AccuConferenceAccuConference

Aug
05
2008
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.

Businessweekly.co.uk 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.

Aug
04
2008
Using Intuition To Make Business Decisions Maranda Gibson

Many of the best managers we've met (or have heard about) not only have education and experience, they also boast intuitive decision making skills. These intuitive skills are based on an ability to recognize patterns at lightning speed. Gleaned from years of experience, the right decision comes in a flash, as quickly and effortlessly as "a recognition of information that has been largely forgotten by the conscious mind," writes Richard Daft in the upcoming new edition of Management (due out in 2009), one of his many textbooks on the subject of business management. He reports that "in the business world, managers continuously perceive and process information that they may not consciously be aware of, and their base of knowledge and experience helps them make decision that may be characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity."

Another book, recently published, called The Feminine Side of Leadership, by business executive Jenny Fisher "shares her experience and insight on how to maximize the creativity and talents of team members by creating a trusting and supportive work environment."

"‘The Feminine Side of Leadership is an invaluable tool to help people recognize their current management strengths and identify growth areas to improve their personal leadership effectiveness,' says Fisher. ‘Readers will learn how to use their leadership skills to inspire creativity and foster growth throughout their organization. By utilizing our inner strength and unleashing the power within us we can create a passionate, high-performance work environment that inspires others to succeed.'"

Using intuition rather than rational analysis to make business decisions is a timeworn tradition, not a newfangled invention or an exact science, even though recent books may promise that.

Gary Klein's Intuition at Work: Why Developing Your Gut Instincts Will Make You Better at What You Do (2002) was the penultimate book written to harness and channel this timeworn tradition. The book has been called the definitive work on intuition in business management, featured in the Wall Street Journal, and revered by business managers.

Klein writes, "Some experts encourage us to follow our intuitions, while others counsel us to suppress our intuitions because they are inherently biased. At first glance, we seem to be caught in a dilemma. Fortunately, research conducted during the past fifteen years points to a path forward."

"In order to take that path, we have to reject the dilemma. We shouldn't simply follow our intuitions, as they can be unreliable and need to be monitored. Yet we shouldn't suppress our intuitions either, because they are essential to our decision making and can't be replaced by analyses or procedures. Thus our only real option is to strengthen our intuitions so that they become more accurate and provide us with better insights."

If you wish to strengthen your intuition as a business manager, which has returned to the forefront as a skill to be mastered, perhaps checking out Klein and Fisher and Daft will help you in your quest.

Jul
31
2008
Communicating With Song Maranda Gibson

Teleconferencing is described as a "live exchange of information among persons and machines remote from one another but linked by a telecommunications system, which is usually over a telephone line."

Teleconferencing services are not only offered and used by businesses alone.  At times, ordinary people will find that teleconferencing or video conferencing is the best way to make a personal connection, just for the fun of it.

This week, the Barbershop Harmony Society held their 70th International quartet and chorus contest in Nashville, Tennessee.  Almost 9,000 people traveled from around the globe to be part of this amazing annual contest.  The Society boasts a membership of almost 30,000 male singers in the United States and Canada alone.  For those who were not able to attend the convention, the Society worked hard to provide services to make you feel like you were almost actually at the convention.

They provided a web-cast that showcased each Barbershop quartet and chorus competing in the contest in real time.  In addition, people who were viewing the action online were able to speak to competitors immediately after they left the contest stage via a teleconferencing link.  People could congratulate and speak to competitors using the services provided by several different carriers at the performing venue.

For those not able to attend the convention, the experience of communicating with friends and family members who were competing was invaluable.  The people who viewed the web-cast were thrilled to be able to see history in the making as the new Champions were given their medals.  Plans are already in the works for next year’s teleconferencing and video exchange.  The convention will be held in Anaheim, California.

Jul
30
2008
Sea Turtle Maranda Gibson

Sea Turtle

Jul
29
2008
Video Conferencing Aids Police Maranda Gibson

Video conferencing is now being used by local police officers in Coos Bay and North Bend, Oregon.  Officers are now able to testify to the grand jury without having to leave their respective stations.  Before now, their police officers had to make a 25 minute drive each way to the Coquille Courthouse to provide their required testimony.  With the new Internet system, officers are able to view the grand jury from on-site interview rooms and the grand jury can view the officer via monitor in the courthouse.

The agency is now finding that the small investment of about $400 for the equipment required to run the program, will be a cost saving endeavor.  With gas prices continuing to rise and the cost of wear and tear to police vehicles, the costs associated with video conferencing will be recouped almost immediately.   

Currently, there are at least three officers per week that are called to the courthouse.  Each officer waits at least 1 ½ hours to testify in their trail.  With the new video conferencing system in place, officers will be able to complete work and other in-house tasks instead of wasting time waiting in a courthouse, thereby making them more productive.

