Monday, December 12, 2011

Natalie Wood Uncovered

"Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable." --- George S. Patton

More than thirty years after actress Natalie Wood was found dead, floating in the water near Catalina Island, CA, the case of her death, which was ruled an accident in 1981, has been reopened. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's department wants to review more evidence uncovered by author Margaret Rulli in her book, "Goodbye Natalie Goodbye Splendour."

This is an interesting story not just because of all the glamour that surrounded Wood in her Hollywood heydays, but because of the evidence uncovered and that can be used 30 years later.

In your business, what will your past bring forth that might cause anxiety or pain? Is there an unresolved issue with a disgruntled employee? Were there bridges burned that might now need to be rebuilt? And finally, are there lessons from way back there that you can resurrect that will apply to today's challenges?

Let's explore all three with some tips on how uncovering the past might be a good thing. You might not find Jimmy Hoffa or Spanish medallions, but you will get other nuggets of value.

1.) Is there an employee that made threats or left disgruntled from your organization? If so, blow off the dust from his files and make sure that all of your documentation is up to date. Did he sign for your employee handbook? Did he receive training in areas of his job description? Was his I-9 form properly handled from start to finish?

These are the questions you want to ask yourself or your HR person. Obviously, you need to have all documentation up to date for all employees, but take extra precautions for those employees sending up red flags based on their actions or their reasons for leaving.

This is also a good time to ensure that all documentation is up to date on every team member. You don't want the past to come back to haunt you because you didn't take the time to do the simple things now.

2.) It is never too late to look up old contacts that may have dropped off of your radar because of burned bridges in the past. Perhaps there was a parting with a vendor over pricing issues, deliveries or just plain stubbornness on the part of both parties. Now is the time to look to see if that relationship can be mended. You may both be able to profit from a new beginning.

Maybe there is a prospect you gave up on years ago. Hopefully, you kept a good customer relationship management record and can call on him or her again. There might be a competitor you refused to associate with long ago. Look that business up and find out what they are doing. They might be able to partner with you on a project or perhaps they are under new management and want to send some business your way.

3.) Finally, what mistakes from the past did you learn valuable lessons from that you could apply to your business today? Sometimes, we forget the bumps and bruises along the way and bury them in the past. Those lessons learned the hard way are wasted if left in history. Take time to think about the stumbles you've had and use them to teach your team members. A good story after work or at lunch goes a long way in letting your team know what you've learned, how you learned it, and how it sets the foundation for your company's mission today.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy This

And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures survival of the fittest in every department. --- Andrew Carnegie

While the media is in a frenzy covering "Occupy Wall Street," and "Occupy Any-Other-City-That-Brings-Attention," businesses are moving forward doing what businesses do... making things and providing services that satisfy a need in the community, that creates jobs for people in that community, and pays taxes for public services rendered to that community.

For all the hoopla surrounding the brouhaha of occupying things, it seems that the interests of the public can bests be served by occupying the workplace. I'm certain that some of the participants of these demonstrations have some real issues that bug them, but as business leaders, perhaps we can help our team members to stay focused on real production by keeping them occupied with their calling of duty.

For example, a good way to keep team members engaged is to find out what it is that keeps them on fire in their work. Hopefully, most of this was accomplished at the interviewing, hiring, and orientation level, but still some employees may find that their reasons for being has changed over time and now it is time to help them find their groove.

If an employee was exceptional at one time, but now his or her performance seems to be going downhill, take the time have a chat with this team member. It may be some personal issues they don't wish to share with you, it may be health issues, or it may be that they are simply getting bored with their jobs.

There are three things you can do today with this person to help them find out what they are best suited for within your organization:

1.) Ask them what it is they really want to do. Communication is the first step in determining is your team members are content in what they are doing. Find out if they understand what the mission of the business is and how what they are doing contributes to the overall success of the company and how that helps them to be successful. Use this interviewing time to see where the hurts are. Jot down key words and phrases they use to describe their work environment and their job satisfaction.

2.) Help them to determine what it is they want to do. It may be a simple lateral move to a new position or it could be as drastic as helping them to find a job with someone else. Using tools such as the DISC profile as well as others can help the employee hone in on what it is that makes them tick and that makes them happy in their job and therefore more productive in their work.

3.) Place them into what it is they want to do. Don't just take the time to interview the employee and then not use that information to make productive changes. Place the employee into a position that is available and that suits their strengths, desires, ability, and knowledge. Again, you may have to cut this employee loose, but do so with understanding and assistance from you. Use this experience as a learning tool for you and the employee. Let this team member know that you want them to be successful and happy in what they do.

