Thursday, December 2, 2010

Change is good, unless it destroys you.

I love my job! I get to meet all kinds of people and hear about their businesses and how they're run. This, predictably, generates tons of ideas for this blog!

A client I worked with recently works at a business that hired a consultant to come in and "audit" the sales staff and review their organizational structure, then make recommendations as to how to improve things. According to my client, the sales team had been functioning fairly well, especially when compared to the other departments. Frequent concerns about communication in particular triggered the hiring of the consultant, however.

There's loads of great stories she shared with me about the audit process, but the short version of her story is, the consultant presented the company with a report following their audit with some suggestions for improvement. Among them was a suggestion to implement a complete restructuring of the sales deaprtment. Her company took the suggestion to heart and immediately began efforts to implement the consultant's recommended new organizational chart.

To their credit, in an effort to avoid layoffs, which had been looming on the horizon for months, the company shuffled staff members around to fit into the new org chart. This, however, created some strange situations. Some team members were placed in positions for which they had no aptitude, experience, or interest. Some team members were given entirely new job descriptions, and their old duties assigned to others. She described the process as “putting round pegs into square holes”.

In the end, there wasn't a whole lot of buy-in from the team on the new organizational chart. The team members had no part whatsoever in it’s design, reacted accordingly, and after much foot dragging the reorg failed to materialize as intended.

The moral of the story? Just because a consultant makes a recommendation does not mean you have to take it. No one is in a better position to judge what your organization needs than you are. Granted, you hire a consultant to give you a different perspective and provide subject matter expertise. But if the recommendation is that far out of line with what you’re already doing, look closely at the new plan before committing to it. AND you’d darn well better have a plan in place for it’s implementation -and spend some time and effort preparing your people for it before you jump into the deep end. Especially during challenging economic times. A major change can kickstart your revenues, but have a plan!

PS: John P. Kotter wrote an excellent book on change in business, “Leading Change” and I highly recommend it. Kotter details the extensive work that it takes to implement a major- or even minor- change to the way a company does business. It definitely takes more than a few e-mails and revamped job descriptions.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chaos Theory

The name "chaos theory" comes from the fact that the systems that the theory describes are apparently disordered, but chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data.

Is that kind of ordered thinking possible when the wheels are coming off at your office? With everything that's happening in the business world today- layoffs, a shrinking economy, impending inflation, social unrest, to name but a few- it can be hard to find that "underlying order".

But, to paraphrase Gene Simmons (my financial guru and proxy life-coach) if you're still breathing, you're in the game. Even when things seem to be flying out of control, step back, and assess the situation. You'll probably see there is some kind of "underlying order" to the madness, or at least options available to you, if you just take the time to look. In fact, the chaos that's causing you initial stress may be CREATING options and positive conditions moving forward.

If your department has been riddled with layoffs, dismissals, or key team members moving on to greener pastures, don't focus on the avalanche of new tasks you'll no doubt be tasked with. Instead, look for the openings, the opportunities. In the short run, you may indeed be somewhat worse off, but if you can find a way to leverage your new situation properly, it may actually be a plus!

Your new duties might put you in front of new eyes at your company, people in a position to help your career who previously didn't know you existed. Seize this opportunity to showcase your talents in the new roles you're asked to fill.

You never know who's watching, and you never know who your next boss might be. Focus on the things you can control, maintain an even temperment, and you'll make it through the craziest times to find that elusive "underlying order".

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Leadership Is A Mirror, And Yours Is Cracked

Did you ever notice that a team almost always reflects its leader, kind of like a mirror? This applies in business, in sports, just about anywhere one person or a very small core of leaders is in charge of a group. If the leader is confident, the team will be confident. If the leader is operating out of fear, the team will follow suit. It never fails.

Think about it. I’m sure you’ve seen this in action at your company or place of work. A Department Manager (let’s say he’s in charge of the Sales team) is obsessed with details, with following company policies and procedures to the nth degree. You notice that his staff seems to be filled with similar types. His Assistant and Lead Salesman are the same way, agonizing over every crossed “T” and dotted “I”.

Is it a coincidence? Nope. The team reflects the leader for a couple of compelling reasons. First of all, those employees that have a natural predisposition to behavior similar to that of the manager- employees who are also overly concerned with fine details- will tend to rise up the ranks as the leader naturally gravitates to them and their work style. “Hey, you guys re-counted the sales figures three times too? Cool!” he says. His priorities are centered around those types of behaviors, so in his eyes the employees with similar outlooks are the “best” employees on his team. They’ll move up the ladder much faster than those who don’t share those traits.

