effective management practices

How Just 1 Negative First Impression Can Leave a Lasting Impression

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What kind of first impression is your team making?

More than 10 years ago, I worked at the front desk of a storage and distribution warehouse. It was a very small satellite of a Canadian company with about 10 employees. One day, I received a call from a large postage meter company. Since part of my job was to thoroughly filter incoming calls and only put through a very limited number to my manager, I had to prevent him from having to take any unnecessary calls.

I allowed the salesperson to make his initial spiel, but being a small company and mailing very little, we didn’t have a need for such a service and I informed of that. He continued to try to sell me on the idea, and I continued to let him know we only mailed maybe a dozen items a month. I’m not a pushy person and probably much more polite than I should be, especially since that was one of my first desk jobs. The salesperson was not pleased with my answer, so he hung up on me.

Yes, the salesperson hung up on me.

To this day, every time I hear that company name – and it’s a big company – I think of that incident and the horrible first impression I have of that company. And even though he was just one person there (who hopefully didn’t work there much longer after that incident), he was a representative of the company providing a very negative lasting impression. So lasting that I saw a competitor’s product at work yesterday and told that story to my coworker, and this is more than 10 years later!

Maybe some don’t think this is a big deal, but what if down the road, I decided to give them a second chance? And what if I had an issue with my account or their product which is bound to happen? Would they be willing to help me or would they hang up on me?

Conversely, had the salesperson been understanding and helpful, perhaps providing his contact information for me to have on hand if perhaps some day our needs changed, I would have remembered that. And if I had needed their services, I would remember that and probably would be much more forgiving if any account or product issues arose. I would also be much more likely to pass that information on to those I knew as a recommendation.

That wasn’t the only time I have been hung up on, but another experience goes to show how a negative situation can be turned around. I took a sales job at my next company selling uniforms to law enforcement. I received a call one day from a police chief and although I was being as helpful as possible (and polite), he hung up on me. That’s fine, I get people have bad days, especially in the law enforcement field. But what turned the situation around was that he called me back moments later and apologized. Yes, he was having a bad day, and no, I hadn’t done or said anything wrong.

While it’s important to provide everyone with excellent customer service, it is imperative to provide a good first impression because as my example shows, bad first impressions can last for decades. And negative experiences spread like wildfire, especially with social media and review sites. Too many negative reviews about a business can quickly kill future business or even put a company out of business.

So make sure if you talk to customers, you are always as helpful and polite as possible and instill this in your team members who talk to customers, because just one negative impression can leave a lasting impression and lose a potential customer, possibly forever. If a negative situation does arise, be sure to quickly respond to try to mend the situation. People can be very understanding and forgiving if you’re sincere. In fact, reaching out to a customer and repairing a negative situation can change their impression and make them a customer for life.

Building positive relationships in and outside of your company will make it a much more pleasant place,  and will also grow your business.

Tell me about your good, bad or redeeming first impressions of a company in the comments – I’d love to hear your experiences!

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7 Steps to More Productive Meetings

I’m not a big fan of meetings, but I also understand how important they can be. Meetings are a great way to share ideas, set goals, and accomplish large tasks that would be complicated to do over the phone or email. But meetings can also be very counterproductive if they are unfocused and lacking executable goals.

Below are seven steps that can help you make the most out of meetings and yield excellent results through preparation, communication and follow-up.

1. Have an agenda prepared. Avoid having the “meeting before the meeting” by creating an agenda covering all topics you want to discuss, any materials or data you would like the attendees to bring with them, goals you want to achieve and a call to action. Send a copy to all attendees noting anything in particular they should be aware of. By notifying everyone of the purpose of the meeting and intended goals ahead of time, everyone can come to the meeting prepared and ready to tackle your objectives.

2. Stick to your time limit. Creating an agenda will allow you to estimate approximately how much time will be needed to accomplish the goals listed so use that as a basis for the length of the meeting. If you are halfway through your allotted meeting time and still on the first point of your agenda, decide if you can still cover all of the topics within the timeframe you scheduled. If not, consult with the attendees on whether they are able to stay for an extended meeting, if they can meet later on to finish the meeting or if the balance can be handled by email or phone. Remember, the longer you keep employees in a meeting, the less time they have to complete their work and the more they feel their schedule has been disrespected. Keep it relevant, on topic and on schedule.

