Five Conference Call Guidelines Your Probably Don't Think About Maranda Gibson

1. Talking clearly, near to the phone - especially in a large conference room with many people around you and many more on the phone line. If you're nowhere near the phone, get closer. If you're near the phone, face it. If you're speaking, remember someone is listening from very far away and the clearer you can make your presentation, the better it will come across.

2. Skip inside jokes; they don't translate well. It's all fun and games until someone can't understand you. I sit on conference calls that are mostly inside jokes and laughter for about half the call. This is great fun for those in the conference room at the other end of my phone line, but I miss most of it. If you have an inside joke, wait for later, or let everyone hear it. This also cuts down on extraneous jokes that really aren't appropriate.

3. Conference rooms should have closed windows. This is a significant problem with conference calls during the summer when construction is everywhere and it's hot in the building. The sirens, the traffic noises, and construction noises really come across louder on a phone line if the windows are open in the conference room. If you have to open the window, crack it and if that gets so loud outside that even you can hear it, remember the people on the phone can hear it more. Close the window until at least the main part of the presentation or meeting is complete and then get some air. Air conditioning is also a novel idea for conference rooms. Hint, hint.

4. Introduce yourselves and let people on the phone introduce themselves. Then use your name each time you talk for a few rounds. "This is Mark, can I ask a question?" This helps the people on the phone and in the room realize that you are speaking to them too. This also helps to cut down on confusion as to who's talking as well.

5. Ask the people on the phone if they need any clarification. Every ten minutes or so, just stop and make sure everyone both in the room and on the phone are tracking the meeting. This is helpful, because many people on a phone line aren't sure when to break in to ask you to speak up and if they don't ask, no one in your conference room will have a clue that anything is amiss. Check in with everyone often and that should clear up any lingering issues with regard to hearing and comprehension.

The Green Train Continues For Businesses Maranda Gibson

As we move into September and October, tips for companies to "go green" continue to be the top items of interest both in business magazines and online. Here's a roundup of the top tips for businesses interested in going green

1. Add recycling bins to your office with easy to read and understand signs—Paper, Plastic, Glass. Encourage employees to recycle whenever possible.

2. Set up a "green committee" to discuss green issues in the office. Many minds gathered together to seek solutions are often more successful than just one. The committee can discuss possible ways to reduce the amount of printer ink and paper used in the office, can research new suppliers that may use greener production, and can report on ways to inspire other employees to participate.

3. Think small at first. Change out light bulbs, turn off lights in unused conference rooms, and cap supply orders on certain items: paper clips, pens, etc. You can cap bigger items, such as paper or ink, but you'll need to do some research on usage before you actually know how much to cut back.

4. Speaking of paper, set printers and copiers to print on both sides rather than just one side. This important change may require a re-jigging of office procedures, but it saves a lot of unnecessary paper waste.

5. Go digital. In a previous post on taming the paper tiger [insert link to this Accuconference blog post from week of August 11, 2008], we talked about scanning receipts and business papers for storage digitally. This also can be a way to avoid printing in the first place. If you have electronic invoices, why print them to file? Why not just move them to an appropriate folder on your computer? That way, no paper copies are necessary. What a great way to tame paper and to go green!

Remember, going green is a huge goal in itself, so setting a big goal to reduce paper usage or energy usage in a year's time is fine, but don’t get so caught up in the big goal that you forget the little actions. Little actions can add up to that bigger goal really fast and if every company did several little action steps to "go green," can you imagine how that will add up? It’s a great way to streamline a business—thinking in terms of curbing excess. And you're not doing it alone; we're all doing it these days. We just dropped our oil demands for the first time in 20 years in this country by banding together to reduce wasted trips in order to use less gas. It worked! Just think what we could do to save paper and ink expenses, even energy expenses, if we set our minds to it.

Go green!

Customer Service Maranda Gibson

How is your customer service? Customer service is defined as how you handle every contact between you and your customer--via email, phone, in-person greeting, marketing message, guarantee, terms of return, account maintenance, billing, and so on.

