Five Steps to a Leaner Company

If you sat down at a five-star steakhouse and ordered the best T-Bone available, and it came out with big thick layers of fat around the edges, what would your reaction be? Sure, it's still a good steak on the inside but now there's a bunch of extra work you need to do to get to the end result, which is an expensive and delicious melt-in-your-mouth T-Bone that you've been looking forward to for weeks.

Now imagine if they had trimmed the fat off before it got to you, it's still the same steak but there's a lot more time for you to enjoy it. It feels like less work and you're able to enjoy the end result (the steak) a lot sooner and with out all the work to get to the steak, you're going to enjoy it just a little more. Now, if only you could do this in the business world.

Lean Management

Oh, wait, you can.

In the 1990s, the Toyota Production System was developed by Japanese auto maker Toyota and is commonly known in the American business realm as lean manufacturing. The heart of TPS is based around Henry Ford, a pioneer in the automobile industry, who developed efficient assembly line structures that cut his total costs and ultimately raised his overall profit. In short… he cut the fat off his assembly line. Lean management focuses on the types of cuts that can be made across the entire spectrum, for example, a company that is truly lean also examines the number of steps it takes to complete a particular task. If the company is burning too much human energy they might modify the process the employee must take so that every step they make is the most efficient.

You're probably wondering how lean management can affect you and your business if you don't run an assembly line or a manufacturing facility. You can apply lean management in ways that don't require Sigma Six certified professionals to come in and completely revamp your business.

First of all, apply 5S to your office or building. 5S is a method of organization that helps not only to trim the fat from workspaces but to also maintain the organization that is created.

  1. Sort: Go through and keep only essential items on hand while storing or throwing away everything that isn't needed right away.
  2. Straighten: Arrange equipment in the most efficient order. For example if you have someone in your office who is mainly responsible for sending faxes, it would make the most sense to have the max machine set up right beside his or her desk.
  3. Shining: This basically means to be systematic in cleaning the area. Once it's cleaned, it should remain that way. At the end of each shift, the area should be cleaned away of clutter or when you're dealing with individual desks, each person needs to be responsible for cleaning up their own space. Maintaining organization should be a part of everyone's assigned set of tasks.
  4. Standardize: Everyone knows what their responsibilities are. There isn't a need to have two people doing a job that would only take one, and each person should know exactly what they need to do during their work day.
  5. Sustain: Once the first 4 S's are implemented, they need to become the new way to operate. Maintain the new way that things are done without allowing any of the old practices that have been dealt away with to creep back in.

You can cut the fat in other ways as well. Feel like you're spending too much on company travel? Don't travel anymore. Use a video conferencing or audio conferencing service to lower your travel costs and be more time efficient. Think of it like this: a video or audio conference isn't going to run late, get delayed, lose baggage, or get caught in traffic. It's available when you need it and however you need it, so it eliminates the need to make grand plans to get everyone together for a discussion. Conference calls are only the distance from you to a phone or computer, so imagine the energy, time, and money you're saving by just picking up the phone.

Communicating with Style

While knowing your audience is the most important part of being a good presenter, knowing yourself is just as important. Presenting is all about making sure that your best is on display and that people feel comfortable. Participants in your conference are going to feel comfortable if that's what you feel (remember the non-verbal importance).So, it's important to know what kind of communicator you are.

According to Scranton University there are four types of communication styles: process, action, people, and idea. Each style will reflect a different kind of presentation comfort zone. Some people are all business when it comes to their conferences, and others are more free-thinking. What makes each type of communicator feel in control of their presentation, and why is it important?