3. Timing is everything. If you work in an office in which employees work different schedules, make sure you are aware of the schedules of those attending as well as what time of day you are scheduling meetings. You wouldn’t want to schedule an action-oriented meeting at the end of the day right before employees go home because they won’t be able to act on the meeting’s objectives until the next day. Meetings right before or after lunch may bring distracted hungry attendees or slightly sleepy siesta attendees, so try to avoid meetings around lunchtime. Friday afternoons can be one of the worst times for a meeting because employees are distracted, thinking about weekend plans and trying to tie up loose ends before they leave for the weekend. Avoid them at all costs. Early morning meetings may prevent employees from being prepared—give them time to get settled in, check email and prepare for the meeting.

4. Be punctual. Since you’ve taken the time to set an agenda and a schedule, make sure you start your meeting on time. This is out of respect to those who were prompt and to you as the meeting setter. If anyone has not arrived by the start time, start the meeting without them and let them catch up on their own time. If you continually blow off meetings or allow late-comers to delay your meetings, attendees will stop respecting the schedule you have set.

5. Stay on topic. Nothing is more stressful to employees than thinking about all the work they have piling up while they are stuck in a meeting. What makes it worse is when others in the meeting go off-topic and the objectives quickly get lost. The meeting has quickly become deemed pointless and a waste of time. Be aware if the meeting starts getting off-topic and nip it in the bud immediately so you stay on topic and respect the time of the attendees.

6. Set clear goals. The whole reason for having a meeting is to discuss an idea, set a call to action and delegate which team members will work to accomplish the goals set at the meeting. Make sure each attendee understands his/her responsibilities and deadlines. This can be written as part of the agenda or created in the form of a checklist, but make sure each attendee has a clear understanding of what he/she is responsible for completing.

7. Follow up. After the meeting, send a brief summary to all attendees re-stating the purpose of the meeting, the goals, responsibilities and deadlines. This reinforces the goals you clearly stated and serves as a reminder of what is expected by all attendees. This also a way to illustrate the big picture of the meeting and how all contributions will tie together in the end.

How do you make the most out of your meetings?

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6 Ways to Encourage Employee Productivity

Every manager wants to have efficient, productive employees, but it’s not a simple task. Employees have different work ethics and oftentimes, companies can get so busy that can be difficult to monitor every employee’s productivity.

However, there are steps that can be taken to improve your employees’ productivity and once you have encouraged them to develop good habits, the rest lies in the maintenance. By following the steps below, you can build up a very powerful, productive, team-focused group of employees that really pay off for your company.

  • Lead by example: Employees have varied motivators, but for most, a manager who does not carry his or her weight is very demotivational. Don’t hold your employees accountable for working harder than you do and commend those who do. Instead, set an example of the ideal employee to demonstrate what is expected and to share your standards with your employees.
  • Communicate regularly and effectively: It is vital to understand your employees’ workloads so do this through regular communication. Set a time weekly to review all of your employees’ projects, set goals and determine a plan of action with them. If you are aware of what your employees are doing on a daily basis, you are more likely to get better results and hold them more accountable for their work.
  • Quantify workloads: Managers are there to manage employees and may not understand the realm of completing employee projects. Because of this, it can be complicated to understand how busy employees really are. Have them calculate how much time each project takes to complete and build a schedule together. You may quickly realize an employee working 40 hours a week has 60 hours of work, so a shift in responsibilities may be needed to even out workloads. This is also very useful for task delegation, so you understand which employees are able to take on more work.
  • Illustrate the big picture: It is very motivating to employees to understand how they fit into a company and how their performance can lead to the company’s success or failure. When you illustrate how each employee’s contributions fit into the company, they can work better as a team because they know how processes are connected.
  • Reward periodically: In busy companies with high stress levels, employees may begin to feel that they only receive feedback when they make mistakes. If they receive enough of that type of feedback, they can tend to dismiss any positive feedback because they feel overwhelmed by the negative. Make an effort to commend employees on a job well done and to let them feel good about their work. When they can maintain a positive attitude about their workplace, they are more likely to perform better, provide higher quality output and make fewer mistakes.
  • Minimize distractions: According to this article, employees spend an average of 2.1 hours per day being interrupted and refocusing. That’s a quarter of a work day! Allow your employees to work with as few distractions as possible by scheduling times to discuss tasks, encouraging a quiet workplace and keeping any interruptions to a minimum. Managers are interrupted once every 8 minutes on average, so by minimizing your interruptions to your employees, encourage them to return the courtesy to you as well so you can all be productive.