Those employees will be moved to the back of the line over time. They’ll get the message that their way isn’t the “right” way. Eventually the staffers who aren’t as focused on the “small stuff” as the Boss is will start to withdraw. They tend to stop contributing or do the bare minimum to get by. They certainly won’t be out there breaking new ground or coming up with new ways to do things.

Now, if the leader is operating from a position of confidence and strength, this can be a great thing for a business. If he or she is obsessed with finding new clients, coming up with new ways to do things, increasing revenues, or any of the priorities your business or group values most highly, that type of leader can bring out the best in his or her staff, cultivating even more leaders. But having a weak link in that crucial position can start a domino effect, rewarding actions you want to avoid altogether!

Without a strong foundation of leaders at the top of your organization it can be difficult to create the culture you want. Start with good people, let them do good work, and let them lead others along that same path! Be that kind of leader!

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to get your voice mails deleted.

I haven't blogged in a while. There, I just broke one of my main rules of communication. Nobody checks my blog (or any blog, or any communication) to see how long it's been since the last one. God willing, they check it to get the incredible content and insights that pour out of me like living water from Heaven. So never start a blog like that. I'm going to share some of my thoughts on business communication today.

I do a lot of communicating in my daily work, as I am sure all business professionals do. E-mail, text messages, cell phones, voice mail, social media, there are countless ways to communicate. Why, then, are most people so darn BAD at it?

E-mail is a target rich environment when it comes to infuriating communication practices. I constantly get e-mails from colleagues that go something like this: "There is a meeting tomorrow at 930 am for everyone involved in the Jones Project. Sorry for the late notice." This especially gets to me if the email is from someone higher up the ladder than me. Please don't apologize for calling a meeting, it makes me think you don't know what you're doing! And if you're in charge around here, that in turn makes me even more nervous. Just tell me when the meeting is. I will go. You apology does not lessen the inconvenience of telling me 12 hours before a meeting that there is, indeed, a meeting.

I also get a lot of e-mail retractions. Have you gotten these? "Please disregard my previous e-mail about the missing stapler, it was under my desk all along." And if they add an apology, it's a two-for-one sale! Less is more when it comes to most communication, and especially e-mails. We all get way too many of them as it is.

Voice mail violations abound as well. Never, ever leave me a voice message that says something, "This is Jerry Thompson. Please call me at 222-1155." If you aren't my boss, spouse, or the CEO of the company, I will delete that message so fast your head will spin. Please, please give me something to work with. What is the call about? When I return your call, what should I be prepared to discuss? Help me help you, Jerry. "This is Jerry Thompson. Please call me at 222-1155. I'd like to schedule a meeting for June 3rd." Or, "I'm calling about your help wanted ad." Or, "I found your missing wallet." Something like that. Those calls I return. Of course, the opposite is also true. Don't ramble on and on on my voice mail. A happy medium is what we're shooting for, just enough information to get me to return the call.

I won't get started about Facebook posts. Suffice it to say, only a chosen, elite few make it to my news feed.

A great rule I found somewhere advised to frame your communication thinking of 3 distinct phases: HEAD, HEART, and HANDS.

HEAD: What do you want the person you're communicating with to think about?
HEART: How do you want them to FEEL about this communication?
And HANDS: What call-to-action are you expressing? What do you want them to DO after getting this message?

That one works best for me, as it's only 3 steps and I can remember 3 steps.

The best advice I can give when it comes to communication of any kind is THINK before you speak. Or text, or type.

Sorry about that.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And maybe our bosses.

Fear is rising as a motivating factor in the business community today. The economic climate is fanning the flames, and many businesses are finding themselves being driven not by sound business principles and practices but by fear. Fear of layoffs. Fear of being fired. Fear of being replaced. Fear of things getting even worse.

The law of supply and demand is alive and well, and the supply of jobs is shrinking as the unemployment rate edges higher and higher. Employees from the top down are trying to maintain the status quo and do whatever they can to hang onto their jobs, and whatever's left of that dwindling market share.

A fear driven organization is going to have a hard time righting the ship. By their very nature, fear based decisions do not foster an environment for business to flourish. Nobody ever downsized their way to success. I see a lot of companies slashing budgets in an effort to "do the fiscally responsible thing". Now, certainly there is a place for well thought out budget reductions during an economic downturn.

But, it takes money to make money. That budget is there to operate your business and make sales, create new customers, etc. It's not profit. It's a tool. Money saved by cutting budgets usually isn't money saved, most of the time it's opportunities to make money lost.

A fear based business will make decisions based on short term "band-aid" type solutions rather than sticking with proven policies. This only exacerbates the problem. Stick with what works, change what doesn't, avoid knee-jerk reactions, and keep all channels of communication with your staff open. Let them know what's going on- however, don't invoke the spectre of layoffs unless you are absolutely sure it's the best course of action, and you have a plan in place for it.

