management

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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How to Develop Positive Working Relationships with Difficult Coworkers

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At some point in your career, chances are that you’ll end up working with at least one person who is a complete nightmare. Below I detail nine steps you can take to evaluate the situation and work to turn it into a positive one. You spend a lot of time with coworkers; you may as well make the best of it!

1. Don’t take it personally. Even if your coworker’s wrath seems to be directed at you, chances are there are others feeling it too. If you haven’t done anything to warrant the treatment you’re receiving, consider that maybe the person treating you badly is dealing with some difficult personal problems and may not be intending to treat you badly.

2. Keep it professional. Your coworkers don’t need to be your friends, so keep any personal talk to a minimum and instead, focus on work and upcoming projects with them. Regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes, you still have customers to take care of and a job to do, and that’s the top priority.

3. Be a rock star. Your company still has things that need to be done and goals to achieve, so don’t drop the ball just because you’re unhappy. Instead, challenge yourself to perform at your highest level. This will benefit you in multiple ways: no one will be able to legitimately complain about your performance and if you do decide to move on to another job, you’ve built a great reputation and track record to show your performance to another company.

4. Learn their expectations and rules. You may not agree with how a coworker or boss does things, but if you can at least understand their expectations and rules, it makes it much easier for you to stay in their good side and have a more positive work environment. For example, your boss might require you to arrive 5 minutes early every day but show up late every day themselves; it may not be fair, but if you know this expectation, you can follow it. Rebelling will be ineffective, but you can have the satisfaction that they’re making themselves look bad and you even better.

5.Talk to them about it. It won’t be a comfortable conversation, to say the least, but sometimes you need to just hash it out with someone to repair a relationship. Even if things have gotten extremely awkward, it’s okay to say “hey, I don’t know how we got here, but I don’t like it and would like to start fresh if that’s okay with you.” Then make every effort to stick to that fresh start and leave the past behind. If they’ve been struggling personally, they may not even have any idea they’re treating you poorly and this makes them aware and gives them the chance to repair relationships with others they may be unintentionally mistreating.

6. Talk to HR. If talking to them personally didn’t work, or if the situation has gotten so bad you can’t comfortably speak to the person about the issue, try discussing it with human resources. While they may not be able to fix the problem alone, they can at least act as a mediator during your conversation and help you resolve your issues. Be prepared with examples of any mistreatment, especially if it could be considered workplace bullying in case HR needs to start an investigation. Also be prepared with a couple solutions in case HR asks how you’d like to resolve it.

7. Talk to others. Are other people having problems with this person? This isn’t a time to team others up against this person, but instead see if anyone else is having difficulties with anyone at the company or if they notice any patterns of how you’re being treated. Having allies can help support you and be there while you work through the problem. If no one else is having problems with the person, take that into consideration as well.

8. Take a look in the mirror. Are you the problem? Try to look at your situation from the outside; does the person you’re having issues with have a legitimate right to be upset with you? Did you do something to them that might make them upset with you, such as get a promotion, take one of their customers or put them out some way? When we’re so involved in something, it’s hard to see it for what it is, but think of logical reasons why this person could be upset with you, beyond that they could just be a mean person. Sometimes we’re the problem, not others.

9. Move on. Sometimes there’s just no resolving the problem. Perhaps your problem is with one of the owners or their family members employed at the company or others aren’t able to see the problems you’re having with the person. Or maybe for whatever reason, someone(s) at your company wants you to leave, whether you’ve done something to deserve it or not. Companies are complex and when different people with different backgrounds are forced to spend most of their waking time together, there’s bound to be some problems from time to time. If you’ve tried everything and are still having issues, sometimes the best bet is to just move on.

You may be spending 40+ hours in close quarters with your coworkers, so it’s important to have positive working relationships with them. When coworkers within a company are struggling, it can be obvious to customers and affect sales, putting further strain on your company. if you’re going to stick around, take steps to make things positive for everyone. If you’re planning on leaving, build yourself up to be successful and positive so there’s nothing but positive things to be said about you once you move on. You never know when you might need to go back across that bridge.

Poll: Is It Acceptable for Managers to be Late?