Customer service may be a dying art if the books available on are any indication. Two books published in 2000 get the highest ratings both on and off Amazon, but I'm perplexed -- doesn't anyone focus on customer service anymore?

Ron Zemke is known for his many books on customer service in the 1990s and his 2000 book, Knock Your Socks Off Service Recovery, looks to provide a similar high level of experience and best practice destined to help any business struggling to improve their service reputation.

Have you dropped the ball recently regarding a customer complaint? Have you messed up while handling a client account, or upset a customer who vowed to never do business with you again? This book is for you. A great repository of helpful hints and how-to steps destined to get your customer service revived and back on track.

But these mad-as-hell customers can be wooed back through skillful, planned ‘service recovery.' And, surprisingly, customers who experience world-class Knock Your Socks Off service recovery become your most loyal customers--and are a source of continuing business for years to come.
[T]he book explains:
  • The economics of recovery--what it costs when you lose customers, and how little it can cost to win them back.
  • The processes, policies, and technology a company must have to ensure an effective, real-time recovery system.
  • he manager's role in sustaining an outstanding recovery system--through training, coaching, empowering, supporting, inspiring, and rewarding great service providers."

Another book published in 2000, written by Jim Sterne, is Customer Service on the Internet: Building Relationships, Increasing Loyalty, and Staying Competitive, 2nd Edition. writes, "As businesses have overcome technical, financial, and promotional hurdles to developing online commerce, they are now confronted with the core issue of all businesses in a competitive market: providing quality and cost-effective customer service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Jim Sterne, who led the pack in the earlier stages of Net commerce with his book World Wide Web Marketing, has written a book that every company using the Net should consider giving to every employee involved in online commerce. Contains great practical information, case studies of companies that have paid attention to online customer service (and are doing well because of this attention), and an appreciation for the critical edge provided by caring about your customers."

Sterne's book appears to be out of print now (not an issue about the effectiveness of his writing, but rather of his publisher's ability to sell it), but used copies are available from Amazon resellers.

These two books are a good starting point for any company looking to solidify their business in the eyes of their clientele. I'll definitely update you if I find any other books on customer service that seem applicable. Any other books on customer service that you can recommend?

Communication 101 Maranda Gibson

We all communicate when we are around another human being, even if no one is saying anything. Body language can speak volumes. Even the fact that a person is at a place at a particular time can say it all. What isn't intrinsically clear to a lot of people is that we don't always communicate when we speak, or at least don't communicate well. Often and most especially in arguments, people are thinking they are speaking clearly, but the other person just won't get it… or won't shut up. Obviously there is no communication happening, but there are things you can do to make it happen.

Sarah Fenson in wrote about several tips you can do to improve your communication. One is to keep your emotions out of the conversation. Often you simply cannot hear what the other person is saying simply for your frustration with the situation, or the indignity that you feel. Another tip is to acknowledge we have personal filters that sometimes make us hear what we want to hear. Asking for clarification, or repeating back the high points are good ways to bypass the filter. Two other great tips are to look for common ground with the other person and maintain a positive outlook. Both of which will help you go far to overcome miscommunications.

Some specific tips for good communication through speaking come from Bert Webb's blog, Open Loops. There are two that especially stand out. The first, making eye contact will not only let the other person know you are paying attention, but it will also pin their attention to what you are saying. The second tip is to make sure your facial expressions, body language, and words all deliver the same message. If you are smiling while delivering bad news, the mixed message will ensure mixed-up communications.

Maui Eel Maranda Gibson

Maui Eel

Resources to Help You Lead Better Maranda Gibson

Two books I read recently that I think everyone should read - especially if you're in business today.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins, is a stellar book, full of interesting insights from Collins, who is a really good writer (which helps make the book what it is) and from his research team, who compiled mountains of information about Fortune 500 companies. The book doesn't cover them all, but concentrates on 11 standout companies, including Kimberley Clark and Walgreens. I liked the thoughts Jim presented on leadership and how companies navigated through their tough years (and their good years). I like the true inside look at a company through the eyes of an outsider who is trying to find best practices. It's a good read, and full of information for leaders and other managers involved in building a company.

