Team

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 07:30

I spoke to Ron Karr, who is the author of the CEO Bestselling Book Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way!  He specializes in building High Performing Sales Cultures. Ron also mentors select VP’s and CEO’s in the Chief Revenue Officer Mastermind Group (CRO). In the following brief interview, Karr talks about how to effectively manage a sales team, the common misconceptions about managing, recruiting the right people, incentives for sales people and more.

Dan Schawbel: What are the common misconceptions about managing a sales force?

Ron Karr: Typically, sales managers are people who are promoted after they became a top producer. When one is promoted to management, their role changes. As a top producing rep, they were soley responsible for their success and acted in a certain way. As a manager, their success now is dependent on the actions of their sales people. Often, these managers will try and make their team members act the way they did as top producers. The fact is there are many strategies one can use to achieve success. The sales manager should be more concerned about whether or not the strategies the team members are using are solid enough to succeed, not in demanding they do it the same way the manager did it when they were in sales. Their job now is not to sell, but to coach, identify gaps and help develop their team. They must also identify tools that will help their salespeople become more efficient.

Schawbel: How do you go about recruiting the right sales people that will stay with you long term?

Ron Karr: The biggest mistake people make in recruiting is they fail to benchmark the job. What does the job need in terms of behavior, skills and values in order to produce the results desired? When you benchmark the position, it must be benchmarked for the results you want produced a year from now, not based on the results you are currently achieving. New hires are brought in to deliver better results than are currently being realized. Once the benchmark is achieved you then need to use an assessment tool to gauge the talent against the benchmark.  Very rarely is any candidate ever a complete fit. However, some candidates are better fits than others. Assessments should never be used as the only decision criteria. They should uncover additional areas that need to be addressed in future interviews to help the hiring officials make the right decisions.

Secondly, you are best using an outside resource to help locate existing talent currently working that might be willing to change positions. You ideally want people who have experience in your industry and/or market segments. If you are a small company with limited resources, be careful about hiring someone from a big company. Big company personnel often have trouble acclimating themselves to a small company where they have to roll up their sleeves and do more with less resources. You want to make sure the candidate is a right fit for your type of business, environment and sales cycle.

Finally, make sure you have a robust hiring process that involves multiple interviews with different decision makers. Choreograph the questions based on needs and have the same questions asked by different interviewers to compare the answers. Multiple interviews allow you to see the candidate at different times in different situations. The more you see a candidate it becomes harder for the candidate to keep a mask on. In other words, you will tend to see below the warts the more you talk with someone.

Schawbel: What incentives, aside from money, are important to sales teams?

Ron Karr: Money is not often the reason people leave a sales position. A few years ago top producers in many industries were questioned as to why they left their current employer. Money was listed as number 5 out of 10 reasons. The number one reason was a lack of appreciation.  We have to stroke the top producers and make sure they are feeling fulfilled and appreciated. That does not mean you have to become a slave to them. Sometimes top producers become a cancer because they feel the world revolves around them and their attitude impedes others from succeeding. I have seen several situations and in some cases advised clients to terminate their top producers when their behavior becomes an obstacle. While the short-term results can be devastating, the long-term outcomes are far superior compared to other situations where the top producers are negatively impacting others.

Schawbel: What are some of your tips for managing an entire sales force?

Ron Karr: A leader must look at the whole sales force as an entity. They must identify the moneymakers who are going to blow through their quotas and give them the tools they need to succeed and then get out of their way. Those are the A players. The B players should provide a good return on investment (earnings, benefits, expenses). These players need to be coached and their actions managed to ensure their success. C players are marginal performers who either have to bump up their performance or leave, as they are not paying for themselves.

The biggest mistake is managers often spend too much time on the C players trying to convert them. Rather, they should be identifying the gaps, coach the C players and give them clear guidance. If improvement is not shown in a proper period of time, they should be replaced. The players management should spend their most time on are the A Players followed by the B players. They will get a greater return on their investment from the A’s and B’s.

The key to managing an entire sales force is to think and act strategically.


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How to Lead a Project When You Come In Mid-Stream

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 08:00

If you’re a new manager or team lead, you might find yourself charged with leading work that’s already well in progress. How do you jump in and learn what you need to know in order to effectively drive it forward? 

Here are three keys to successfully leading a project when you come in mid-stream.

1. Make sure that you’re clear on final outcomes. Rather than getting bogged down in process, focus first on what the project’s outcomes should be. Are you clear on what success would look like? Does everyone on your team have the same vision for a successful outcome? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” focus there first.

From there, you can look at whether the project plan that’s in place looks like it will lead to those outcomes.

2. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to sit down with the people playing key roles on the project and ask questions. No one is expecting you to come in knowing all the answers, and it’s not a sign of weakness to lean on team members to bring you up to speed. (In fact, what would be a sign of weakness is jumping in and trying to lead the work without first getting really familiar with the full landscape.)

