“Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other.”
~Bill Gates ~
Client Ann Asks: I worry that we are not standing out from the competition. My IT Director says that we can gain a competitive advantage through information technology, but I’m not sure how to do this. Can you give me some ideas?
Coach Joel Answers: Ann, you are right on target. It’s vital that your company outshine other similar companies in order to maintain market share. You need things that help you work smarter, faster, and at a cheaper cost. Information technology can help you do all of that.
Let’s look at nine ways to improve your bottom line, support the team effort, handle paperwork, and gain more loyal customers.
When you employ some of these IT systems, you’ll feel more in control, you’ll save time, and you’ll see results.
1. Web Presence. Help your business be easily found. Make your website inviting, informative, and easy to navigate. You’ll find you’re converting visitors to buyers faster and more often.
2. E-commerce. Expand beyond your brick-and-mortar store. A.J. Madison started as a simple store in Brooklyn New York, selling to locals. Its expansive e- commerce site now has it sending appliances into all 50 states. This is a huge competitive advantage. Make sure your IT allows different online payment methods.
3. Supply Chain Management. A good IT program can make sure you have products exactly when you need them. It can manage your inventory as well as the clerical supplies that keep offices running.
4. Customer Relationship Management. Nothing can destroy your business faster than poor customer relations. And few things can give you a better competitive advantage than a host of loyal customers. Use information technology to help you follow up with customers, hear and respond to complaints, and segment your customers to reward larger spenders.
5. Automation Software. Your automated programs can track numbers of sales, customers, and transaction details. It can make those numbers available across a variety of documents for taxes, customer follow up, and financial accounting. Paperwork is not glamorous, but when you save hours and dollars with excellent software, it becomes cool.
6. Collaboration Software. Quality programs help teams work together. It allows documents to easily be shared. On a basic level it connects computers, applications, printers, and internet connections. These simple steps save you time and money. They also make a more productive and satisfied, team.
7. Web Design. Each company wants to stand out. With your unique website you can differentiate your products from your competitors.
8. Client Segmentation. Don’t waste your advertising dollars on clients who won’t buy. Use software to focus on those who do. Sophisticated information systems segment your list so you can target new buyers and big spenders and spend little time on “lookers.”
9. Privacy. Use IT to protect the confidential information of your customers and employees. Nothing breaks trust with your customers like a hacker stealing their credit information from your site. That extra layer of information technology can give you a competitive edge against other businesses in your field.
Ann, you don’t even need to use every one of these programs right away. Choose the two or three areas in your business that could most benefit from streamlining, and start there.
Soon you’ll find ways your competitive advantage is bringing in more clients and more income for your company. Information technology really does let you work smarter, faster, and with a lower cost.
To learn how your company can blow your competition out of the water, contact Joel.
Talkback: What programs or software have you used to give your business an advantage?
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“Employee loyalty begins with employer loyalty. Your employees should know that if they do the job they were hired to do with a reasonable amount of competence and efficiency, you will support them.”
Gregor runs a small franchise with employees that come and go. He works hard to keep his employees, and does better than most. Still, the nature of the business creates a paperwork chaos.
He knows his records are not in the order they need to be. As a matter of fact, they are in boxes in his garage.
A brush with litigation made Gregor realize it was time to get things straightened out. “I knew I had to manage my risk better. If this had gone to court, I might have been in a mess just because I couldn’t find the right documentation,” Gregor said.
1. How Long Must Records be Kept? Gregor needed to find out what the laws were on retaining employee records. He searched the internet and came across a myriad of information.
Hiring? One year, unless it’s an apprentice program. Then it’s two years. Equal opportunity infraction? Records must be kept from the date the charge is filed… no matter how long it takes to resolve. Most payroll records? Three years.
The rules were so convoluted. Gregor finally found a chart that helped.
2. How Can I Organize My Employee Records? Gregor had the boxes divided by years, so that was a start.
“Initially, I just hired my daughter to go through the boxes shredding everything that was outdated,” Gregor said. “That cleaned up a good part of the garage! But going forward I wanted a better system.”
Gregor decided to scan every application and file it electronically. The notes and promotions also went into the employee’s electronic file. They were marked again the date they departed and the record was flagged to be discarded after the appropriate time.
3. How Can I Retrieve the Records? Gregor’s garage retrieval method was a disaster. He had to spend hours going through the boxes, date-by-date to find the employee records he needed.
The electronic filing of records improved things, but tagging the records in meaningful ways was more cumbersome then he’d imagined.
They needed to be filed by name, by date of hire, date of departure, promotions, any issues or grievances they’d had. He had to document deficiencies and be able to retrieve them as needed.
“It was hard to find a system that worked well,” Gregor said. “I moved to some software systems. That helped a lot.”
4. How Can I Find and Eliminate Old Records? Because Gregor has such a high employee turnover—it’s the nature of his franchise—he needed an easy way to retain the employee’s records while they worked and discard them after the appropriate time elapsed.