From the Publisher's Weekly review, "While the companies that achieved greatness were all in different industries, each engaged in versions of Collins's strategies. While some of the overall findings are counterintuitive (e.g., the most effective leaders are humble and strong-willed rather than outgoing), many of Collins's perspectives on running a business are amazingly simple and commonsense. This is not to suggest, however, that executives at all levels wouldn't benefit from reading this book; after all, only 11 companies managed to figure out how to change their B grade to an A on their own."

Another great read has been around for quite some time. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I know what you're thinking, you already read it—zip, bang, and boom. Moving on. Whoa there. Hear me out. This book offers some really good ideas about leadership and generally being an all-around balanced person. This guy knows what he's talking about. Just consider that perhaps it's time for a revisit and read one chapter. Good books are meant to be read many times, not just once (and not just skimmed through in five minutes so you could pretend you knew what everyone was talking about when the book first came out).

Amazon's reviewer writes, "Before you can adopt the seven habits, you'll need to accomplish what Covey calls a "paradigm shift"--a change in perception and interpretation of how the world works. Covey takes you through this change, which affects how you perceive and act regarding productivity, time management, positive thinking, developing your ‘proactive muscles' (acting with initiative rather than reacting), and much more."

Just two really great books worth your time. I love business books, so more to come in the future.

Taming the Business Paper Tiger Maranda Gibson

So, a business like this creates paperwork: purchase orders, receipts, pay stubs, shipping invoices, shipping bills. I hate it all. There, I said it and I'm not sorry. Some of the time, filing these papers is habitual. Some receipts go in that file and the remaining receipts go in the other file and the rest are recycled or shredded. I wish I had that kind of organization all the time. If I had my way I'd just shred it all, but my accountant would surely have something to say about that, so I will digress.

As I tackle an office reorganization (every time a product launches, I go into organizational mode), I wanted a few tips on cutting down on paper piles. I found two ideas that really worked for me. See what you think!

Take pictures (or scans) of important documents and/or business receipts on your digital camera and then download the picture into a folder, say August 2008 (all those files get backed up on a nightly basis, right?). Put them on an online backup system or an external hard drive. That's a pretty good idea, actually. You've got the receipt and you can print it if you need it. You can then shred the paper copy. Less paper! The rule of thumb is to keep all business receipts for 7 years and each year, throw out the earliest year. It will be much easier to delete a year's folder from a backup drive than to dig through a storage room to find the 2001 box next year, I say.

If you don't already, you should have an in-house folder (my title for inbox), a read and learn folder, a GTD folder, and a toolkit folder (you can name your folders what you like, I change mine every six months or so to zany names that inspire me).

  1. The in-house folder should be reviewed at least once every 24 hours and items culled from it for immediate action or that go immediately (do not pass go and collect 200 dollars) to the read and learn file or the GTD folder.
  2. The read and learn folder is material to read at a later time. There is so much of this, especially nowadays, so when it gets too full for me, I either throw it out or hand it over to the GTD file. Don't let yourself be buried by required reading that wasn't that important anyway (if it is important, put it in the Toolkit file or the GTD file).
  3. The GTD (from David Allen's Getting Things Done system) folder (actually it's a couple of banker boxes high right now) is material that you need, but want organized. I use alphabetical filing: every folder has a label and is filed alphabetically (the label maker refill companies love me!) This includes receipts, invoices, shipping bills, and so on that can just go away (I love it!). I can find it again if you need it, but it doesn't clutter up my desk.
  4. The toolkit folder should hold the items you need every single day: phone numbers, your rate sheet, your schedule, and a checklist for clients, that sort of thing. I call it a toolkit, because it is. I can't live without it. This includes my paper organizer, a few tip sheets for a couple of clients, and a weekly to-do list that really never changes. Keeps me sane!

My rule of thumb: if it isn't in one of those four categories, it's going to get shredded. August is my filing month (and not a moment too soon) and these guidelines do work. It's fun too, once you get started.

Happy paper taming!

Loyalty from Your Employees Maranda Gibson

Your company can only get things done by your employees. As many have found out the hard way, if you have to do it yourself, everything else will fall apart. That's why in the business world there is so much emphasis on training and a happy workplace. But is this emphasis warranted? What could go wrong if employees were catered to less? What would happen if they were catered to more?