These three steps will help to ensure that your employees are occupying positions that propel them and the company forward.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Band of Brothers

"Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face." --- St Francis of Assisi.

There are five boys and one sister in my family. Three of us boys run our own businesses that are in entirely different industries. We have on occasion helped one another when help was needed and it always amazes me how well we work together. We understand each others strengths and weaknesses (though they would say they have no weaknesses--- Ah, the friendly jabs of a brother), and we adjust the task assignments based on our personalities.

The success of our projects depends on the harmony of our work together. Our working together smoothly with great focus and as one unit didn't happen overnight. Nor did it come about because we attended a one-day seminar on team building. No, this type of in-sync workflow happened because of years of developing an understanding of each others personality type, plus years of being taught the importance of hard work by caring parents.

Where one brother may lack a particular personality trait, the other brother picks up the slack and runs with it. If one brother slips, another is there to break the fall, pick up the pieces, or carry him home.

It should work the same in every business. There should be a "Band of Brothers" mentality throughout the company and the good news is that it won't take years to develop that kind of workforce. There are three things that you can start this week to develop a tighter, more harmonious team:

1.) Oh Brother Where Art Thou?- Open the channels of communication between coworkers and allow them to know each other better and learn how they can rely on one another. Shorten communication channels to make this possible. Encourage face-to-face contact whenever possible and drop the texting and emailing unless absolutely necessary.

Share job descriptions of employees working closely together, especially those who are holding another accountable or are accountable to another, so that they can learn how their work processes fit into the scheme of the business.

2.) Brother to Brother- Incorporate a personality test into the hiring process of your business and allow team members to learn who they are as well as who they are working with. Tests such as DISC and Meyers Briggs are good for determining a basis for knowing thyself. They are eye-opening tests that let employees better understand why coworkers act, react, work, and think like they do.

3.) Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?- Finally, challenge team members to seek opportunities for helping a coworker with a task. This is best started using role playing and mock exercises to illustrate the importance of picking up a brother when he (or she) is down. By allowing (empowering) another team member to pick up the slack increases the reliability on that person. Both parties benefit from the action. The helped, because he knows now that he can rely on another and the helper, because he is stretched while at the same time serving another.

They both now know each other through better communication and understanding personalities. The harmonious workflow experienced with my brothers can be duplicated by adopting the above three steps and reinforcing the importance of all three on a regular basis.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Great Expectations

"We tend to live up to our expectations." --- Earl Nightingale

The production factor of an employee shoots skyward when that employee knows what is expected of him. It increases even more when that employee knows how their part in the production process contributes to the overall bottom line of the business.

Here are four steps you can use to make sure that your employees know what is expected of them:

1.) Communicate what -- Whether it is a new hire or a seasoned employee, communicating what needs to be done is a given. It seems too obvious to even list here, but so many employers allow their employees to take off running without giving them direction on what needs to be done. The basic tool to explain the "what" begins with a well-written job description. Beyond that, employees need to have either a fellow employee or supervisor to serve as mentor until the what becomes second nature.

2.) Communicate how -- The "how" of the what can and should also be included in the job description. This too is a critical area that the mentor or trainer can train and educate the employee on the best practices to follow for the best outcome of the job.

3.) Communicate when -- Parameters should be spelled out clearly in the employee handbook as to when the employee is to report to work, the times of breaks and lunch periods, and when the shift will end. Beyond these boundaries, the employee will need precise and clear instructions on the time limits of special projects he or she might be required to complete.

4.) Communicate why -- Probably the most neglected and for sure one of the most important elements of communicating expectations is the "why." Communicating the why is so important because it gives the employees the sense of being a part of the cause. Knowing the why seals the deal for them in that it causes the employee to take ownership of the work process or project. It is the icing on the cake of the what, how, and when.

Remember that when communicating with employees, it is helpful to state your expectations (the what, how, when, and why) several times and in several different ways. I recommend communicating both verbally and in writing and then repeat the communication again over time using different styles.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Uncovering Talent

"A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said, "I love your pictures -- they're wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera." He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: "That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove." --- Sam Haskins

As the economy continues to heal from its scratches and bruises, we've seen business leaders getting creative in discovering the strengths and skills of their employees and the impact that has on the bottom line. We see the smart players rewarding those employees wearing different hats and saving the business leader from having to hire a new employee. But, we've also seen some leaders let the good ones get away.