“I’ve been without any cardboard boxes of files in my garage for a couple of years now,” Gregor said. “But even handling the files on the computer just became too much. It was a constant effort—weekly even—to pull up and toss the old files.”
Ultimately, Gregor outsourced the employee record keeping to simplify his life.
Improper employee records retention can be a ticking time-bomb to any business, large or small. Gregor was in good company.
A recent survey said that 38% of organizations had not assessed their recordkeeping to see if it was optimal. And another 14% didn’t even know if an assessment was planned or completed.
Step in front of the pack and master your employee record keeping now.
If you need help training your staff to comply with employee record rules, contact Joel.
Talkback: How have you dealt with the complexities of knowing what records to keep and which you can toss? Have you found software or other sources to simplify your work?
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“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
~Peter F. Drucker~
Client Jakob Asks: I’m in upper management in an international corporation and I want to move higher in my company. My peers have hired executive coaches. Sometimes I see great results, but sometime I don’t see that it made a dramatic difference for them. What can I do to make sure my executive coaching boosts me up the corporate ladder?
Coach Joel Answers: Executive coaching is a significant investment, not only in money, but in time and commitment. You want it to be meaningful to you.
What you get out of it depends on how much effort you put into it.
Be an Active Participant
A tepid response to coaching will produce weak improvement. To get the most from your coaching you need to approach it with goals in mind. Discuss them with your coach and then focus on them.
1. Build New Skills. The skills and traits that have gotten you to this point are not sufficient to take you to the very top of the corporate ladder. Your coach will help you build skills sets and habits for the level of management you will be doing.
2. Be Present. When you meet with your coach, close off all distractions. Don’t answer the phone or email or search the web. Focus. Give your entire attention to presenting issues and seeking solutions.
3. Be Teachable. Humility sometimes seems at odds with confidence that comes with a top corporate job. But true confidence allows you to be humble and teachable. Jakob, when you resist criticism or new ideas, you stop your progress. Be willing to accept ideas without rebutting or rationalizing. Consider their merit. Be eager for growth. Then you set the stage for great progress.
4. Be Committed to Success. In the beginning, you gave me the top 3 goals you wanted to gain from this engagement. Make it meaningful and achievable goals. Then be willing to do what it takes to accomplish it. Your coach will guide you and give you suggestions and insights that will help you reach your goals faster than you could on your own.
5. Take Action. Learning without doing is like sitting at dinner without eating. It accomplishes little. The natural next step to learning is putting what you’ve learned into action. There is a tendency to think you don’t know enough.
Often people enter this learning mode without moving forward. Resist it. Once you know, take action. Yes, you’ll need to refine and correct. But your learning increases as you act on what you know.
6. Overcome Fears. Change involves risk. It’s moving out of the safe zone into the unknown. Your coach understands that, and you should too. Be willing to take that risk. Dare to be great. Stumbles are a part of life. Don’t stand still because you are unwilling to make a mistake.
7. Break Habits. Powerful, significant executive coaching takes place when clients are willing and ready to break habits that are holding them back. Your coach will help you recognize what traits are limiting you.
But only you can make the decision that your success is more important than those old habits. If you want your coaching to have the desired results, you must be willing to leave the restraining behaviors behind.
Jakob, you are smart to start achieving now. Building new skills takes time. But when you commit to achieving your goal and are willing to put in the focus, time and effort, you’ll see that your corporate executive coaching will take you where you want to go.
When you connect a skilled executive coach with a willing, motivated manager you will see the dramatic results you desire.
If you’re interested in making the most of your corporate coaching experience talk to Joel. He will help you focus, step out in new ways, and build habits of success. Connect now.
Talkback: How successful has your executive coaching experience been? What was the thing that had the most impact on your upward advancement?
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“The longer you’re not taking action the more money you’re losing.”
Kimberly has been running her infomarketing business for 15 years now. She’s supported her family and saved a nice nest-egg. A scary bout with a heart problem sent Kimberly scurrying to develop a succession plan.
“I realized no one even knew my passwords. If I died, all my information would be locked up on my computer!” Kimberly said. ”A succession plan for me would be a roadmap for my family and heirs to follow if I became disabled or died. And a plan for me when I get to thinking about retirement.”
Shared corporate knowledge.
First Kimberly took time to write down much of what was only in her mind. As the entrepreneur and creator of her business, so much was intuition and her own personal experience.
“I gathered together asset statements, bank accounts, partners, vendors, and all their contact information.”
She listed debts, repayment schedules, and plans for faster payoffs if needed. She made a folder and put life insurance papers, incorporation paperwork, and trust documents there.
“What would happen to my business if I couldn’t run it? Who could? What did they need to know?” Kimberly asked the tough questions. “I really didn’t want to think about all this. After all, I’d been healthy up to now. But I realized I wasn’t invincible.”
Fortunately Kimberly had an older child who was at college, but had shown interest in the business. “Because much of the work is online, he could do some things from college.”