In addition to project-specific questions that you’ll likely have as you look over the project plan, you’ll also want to know:

  • Are we on track to meet the deadlines associated with the project? Are we on track to meet the goal of the project itself? How do we know?
  • Have we done similar work before? If so, what went well? What could have gone better?
  • Who will need to buy into the project and our approach? Have they already been consulted? At what stage do others need to sign off, if relevant?
  • What might go wrong? What’s in place to guard against that?
  • What are the most pressing current needs of the work, and how can we address them?
  • What are the most pressing needs likely to be in a week/month/three months, and how can we address them?

3. Make suggestions if you have them, but don’t feel obligated to put your stamp on the work. Sometimes when a manager or team lead comes into a project midway through, they feel obligated to prove themselves by reshaping the work, even when doing so won’t improve it. Resist this urge if you have it. The most effective leads don’t mess with things that are working well, and teams can generally see right through this behavior anyway. You’ll earn credibility with your team if you’re secure enough not to remake the project just to establish your authority.

To be clear, you should of course make suggestions if – after doing the steps above – you have input that you genuinely think will strengthen the work. But if your newly inherited team already has things running smoothly, it can be a credit to you if you simply help them continue what they’re already doing.

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QuickBase Training Draws Customers to Boston

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 15:00

Boston, MA — More than 100 Intuit QuickBase customers and partners hid from the bitter Boston cold recently for a day of training and inspiration. Held in Boston’s booming Innovation District, the QuickBase Boston Roadshow featured QuickBase training for beginners and advanced app builders alike.

“This was a really successful day,” says event organizer Beth Wright, marketing manager at QuickBase. “Not only did our attendees get to learn from our in-house experts, they also had plenty of opportunities to share tips and tricks with each other and enjoy some great food and drinks.”

Just after opening remarks by Intuit VP and QuickBase General Manager Allison Mnookin, attendees got a sneak peek at QuickBase Sync, a new feature that enables QuickBase users to connect to and other cloud apps with just a few clicks. Sync is currently in early access, and is slated to be released to all QuickBase customers in 2015.

Leading the training sessions were the talented builders on the QuickBase team. From diagramming apps to building robust dashboards, attendees benefited from a range of educational options.

“There was definitely good energy in the room, and a lot of excitement in the room. I talked to a few customers who said they could improve their own apps right away based on what they learned here,” says MaryKate Gass, sales engineer at QuickBase.

On social media, that good energy was palpable:

[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "QuickBase Boston Roadshow!" on Storify</a>]

Want to hear about upcoming QuickBase events or suggest a city near you? Let us hear it!

5 Ways to Better Manage Risk in Any Project

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 08:00

Risk comes with any project, no matter the size or scope. But there are ways to not only minimize the risk, but to benefit from it, experts say.

If you feel like you need to issue nonflammable suits to your entire team because they always seem to be fighting fires when it comes to projects, it’s time to step back and reassess why the risk is always so high.

As Tom Kendrick points out in his book, “Identifying and Managing Project Risk,” there is always risk involved in any project, and some level of uncertainty. In fact, high-tech projects are particularly risky, he points out, because of the number of variables. In addition, such projects are often pushed to move faster than others even when budget, staff and time are scarce.

But projects that succeed, Kendrick argues, do so because their leaders do two things well.

“First, leaders recognize that much of the work on any project, even a high-tech project, is not new. For this work, the notes, records and lessons learned on earlier projects can be a road map for identifying, and in many cases avoiding, many potential problems,” he explains. “Second, they plan project work thoroughly, especially the portions that require innovation, to understand the challenges ahead and to anticipate many of the risks.”

If you’re ready to retire the daily use of flame-retardant suits for your team, here are some ways to effectively manage the risk in projects:

  1. Embed risk management into projects.  Charles Bosler, a risk management expert, says that risk is “simple” because it is “anything that requires you to make choices about the future.” While risk can never be entirely eliminated from projects, Kendrick contends, it can be reduced – often with “minor incremental effort.” Michael Taylor, an experienced project risk manager with more than 30 years of experience, suggests that the best way to manage risk is to adopt a process that systemically deals with the overall problem of uncertain events and conditions.
  2. Be specific. Don’t allow “fuzzy” or poorly defined deliverables, because that can lead to failure, Kendrick explains. “If you do not know enough to define everything, convert the project in a sequence of smaller efforts that you can define, one after the other, and perform reviews and testing,” he suggests. Taylor suggests using process flowcharts, work breakdown structures and even brainstorming to identify risks.
  3.  Communicate. Bart Jutte, a business analyst and project risk management expert, explains that project managers who experienced failure “were frequently unaware of the big hammer that was about to hit them.” The unsettling reality, he adds, it that someone did see the hammer but failed to tell the project manager. That’s why risk communication must be consistent, he argues. “If you have a team meeting, make project risks part of the default agenda (and not the final item on the list!),” he explains. “This shows risks are important to the project manager and gives team members a ‘natural moment’ to discuss them and report new ones.”
  4. Identify bottlenecks. Kendrick explains that when reviewing past projects and problems, look for the bumps in the road likely to occur again and then develop plans to avoid them. For example, budget and staffing shortfalls can often cause problems, so negotiate a budget reserve or extra bodies.
  5. Analyze.  Taylor explains that a qualitative analysis should look at the probability of a risk condition, along with the impact from that risk. Once that is done, then the magnitude of those risks can be assessed. This “weighted risk factor” technique is calculated as: WRF=W1*RFTECH+W2*RFSCHED+W3*RFCOST
  • “RF” means Risk Factor = (P+C) – (P x C).
  • The value for weight (W) is dependent upon its project priority within the triple constraint.
  • W1, W2, and W3 are valued 0 through 1.0 depending on the priorities of the project, and together must sum to 1.0.

Jutte notes that when project managers are examining the entire project, they can do a simulation “to show your project sponsor how likely it is that you finish on a given date or within a certain time frame,” along with a similar exercise for project costs.

Finally, risk experts advise that when assessing risks in the project, managers should also keep an eye out for opportunities.

“Make sure you create some time to deal with the opportunities in your project, even if it is only half an hour. Chances are that you see a couple of opportunities with a high pay-off that don’t require a big investment in time or resources,” Jutte suggests.


4 Easy Steps to Solving Every Problem in the Workplace

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 08:00

Don’t let the pricey management consultants know it, but there’s a four-step recipe that will help you solve almost any complicated problem.

This process isn’t for everyone. But it’s extremely helpful for managers who can listen to the person with the problem as a neutral observer, ask the following questions, then hold up a mirror so he can see you’re only organizing or re-casting his thoughts.

This common-sense problem-solving strategy is unforgettable because it’s so straightforward and simple. As a manager, you can help your team with this DIY approach—and you won’t even have to call HR.

The four questions:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What have you done to solve the problem?
  3. In trying to solve the problem, what have you learned about it?
  4. What’s your action list?

As you’ll see, your most complicated step is defining the problem, which after discussing with your management and your team, you realize the definition differs from person to person—as does the solution.

How does that look in practice? Here are a couple of real-world examples.

Pro tip: Sometimes a box of tissues and a cup of tea are useful.

Problem #1:

B., a highly respected middle manager, came into the office in tears. “This company is not family-friendly!” she said. “I’m going to have to get a divorce, and it’s all because of this place!”

Step 1. To define the problem, we talked. On Saturdays, both B. and her partner worked on site to close out the week’s business, while their babysitter watched their children. Lately, though, her department was closing the week just a little bit later. Meanwhile, her partner’s responsibilities at work had grown, and she was staying later, too. But the babysitter needed to leave on time. Ultimately, we determined that job and child-care stress was negatively impacting their relationship.

Step 2. What had they done to solve the problem? Both were staying later at work, and the babysitter had to leave at the usual time. Both had tried to leave their workplaces earlier, but neither office was enthusiastic about that. They tried to switch off weeks with each other, but negotiating the switch caused fights.

Step 3. In trying to solve the problem, what did we learn? We found that changes in both partners’ jobs created stress. B.’s partner’s job seemed to be growing, perhaps surpassing her responsibilities and earning power. We also learned the couple’s stress was contagious – to the babysitter, to each other, and to their children.

Step 4. We put several potential solutions on B.’s action list. First, maybe B. needed to try to leave on time – or pass off duties to her deputy. Second, her partner could do the same. Third, the babysitter could be asked to stay an hour later regularly, or perhaps they could find a sitter who could work later. Fourth, they both might need to consider switching jobs. Fifth, either or both of them might work all or part of a shift from home on Saturdays.

Takeaway: More than one solution might technically solve the problem, but which of them will work best depends a great deal on the people involved. Keep an open mind and, if possible, try more than one to see which works out best.

Problem #2:

S., a top professional and a linchpin of his department, stopped me in the hall. “I’ve just been to employee relations. I’m filing a complaint against the company about religious discrimination.”

Step 1. As an Orthodox Jew, S. needs to be home to light candles every Friday before sunset, and with winter’s onset, the days were shorter, so he needed to leave earlier. His previous manager, who was also Orthodox, had been promoted, and his new manager criticized him for leaving early. The department had taken on new responsibilities just as business was turning down, and his colleagues felt their jobs were at risk. When he left early, he said, they whispered about him.