Let's say you didn't have a corporation, but a small restaurant. You can always find new waiters and waitresses, so why should it matter how loyal they are? Well, from the time the customer walks in the door, to the time they walk out, their ONLY true contact with your business and its hopes and dreams is the minimum wage kid you put out to be your ambassador. If they don't care about their job, then they won't care about how the food looks, or the customer's experience outside of the minimum it takes to get a tip.

What if you have a retail store? With uncaring employees, how do you think your customer service will be if you are not around to handle things? If you had a manufacturing plant, would neglected employees care about overhead, waste, or throughput?

These are just a few examples of how employees fit into an uncaring business, but the examples don't have to be the rule. In a recent article in Forbes, Tara Weiss asks, "Does your staff have your back?" Of course, she is talking about employee loyalty, but what is the foundation of loyalty? Basically, employees want to feel part of the company they work for and they need to feel a sense of purpose.

A big part of accomplishing this with your employees is to treat them well. However, that alone will only produce happy, yet disconnected employees. Education is a good way to unite your workforce. Show them the company's goals, how you plan to get there, and their part in the plan. Let them feel pride about how much they help the company by going the extra mile here and there. Setup a feedback program so they can definitively see their impact on the greater good.

It doesn't stop there. Once an employee feels accepted, knows their part, and can see results of better work habits, they still need one more thing to bond it all together: praise and reward for their efforts. Have a merit-based reward system. Make weekly announcements to single out and cheer for not just the most accomplished workers, but the hardest working ones as well.

Basically, if you give them a role, a purpose, and a reward, your employees will go to great lengths for the company; giving you results you could never have gotten any other way.

Red River Hummingbird Maranda Gibson

Red River Hummingbird

Take Your Time When Building a Team Maranda Gibson

The art of team building never ceases to amaze and perplex me. A friend recently went on a team-building exercise over a weekend and came away challenged, yet changed. She and a dozen others hiked into a remote campground with supplies on their backs and underwent extreme physical fitness regimens—twenty pushups for every minute they were late for chow and long hikes uphill—which to me doesn't resemble "camping" in the least. She claims it worked in order to prepare them for their latest venture.

"We learned to trust each other; something that takes time."

And I suppose there's nothing like hours trudging through wilderness to really get to know fellow members of your team. However, her report got me onto the Internet looking again for stories pertaining to team building in business. I found a few items that were interesting and that backed up my friend's claims. writes about building a quality management team in the early stages of your business.

"Speaking to an international audience at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning's Ignite programme in Cambridge, the key message from David Boorman, Technology Business Director of Bailey Fisher ~ Executive Search was 'Don't underestimate the time and effort involved in building your team.'"

Lesson number one: be patient and realize the time it takes to build key relationships. My camping friend can vouch for this.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes about the team-building process, utilizing outside coaches to marinate a management team, not to whip one up as quickly as possible.

"A strong team makes an impact on everyone around it. Think about the Atlanta Braves' 'worst to first' season in 1991. Having the hometown team in the World Series was electrifying for Atlanta. When the 'miracle,' U.S. ice hockey team took the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, the entire nation celebrated."

"What would it mean to have a team like that at work? OK, there are no gold medals for IT-system implementation, and even top sales teams rarely get ticker-tape parades, but a high-performing work team is definitely a win in today's business environment. . . ."

"In 2004-05, the Center for Creative Leadership surveyed 118 executives and middle managers to compile 'The State of Teams' report. It found that 95 percent of respondents participated on more than one work team; that 91 percent thought teams were central to the organization's success; and that 80 percent thought leaders needed help building strong teams and keeping teams on track toward exceeding expectations."

"The help often comes from outside coaches, who can bring new insights and skills to the table."

"'Creating a strong team is a process, not a one-time event,' said Martha Carnahan, president of Atlanta-based mc3 strategies and a certified business and life coach. . . ."

I think I hear an echo: Team-building requires large amounts of concentrated time; this is not something you can rush.

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