It is estimated that a employee departure can cost an organization between 30% to 150% of their salary. That will put quite a dent into the balance sheet, but even more so when you consider the unnoticed and untapped talent that is also walking out the door.

Today we'll address five best practices for recognizing talent, getting them on board, and keeping them:

1.) Recruiting -- A new hire should be someone that has invested in themselves, made good career decisions, understands why they want to be a part of your organization, is an excellent communicator and a team player. Don’t hire quickly based on gut feel, but rather take time in the interviewing process to let the candidate get a feel for your culture and your company. Don't oversell the company and be sure to disclose all the problems and weaknesses of the organization so that the new hire can make a good, sound decision.

2.) Training -- I cannot stress this practice enough: You must conduct ongoing training in order to keep your team seeking the same objectives and working toward the same goals. In order to create a homogeneous culture and to have a continuity of messaging everyone, regardless of experience, needs to go through the same training process. Training and continuing education programs need to be available to encourage and stimulate professional growth. Training programs is one area where you begin to uncover hidden talents.

3.) Leadership -- Leaders can and should serve as mentors. Mentoring can include coaching, troubleshooting, inspiring, motivating and leading an employee to achieve success. Often, poor performance is indicative of poor leadership and can stifle true talents. Good leaders uncover and assist in developing real talent.

4.) Support -- Retaining talented employees is largely an issue of building a platform and culture that positions your employees for success. If your employees are not given the administrative, marketing and leadership support necessary to successfully thrive in their role, then you have set them up to fail. Talented employees, the ones that you want on your team, will not stay with you very long if there is not information sharing as well as the freedom to use their talents in a way that best serves your business.

5.) Recognition -- Recognition includes everything from compensation, working environment, advancement/promotion, ownership, participation, and internal and external awards. If your culture doesn’t reward your employees for their contributions they will close up their talents like a clam and not share their efforts toward your goals. Take time to offer a handshake (sometimes with a $20 or $50 in it!), a genuine "Thank You," a dinner for two, or anything creative that shows how much it means to you that they used their talents for the good of the company. You might be surprised how many other uncovered talents show themselves in the future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Five Steps for Handling Employee Conflict

Mark Twain said, “Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.” Too bad more employees have not learned to confess when they are at fault. There is no doubt that most conflicts would resolve themselves if this were the case, but since the opposite is true, we need to educate ourselves and implement best practices to be followed when the time calls for it.

There are five basic steps an employer can take to resolve dissonance in the workplace within safe legal territory:

1.) Acknowledge the conflict

- This seems obvious at first glance, but more often than not, the employer or HR manager may sense the tension in the office or shop, but with so many fires to put out, they usually hope that the dispute simply fizzles out. Inaction is likely one of the worse and costlier choices.

2.) Meet, Share and Agree

- Meet with the parties involved and have them list situations in which they must work together. Ask both parties to carefully listen to what the other says and repeat it in their own words to make sure both sides are communicating and understanding each other. This can take time, but it defines the issue and builds the foundation for resolving it.

Legendary communicator, Dale Carnegie, said "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." That is the foundation of step number two. Get agreements on the type of behaviors employees will exhibit in order to get their tasks accomplished. Behind closed doors, let both parties agree in the process and also emphatically let them know what's at stake: no one wants to be perceived as a trouble maker or as difficult to handle.

To some extent, expectation defines the result. If you indicate, by your actions, content, or voice tone, that you expect less than full adult behavior, that's what you are likely to get. Remind them that words, even idle chitchat, have meaning and consequences.

3.) Create an issue resolution process

- This fundamental tool for reducing wasted time spent on what is often frivolous quarreling should be incorporated into your employee handbook. Several templates to accomplish this task are available through SHRM and other online resources. Giving appropriate praise to employees willing to navigate this process within a positive frame of mind will divert the attention they get as either the victim or perpetrator.

At Delta Faucet, in Jackson, Tenn., it is understood that team leaders should not be involved in refereeing disagreements on the team because it takes time away from important tasks. Instead, employees are trained in conflict management and required to follow a specific course of action when conflicts arise. Perhaps not all companies have the time to invest in this kind of training, but having a process in place is an acceptable runner up to achieve the desired result.

4.) Focus on behaviors, not personalities

- This is a crucial tool that helps others understand that their entire person is not coming under scrutiny and that the challenge at hand is solely based on one or more particular behaviors instead. By understanding this concept employees walk out of meetings feeling engaged instead of defeated.