Is it acceptable for managers to be late to work? To meetings? To events? Sometimes? Never? Let me know what you think by selecting an answer and commenting with your thoughts in the comments below.

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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7 Methods for Managing Your Email Inbox

I was on vacation for a few days recently missing two days of work. I returned to 123 emails, and this was after notifying coworkers I would be out of the office, using an out-of-office auto-reply and unsubscribing from as many unnecessary email lists as possible over the past several weeks. Email can be overwhelming, unproductive and cause employees to stress about returning from vacation or even lead them to checking work email while on vacation, just to keep up.  However, with a system to manage email, it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming.

So for this blog post, I asked others about their best practices for managing their inbox. Do they set daily goals for the “inbox zero” goal of the ideal state of having zero emails in the inbox as often as possible or have other methods that have helped them tackle the beast that email has become?

Here’s the top 7 suggestions:

1. Handle each email just one time. “When I get an email, I may scan my inbox for an idea of the priority/urgency of an email,” said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn. “If it is truly urgent, and is marked as such, I will usually try to handle it right away, and this involves addressing its content thoroughly in my response, research, or delegation to another person. That way, I know it has been handled, and it can be put in my ‘handled’ file.”

2. Set times throughout the day to check emails. “If email is given a slotted time, it does not interfere as much with productivity, because it is usually a slot of ‘free’ time that it is allocated, meaning that productive time is spent doing more productive things,” said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn. “I have blocked out on my calendar three times in a day when I will review my Inbox for new mail. This way, I have set hours, and have been able to set expectations with others that all mail will be read and disposition handled by the end of the day.”

3. Reduce unnecessary emails. It is very easy to get added to email lists and quickly, you will discover that the bulk of your emails are from these email lists, not genuine emails from colleagues, friends or family. At one point, these emails were relevant but they can quickly take on a life of their own, overwhelming your inbox. “I take my name off email lists if they’re starting to send me too much,” said Lisa A. Nofzinger via LinkedIn.

4. Use alternate methods of communicating when possible. “Email encourages and promotes a ‘fire-and-forget’ culture of passing on responsibility and action,” said Paul Docherty via LinkedIn. “The key to effective corporate use of email is to break this culture and use email as a communication tool, not THE communication tool.” Using the phone instead of email can be the best option when an urgent response is needed. “If something is so urgent that it needs an urgent email, it would seem to me that the sender may even want to think twice about the email as such, and perhaps use it as a follow-up to a phone call, which will normally get immediate attention,“ said Joanne Young, MBA, PMP via LinkedIn.

5. Organize and sort using folders. “I have three folders (excluding the inbox which should always have less than 5 emails in it): Needs reply, awaiting response, archive,” said Simon Barker via LinkedIn. Upon receiving an email, Barker actions it immediately, reading and responding if possible, adding tasking emails to a to-do list and moving the email to the appropriate folder for managing as soon as possible. This helps him keep to his not-quite-as-strict 5 email inbox limit goal. “I also have folders for longer-term follow-up that help me manage the volume of input some days, and allows me to catch up on a later date if still relevant,” said Frits Bos, PMP via LinkedIn.

6. Handle it immediately. “If I get e-mail I instantly deal with it where possible, said Claire Wesley via LinkedIn. “And I deal with my e-mails on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I hate having millions of e-mails in there!”

7. Minimize email use. “Don’t necessarily look at your emails outside of [your scheduled time] unless you are looking for or waiting for something important that you know is coming,” said Paul Docherty via LinkedIn. “Mobile email is incredibly destructive in this respect. The continual interruption, distraction and temptation can really destroy your productivity. If something is so important that it needs to be dealt with right away, then email is not the medium that should be used to get your attention. People should understand this.”

Several respondents also mentioned not accessing email regularly on mobile devices because it can interrupt productivity and interfere with your life outside of work. “I do not let my emails and smart phone saturated my life,” said Vernita Naylor via LinkedIn. “Life is too short and should be enjoyed as well.”

The underlying theme of all of the responses were to develop a system that works for you, your contacts and your company to maximize the efficiency of handling email. What works for some may not work for other. However, if you have a system in place and stick to it, chances are you will have a better handle of your email.

What has worked for you in managing your inbox?

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

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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.