Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to maintain appropriate office humor
In a previous blog post, we discussed that appropriate office humor relieves stress, enhances creativity and creates happier employees. However, the term appropriate is different to everyone. What seems innocent and funny to one person may be extremely offensive to another. While fostering a jovial environment is important to fostering a “team that plays together stays together” attitude, as a leader it is your responsibility to ensure that the culture doesn’t evolve into an acceptance of offensive comments.

Here are ways to create a light-hearted, yet appropriate, working environment for your team.

Set the tone. It is important that there are guidelines in place so that employees understand what is expected of their work behavior. Check with your human resources department to see where these documents are located and share them with your employees. Guidelines should list examples of appropriate and inappropriate comments and the policies your company has in place to address any issues.

Respond appropriately. Pay attention to team dynamics and take note of non-verbal cues to signify that an employee is uncomfortable in a situation. Monitor jokes and conversation and gently step in if the topic is veering toward sensitive issues. Remind your team that your door is always open to discuss any concerns and encourage them to contact your human resources department.

Inspire others. Let your actions be a positive example to your team and never engage in sensitive subject conversations. Rather than stepping out when your team begins joking around, join them and be a positive example of appropriate conversation.

What is the most challenging aspect of ensuring that office humor doesn’t cross the line?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Management: Ready for anything

By Harry Dennis for BizTimes Milwaukee 

Something happened to me recently on the job that was totally unexpected and very disappointing.

Each one of us in business will eventually face what I call a, “reversal of the expected.”  This month, I’d like to share some experiences I’ve seen in TEC over the years involving the unexpected. But with good thinking and action, you can often salvage a bad situation.

An old pilot adage remains true today, whether you’re flying a Piper Cub or a Boeing 747. It says that when the unexpected occurs, maintain the aircraft control at all costs, analyze the situation and take the appropriate action.

That applies to business, too.

When the unexpected occurs, look at the bigger picture, analyze the event in terms of its impact on the bigger picture and react in a positive way to keep the ship on course.

A “reversal of the expected” has three important qualifications:

Usually, the business relationship was built on a foundation of trust.
The players have had no reason to doubt one another in the past.
A mutual set of seemingly agreed upon expectations existed before the unexpected event.

The two unexpected events that occur most frequently are in sales transactions: a broken relationship with a key customer; and failure to consummate a business sale.

What to do when you lose a customer

Your customer might unexpectedly terminate a contract, or contract with one of your competitors based on a marginal price decision.

What’s your first step? Look at the bigger picture surrounding the event. A long-term contract that’s lost, as TEC members have explained, can always be reinstated based upon new terms. It might take a year or more, but a proactive approach can and will work.

If you lost a customer based upon a marginal price decision, that usually means that the new vendor will compromise somewhere.

Once again, stand back. Ask yourself, what’s the value proposition that won the customer in the first place? Then do what you need to do to put that value proposition back in place. It may take some time, but it will be well worth the effort.

What to do when the sale stalls

You’re down to the final hour. You and your attorneys are meeting with the seller and the seller’s attorneys to sign on the dotted line. At the last minute, the seller gets cold feet and backs away.

You’ve invested considerable time and money to make this happen, and you’ve diligently complied with all seller requests to provide minimum business disruptions among employees, vendors and customers.

Again, it’s important that you step back and consider the big-picture possibilities:

  1. The seller did get cold feet, and that’s the issue you must address.
  2. Another buyer emerged at the last minute, most likely a competitor, and offered a better deal.
  3. Family members never supported the sale to begin with and have intervened with a compelling argument.
  4. The seller’s advisors have reassessed the terms and conditions, and risk factors. They’ve concluded that the sale isn’t in the seller’s best interests.
If the decision by the seller appears to be based on emotion, be patient. Reopen discussion and listen carefully to their concerns. Let some time go by. But you might also look for help from a third-party seller associate who can convince the seller that your offer is fair and in their best interest.

If the decision by the seller appears to be based on finances, your alternatives are to consider a higher down payment, offer shorter terms, offer a higher interest rate, offer more secure paper, or suggest a consulting contract that covers other key benefits – or any combination of those.