Businesses that use the layoff boogeyman to "scare" employees into working harder usually find the opposite effect is achieved- employees are too busy sending out resumes and tuning up their networks they don't have time to make the extra effort needed at crunch time.

Scared people don't do good work. Don't add to the climate of fear.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Downsizing through attrition.

Webster's definition: "Attrition: a reduction or decrease in numbers, size, or strength: Our club has had a high rate of attrition because so many members have moved away."

Downsizing through attrition has been around for a long time. Somebody quits, retires, or gets let go at your office. Rather than replace them, their duties get divided up among the remaining staff, and it's back to business as usual. Sort of.

I can see the motivation behind this sort of approach. Rather than laying people off, you're reducing payroll and employee benefit expenses by simply not filling these new job vacancies. Why, in these difficult economical times it's really the proper fiscal thing to do. Tighten your belt, everybody pitch in, that sort of thing.

What kind of a message does this sort of staffing policy send to your team? I've seen this strategy destroy morale and productivity. Yes, it's better than layoffs, but in most cases, surviving employees feel dumped on and while they're happy to still have a job, they're not going the extra mile or doing the things needed to generate new ideas and revenue. People start doing the bare minimum... crossing I's, dotting t's and punching out. Going through the motions.

Rather than just dividing up those duties, I'd rather see companies promote from within wherever possible. If you fill your staff with as many good people as possible, you'll already have people in position to take on new duties and fill new roles as they become needed. Move that over-qualified guy from the kitchen to the sales team! See my blog post below for more on this...

If your situation makes it impossible for you to fill vacancies created through retirement, etc, with new hires, a better plan might be to restructure your staff when these kind of situations arise. Use your existing staff resources in new ways, rather than just dividing up old duties, or piling on more work on the "lucky" people still employed.

Move duties around, change focus where applicable, make lemonade with the lemons you still have. The old org chart may not work anymore! Create a new title or position, shuffle duties, and get all your tasks done in a new way that makes sense. You may end up improving productivity and morale when you go at the situation with a new perspective!

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Offices. Do we need ‘em?

A client I work with recently opened a new property. I’ll be honest; it’s freaking beautiful. They did a great job with the design. The customer area are spacious, and the restaurants and lounges are inviting. The d├ęcor reflects the region's southwestern influences perfectly. The back of house areas are well laid out and the offices are very comfortable.

But my question is… do we even NEED traditional offices anymore? You know, a little room with a desk, a chair, a filing cabinet, and a lamp designed for one person to work in? I mean, who FILES anything anymore? Paper? Are you kidding? That’s what google docs are for.

I don’t know about you, but in my line of work I’m rarely in my office. I’m in meetings, working on an event in one of our venues, or travelling to meet with a vendor or client more often than I’m sitting at my desk. It’s not like I stand at a machine press making widgets 8 hours a day. I do the vast majority of my work using e-mail, the internet, and my cell phone.

Really, I could do virtually all my work, well… virtually! Online. With my smart phone I can do 90% of the exact same tasks I do in a typical day at the office from, say, a beach chair in Thailand, or a barstool in New Orleans.

If anyone had asked me, I would have recommended a different approach to the new office solution. Rather than designing several small offices for one person to work in, I envision a “bullpen” sort of area. A large, comfortable room -equipped with wireless internet- and furnished with sofas, coffee tables, and comfortable chairs. I’d have some flat screen TVs w/ DVD players on the walls, and an awesome coffee machine. Better yet, a Starbucks across the street!

I’d also have a large conference room (to fit the entire department) and a small conference room (for one on ones or small meetings). Equip the team with smart phones and laptops and you’re off to the races!

Employees could use the communal room to work from, in a more stimulating atmosphere than a closed-off office or cubicle. This environment would generate interaction, creativity, brain-storming, and sharing of ideas. When meeting with clients or breaking off into smaller meetings, then conference rooms could be used. If someone really needed some privacy they could reserve the small conference room. Or work from a remote location... say, home?

I’d also revisit the idea that employees have to be physically sitting in their cubicle 8 hours a day in order to be productive. I understand that supervisors need to have a way to hold staff accountabl (and ensure that work is actually getting done) but I also think that unless you’re dealing with a situation where you physically have to be somewhere to do the work- i.e. the assembly line or customer service scenarios I referenced earlier- technology allows a great deal of flexibility in this area.

Hire good people and let them do good work. If someone's goofing off and not pulling their weight, fire them. If you have to chain someone to a desk so Big Brother can watch them and make sure they're doing their work, somebody's doing something wrong.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Drive By Management

Has something like this happened to you? You’re at a weekly sales meeting when the Director of Sales steps into the room. “Uh, hi everyone, I want to recognize Ted for his outstanding service to the company,” he mumbles, as he hands Ted an oversized coffee mug emblazoned with the company logo. The beaming Director of Sales ducks out, as the room erupts in confused applause.