Kimberly was surprised at what her son, Tim, knew about the business… and what he didn’t know. She set in place a plan to get Tim up to speed on every part of the business.
She also started working with her part-time employee, Lisa, to get her trained in every aspect of her business. “I wanted a back-up person who could take over in a pinch,” Kimberly said.
The Inheritance Plan
Even though Tim might take over the running of the business, Kimberly wanted her other two children to have their share of the business.
She called a family meeting to discuss who wanted to be involved in the business and how to divide the assets of her company.
As an entrepreneur, she’d never even had the value of her company assessed. “I had a figure in my mind, but the appraisal came in much higher,” Kimberly said. The other two children wanted the money but not the headaches of the work.
For Kimberly, the best solution was to create a company with shares. Each family member would inherit shares of the company. Tim would receive a salary and the shareholders a distribution.
This would allow Tim the chance to buy out his siblings over time if he wanted.
Feeling More Secure
“I never thought I’d be grateful for a heart attack,” Kimberly said. ”But now I feel so much more secure and in control of the future of my company.”
Entrepreneur succession planning may look different than succession plans of other kinds of businesses. But it’s just as essential.
With her business organized and replacements in the wings, Kimberly feels more comfortable about the future. “It’s done,” she says. ”Now I can focus on what I love— helping people succeed using my great products.”
If you’re an entrepreneur or solo-preneur who wants the confidence that comes from an effective succession plan, contact Joel for help.
Talkback: Have you created a succession plan for your start-up business? How did you find “replacements” for your key people?
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“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”
~Anne M. Mulcahy~
What comes to mind when you think of business success? Improving the bottom line? Cutting costs while increasing profits? Those are important, but no business is successful for long without good, talented employees who are happy to come to work and do their best every day. Below are ways to focus on improving employee satisfaction – and increasing your business’ success and profitability at the same time:
1. Value your employees – in every way.
Did you ever have a boss who was quick to praise for a job well done – but stingy with benefits and pay? Actions always speak louder than words, and while current finances may not always permit you to pay top dollar, pay as much as you can based upon company profitability. In other words, the employee who toils five days or more a week to help make your company a success deserves to be recognized for that effort with praise and with benefits and pay commensurate with performance. Fair pay for work done is one of the best ways to improve employee satisfaction, and it’s also simply fair.
2. Create a culture of true camaraderie.
Of course, your first priority each day is to get business done and make your company successful. To do that, though, it’s important to have fun once in a while too, as colleagues. Schedule office parties occasionally where all employees are invited to bring their spouse/significant other and children, too. Acknowledge birthdays with a 15-minute impromptu party. Don’t frown upon spontaneous wiffleball games in the hallway; in fact, why not join in? Improving employee satisfaction means letting your hair down once in a while – prudently – and allowing your employees do the same.
3. Celebrate victories together.
All too often, companies reward management with big bonuses and lots of recognition, but overlook the accomplishments of lower-level employees, some of whom may have significantly contributed to management’s successes. That’s not fair, and employees (rightly) resent that. Instead, whenever your company has a big victory, celebrate together. Schedule a company lunch, or have a little party. Recognize your entire team – everyone. Recognition is a central component of improving employee satisfaction.
4. Be a part of your local community.
One of the best ways to create a cohesive work environment is to become a part of the local community. Connect with your community as a group, and give back to it. Get involved in community service as a company. Investigate what particular needs your community has. Serve Thanksgiving dinner at the local homeless shelter, or volunteer to participate in a cancer walk as a company team. Getting out of the work environment and rolling up your sleeves together toward a shared goal brings cohesiveness to your group that continues back at the office. Breaking out of everyday roles outside of the office can go a long way toward improving employee satisfaction in the office as well.
5. Encourage open communication.
Don’t just say you want to foster open communication; do it. If your employees don’t feel they can talk to management, they won’t; resentments will fester, and productivity and employee morale will fall.
Communication starts with you. Tell your employees how they’re doing, and encourage them to talk to you about how you are doing, too. This isn’t about insubordination, by the way. Don’t take the attitude that because you’re the boss, you’re naturally untouchable. If something’s wrong with the way the company is being run or the way people are being treated, employees should be able to tell you about it. If you’re a large company, you may not know that there may be a particular problem with lower management unless you’re told – and you won’t be if employees can’t speak up.
Communication shouldn’t just be about problems that need to be fixed, either. Your employees comprise your own rich brain trust that can help your company, products, or services become better. Encourage employees to share their ideas and reward them for those you use. When employees are heard and valued, improving employee job satisfaction won’t be a chore you “must do.” It will simply happen.
About the author: Erica L. Fener, Ph.D., is Vice President, Business Development Strategy and Analysis at Progressus Therapy, a leader in connecting their candidates with school-based PT jobs and early intervention service jobs.
Do you need happier employees? For tips, help, and coaching on improving the satisfaction of your employees contact Joel.
Talkback: What steps have you taken to increase the morale at your office? What has worked best… or failed spectacularly?
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