Know who the influential players are in the overall decision. Know where they are coming from. And then readjust your approach accordingly. In most business sale transactions, things seldom are what they appear to be.

Until next month, make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From stagnation to creation! Innovation to increase business success.

Recently, Fast Company released The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011. At the top of the list are visionary leaders who have demonstrated great innovation and creativity in their organizations and career. While the list’s front-runners are from organizations where creativity and innovation are part of the job description, their approach can be used as a model for opportunities for your organization no matter the industry.

But how does one win the title of most creative in business? How do you keep your vision for your future fresh in your mind each day? What do you do when you need creative inspiration? Here are a few things you can do in your day-to-day routine to help keep the creative juices flowing.

Read a book. Reading keeps your mind stimulated and active in thought. Whether the book is fiction or business related, you are exercising your brain in a different way by concentrating on only one thing.

Take a vacation. Vacations, especially ones in nature, feel like a stop in time. This break in your routine allows you to relax so that you are refreshed and excited about an idea, instead of overwhelmed.

Volunteer in the community. Volunteering allows you to meet new people and see things from a different perspective in addition to benefitting your community. Taking time out of your normal routine to hear a stranger's story can be very rewarding and stimulating to the mind.

Call an old friend. Sometimes talking out an idea with someone you trust and care about can be the push you need to move forward with a project. Call a friend or family member to chat, even if it's not related to your idea.

What do you do when you need inspiration? We'd love to hear about your experiences. Share with us your story of someone or something that inspired you!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Leaders in sticky situations: Walking the line

As a leader, it is natural for strong personal relationships to form between you and your team members. When you demonstrate that you are someone people can look up to and reach out to for help and guidance in your organization, you build an environment of trust. With this trust, others feel comfortable sharing aspects of their personal lives with you.

When the boundary between personal and professional relationship gets blurred, it can be very difficult to balance it back out. It is important for you to understand when you need to act as the leader of your organization instead of a fellow water cooler pal.

Sticky situations for leaders:

Maternity Leave.
Your employee confides in you that she is either trying to get pregnant or just found out the happy news. While feelings of joy might be the first natural reaction, the CEO in you should be thinking about replacement schedules and workflow.

Social media gets too personal.
Facebook could easily be the most slippery slope for organizational leaders. Being friends with your employees can be a great way to build a positive organization culture, but seeing pictures and status updates that don’t positively reflect who they appear to be at work can be disarming. Reminding employees about your company’s social media policy will ensure that all content  remains PG.

Performance feedback. As you learn more personal information about your employees that lives outside work, you also become well aware that they have a family to support and rely on your feedback for raises and other performance-based incentives. However, this information can potentially make it more difficult for you to give them a negative performance review even when you know their job performance is subpar. Keeping the social and professional elements of each employee separate in your mind during the review process will help you and your employee get what is deserved.

In each of these situations, it is best to involve your human resources department as soon as possible. Be transparent with your employees about your responsibilities as a leader. After you find yourself in a sticky situation, tell your employee that you need to involve others in the situation but that your main priority is to work through it.

In your experience, what has helped you the most in these types of sticky situations? How do you maintain employee relationships while keeping your organization’s best interests in mind?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Human resources: 'Campground morale'

By Harry Dennis for BizTimesMilwaukee

As we head into another short but welcome Wisconsin summer, I’d like to share with you some innovative summer work practices that TEC members have followed over the years to have happier, more productive employees.

Most of these should be familiar. What I call “campground morale” can keep your employees focused during the summer, when staying focused is difficult.

What does it mean? Think back to when you visited a campground, either with your parents, or when you went away to summer camp. The paradox of a camp is that it always has rules and assigned responsibilities, but it’s fun.

If you were the type of child who wouldn’t keep your room clean or help around the house, you might have discovered that something about doing your chores at camp was different.
So let’s take a look at developing “campground morale” at work.

Flex time
This isn’t a new concept, but the way it’s applied, especially in small companies, can be.
At TEC, our 10 employees rotate Fridays off. Workloads shift, if needed, to accommodate the absent employee. And, yes, it is a paid day off. Almost everyone keeps their cell phones nearby and responds to email.