Or how about this story a friend shared with me… A terse e-mail from The Boss is sent out department wide, calling for a mandatory meeting in 15 minutes in the conference room. These meetings usually mean somebody’s leaving or some other disaster is looming. Once the department is gathered, The Boss presents a completely deserving (and completely confused) employee with a plaque for outstanding service. Pat on the back, hearty handshake, end of meeting, everybody get back to work.

I call this sort of thing “drive by recognition". I know of a place where there were sporadic bursts of praise from upper management every 6 months or so. The boss would take time at regularly scheduled team meetings to present awards, gifts and cards to employees recognizing their work …for a week or 2. Then the confusing new “tradition” would end as suddenly -and inexplicably- as it started. A few months later the ritual would reappear in a slightly different form. And so on. I don’t know if their management was getting directives that “the employees need recognition, so gosh darn it, get out there and RECOGNIZE!” or what.

I absolutely feel that employees need to be recognized for their service. Sure, at the end of the day everybody works for a paycheck, but knowing you’re appreciated by your employer makes for happier, more productive people at the workplace.

Recognizing career milestones, work-related victories, outstanding performances, or even just “time served” can boost morale and make for a healthier work enviroment.
The trick is to make recognition a part of the company culture, and not a random sneak attack. If management isn’t consistent with recognition, the team will see through any “drive by” efforts to institute it at random. You’d be better off not doing it at all, rather than flying sporadic divebombing runs.

Sincere appreciation of employees on a regular basis is a key to good work atmosphere. It’s got to be a part of how business is done, however, not a band-aid stop gap attempt to boost morale that comes and goes as profits rise or fall.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Goals. How to achieve them?

Loads of ink (or bandwidth, here in cyber-space) has been committed to talking about goals.That's not going to stop me from piling on, however! I'm going to focus on one aspect of a good goal setting program- achieving goals. This is an area in which I've recently learned some hard lessons and eaten some crow, so I know of which I speak! Like my old friend Kenny Rogers sang, "Promise me son, not to do the things I've done".

Once you've got your goals set, how, exactly do you reach them? Of course, you'll have a plan in place, with clearly defined action steps. But how does one commit oneself to sticking to the plan? This is an area I've struggled with all my adult life- follow-through, commitment, long term plans. The answer, I'm finding is not sexy or fun. It's not a program I can download to my smart phone or iPod. It's the same way you eat an elephant. A little at a time.

Zig Ziglar says in order to make a change in your life you have to stick with it for 3weeks- at that point it becomes a habit. It's kind of the way that investing over time slowly builds up interest.

I had a new project that, despite my initial enthusiasm and complete belief in, was going NOWHERE fast. I just wasn't putting in the time to get anywhere with it. I started out going great guns, but over time found excuses to work on other, newer projects. Over time my original project’s momentum slowed, then stopped completely. This, of course,bugged the crap out of me. But not enough to motivate me to jump start the project. I would make sporadic, “drive-by” efforts once in a while, but nothing to really move the thing forward.

I got inspired by the analogy listed above, how creating a good habit works in much the same way that compound interest grows money.
I like money. Just like my financial idol, Gene Simmons.

What I did is commit 15 minutes a day to working on my new project. I mean, anybody can spare 15 measly minutes, right? I wrote myself a giant reminder note and posted it on my computer every night when I left my desk, so it would be the first thing I saw upon returning. When I got to my desk, I doggedly set about putting in my 15 minutes of work.

A funny thing happened. First of all, it quickly became a habit. I even started looking forward to it after a while. 15 minutes wasn’t so bad! I could knock it out and move on to other projects. And then I found myself putting more than 15 minutes into it on a regular basis. Soon I was focused and really getting somewhere with it.

This method can work in just about any area of life. In saving money, in physical fitness (15 minutes of yoga, stretching, or simple exercise every day can be life changing over time!), relationships (spend 15 minutes a day talking to and really listening to your spouse and see what happens!), anything.

The hardest part is the initial process of getting started. There’s no magic formula. Like the great Larry Winget says, “if you want to change, just change.”

Go for it! You’ve got 15 minutes to spare, don’t you?

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Should you hire an MBA to make BLTs?

I’m hearing a lot about “overqualified applicants” from my friends in the HR business lately. With unemployment on the rise, any job out there is now a prized possession, so competition is fierce. But I keep hearing about businesses turning away applicants for entry level or service jobs because they are too old, too educated, or too experienced.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that you don’t want to hire someone who is overqualified for a position in fear that they will leave for a better opportunity when it arises.