  1. Process (PR) Oriented:
    A process oriented communicator is someone who focuses on the steps from start to completion with a particular plan of action. These are communicators who understand and focus on the steps it takes to reach the end result. Think of it as "how" and "why”. Process oriented individuals want to make sure the "how" is understood and believes that if the steps are followed accurately, the "why" will follow naturally. These communicators are precise and focus on the facts. They also may establish alternate plans.
  2. Action (A) Oriented:
    Action focused communicators are short-winded. Action is a verb and these types of communicators want to see something done quickly. They want to know that their audience was motivated to move. If you're action oriented, you should always use a visual aid, like a slide presentation, to focus on the result of the coming actions, i.e, "If we complete project X as a team, our profits are going to grow." Action communicators want their audience to know and understand what the result of their provisions, so they can be motivated to reach the end result.
  3. People (PE) Oriented:
    When a presenter has a communication style that is person oriented, they tend to focus more on the relationship between the idea being presented and the people it is going to affect, whether clients or employees. When you're this type of communicator, you should be focusing on how the idea has worked in the past, be informal, and allow time for small talk. A lot on times on conferences, you have a group of people who either work closely together or don't get to spend a lot of time in the same room. So, you need to allow for the people taking part in the conference to chit chat with each other. Allowing time to for this gets everyone comfortable and able to hit the ground running with whatever ideas they have.
  4. Idea (I) Oriented:
    Idea oriented communicators tend to lean towards more open types of meetings. They encourage open discussion and the sharing of ideas. When scheduling a conference, idea oriented communicators should factor in extra time so that they can allow for this open share of ideas. When you're an idea focused person, you have a tendency to let your ideas flow out loud as well. So before your conference, be sure to create an outline, starting with an overall statement, and then narrow your ideas down slowly and to keep yourself on task. Allow for open discussion at the end of the conference so that the creative flow does not have to be interrupted.

(In case you're curious, I am an action communicator.)

The long and short of it is that the best communicators are going to have elements of all these kinds of styles. Getting feedback from your conference participants is going to give great insight into what changes can make you more effective. Are your conferences all over the place with no true plan of action? You should focus on being more process oriented the next time you hold a conference. Do people think your presentations are boring? Try being more people oriented. Making little tweaks in how you present is going to have a lasting impression on the outcome of your conferences.

PS: Nothing is more important than knowing yourself when you're in front of a group. Remember that when you start tweaking your communication style. How you sound is just as important as what you say.

Be Big but Think Small

Unless you've been on vacation for a couple months in a remote mountain cabin, you'll know all about the failures of the huge corporations that make up most of our economy and the governmental money to help them keep going. For whatever reason, these corporations did the things they did, and when the course was run or the market shifted, it all came crashing down.

Other than sales, budget, and number of employees, what's the difference between a small company and a large one? For one thing, if a 35 employee business is in trouble, they won't get a call from the government, other than perhaps one from the IRS to kick them while they are down. There are two main reasons for this: This small company failing will only hurt the employees. If a big corporation goes down, it can damage the economy and America. Second, the government budget won't notice the loss of tax revenue from the little company.

Seth Godin of Seth's Blog has a simple piece of advice for these huge companies: Think and act like a small business. For example, is there any legitimate reason not to have simple, transparent accounting practices? Being able to make the numbers look like you want them can be beneficial if trying to put one over on stockholders, but how does that help the managers of the company?

At what point of a company's growth does it no longer need good customer service? It's vital for small businesses, but large corporations don't seem to have it a priority. In fact, when a big company does have good customer service, it becomes a major selling point and a way to distinguish itself from its competitors.

Like customer service, there are many things that a big corporation leaves behind when it becomes, well big. They may seem inconsequential, but as recent events show, the "ittle" things never stopped being important.

How Often Do You Check Your Email

Time management experts estimate that over 50% of businesspeople check their email compulsively. More and more, people walk around (or try and drive) while checking their Blackberries or iPhones. As more and more email is exchanged in the business world, the urge to keep up with the latest news is insistent. So how often do you check your email? Instantly as it arrives, twice a day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon), or whenever everything else gets done?

If you picked any of those options, you're in good company. Here are a few tips to deal with the overflow of email:

1. Delegate or send along any email you don't need to deal with personally. This is something that managers and CEOs must learn. You should not be answering every email that comes into the sales or customer service department. There are other people that can do it.

2. Create different email accounts. If you receive gobs of email from clients, vendors, colleagues, and so on, parse them out and redirect the email flow into multiple accounts. That way, when you check a particular email account, you can expect all the emails to be from clients, not a conglomeration of emails from colleagues, clients, and people trying to sell you something.

3. The Four-Hour Workweek guru, Tim Ferriss, makes it a habit to only check email once a day. He set up an auto-response message, which states, "I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell."

4. Give email its due in the evening when the day's work is done and you can focus. Lots of CEOs run around all day putting out little fires and then get back to work in their home offices after 9 P.M. to see the day's messages.  Often the inbox is really full. However, an A.M. work shift may be just the thing (for prime working tips specific to night owls, see The A.M. CEO).

5. Time management guru Julie Morgenstern has a book, Never Check Email In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Work Life Work. Her advice is right in the title. She points out that email takes over the best part of the day (the morning) when most managers and CEOs are at their best. She recommends postponing email until later.