Step 2. Trying to work out the problem, he told several co-workers quietly that he didn’t feel comfortable with the new boss, which didn’t sit well with them. He explained that they could leave early to pick up kids from school occasionally, and he felt his religion was at least as important as their kids. He felt his job was especially at risk.

Step 3. What did he learn? Complaining to co-workers was not a winning solution. Co-workers were sympathetic, but the business downturn made everyone twitchy.

Step 4. His action list: First, he made an appointment with his old boss to ask for her advice. Second, we agreed that he needed to talk directly to his current boss and explain the scheduling issue. Third, he would offer to “make up” the time by staying late or arriving early. Fourth, if it seemed appropriate, he would emphasize that he was meeting and even exceeding his goals: He would be clear that his performance was excellent, and that performance is measured not by time in the chair, but rather by achievement of mutually agreed-upon goals.

Takeaway: Some problems aren’t always solved by one big fix, but by lots of little ones. Any or all of the action list items might help, but all of them are worth pursuing. In this specific issue, managers should be alert to the laws concerning religious discrimination; make sure your company doesn’t run afoul of them.

Problem #3:

Z., a boutique content marketing consultant, called in a panic to say her business checking account balance was down to $218.31. She told me, “I am going to have to fold my startup and go back to the office job I hate.”

Step 1: The problem is money. Z. has one big client and several small ones. The big client slow-paid every time, and this time she didn’t have enough cash on hand to cover basic expenses. This financial insecurity made her yearn for stability at work, even work she hated. She also found it hard to think when she was in a no-money panic.

Step 2: Z. needed cash to pay for hosting her website, her credit card bill, and her part-time assistant, plus recurring business software subscription. She had called the big client to collect, but the client was out of the country. She tried to gin up some other business quickly but wasn’t having much success.

Step 3: Emergencies happen, Z. learned, but if every month is an emergency, there’s a systemic problem. Businesses need budgets and cash flow. Z. had run much of her business without a strict financial plan for three-and-a-half years, with only one or two hair-raising events like this one. But it was clear that she needed more than one big-money client.

Step 4: First, she asked her husband for a $5,000 loan to get some breathing space. Second, she committed to use part of the loan to hire a bookkeeper and make a strict budget. Third, she went to sell her second-biggest client up to a bigger line of business. Fourth, she conducted a long-overdue exercise to create her goals and a five-year plan.

Takeaway: Sometimes to solve a problem you first need to mitigate it: Give yourself some much-needed breathing space so you can tackle it properly. But having bought yourself time, do not waste it by dithering—get a solid action plan together and execute it.


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Giving Thanks to Colleagues Can Help You Get Better Results

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 08:00

With Thanksgiving approaching, now is a good time to think about how you show thanks at work. Showing gratitude to colleagues can build stronger relationships and help you get better results in your work.

After all, think about times that you went out of your way to help a colleague. When they made it clear how much they appreciated your assistance, didn’t that make you feel good about the relationship – and maybe make you go out of your way for them in the future? And if you’ve had the experience of helping someone who barely acknowledged your assistance, you probably wondered if your efforts had gone unnoticed – which isn’t exactly a recipe for enthusiasm the next time they need help.

But not only does showing gratitude make people more inclined to help you in the future, it also has a real impact on the relationship itself. People tend to feel warmly and positively toward people who appreciate them. It’s a lot tougher to get irritated with someone who recently told you how much they appreciate your work. And in some cases, showing gratitude can even set you up for long-term strong bonds – bonds that can be a reward on their own, but which can also have real ramifications for things like networking, references, and your overall quality of life at work.

Why not think about the coworkers who have made your work life easier and let them know? You can do this in a few different ways:

1. Tell them face-to-face. You don’t need to issue a formal thank-you note; it’s fine to simply pop into someone’s office to issue a thank-you. For instance: “Jim, I don’t think I ever thanked you for helping me with the Miller report last month. I know you stayed late several nights to do it, and your editing made a big difference in the final product. I was so thrilled with how you pulled everything together, especially the ending section, which I know was a mess when I gave it to you. You really worked magic with the language, and I can’t thank you enough.”

(Note the specifics in there. The more specific you can be about exactly what you appreciated, the more valued your thank-you will probably be.)

2. Send a note. So few people send written notes these days, especially in informal relationships, that doing it can make a real impression. If you take the time to write out an expression of gratitude, many people will cherish it forever.

3. Send a note to your colleague’s manager (cc’ing your colleague). If someone has done great work for you, in addition to thanking them, you might consider letting their manager know as well. You can do this about their work on a specific project, or you can write to let them know how generally ___ (helpful/talented/efficient) the person is.

This can pay off in increased recognition for the person, and is the type of thing that’s often mentioned in performance reviews and even taken into account when raises and other rewards are being considered. And if nothing else, it will make the person you’re writing about feel great.

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