Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The beatings will continue ... until morale improves

The past few years have been tough ones! Large and small businesses alike have had to make tough choices just to stay afloat. These company's and there employees have suffered through a variety of cutbacks such as reduced hours, pay cuts, reduced employer contributions to their health benefits, and having to sit by, powerless, and watch as their friends and co-workers of many years fell victim to reductions in force. For both the employees, and the managers who have had to implement these changes, not only is stress at an all time high but they are all working harder for less money. Across the board morale is lower than ever ... and it shows ... no where is it more noticeable than in customer service!

I have always postulated that ALL jobs were customer service jobs, and have held myself and my staff to a high standard regarding the treatment of our clients, our employers, and each other. With that being said ... when I am out in public, or at those times when I am the customer ... I generally will notice the quality of customer service before I am even able to form an opinion regarding the product or service I am purchasing! And what I've noticed lately is that customer service is at an all time low! The merchants and professional's go through the motions, and say the right things, but, they do so without passion and commitment, they are more interested in concluding the transaction expediently than completing it to their clients ultimate satisfaction. So how do we, as managers, prevent this from happening in our own company or department? Here are a few thoughts ...

Let your employees know they are the survivors... and they survived because they ARE the cream of the crop!

In today's market most goods and services MUST be competitively priced, few if any clients are paying more simply for status, so the deciding factor in who they do business with is going to be the quality of the service they recieve. Remind your people daily that your competitor's temporary shortfall of enthusiasm in customer service translates into an opportunity for you!

Devote a meeting to drills playing out semi scripted interactions with mock clients, engage in role playing, and have your employee's practice smiling in a mirror. This might sound useless to some, but, I have seen it produce results that vary between surprising and amazing!

Never miss an opportunity to point out an employee who handled a difficult situation admirably. It will help define the standard you expect from them all.

Yes I am For Hire!

Contact Rick Thomas at 239 896-7020

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The changing face of social media and SEO

I have always had an eye for uncommon tactics and methods that might provide even the slightest advantage in any endeavor I pursue. I am competitive by nature, and analytical to the point of social awkwardness. This doesn't just apply to business and professional interests, but, to any challenge I've encountered throughout my life. If there was an edge to be garnered, even a slight one, I would always investigate and evaluate the extent to which these " outside the box " tactics could be put to use. That being the case ... I must confess, it appears, I didn't appreciate as early on as I should have the impending impact of social media or search engine optimization on marketing strategies in today's world!

In 1997 I don't think I'd ever heard the term " social media ", although I was beginning to grasp the concept. That was the year I, and a number of my friends, got our first pc's, and we really had no idea what to do with it! We could do research, email each other, trade pictures, join clubs, even shop a little if we wanted ... though relatively few did ( in my circle at least ). For the most part everything we did online was for entertainment. There were even a number of sites where one could find " Love " through online dating, and it was through a friends experience on one of these sites that I got my first glimpse of the marketing potential of the internet!

My friend had no girlfriend and was actively looking for one, he had signed up for several of the most popular dating sites and was quite optimistic that in no time someone would answer his ad, and that might be the start of something good! However after several weeks ... not one reply! By this time he had decided he needed to post a picture and that would make a difference ... so he posted a pic and waited... several weeks went by and still no reply! Now his confidence was sagging a bit, but, he didn't give up ... he went through and added more details about himself to the profile, one of the things he included was that he usually worked weekends doing drywall repairs and painting, within a few days he was talking to a number of gals ... and they all wanted him to come by and do some work for them! It was at this point that the power of social media first showed up on my radar. I was amazed at the results, and I saw the potential, but failed to follow up on making it work for me ... to this very day it perplexes me as to how I could have not recognized the internet was about to become a major marketplace!

So here we are in 2010 ... and social media rules the roost! Newspapers are scrambling to find their niche on the net, the folks who buy papers are looking for crossword puzzles and the cartoon section, not ads and coupons. The number of businesses buying space in the yellow pages is dropping rapidly as well. Today we get our info off our computers, even a 7 year old knows if you want to know the answer to something ... you " google it "! With every business in the world looking to reach their customers on the net the most important factor for drawing those clients to their door is often where they are positioned in the google rankings! Search engine optimization ( SEO ) is quickly becoming the determining factor in who will dominate local markets for the foreseeable future. The writing is on the wall and we can't afford to ignore it any longer, as business people we are going to have to adapt our approach to marketing or be left behind.