Read More About Improving Productivity!

As with any process, it is important to revisit procedures on a regular basis to ensure all processes are progressing smoothly. Following these steps once will not solve productivity programs for good, your program needs to evolve for continual improvement. However, once you have set the initial steps in motion, the follow-up will be much easier and you will find that your employees appreciate the structure and communication.

Recommended Reading

Helpful links:

5 Steps to Overcoming Disasters in Business

No matter how much planning goes into a project, sooner or later, something can go wrong and a minor disaster can occur.  We’ve all been there and you’ve probably noticed that different people handle these disasters very differently.

The way the disaster is handled can result in a very positive or negative way for the customer.  If you let yourself slip too far into what I call the “panic zone,” you become unfocused and unable to make rational decisions.  The panic zone causes stress and confusion and allowing it to take over will cause you to create a negative experience.

Here’s how you can make it a positive experience:

  1. Stay calm. Staying calm can be very difficult, but it is very important.  You’ve planned and expected your process to follow the plan so when it doesn’t, your whole mental process is thrown off, which is confusing and upsetting.  However, staying calm will allow you to make wiser, better decisions.
  2. Don’t focus on blame.  You may have noticed that for some, pointing blame is the initial reaction.  This is natural, but completely counterproductive for a positive outcome.  If you are wasting resources on blaming others, you aren’t solving the problem at hand which should be the top priority.  Also, if your team members are worried about being blamed, they are less able to focus on problem resolution.
  3. Focus on the end result.   Focusing your concentration on the end result will help guide your thinking to resolving the problem at hand.  If you can use tunnel vision thinking to block out distractions, you can better focus on problem solving and get to a solution a lot faster.  For example, if a shipment is late, focusing on how you can get it there on time will help you get it there on time faster than finding out whose fault it is for making it late.  That can be discussed once you are out of the panic zone and the problem is solved.
  4. Make it happen. If you have invested in resolving this problem, you must stay focused to ensure the solution happens.  Don’t rely on others to make it happen for you—this is your project so you need to stay on top of it.  Nothing is worse in problem solving than getting close to a positive solution then dropping the ball.
  5. Follow through. This goes hand in hand with making it happen.  Ideally, we want our customers to think that we never make mistakes and are always on top of things, but the reality is that we can’t always control situations 100 percent.  Customers generally are understanding and if you make the effort to fix a problem to create a successful outcome for your customer, they generally appreciate it.  Communication is key and it can make you look even better if you let your customer know that your focus is on making sure you’ve gone above and beyond to make sure they get what they want.

Reflection: It is important to acknowledge that problems can’t always be resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.  Perhaps they ordered a custom product that got destroyed in a fire and replacements just cannot be produced in time or maybe the customer is not satisfied with how their order was handled, even with a positive result.

There are situations that are out of your control, but as long as you have done everything you can to reach a positive result, sometimes you have to settle with having an unhappy customer or losing a customer.  It is not an ideal situation, but it is a reality.  The best case scenario for that situation is that your customer is caught in their own panic zone so there’s always the chance they will realize your efforts and come back.

Just remember that the reason you are in business is because of your customers so they and their happiness need to be your immediate focus.  Any internal factors causing these disasters should be evaluated once the problem is resolved to prevent repeating them in the future.