Isn’t that the whole idea? I mean, that’s why they call them “entry level” jobs. You don’t STAY at them! You start there, and when your skills and experience match your ambition you move to a better position, and so on, and so on. Who stays at the same low-paying entry level or service position for 20 years? Who’d WANT to hire someone willing to remain at the same low-paying entry level or service position for 20 years? Come on, people.

My motto has always been “hire good people and let them do good work”. I can’t imagine a better situation to be in than to be the head of a business surrounded by the most skilled, experienced, smartest people I could get my hands on, regardless of what their current job title or duties might be.

I say go ahead and hire that guy with the Masters degree to flip burgers if he’s willing to do the work. You might need a supervisor, manager, or director further down the road, and wouldn’t it be nice to have someone already on the books who could easily step into that kind of slot immediately? Load up your bullpen with the strongest pitchers you can get ahold of, and when it’s late in the game and you need help, they’ll be ready.

And if those talented stars depart for greener pastures before you can utilize them in a more meaningful position? Don’t worry about turnover at those lower level positions too much. That comes with the territory. Fry cooks and bartenders come and go, that’s how it works.
And what a motivator for your upper level staff to know the company mailroom is crawling with motivated, educated workers looking for a way up the ladder!

I know this system works, because I was that overqualified applicant we’ve been talking about many years ago. Here’s my story. I had been working as a touring tech and stage manager for bands you probably have on your iPod for about 12 years. I took a bartending gig at a big casino in my home town during some down time to make a few bucks until the next tour started. While I was there, their concert production guy up and left. While they searched for a replacement, word got out that I had major experience in concert production. They offered me the position, and I moved in without missing a beat. I am still there all these years later.

Hire good people.

Let them do good work.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Draconian internet usage policies are no fun.

How many of you have painfully restrictive web surfing controls at your place of business? Luckily, my gig allows us to go where we need to in order to get the job done. But I have heard many a nightmarish tale of woe from people I meet about power mad IT departments.

I can appreciate the need for internet security. Heaven knows the web is filled with viruses, hackers, and other unscrupulous individuals ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting web surfer.

But I’ve heard horror stories about hotel employees that can’t access hotel web sites, entertainment industry workers that can’t get onto Facebook and Myspace pages to check out new bands, and newspaper writers that have to jump through hoops, submit paperwork, & get multiple approvals from supervisors to research a story on their work PC!

I talk a lot about having goals and asking why, and situations like this just scream out for a good “WHY?” Like I said, at my work we can easily access what we need. It makes research and getting data a breeze. So WHY on Earth would an employer put barriers to productivity in place like this? The whole idea of the internet is that you can easily and seamlessly click from information source to information source to find what you’re looking for. When arbitrary restrictions are put in place, it creates a traffic jam on the Information Superhighway.

OK, that joke was completely lame. I apologize. Nobody calls it that anymore.
I can see employers prohibiting employees from accessing web sites that are clearly not work related. Pornography & internet gambling come to mind immediately. But while stopping your staff from visiting social networking sites might initially seem like a good idea (nobody’s updating their Facebook status on MY time, Mister!) you might actually be taking a valuable work productivity resource away from your team. YouTube and Facebook are actually 2 of the biggest and most frequently used search engines on the web today. Tons of businesses are getting into social media marketing, making these sites a valid and frequently used source of business information.

One solution might be to establish an employee social media policy (see my blog on this topic here). You probably have policies in place outlining how you expect your staff to dress, answer the phone, run the cash register, deal with clients, and interact with other employees in the workplace. Not having a documented policy for how you expect them to interact while representing your company on the internet can buy you some real headaches.

My policy has always been “hire good people and let them do good work”. Unless someone has proven themselves to be irresponsible with internet use, let them do what they need to do in order to get the job done. If their productivity falls off due to internet use problems, it’s a personnel issue, not an IT issue. Deal with it accordingly. In business today we need access to every weapon at our disposal.

Certainly, prohibit your employees from engaging in online actions that are risky –exposing information to hackers, exposing the network to viruses, etc. And clearly communicate (another of my favorite terms) what you expect from your team as far as internet use goes.

But micro-managing employee internet use in the interest of keeping productivity high can backfire in this age of technology. If you feel like you still need to clamp down tightly on what your staff can and can’t access on the internet during company time, maybe you’ve got the wrong people around?

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Why you need a Social Media!

If your company has any employees at all, chances are extremely good that your company also has a full complement of bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers, and other assorted social media contributors on the staff. You need to ensure that your loyal (and some not-so-loyal) employees understand what is expected of them in the rough & tumble arena of online social media interactions.