5.) Strike an open-door policy balance

- Encourage accountability and growth and let employees know that open door does not mean "open dumping ground." But also remind them that you are available to coach them on how to work through specific situations. This will give them a sense that they truly are your most valuable asset and will ignite a desire to self-arbitrate future challenges.

It's been said that conflict is inevitable and resentment is optional. Protecting your business begins with creating a culture that understands this and values conflict management. In addition to including conflict-resolution action steps in your employee handbook, be sure to clearly communicate that management or HR must always be notified of and involved in certain types of conflicts. Particularly those in which there are indications of physical violence, harassment, theft, or illegal substance use.

Conflict is not always the evil it is made to be. In fact, when teams learn to capitalize from this friction is when groups take positive action, reexamine decisions, and ground-breaking ideas are born. A good fire is impossible without friction; it is up to you and your leadership teams to funnel this friction into a catalyst for innovation and productivity.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's Not My Job!

How many times have you heard an employee pass the buck when asked about an unfinished project? Or, if not actually heard this from an employee, at least witnessed it expressed through their actions. This employee is limited to do their job barely to the extent of their job description and no more. "It's not my job," is their motto and it is this type of attitude in an employee that can spread like a cancer to other members of your team causing harm to your business.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to remedy the situation and to either get this team member back on board and 100% in the game or to send this person on their way to finding a job elsewhere.

"Too many leaders act as if the sheep.. their people.. are there for the benefit of the shepherd, not that the shepherd has responsibility for the sheep." ---Ken Blanchard

There are three critical steps that you as a business owner or leader can do to ensure that all of your team members are willing to give their all for the future of the organization as well as for their future success:

1.) Create Ownership -- It is a proven fact that your employees will be more productive, more into the game as a team member, and more on board with helping the business achieve its goals if you allow them to own their job. After you've sunk so much time and so much money into finding the key personnel for your business, doesn't it make sense to allow them to do what they were hired to do? If you have to babysit them and micro-manage every aspect of their job, didn't you mis-hired. You didn't really trust your gut on this one. You wasted your time and their time.

Coors Brewery had a strong union at one time. The union members fought with management for years for decent wages, good working conditions, and a chance to get supervisors off their backs. The tension was at a constant high day in and day out.

Then, something changed. Management began to treat employees with respect. They began trusting those they hired to get the job done. Over time, the employees of Coors voted to no longer be represented by a union.

Don't allow a union mentality to develop in your business. Once you hire a person, let them do their job. Provide guidance and help when needed, but let them own the job. If they fail, let everyone learn from it and then move on. Give them the freedom to work.

2.) Share Ownership -- If you really want your employees to shine, give them a piece of the pie. Profit-sharing or other forms of sharing of the business gives the employee a sense of pride that shows in their work. No longer will you see or hear, "It's not my job," but you will witness overlapping where one employee will stay late to assist another with a project. While on location at a client's business, I witnessed a member of the office staff pick up a piece of trash in the parking lot on her way to lunch. She took pride in the appearance of "her" business.

Sharing the company with employees gives them the opportunity to see how their work impacts the greater good of the business and that what is good for the business is good for their bottom line as well.

3.) Take Ownership -- Finally take ownership of your business. You probably have more blood, sweat and tears put into the business than anyone else working there. If you find an employee that can't pull their weight or won't do their job, it is time to re-train them or let them go. As my good friend Tim says, "If they tell you they won't or they can't, believe them." In other words, don't try to fight them if they are not willing to change. Believe them and wish them well in the future endeavors.

You don't have to keep an employee who does not want to be on your team. So many employers are afraid to fire an employee. News stories about lawsuits and employees with a team of lawyers scares the britches off of some business leaders. Don't let it! If you've kept good records, treated the employee fairly, but the fit just isn't there, send them down the road.

Monday, May 9, 2011

If They're Not With Us, They're Against Us

There is a lot of "team player" talk from management gurus and consultants like me. Our intent is to get everyone on board and believing the mission statement and living the vision statement. While the phrase leans too much toward a generality and is becoming one of those overused, outmoded phrases in the same vein as "at the end of the day," and "no news is good news," (particularly when used during performance reviews), the concept is vital to the success of your business.

Having employees on the team and really playing their part on the team, is crucial to business success. Most businesses can't afford the luxury of leaving a bench warmer on the team just because he is a nice guy or she is the relative of one of the owners. As painful as it is, and being a business leader has its painful moments, the non-performers must go.

Determining to make every member of your organization a true team player starts with a good delivery of the team's mission.