5 Steps to Incorporate Lean Manufacturing Into Your Business

Lean manufacturing is maximizing production with minimal waste.  It sounds simple enough, but many companies do not take the time to evaluate their processes to determine how they could be run more efficiently and this can severely impact the bottom line and cost the company hundreds to millions in dollars each year.

It’s not that companies don’t want to maximize productivity, it can be for several reasons including the following:

  • Management is unaware that there is a problem
  • Those who can make change are resistant to change
  • Management believes the processes are already the most efficient
  • Management does not revisit or re-evaluate fixed processes to ensure they remain efficient

Companies want to run efficiently because the more efficiently they run, the higher their profit margin, the happier their employees and customers are, and the more successful they become.  However, management and executives are not always aware of the minute details of every function within the company, only that  processes are being performed and production is consistent.

Here are a few steps companies can take to make processes leaner and more efficient:

  1. Document processes: The first way to determine whether processes are running as efficiently as possible is to closely review them and document them thoroughly.  Have employees outline how they perform regular tasks thoroughly enough that someone else could complete the task by following their instructions.  This will provide each step required and allow thorough analysis of the process.  The goal is to have every process documented to the extent that any other person could complete the task as it is written.
  2. Review processes: Once processes are documented, review each step to ensure it is executable by someone else.  If not, have the employee revisit and clarify any missing points.  Once clarified, start highlighting any steps that seem unnecessary or those which could be replaced by more efficient steps.  This is also a way to quantify processes by determining time and resources required to complete each task.  The goal of initial review is to find bottlenecks and unnecessary steps that can be eliminated in each process.
  3. Cut waste: Determine which steps are unnecessary and remove or replace with more efficient methods.  This can include authorizing employees a small dollar amount to approve for purchasing or defectives, rather than wait for their manager to review and approve or to authorize email approval versus signature approval.  The goal is to remove any unnecessary steps and replace with more efficient, logical steps.
  4. Streamline processes: In manufacturing, lean processes focuses on literally reducing the number of steps—footsteps—required to accomplish a task.  Documenting processes is a way to determine the “footsteps” within a process in order to maximize efficiency.  Once you have cut the waste from processes, they need to be re-written to reduce the number of steps and increase the output.  The goal is to maximize the efficiency of each process to result in maximum output with minimum waste.
  5. Review & improve processes: What works best at one point in time is not what works best forever.  It is vital to revisit each processes periodically, quantify the work versus output and determine whether a more efficient process could be put in its place. Set goals and benchmarks so you have quantified points to reach and a method to evaluate qualitative processes.  The goal is to ensure your processes are running as efficiently as expected and to determine whether further review is necessary to increase productivity and efficiency from each process.

Employees can become nervous when asked to document how they do their jobs.  They often feel as if this is a way to get rid of them and have an instruction manual for their replacement to follow.  This is not always the case.  They are tasked with documenting their processes because they should be the expert at it.  A review of their processes is necessary to keep the company’s processes streamlined.

In some cases, it may be determined that some employees are no longer needed because their work can be absorbed into another employee’s processes.  While difficult, this can be beneficial for the company in cutting excess expenses and maximizing efficiency.

In a lean manufacturing company, employees should have enough work to do to make them a vital part of the company, however, they should also never drop below a point of necessity within the company to the point of their position not being needed.  Employees will be most functional when they have just enough work to do to keep them busy for their shift, but not too much work that would cause them to be careless in completing tasks too quickly to complete the tasks properly.

Lean manufacturing should not be a one-time action—it is ongoing for continual improvement.    Think of it as maintenance after weight loss.  If you make the effort to follow the rules and put in the hard work to lose weight and reach your goal, you need to continue a healthy lifestyle to maintain your hard-earned body.  However, if you go back to your old habits, your hard work will be lost and you will end up right where you started.

However, once the initial stages are completed, with regular maintenance, you will be able to maximize your efficiency with regular evaluations which will result in smooth, efficient processes with minimal waste and maximum productivity and profit.

Managers: What do you wish your employees knew?