I’m sure you are aware that during business hours, everyone on your staff represents your company. The way they look, act, talk, and interact with customers during business hours is probably managed pretty closely by your company via employee handbooks, company policies, and approved procedures.

However, in the freewheeling world of the internet and social networks like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc, if you don’t make it clear to your employees how you want them to behave when representing your company, or talking about your company, you’re leaving the door wide open to a host of problems that can negatively impact your bottom line.

I’m sure everyone has seen the YouTube video uploaded by two Domino’s Pizza employees. I’m including the link here, although I believe it may have been disabled as it’s evidence in a court case at this time. Two Domino’s employees videotaped themselves fooling around in the kitchen at work, putting things in customers food, etc. then posted the video to the web. Some outraged - and sharp eyed- YouTube visitors figured out who they were and helped get them busted.

This example is pretty extreme, but you get the idea. Employees bad-mouthing the company, complaining about their jobs, giving away company secrets, all these are very real possibilities that employers face today. Having a company policy for social media may not eliminate these situations, but they’ll make it clear what’s expected, and establish what sort of consequences employee activities online will carry back at the workplace.

Much of what is contained in most social media policies is common sense, but you do need to have this stuff in writing. Especially when it comes to online interactions, there’s a sense of “depersonalization”. People think they have the "right" to express themselves online with no consequences when they say stupid things. I’m sure you’d agree that your company and its representatives must take responsibility for what they write online, using good judgment and common sense. By the way, if it’s so “common” why doesn’t anyone seem to have any?

Also, don’t overlook using social media as a customer service tool. Social Media pages are a great way to promote your brand and generate customer loyalty, but you can also use it to solve problems in real time. If a disgruntled guest Tweets a negative comment about your restaurant, you may be able to do damage control on the spot, and turn a negative in to a positive. You might even catch them before they leave the building! That would impress me. Include information on this invaluable aspect of social media in your policy.

And remember to include policies for using social media during business hours. If your company is large enough to have an IT department you may already have internet usage policies in place, but they may not include social media usage guidelines. Either way, make sure your employees know what you expect in this area, and what the fallout will be if they violate your policy.

Like I say frequently in this blog, clear communication and clear goal setting goes a long way in business and in life. Let your employees know what social media efforts your company is making, and how you’d like them to be involved. Some companies have a strict “hands-off” policy when it comes to employees posting at the company Facebook page, for example. Others actively request staffers to get in on the fun. Look at your situation and decide what will work best for your unique position.

If you allow (or encourage!) your staff to participate in company social media efforts, be sure to have them be authentic. Post using their real name, company title, etc. No lurking! Visitors seeing their investment to the company will get a better impression of your business and it’s commitment to it’s staff. Remember your staff is communicating directly with potential customers, existing customers, other employees, etc. Your policy will be unique to your business but some basics would include prohibiting racial slurs, inflammatory political comments, revealing unpublicized company plans or secrets, etc.

And be up front with your staff that company policies regarding interaction with customers and other employees in the workplace apply equally to online interactions. Let them know they don’t have a right to privacy when they are representing your companyon the internet, no matter where they are or what computer they’re using when they’re posting- at home, at work, etc.

You probably have a communication policy outlining proper use of telephones (even basics like how to answer the phone!), internet usage, etc. The same goes for social media use. Even professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and UFC (The UFC even trained it’s top MMA fighters in how to effectively use Twitter and Facebook to build the brand!) have social media policies- some extremely tough! NFL player Chad Ochocinco has had repeated run-ins with the league over his flamboyant and frequent use of Twitter, to the point where he’s considering just deleting his Twitter account. I’m sure the NFL wouldn’t mind if he carried through with that threat!

Fewer than 30% of companies in the US have social media policies in place, according to a recent report by Manpower. Yet the use of social media sites is skyrocketing. Every employee you have has the potential to represent your company to the entire world via their online activities. It’s crucial that you make it clear to them what’s expected of them. To fail to do so could have damaging effects on your business, and undo all the positive effects your social media efforts might otherwise have.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Meetings, And Why They Don't Have To Suck.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat. I do not hate all meetings. I just hate the dumb ones. Which means I hate MOST meetings. Now, there isn’t any sort of secret code for putting together a good meeting. It’s not like we’re splitting the atom bomb here- we’re just trying to get a group of people together for a defined purpose and achieving that goal. And getting donuts.

Like so many other things I talk about here, the first element a successful meeting has got to have is a clearly defined and clearly communicated purpose or goal. That pretty much applies to everything we do in business and in life…. Step one: have a goal. Step two: tell everyone.

Don’t be afraid to ask the dreaded “why” question. “Why are we having this meeting?”And don’t ask that question after it’s far too late, when you’re already trapped in a conference room, struggling to stay awake, and texting your friends “this mtg sux”, all the while losing an hour or two of your life that you will never, ever get back.