6. Prioritize your email. If you can send off quick replies one right after the other and save the longer, thoughtful replies for later, you might find yourself getting through your inbox faster.

Micro Communications

For those of you who don't know, Twitter is a cross between a blog, RSS feed, and stream of consciousness. Basically, you post very short messages about where you are, what you're doing, and what you're thinking. Your "followers" read what's going on about you, and you can read what others are up to. It's like a conference call that's always running in the background; you can hear other's comments and reply if you wish. The beauty of Twitter, what sets it apart, is the quick bursts of information that somewhat replaces emails or blog entries.

In an article on Businessweek, there is a debate on the beneficial nature of Twitter in business. On the con side, personal interactions suffer the most from this instant communication. The example given is a lunch meeting. If you are twittering about your lunch, while you are at lunch with someone, then you are basically having lunch alone. If at a business conference, why worry about updating your followers, when there are live people in front of you with which to interact with.

The pro arguments seem to embrace the intended nature of Twitter. It is highly useful as an information source. For example, if you twitter that you are looking for a better chair, anyone following you can instantly reply with good suggestions. These suggestions would probably never come up in normal conversation. At the business convention, a Twitter search allows you to see which other Twitters are there, facilitating networking. For a company, Twitter is another way to connect with customers and potential customers, much like what is done through a blog. For example, check out the AccuConference Twitter!

Both sides have great arguments, but the answer lies in not black or white, but grey. Using Twitter to get closer to people is a great idea, but have some common sense. Eat your lunch; don't twitter it!

How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 2

Engy

So previously we talked about how to approach a writing assignment. Our overall goal is to better manage your writing time effectively (and to better manage the anxiety that comes from writing).

Now that we've got a "quick and dirty draft," and we've taken a break (hopefully long enough to get some distance, but not too long so that we have to remember what we were writing), we'll venture onto revising. Kenneth W. Davis writes that the first part of writing is to "remind yourself that you're a writer, that writing can be managed, and that it's largely a matter of managing time." Thus, our first step in part 2 is reminding ourselves of just that.

1. Remind yourself again what you're writing and who you're writing to. A quick perusal of your key goals and your key points is helpful as you return from your break to revise your first effort. Just scan your collected information quickly and then turn to that first draft.

2. Davis calls it "locating your turns." This is a term used to describe the idea of finding your opening, your middle, and your end. Or, your introduction, your points, and your summary. Jot a few ideas down on a separate piece of paper. Just 1,2,3 in a row: this is the problem I see, this is my solution, and this is what I think our next action should be. Or when crafting policy: this is our company's standard, this is what's allowed and not allowed, and these are the results if that policy is not followed. See what I mean? Keep it clear in your head right now.

3. Now, let's read that first draft. Just go slow and circle what you like—a sentence or two where you made a good point, an opening line you like, even a paragraph that looks okay. Now put question marks by places that you may have drifted off-point (don't worry, we all do it). Set that paper aside. Now take your list of three items (intro, points, summary page or whatever) and compare. Did you make room for each of these points? Did you stick to these three core issues? If not, that's the extra that needs to come out. Go ahead and cross out the parts that don't belong.

4. Revision. I have a surprise for you. You've been revising already. Even before you knew you were. Cool, right? We're now going to either start on a fresh page or computer screen with only the parts of your first draft that you need to keep. All extraneous material should be long gone. Now, you can go in and add sentences. Just here and there. That first part may need two more facts. Add them. That summary paragraph needs to mention this one thing. Put it in. See what I mean?

5. Run a spell check now. Then print off a copy and read it aloud, pencil or pen handy. Once you've caught all the errors, hand it off to a colleague or an assistant to review. Input any feedback they find and then, close your office door (if you've got one), sit down, and think about what you just wrote. Evaluate it in your mind or evaluate it on the page. Is this what you wanted (and needed) to write? Does it make the points you wanted to make? Do you think there's anything else you would like to add?

Voila. That's a pared-down ten-step process to managing your writing. Wasn't that hard, was it? Was it easier? I hope so.

How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 1

Probably the most hated task of all when running a business: learning to write effectively to your employees and to your clients/customers. People dread it, they postpone it, they don't do it. So how can you, a busy executive, learn to manage your writing so that it gets done?

Read on.

1. Relax. Writing is not rocket science and it really won't hurt. If you can hush your inner critic (sometimes just saying the word "hush" to yourself works) and focus on the accomplishment you want to make with this piece of writing, that's the first step.