In the near future, the District Attorney also plans on using the video conferencing system as well.  Very soon the agency will be having witnesses who are subpoenaed outside of the county or state, also use this new service.  The county will arrange for witnesses to go to a conference call site in their area and pipe in their testimony directly into the courthouse.  This will save the county the travel expenses for those witnesses.

Jul
28
2008
Writing Better Will Help You Keep Your Job Maranda Gibson

It's really true. Your ability to communicate shows up in more ways than just getting what you ordered at a restaurant the first time. It could save your career. I now sound like Penelope Trunk and a post from her blog about how to write to improve your job performance.

Trunk states that "Almost one-third of workers do not meet the writing requirements of their positions, according to a survey by the College Board's National Commission on Writing."

Trunk's post is from 2004 (yeah, I know, a golden oldie) but I think it fits the point. Do you really know how to write and could you do it if your career (not just your job) depended on it?

Some of Trunk's pointers (I'm including the every item on her list, because they are just so good):

1. Write lists.
People love reading lists. . . . If you can't list your ideas then you aren't organized enough to send them to someone else.

2. Think on your own time.
Most of us think while we write. . . . Find your main point in each paragraph and delete everything else.

3. Keep paragraphs short.
Your idea gets lost in a paragraph that's more than four or five lines. Two lines is the best length if you really need your reader to digest each word.

4. Write like you talk.
Each of us has the gift of rhythm when it comes to sentences, which includes a natural economy of language. But you must practice writing in order to transfer your verbal gifts to the page. . . .

5. Delete.
When you're finished, you're not finished: cut 10% of the words. . . . Luckily, you don't have to write for publication, so you can celebrate if you cut more than 10%. . . .

6. Avoid adjectives and adverbs.
The fastest way to a point is to let the facts speak for themselves. Adjectives and adverbs are your interpretation of the facts. If you present the right facts, you won't need to throw in your interpretation. . . .

I don't have anything to add to this list, which is not surprising. It's a good list! One way to learn to write like you talk is to get a tape recorder (I've done this recently). Yes, your coworkers will think you've lost it, but it works! Talk away into the mic, and let it all out, jumbled and raw and just how you thought it originally. You can then upload the audio to your computer and transcribe into a Word document. I wouldn't recommend this for every single email to your boss, but for a large report when you just need to get something on the page, why not? It beats the blank page blues and as usual, I realize I have a lot more to say than I can ever use in my written report.

 

Jul
25
2008
Yapping Again About Productivity Maranda Gibson

I'm talking productivity yet again. It might be because I tested out as Generation Y (in reality, I'm Generation X) a couple of months ago, but I'm fascinated with productivity information and various ways that companies are trying to improve workflow and process and profit. How do they do it? Measuring productivity, of course!

In the town of Redding, Connecticut, city workers moved to a four-day workweek, working Monday through Thursday, and not working on Friday. The Acorn-Online.com reports on the early results.

"It has been only a little over a week since the town went to a four-day workweek, closing offices on Fridays, but an increase in productivity is already being noticed.
"'I've received positive feedback from employees,' said First Selectman Natalie Ketcham. 'Most of us field telephone calls from residents. With the longer workday, we are able to finish other work that may have been put aside when responding to those calls.'"

Smartbrief.com has a nice round-up of stories related to productivity, but the main point is that there are many options out there and it can't hurt to try a few and see how your employees do.

"If you want employees to work nights and weekends to complete a project, you've got to give something in return. Some companies find that something can be flexibility in employees' schedules, which not only allows workers to pursue outside interests, but also benefits the company.

"Flexible schedules can be completely open-ended -- as long as the work gets done -- or can be scheduled around a graduate student's school schedule, pro bono work or even a second job.

"Companies find that flex time helps their employees become more productive and helps create a 'good workplace environment that begets good work.'"

Business24-7.com, based in the United Arab Emirates, talks about ergonomic issues as a factor in productivity.

"Two out of three employees suffer from work-related repetitive strain injury (RSI) and this costs companies a fortune in lost working hours, says a new report from the UK.

"RSI - widely linked to the use of computer keyboards - costs employers in Britain £300 million (Dh2.2 billion) annually in lost productivity and sick pay, according to a study by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. The condition accounted for an estimated 3.5m lost working days in 2006-07.

"The problem is also acute in the Middle East with the hot summer preventing staff from taking breaks from their desks. And the region is not as advanced as Europe at preventing the disabling condition."

So what ideas have you put into place to improve productivity? Post a comment and let me know!

Jul
24
2008
A Round Up of What’s Happening in Small Business Maranda Gibson

A Business Daily Africa article highlights an often-overlooked aspect of starting a business: a business plan. We've not really discussed these on this blog, but look forward to future posts, and soon.