I’ve been invited to far too many meetings where the agenda was something like, “to go over our upcoming event”. “Going over an upcoming event” is NOT a goal! That’s what we have e-mail, text messages, cell phones and ICQ for. 9 times out of ten those kinds of meetings are called by the person responsible for the event, and are a way for them to feel warm and fuzzy about the event, sort of a group hug . I’m all for group hugs, but not when they’re disguised as a meeting I’m required to attend.

I see a lot of “old school” managers that love having meetings. I think they might be uncomfortable with the technology available to us in business today. Really, I’m not really sure why we even have meetings at all, unless the purpose of the meeting is for brainstorming, team-building or something else that actually requires face time. For the most part, e-mail, conference calls and web-based meeting software can cover most communication needs.

On the other hand, when done right, meetings can be incredible communication tools and an effective way to achieve goals that just can’t be reached any other way. Again, do yourself a favor (and everyone at your meeting!) and have a well communicated goal in place before the meeting begins. Focus the participants on the goal and you’re half way home!

Here are a few more tips for successful meetings:

-Have a clearly communicated goal before the meeting starts (I know, I know, but it bears repeating).

-Stay small if possible. If you absolutely have to have a large group, break them down into smaller teams to keep them engaged.

-Establish cell phone and text messaging rules. If at all possible, abolish phone use during the meeting. You can establish set times for attendees to check messages, tweet, etc. If you absolutely can't do that, you could find ways to incorporate their use into the meeting- have participants text or tweet ideas, etc.

-Engage participants painlessly- make it easy for attendees to express their ideas. Invite them to write their ideas like graffiti on large Post-Its around the meeting area, or write ideas on smaller Poat-Its at their work space and organize them at the meeting, etc.

-Have clear "next action" steps in place before you end the meeting. Just like you had a plan walking into the meeting, have a plan walking out.

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Jeff Mann

Monday, April 5, 2010

Should you allow cameras at your live entertainment venue?

Should you allow cameras at your live entertainment venue?

Once upon a time, back before the days when every cell phone was equipped with a digital camera it was pretty easy to keep guests from taking photos of entertainers at your venue. Cameras were bulky and easy to spot with even a basic search at the front door. Now most cell phones have high quality digital cameras bulit in, and many even come with video cameras!

The web is filled with bootleg videos of performances of all types, from small venues to major arena and stadium shows.

Taking all that into consideration, the idea of having a camera policy for your venue is almost a moot point. There WILL be cameras in the venue.

However, for legal reasons, and to protect yourself and your guests, you probably do need to have something in writing that makes your establishment’s stand on this matter clear.

As always, the first question to ask when crafting ANY policy is WHY. What is the intent of this policy, what goal do we hope to achieve with this?

Some entertainers have a policy where cameras are forbidden at their performances that you may need to comply with for legal reasons. However, many artists are taking a much more open stance when it comes to amateur photos and videos being shot at their performances. They look at it as free publicity, which makes a lot of sense when you think about the viral video phenomenon. Thanks to the web, unknown artists can generate incredible amounts of publicity by posting videos and music at You Tube and other video sites.

This type of viral marketing can also give your venue the same type of free publicity and generate buzz, while building relationships with your guests and the market you hope to reach via these new social media mediums. Allowing or encouraging visitors to record performances and post them at your venue’s web page might be a great way to generate traffic and excitement about an upcoming performance- maybe even hold a best video contest.

Naturally, you’ll need to ensure all your legal ducks are in a row, and get permission from the entertainers involved. Local acts might love the opportunity to be a part of such a promotional effort- imagine all the free videos they’ll get from being a part of your event! Natiuonal entertainers may have reservations about this type of activity so do your due diligence first to save headaches later.

Another option is to create your own YouTube channel and post all your videos there. After Google, YouTube is one of the most popular search engines out there, and if you don’t have a strong presence there, especially in such a rich visual medium as live entertainment, you’re passing up unlimited opportunities.

Remember to have your legal team create some sort of waiver that lets guests know they are being videotaped, and that the videos will be used in promotional videos. Some visitors may well consider such efforts to be an invasion of their privacy, so you’ll need to weigh your options carefully and look closely at your regular demographic before initiating a program like this. Depending on the type of venue you are, some guests might not want anyone to know they were there...

Make this new video technology and social media work for you!

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cash is king.

Cash is king.

When it comes to casino promotions, advertising, marketing, events, etc, the old adage is as true as ever. Cash is still king.

Regardless of what the results of your focus groups, surveys, and guest interviews may tell you, hands down the most successful events are the ones where guests get cash money.