2. Spotlight who you're writing to. Is this a memo for your employees? Is this a marketing message for your clients? Is this a policy piece about employee dress codes? Make sure you narrow it down. If you're trying to write all of these at once, stop, jot notes on each topic, and then focus on one piece at a time.

3. Gather your information. What is the new employee dress code? Did you and your HR director hammer out those specifics? Make sure you have that nearby as you write. If you're offering a discount to your clients this month, brainstorm a bit—how will that discount help them be successful? If you need to write a state of the company address, highlight several successes from the past year and have them handy.

4. Write a "quick and dirty draft" without any editing or hand-wringing. Don't doubt your words or sit and wonder if you need a comma there or not. Just free-write, let it out, empty your head of everything you have a need to say. Quickly. It is messy, unkempt, and hopeless, but you have got to get it out of your head.

5. Now take a break. Walk away, do something else, let yourself eat cookies, whatever. Become the executive again, ignore the writing, and put it in a file folder, out of sight. Make a few calls, sell some services or products, whatever you do best, fill up your "feel-good" tank. And pat yourself on the back. You just wrote something. True, it's not done, it's a mess, and you have no idea if your staff really needs to know about your toothache, but for now, it's on a page and out of your head. Don't you feel better?

Next up, we'll do a revise and then step back and take stock on creating a process for the next writing project and the next and the next. You're well on your way!

5 Tips to Improve Presentation Communication

When it comes to communicating through a webinar, it's important to remember that when one of your senses is numbed, the others become more aware. When you can't see someone's face while they are speaking, your body's natural inclination is that the other senses become more heightened and aware. So when you take away the face to face aspect of things, your brain begins to attach more to what is being said rather than just how you look.

So when it comes to presentations where people can only hear your voice and see a carefully crafted slide presentation, what are some things that you can do to ensure that your communication skills (and not just your keen knack for slide design) are noticed? Preparation is the heart and soul of any good presentation. Here are some helpful hints that will help create long lasting presentations that are not only informative but can help you keep your participants' attention.

  1. Anticipate Questions:The core of any good communicator is to provide information with a confident voice. There is no crystal ball that's going to tell you what your participants might ask, but you can anticipate certain questions. For example, if you're hosting a call regarding revenue growth or decline, it's a pretty good guess that someone might ask about numbers for a particular location. Have those numbers ready on a print out or up on the computer so that you don't have to keep that question on hold. Being prepared is the cornerstone of a good presentation.
  2. Brainstorm:Brainstorming is pivotal to any presentation, and building slides should not be the only brainstorming process. When you use the slides to brainstorm your ideas, the presentation often comes out looking messy or disorganized. Grab a legal pad and take notes. Define who your audience is, what idea are you trying to convey with this conference, and so forth. Get that down on paper and it will help to keep your flow moving smoothly and will allow you to have a confident and organized presentation.
  3. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse.According to Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology: The Art of Science Creating Great Presentations, this is key to any good presentation. You should always rehearse in front of a group that is familiar with the content as well as a group that is not. The reason for this is that the group who is unfamiliar with the presentation content is going to be more likely to pick up on any confusing phrases or terminology. The group who works with the content of the presentation is going to understand everything you are saying, so they are more likely to pick up on errors in the slide presentation itself, rather than the content. Always ask for feedback and find out what people were connecting with, ask what was easy to understand, what wasn't, and make sure those responses are turned to your audience. Nancy says "rehearse until you've NAILED it".
  4. Group presentations should be group developmentsGuest speakers and different departmental members can be valued contributors to any conference. When inviting other people to present on a conference it's important that everyone has a couple of brainstorming sessions together. It helps the flow of ideas moving smoothly. If everyone can put their opinions on how the presentation should move and change, then it will not only sound better, but it will look better too. Color schemes on the slide shows should be the same with each speaker. By doing this, you will ensure that your presentation looks uniform and professional.
  5. Slide text should only be used to keep everyone on task and not as a script.
    Presenters should never read verbatim from slide text. Not only would it look as though you were unprepared, it would be boring. No one wants to just be droned on to from direct readings on a page or slide. The text on the slides should be used more as headers, directing the participants from topic to topic. Keep your audience engaged by using the slides as the visual element of a great presentation and don’t rely on them to provide the substance.

Forging a Powerful Team

The newest trend in team-building these days are team-building seminars, either hands-on or conference-style. Before you buy in to a spendy team-building event, why not run through a quick checklist to ensure your team will fully utilize the experience.