"We want passion for our business.. workers who can interpret and execute our mission, who want to build a career, not just take a temporary job." --- Howard Schultz

If you have clearly communicated the direction of the business, and continue to make that communication a daily priority, you'll either have devoted team members, or those who are not devoted. The decision then is simple: get rid of the un-devoted!

Employees answered a call when you were hiring for your business. They saw a fit and an opportunity to earn money, advance in their career, fulfill a calling, and a half dozen other reasons. They depend on your leadership to continually reinforce the reason for the business and how their position contributes to that reason.

There are three things that you can begin doing this week to either improve on or validate the reasons for your team members to be a part of your team:

1.) Dust off your mission statement (or write one today if you don't have one!) and either through company face-to-face meeting (preferred), or electronic communication, explain what that mission statement means and how it is one of the driving forces the propels the business.

2.) Do the same with the vision statement, but in this case, create a committee of employees to assist with developing the vision statement. Have the committee get input from all stakeholders including customers and vendors. Make it a company-wide creation so that everyone owns it.

3.) Come up with a company slogan that can be easily memorized. Make it a contest to come up with the best slogan. The winner gets dinner for two someplace nice or some other worthy award. Print bumper stickers or have coffee mugs made up with the slogan. Make the slogan have a meaning that incorporates both the mission and vision statements and what the organization is all about.

Get at least these three things started and watch a team concept develop. You'll begin to see cohesion and individual ownership take place. Yes, you'll still have non-players, but they will become easier to recognize. You're not getting rid of the ones who didn't participate in your slogan rally or statement creations, but the ones who don't believe in the direction of the business.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

3 Things We Can Learn from Charlie Sheen

We've probably all seen or at least heard news of the ranting of actor Charlie Sheen. Executives canceled his show, Two and a Half Men, after witnessing his behavior on and off the set. Some of the interviews of Charlie Sheen show an actor (employee) awaiting for show executives to come begging for him to come back to his job.

There are many lessons that can be gleaned from this, but three shout out for attention:

1.) An employee's action can bring down the house. While employers should take responsibility for their employees, there comes a time when you must sever the relationship. When an employee's actions away from work are not in line with the core values of the employer, it is time to make a change. The reputation of the business is carried with every person employed with that organization. There is room for change and forgiveness, but only if it is permanent and sincere.

2.) An employee's attitude can ruin a team. From what I've heard Charlie Sheen say in interviews, it appears that he believes he is the cat's meow. The top hat. The head cheese... you get the picture. He believes that the show cannot go on without him and that any success for the writers, producers, etc. was due to him. Attitudes like this can cause a team to suffer. Team members begin to distrust not only that person, but also leaders that allow that person to remain on the team.

3.) Outrageous activity gets attention. This third and final nugget is different from the other two in that it is a positive outcome of the Charlie Sheen circus. As soon as Sheen opened a recent Twitter account, he received a million followers the first day. Because of his mega-media coverage, whether good or bad, Sheen is in the spotlight. Obviously, you don't won't bad publicity for your business, but what about getting folks attention by announcing free lunch to the first 100 customers next Tuesday, or bring in a massage therapist to offer free neck and back massages from 1:00 to 3:00 (or whatever your slow time is). Create a buzz using your imagination. You don't have to shun off rehab, say that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult and doesn't work, and have some porn stars move into your house to raise your kids to get attention. We're looking for positive ideas here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Training Wheels: 3 Reasons Not to Train

I'm often asked, "Why should I train my people when they will only take all that I give them in knowledge and skills and go somewhere else?" Good question. My answer is always the same, train them anyway.

If you've put the time in for finding the right person and going through the hiring process (in some places, that includes drug testing, background checks, etc.), why not make sure that once you get them, you conduct continual training to ensure that they provide the best in quality services and products and the very best in customer service?

Here are the three top reasons most employers want provide continual training:

1.) Training is too costly. Actually, the cost of training is minimal compared to the benefits. With proper planning, a team of 25 employees can be put through a week-long training program covering most subjects for what it costs to lose just one client due to poor customer service.

2.) Training takes too much time. There are many training programs available online that can be taken at the employee's pace. There are also programs that can be customized to fit in or around the business' hours.

3.) Training won't make a difference. Studies from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), as well as from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) show that even a little training goes a long way. A receptionist trained on the proper techniques of handling calls can significantly improve the bottom line of a business. A salesperson with only a few hours of good listening skills training can lead the sales force in existing and new sales quotas.

There are other excuses given from employers, but there are the smart players that implement training as a business practice and continue with veteran employees as well as new hires.
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