Statistics might tell you that the most important thing to your guests is “to feel special”. Or to “feel a connection” or to “feel like a part of things” but the numbers show that the events where cash is given away draw the most people, and the most money.

One of the biggest draws I’ve seen is when the casinos send their players coupons for cash. Different tiers of players receive different offers, but they all amount to just about the same thing; “bring this coupon in and we’ll give you money”. The more you regularly spend at the casino, the more they give you. I’ve seen people lined up around the block, patiently waiting for their cash. Heck I've been one of 'em!

Of course, the casino doesn’t give you actual cash money, you get a ticket that you can cash in at the cashier’s cage, or put into a machine to play. Some folks do just cash in that ticket and walk out, but if you stop to think about it, these folks got ON that list in the first place because you know they put money into the machines on a regular basis. It’s a good bet that if you hand them a cash ticket while they’re standing next to a slot machine, they’re more likely to play it than to cash it and walk out. How could you apply this principle to helping YOUR business?

As the majority of the players are lower tier players they’re getting less than $20 most of the time. If they bother to come in and claim their $20 -or less- you just know they will play it, and then go into their wallets to play some more. And have a drink or two. And have lunch. It's really more of a short-term loan, if you think about it.

The casino is generating an extra visit on a day and time of their choosing -you can only turn in your “free money” coupon during certain time frames, of course. Naturally they choose a day and time frame where they need to generate more traffic.

This thinking can apply to any business, if you take the concept and make it your own. Insert your product, your biggest draw, your down time when you need traffic, etc.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Getting more bang for your training $

Did your company invest big bucks in sending you to expensive leadership/productivity training?

Wonderful! That certainly shows a commitment on their part to invest in you.

Here’s the catch; was there any kind of follow up once you got back to the office to ensure that you applied the techniques you learned?

A friend of mine had an experience like this that was very eye-opening and inspired me to share some insights on this all-too frequent situation. Her company sent all their top level employees- department managers & Executive staff- to leadership and productivity training.

By all reports, the training was excellent. The attendees learned a lot of effective communication, teamwork, and leadership techniques by working through series of enlightening processes. The training was very eye opening, and had just about everyone looking at themselves and their co-workers in a new light afterwards. Everyone was energized and excited about what they had been through, and all involved were eager to share their experiences and apply what they had learned. My friend’s company organized regular meetings for the training graduates to attend to share their experiences and discuss what was learned. As new employees went through the training they would attend the meetings and share their experiences.

At first the meetings were very well attended as the enthusiasm and buzz from the new experience resonated throughout those invited to the training. However, information about the training was not very well explained, even to the attendees. Most were simply told they were required to attend a training course, given travel information, and little else to go on. If they asked questions they were told that "all would be made clear at the proper time", which was apparently a catch phrase used during the training itself.

Evidently, the nature and purpose of the training was also not made clear to the employees not invited to attend, and those not invited quickly started grumbling about the "exclusive" new club. Rumors started spreading.

The principles of the training, which were excellent (from what I am told) were never followed up on when the staff returned to work, other than the weekly meetings. There were no directives from management as to how the staff was expected to apply the training in any specific way as it related to the company. Attendance at the meetings began to fall off as pot lucks and holiday parties took the place of discussing the training principles and its transformative effect on the attendees.

My friend tells me the training was literally life-changing for her, and she’s applying many of the principles in her personal life and at home. But there was never any direction as to how the staff was expected to apply the training to the workplace.

Did the company get a very good return on their training budget investment?
Has this happened at your company?

I've been lucky enough to be included in similar training programs at my job, and I'm happy to say we've maximized our return on that investment. One method we used was brainstorming the challenges facing our company as a group. Then, using the principles from the training, break up into small teams (4-5 people at most) and assign each team 1 or 2 of the problems and have them come up with solutions. The small teams are less intimidating than the large group, and we came up with more great new ideas and solutions than we ever expected. That's just one way to approach applying training to the workplace in a real and practical way.

When investing in your team through any kind of training, be sure to get the best return on your investment by ensuring your goals are clear to all involved.

1. Clearly communicate the nature of the training as much as possible prior to sending your staff to the training.

2. Clearly communicate the goal of sending your staff to the training.

3. Clearly communicate how you expect the training to be applied at the workplace.

4. Set your staff up for success by following up upon their return- ask them how they will apply what they learned to the workplace. Hold them accountable to apply the knowledge and techniques learned.

5. Educate the staff NOT attending the training as to the nature and intent of the program. Have the attendees become your own personal teaching staff, and have them pass their new knowledge on to the rest of the team. Make the training your own, and use it to bring the team together, not divide them.

As you see, clear communication is the biggest part of the battle when it comes to getting more bang for your training bucks.

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