Managers are stuck in a difficult position: they are tasked with being responsible for the work of several others while at the same time, accomplishing their own workload and answering to their own boss.  In addition, they are held responsible not for just their own work, but for their employees’ work as well.

Last week, I wrote about what employees wished their managers knew.  This week’s topic covers the reverse–what managers wished their employees knew.  Once again, I received a lot of really helpful feedback and here are the top 6 answers:

  1. How to Communicate: Managers want to build a professional relationship with their employees and keep an open line of communication so everyone understands workflow and any potential problems.  Don’t assume they know everything that you are doing or problems you are having.  Certainly don’t wait until something becomes a large problem before letting them know; if you keep them in the loop, they are more likely to provide helpful feedback and provide assistance when needed.  “If you mess up, fess up!  If you come to me, I’ll help you; if you hide it from me and I find out…there will be disciplinary action.” Paul Simpson, via LinkedIn.  “I wish employees (on average) were more willing to speak up boldly when something is wrong or could be done better. It can take courage to buck the status quo, but it’s important that management hear and really listen to those views. ” Cheri Baker, via LinkedIn
  2. Understand Your Strengths & Weaknesses: Companies try to hire the most capable people to fill positions to get the best output.  However, everyone has strengths and weaknesses and unless your manager knows what yours are, he or she cannot fully understand the best way to integrate your strengths and weaknesses with the rest of your team.  There may also be things you really enjoy doing that are not part of your job.  By making these be known, your manager may have the ability to incorporate those into your job to make it more enjoyable.  “This does not boil down to things they are good at, it is more of the things that they love to do and can excel doing them.” Donte Williams, via University ofPhoenix  “Having the right people in the right places makes for a solid team and great attitude.” Eric Staton, via University of Phoenix
  3. If You Don’t Know Something, They’re Not Doing Their Job Right: Several managers said that if they wished their employees knew something, they aren’t doing their job as a manager and it is their responsibility to make sure their employees know it.  Part of that falls back on communication–if an employee is confused about something, managers want to know so they can help out.  “A manager should keep everybody informed as to what the needs of the job are and how they fit into the grand scheme of things.” Mickey Maguire, via LinkedIn
  4. How to Make Your Boss & Company Look Good: A company’s ultimate goal is to be successful and in order to achieve that goal, all employees regardless of their position must work to the fullest of their abilities, improve performance and work as a team to exceed expectations.  Oftentimes, it is employees, not necessarily managers who have the most contact with customers, their source of success so it is up to employees to make the best first impression to make the company look good as well.  “If an employee can anticipate and help their boss look good and show how to be a team player, then they will go a long way to increasing their own success in that company or just in their own pride and self-worth.” Tom Larkin, via LinkedIn
  5. Understand That Managers are People Too: Since most employees work directly under a manager, they can forget that managers have to report to someone as well.  This can put them in a difficult position at times, managing employees and having to answer to their own boss as well.  This goes along with the previous answer that if you make a mistake, oftentimes your manager has to take the brunt of the blame him or herself.  “I’m not holier than thou or an imposing force, I’m just another co-worker who happens to be your boss at work.” Paul Simpson, via University of Phoenix
  6. Self-Improvement is Vital: While managers should serve as an example and be mentors to help you advance in your career, you also need to make an effort to improve yourself.  Managers have their own responsibilities to tend to so they cannot always be there to help you with your own.  They are there to guide you, but ultimately, you are responsible for understanding your weaknesses and to follow a plan to overcome your weaknesses.  “. It is the manager’s job to have a clear picture of the needs of the employees and to help them grow, but it is also the employee’s responsibility to challenge themselves to grow.”  Tom Larkin, via LinkedIn

Comparing the feedback from both sides, communication is one of the top answers to improve work relations between managers and employees.  Both sides want improved communication, however there is a gap.

What are ways managers and employees can improve communication?  What have your experiences been in improving communication in the workplace?

Recommended Teamwork Reading

Employees: What do you wish your manager knew?