"What needs to be implemented? Simply put, a strategy. It is the working plan that shows how all the elements of a business will work together to achieve the stated objectives. Whereas this working plan should be well thought out, it should never be static.  In a small business, things keep changing and getting more efficient in response to the internal and external environments.

"A small business must create a name that will set itself apart from competitors if it is offering services. It must always be clear what is trying to sell. The name of the product should closely associate with the expected service experience.

"Good and successful businesses do simple things well. They keep their promises time and again, that way they gain loyal customers."

Reuters reports that small businesses in the UK are feeling the crunch as larger suppliers slow pay schedules. This is a true sign that even the UK's economy is hovering. We're seeing a similar trend in the United States. Although productivity is up, there's still reticence on the part of many big industry decision makers.

"The Federation of Small Business (FSB) says that small firms are experiencing the biggest squeeze on their cashflows since the early 1990s as big companies are now delaying payment to their smaller suppliers by more than 100 days. The FSB says that the situation has worsened dramatically in the past few weeks and it took the unprecedented step of naming Alliance Boots as one of the worst payers."

Hispanicbusiness.com reports that inflation has risen to the top of small business owners' list of worries during this economy.

"Inflation is the top concern of small-business owners for the first time since January 1981, according to a June survey of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"Confronted with rising gasoline, energy and food costs, some business owners have raised prices, but many have found creative ways to cut costs and delay further price increases.

"Small-business owners are feeling pressure from inflation 'every time they open up the back door' to receive new inventory, said William Dunkelberg, chief economist at the federation. He said 41 percent of small businesses raised prices in June in response to this 'backdoor inflation.'

"'There has been a really dramatic increase, and it seems to be accelerating,' he said of the inflation rate.

"In June, 20 percent of small-business owners cited inflation as their top concern, compared with 8 percent in February, according to the National Federation of Independent Business."

And now you're all caught up with some of the latest small-business news for this week.

Jul
23
2008
Sailboats and Sunset Maranda Gibson

Sailboats & Sunset

Jul
22
2008
A More Straightforward Approach to Productivity Maranda Gibson

I figured it was time to make the case for productivity in other types of business environments that do not have the tendency or desire to grant Facebook time, goof-off time, or even nap time. Many of these companies do business in a very competitive market and it's a daily race to get ahead and stay ahead.

For instance, Tom Siebel, CEO of Siebel Systems, doesn't play by society's rules nor does he think much about making work comfortable for his employees.

In a 2000 article for Fortune magazine, Siebel says, "'Running a business is a fundamentally rational process,' Siebel says squarely. 'We unemotionally put things on the table, look each other straight in the eye, and state the facts.' The article also reports that "[I]f employees are offended by this perfunctory management style, then they're probably not right for Siebel Systems. Employees who perform are rewarded; those who don't are disposed of. Nearly everyone at Siebel is given a rank within each department, and every six months Tom Siebel lops off the bottom 5%. Siebel is intense, competitive, and driven[.]"

Think it a little extreme? If so, you're probably better off working in an adaptive management culture, one that encourages performance, but doesn't demand it. Remember, there is no right or wrong here. The adaptive culture may allow more free time, self-management, and self-expression, but Siebel's achievement culture (a phrase used in business management textbooks) may be a good fit for a high achievers who seek to make a lot of progress in a short amount of time. And it seems to work for Siebel and his company.

Fortune reports that "Siebel Systems is the only U.S. enterprise-software company to accelerate past $1 billion in revenues without running off the rails. Oracle, Informix, PeopleSoft, Sybase, and Baan have all had to clean up wreckage at some point. Oracle had an accounting scandal in 1993, which resulted in a $100,000 fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission and shareholder suits that cost Oracle $24 million to settle. Informix, too, was reprimanded for accounting shenanigans. PeopleSoft management fell into disarray. Siebel, meanwhile, is growing by leaps and bounds--analysts expect the company to do $1.6 billion in sales this year [in 2000] and plans to double its work force within the next 12 months."

In 2008, Oracle (who serendipitously bought Siebel Systems in 2006) has gone the way of most IT companies--"four consecutive quarters where its revenue and profit figures are sharply down on the same period a year before" and this reflects not on a certain management style, but on the state of IT as an industry.

Many called Siebel a control freak and many more chose not to take a job at Siebel Systems back in the years 2000 through 2006 just because of this achievement culture, but the lesson here is that there is no "one" way to approach business culture. And it is only up to you to choose which way you go, especially if your business struggles with productivity. Just don't fret if early efforts have not paid off. The market is tough on everyone these days, even those folks who still aren't on Facebook and never get naps at work.

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