Yes I am For Hire!

Contact Rick Thomas at 239 896-7020

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tips for enhancing leadership skills

There is a huge difference between being " the leader " as opposed to being " a leader "! If you own a business or run a department or oversee and direct the actions of your employees ... it is reasonable to say that you are, in fact, the leader. There are also people in your sphere of influence, if not right in your company, who despite the fact it is not in their job description and regardless of authority or qualification workers will seek out for answers, advice, and inspiration. These are the people I would call " a leader "! I'd wager just about everybody knows one of these people, and what makes them who and what they are has little to do with their station in life, their education, or how successful they are ... it's about how they relate to people. They bring out the best in everybody around them ... not because their associates have to, but because they want to!

Leadership is a somewhat unique quality in that the only way to truly measure it is by the extent to which others are willing to follow, and even that is difficult to quantify. Furthermore, the traits and quality's that make someone a good leader are often different things to different people. That being said, there are a few aspects of leadership that are universal, and the more we are able to integrate these principles into our managerial style, the more likely it is that our employees will respond optimally to our direction.

Accountability: We've all seen the guy who as soon as something goes wrong he starts looking around for someone to blame! As a manager you certainly own at least part of the blame for any thing that goes wrong in your department. Go ahead and take the blame right from the start, then move on to correcting the situation.

Communicate: Don't just talk to your people ... talk with them. If you aren't willing to listen to them, chances are they will be less willing to listen to you. Go beyond " just " listening ... ask questions and try to understand their ideas. This goes a long way toward developing a team mentality.

Praise: Actively seek out something positive to say about the job everyone you supervise is doing. Whenever possible praise them in front of other employees, clients, or managers ... nobody does any better of a job than a man who takes pride in his work!

Support: There are times when we can all be overwhelmed by our workload, if someone needs a little help to get over the hump ... roll up your sleeves and jump right in. Often enough lightening their load even by a small margin will completely change your employees view what they are able to handle, and at those times when you need to ask them to go the extra mile for you they will be happy to return the favor. Also under the category of " support " I would add ... stand up for your people ... never let anything negative be said by another employee or even another manager without good reason. By defending them you show that not only are they on your team, but that, you are on their team as well!

Reward: Raises and bonuses are great, but, in these troubled economic times they are not always possible. Still their are other ways to reward your employees and make them feel appreciated. Anytime you receive an email or letter commending them for a job well done, let them know you're putting a copy in their file and that the next time raises come around it will be part of what is considered. Take your team out to lunch, and don't turn it in to a meeting, just let it be a token of your appreciation. Start an employee of the month program or give out small awards semi regularly for exceptional performance.

These are just a few ideas for showing your people your confidence and appreciation for them. By incorporating these practices into your day to day managerial habits you will see their defenses drop, their productivity rise, and their confidence in, and appreciation for you will double ... I've seen it happen! You will be the kind of person they want to follow ... and not just the guy they have to!

Yes I am For Hire!

Contact Rick Thomas at 239 896-7020

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The missing ingredient

Whether you own your own company or manage a department for someone else there will always be an overwhelming number of tasks that will fall in your lap on any given week. Most managers will be regularly, in widely varying degrees, finding themselves writing proposals, answering phones, pulling and refiling files, requesting and overseeing budgets, handling payroll issues, ordering supplies, making copies, attending meetings ... on and on. Even the best of multi-taskers often find themselves bogged down with their paperwork, and are left with a relatively small amount of time to interact with their employees. It seems to me that for many of us the desk work is a " comfort zone " and that isn't necessarily surprising ... in college we had homework, tests, notebooks, essays and reports. If you're working for a company where you've worked your way up from the bottom you probably set yourself apart from the crowd with attention to detail and getting your projects completed on time. Anybody who has started their own company had had to deal with mountains of forms, licenses, insurance and whatever other kind of business specific contract and marketing materials were required. No matter what road led you to be where you are today ... it's a safe bet that road ran through a lot of paper!