Every workplace has a hierarchy—there has to be.  Each role is necessary to make the company function.  But there is a divide, and this week, I decided I wanted to better understand one of the divides: employees and managers.

In everyday conversations with friends, family and coworkers, it’s not uncommon to hear “my boss has no idea…” or other things they believe their manager does not know.  So I asked.  And here are the top 7 things employees wished their managers knew.

  1. People Skills: The number one skill employees commented on was their manager’s people skills or lack thereof.  Employees want their manager to know what’s going on in their lives and to show an interest and understanding in the employee’s work.  Employees are not encouraged by the do-as-I-say mentality, but are more inspired by a do-as-I-do point of view.  “All relationships do not have to take on a personal nature, but building genuine mutual partnerships is key.” Emily Gibson (MCIPD) via LinkedIn
  2. Communication: Employees want to be heard.  They are valuable assets, know detailed functions of the company and have good advice.  They want their manager to genuinely listen, empathize and provide thoughtful feedback.  Employees want you to listen to their input and use it to improve the company.  “One of your biggest assets is the people that work for you.  People can make you or break you.  People can make or break a company.” Dennis J. Morgan, via LinkedIn
  3. Role Definition: Several employees felt their manager did not fully understand their role in the company.  Employees want their manager to understand what exactly their role entails, who all they are reporting to and how they are adding value to the company.  Employees also respect a manager who can be proactive versus reactive and stop issues before they become a problem.  Managers are not expected to be experts at what their employees do, however employees want managers to understand that sometimes what may appear to be a simple task can actually be a large project.  “While knowing all the ins and outs of an employee’s job may not be possible, at least management needs to understand that they might not be fully versed in how my job is completed.” Elizabeth Siler, via University of Phoenix
  4. Empower/Trust Employees: Employees want their managers to fully delegate projects to them without micromanagement.  If employees feel their manager does not trust them to complete a project, their morale decreases and they feel an inability to complete the project fully if they don’t have the ability to fully take it on as they know how to do it.  Employees also want to learn from managers’ experience to increase their effectiveness as an employee and to better serve the company.  Don’t be afraid to teach employees; they’re not always out to take over a manager’s job, they just want to be better at their own job.  “Empower/trust your people to do the job they are hired/paid to do.  Give them a roadmap of your company’s expectations, goals and objectives and they’ll surprise you in what they can achieve.” Dennis J. Morgan, via LinkedIn
  5. Manage & Lead: Employees want you to be a manager and a leader.  They want someone in charge who is willing to tell them what needs to be done and allow them to do it.  They don’t feel it is the manager’s responsibility to do everything, however they want their manager to take the reigns and help them make things happen.  Employees want their manager to be a role model of their expectations, not just someone who expects the expectations.  “A manager’s job is to lead.  To make sure that the staff below them have the resources, the direction, the strategy and the training to accomplish the goals of their role.” Tom Larkin via LinkedIn
  6. Education & Experience: Employees want to know that their manager understands the business, has the experience to do their job properly and the education to support their role as a manager.  They want to know that their manager is competent to have a general understanding of the employee’s job and the experience to make the manager successful in his or her own position.  Managers also need to learn from their employees to improve their own knowledge about the company and processes as well as to remember where they came from, for those who moved up in the company.  “I believe managers should always be hired from within or, if hiring from the outside, must have experience in the field for which they’ll be managing.” Patrick Lisa via University of Phoenix
  7. Toughness: Employees want managers to lay the hammer down and reprimand or replace employees who are not fulfilling their job requirements.  They want their manager to stand up for them and hold everyone accountable, regardless of their relation to the company.  “You cannot be friends with your workers and expect them to respect your decisions…Friends or not, I do not hesitate to lay the law down and if need be replace the employees who do not tote the line.” David Dupuis via University of Phoenix

To really meet employees’ needs, managers have a tough role.  Employees want managers to be personable, yet tough, but the main line to a balanced relationship is communication, solid leadership, and understanding.

Do you agree?  What do you wish your manager knew?

Responses from LinkedIn Answers and University of Phoenix PhoenixConnect.