The flex hour component works a little differently. Assuming a 40-hour week and a one-shift operation, employees start their workday up to an hour earlier, and end the day up to an hour earlier.
Why offer this option?

It’s especially helpful for single moms whose kids are involved in after-school programs.  You also have what I call the “early starter” employees whose productivity is at its peak during the first four hours of work.

If you conduct an anonymous survey, you might be surprised to learn that some employees will report that after several cups of coffee and a couple hours of getting organized for the day, they finally kick into high gear.

Working offsite
There’s nothing new about working at home, especially for employees with disabilities, or caregivers who would otherwise find working in a normal work environment impossible.

Working at home, however, requires a disciplined employee and a trusting employer.  The actual working environment in the home, and the technology there, need to be as similar as possible to the workplace. Supervisors at work need to be especially sensitive to the different requirements of largely electronic supervision.

Most employers want to know if they can be certain that this can really lead to productive work for a solid eight hours. The truth is, employees who work at home, on average, will get their eight hours of productive work done in five or six hours. Again the keyword here is trust.

Break time
Here are some campground ideas.

Organize employee breaks so that natural employee teams can do outdoor “walk-arounds” together. Consider adding five minutes to at least one of the break times. It gives a little extra time for a team to assemble. For the extra five minutes, the team leader should discuss a particular issue the company is facing, and ask for the team’s input.

Here’s another idea for break time. As CEO, how about designating one day in June, July and August as a company break time? Pick the last hour of work, and just take a walk. Leave a skeleton crew behind and rotate them. Go out and have some fun. Play a game. Offer an award to the winner.

For example, “What’s the best thing we can do for our customers this month?” Have everyone write down an idea on a slip of paper. Put the ideas into a hat and draw one at random. The winner receives a restaurant gift certificate.

Campground lunches
Many TEC members have outdoor grills for employees to use during the summer.   Employees work out the details such as who will be the chef, and who will collect money for the burgers.

Choose one day a week. The best way to organize this is by using company teams. With planning and preparation, lunch can be served and eaten during a typical company lunch period of about 30 minutes.

A company picnic
A longtime favorite of TEC members is the annual summer company picnic. It’s held offsite at a nearby park, with activities and entertainment for the entire family. Employees are given a half-day off. The company pays a skeleton volunteer crew overtime to handle basic company operations.

The one major change we’ve seen over the years is that most companies don’t serve alcohol. When they do, the company provides transportation for the employees. The company gives each adult two tickets for beer or wine. But the preferred choice is no alcohol.

Before you panic…
I know what you’re thinking. Time off. Paid time off. Summer hours. Picnics. Is there any time left to run your business and still make a profit?

Yes and yes. What you will gain in employee productivity and loyalty will show  up on your bottom line.

Until next month, I hope you and your company will have fun, productive “campground” experiences this summer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The imporance of maintaining amicable relationships

The old saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” not only applies to your social circle but to your professional network as well. With the business community getting more connected by the minute, you just never know who you might find yourself working with in the future. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain positive relationships with those within your organization and outside as well.

On a daily basis, we work with many different types of people and personalities. As we all know, sometimes personalities clash and tension arises. Finding ways to work through the issues not only allows you and your team to work more efficiently, it is also a learning opportunity that will help you grow as a professional. At TEC, we are successful because our members come from different backgrounds and industries to share and learn from each other’s personal and business experiences.

“Coopetition.” You don’t always have to keep your competitors in the dark for fear they’ll steal your ideas or worse, customers. Collaborating with your competition actually has the potential for several positive business opportunities. A recent Harvard Business Review article (link to article) says the goal of “coopetition” is to find a way to partner with a competitor where both parties can benefit without jeopardizing their customers or bottom line. Whether it’s creating markets, cost sharing or cross endorsement, a partnership with a competitor can give your company an advantage.

It’s a small world after all. The professional relationships that you build can benefit you and your company at times when you least expect it. However, the relationships that go sour can hurt you just as fast. You never know when you’re going to run into an old colleague again, need help from a former boss or lose an employee to a competitor. It is these potential situations that make it a necessity to not burn any bridges.

Have you had a successful partnership experience with a competitor? Or a dueling team member? What strategies did you use to ensure that the relationship would end positively?