What is amazing to me is, when I ask a business owner or a manager " what are you working on? " or " what are you planning for next week? " the answer is almost invariably a propsal, or a permit, or some other form of desk work! It's a rare occasion that they will even speak of their employees! On those occasions where I thought I was discussing management, and the other party starts talking paperwork, I have had to learn to bite my tongue ... the first thing that wants to jump out of my mouth is " ... it sounds like as a manager ... you make a pretty good clerk " ( I have used this phrase often enough to have regretted it a few times ), and while no one has ever liked hearing those words, it has often sparked some great discussion/debate. I know that deskwork will always be part of what managers do ... we should not, however, allow it to become our primary focus!

What I DO feel should be our primary focus is LEADERSHIP! We've all heard and used the phrase " natural born leader ", and there are those people. But for the rest of us acquiring leadership skills requires time and practice, trial and error, but it can be done. No matter who you are, or how knowledgeable or skilled you are as a manager, you are just one person. To be the best manager possible for your company you need to look to the future, determine what will be required of your personnel at that point for optimum results, and then actively lead them into the challenges that await them fully prepared! That is the ideal we should aspire to! This is the essence of management!

Yes I am For Hire!

Contact Rick Thomas at 239 896-7020

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Anything worth doing ...

I have a natural propensity for just opening my mouth and letting the words fly! It's a mixed blessing, a sword that cuts both ways, but, that's how it is. While there have been times that I spoke too quickly and ended up with my foot in my mouth ... there have also been times where a milisecond of inspiration led to remarkable insight, discovery, awareness. It occurs to me that one story in particular is a perfect jump off point for " The Outside the Box Manager"!

I spent a significant part of the 90's working as a Realtor. I worked for a great company that was generous with their commisions, invested heavily in marketing, nurtured an all for one... one for all attitude amongst their team members, and offered top notch training! A fantastic environment for a newcomer to start a career in Real Estate! The broker for this firm was an educator by nature ... he delighted in teaching the new agents, and seeing the light come on in their eyes as they grasped a new aspect of marketing, or seeing their confidence grow as they got their first listing, sold their first house ... or made it through their first closing. The emphasis on training was heavy and ongoing, but, it paid big dividends!

It was at one such training session, wherein the Broker was trying to make a point about diligence... and striving for perfection in writing ads for our listings, when he hung a question out for all of us in the room ... " Anything worth doing ... is worth doing .... ... How? ". It was obvious he wanted one or all of us to say ... WELL!!! The rest of our group just kind of sat there, so I opened my mouth to give him the answer he wanted, but at the very last second I changed my mind and said loud enough for all to hear ... " POORLY! ". The dismay on this brokers face was overwhelming ... not only had I disrupted his meeting, I'd given him reason to doubt my very sanity. And to make matters worse ... I just sat there grinning at him! He managed to stutter and stammer out " ... no ... anything worth doing is worth doing well ... how can you say do it poorly "?

I still couldn't stop grinning, but I did manage a few backward verbal steps and explained ... " of course anything worth doing is worth doing well. However I would submit that, for the most part, anything worth doing is ALSO worth doing poorly. When a baby is learning to walk he doesn't do it well, in fact he's going to fall a number of times before he gets it right. When we're learning to dance we usually start off awkward and slowly progress toward gracefulness. Anybody who ever became a great cook probably took a lesson from a badly burned supper somewhere along the way ... in all these examples the first time wasn't done well, but, it WAS WORTH DOING "! I had to sit there and sweat for a second or two until ( thankfully ) one of the other Realtors at the table jumped in and said " that kind of sums up my first hundred or so cold calls ... ", followed by another who related it to his first listing presentation. It turned out that most of the participants in the meeting ( Broker included ) could relate to my offbeat interpretation of the old adage on some level.

I couldn't fix the fact that I had disrupted his plan for the meeting, but at least I managed to convince him that I hadn't lost my mind. And the little side trail I directed us to, off the path he was leading us down, proved to be a thought provoking and refreshing glimpse from outside the box.

Yes I am For Hire!

Contact Rick Thomas at 239 896-7020