1. Ask your people. If you’re going to sign up all your employees or your entire department to a team-building event, ask them about the planning and design. People are really open and willing to try just about anything if given some advance warning. "Games can be trite or patronizing for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff," writes Alan Chapman at BusinessBalls.com. Consider physical challenges, like an obstacle water course outdoors, or something more brainy, a complex puzzle at a science center. Or try something cultural near to your company. Your employees will guide you.

2. Consider the make-up of your team. Chapman also recommends that you track a few variables, including:

  • team mix (age, job type, department, gender, seniority, etc.)
  • team numbers (one to a hundred or more, pairs and threes, leadership issues)
  • exercise briefing and instructions – how difficult you make the task, how full the instructions and clues are
  • games or exercise duration
  • competitions and prizes
  • venue and logistics - room size and availability (for break-out sessions, etc.)
  • materials provided or available
  • stipulation of team member roles – e.g., team leader, time-keeper, scribe (note-taker), reviewer/presenter
  • scoring, and whether the exercise is part of an ongoing competition or team league"

3. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Are you hoping for improved productivity, trying to bridge differences between members, or training new members into the processes of your team? The end will guide the means, so consider carefully what you’d like to accomplish with the team-building activity.

4. Make sure the instructions for the event are clear. This includes the time, the place, the activity, how long the activity will take place, and the goal for the activity. If you can make sure every single member is aware of the details for the event, you’ll end up with a group of willing participants, and maybe even an improved team experience before the event itself.

5. Chapman also recommends that you "ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc."

Once you’ve worked out these issues, your team-building event, whether popular or controversial, will be a greater success and will facilitate a stronger, more cohesive team.

Maintain Trust with Consumers While Still Getting Feedback

When registration for the National Do Not Call list was opened on July 27, 2003, the Federal Trade Commission was praised for trying to limit the amount of telemarketing and fundraising calls that consumers received.   The FTC's decision to allow consumers a way to control what comes through their phone lines has been a welcome change, since it's a service that's paid for, and why should a phone company get to sell your information out to some marketing company that wants to ask you if you've been reading magazines? They shouldn't.

Much the same is said for the ongoing battle concerning the "do not track" list. Ultimately, it works the same as the Do Not Call registry.  Instead of preventing unwanted calls, it prevents marketing and advertising firms from tracking your cookies while you browse the internet. The reason marketers do this is to streamline advertising to a more personalized client base. If someone were to spend a lot of time looking at surfboards or reading about surfing, a marketing company could assign popup ads to that specific IP address or set of cookies, to ensure that the user receives ‘special offers' from companies that provide surfing equipment and facilities. Advertisers see it as an online version of Nielsen ratings, just tracking what people are looking at the same way they follow what people are watching on TV.  Consumers see it as an invasion of privacy and that ‘big brother' is watching. The difference to consumers is that families are chosen to be Nielsen families but when cookies are tracked, there's really no way to keep someone from looking.

This puts marketing and advertising firms in a tough spot. How do they keep a trusting relationship with their consumers  without invading their privacy, while still  determining where business is being generated? Most advertising and marketing firms will run multiple types of campaigns at once -  direct mail pieces, emails, various publishing ads, and website updates. What can be done to track responses without invading customer privacy and keeping those consumers loyal?

One  solution that is growing in popularity is  assigning custom toll-free numbers to each marketing campaign. The cost of maintaining each number per month is very low and it's a great way to know which campaigns are generating the most excitement. If a firm has a magazine and an email campaign going on at the same time, then using distinguishing  toll-free numbers  is a great way to track the response from the consumers. This way the firm isn't really invading anyone's privacy or making their consumers uncomfortable, but  they are still able to track the information they need.

Not only is this a low cost option, these calls can also be recorded.  What better way to know what campaign is generating the most business AND what consumers ask about most?  By using a toll-free service that offers recording, companies can go back and revisit calls that might have had good suggestions or numerous questions to make sure that campaigns are not causing confusion. If a consumer would like to provide a testimonial for you to host on your website, they can use the toll-free recording service. The file is then provided on a customer website and available for the firm to download and move to a website.

There's always a fine line when it comes to keeping consumers and clients happy while being able to conduct your business and get feedback. Consumers don't want to feel like their privacy is invaded, but advertisers and marketing firms want to be able to gather information so they can tailor campaigns to groups of targeted consumers. Using a custom toll-free number is the perfect way to track interest while helping your consumers to feel safe and secure.