Another Multifaceted Approach to Team-Building

Channel 8 News in Austin recently reported on a story that highlighted the philanthropic aspect of team-building.

"It was a double surprise when dozens of Frito Lay employees thought they were assembling bikes Wednesday as part of a team building exercise.

Later in the day, rather unexpectedly, 44 kids turned a corporate exercise into a much more meaningful event.

With numbers in hand, the children walked into a conference room to discover the bikes were for them.

One Frito Lay employee said it was the most worthwhile team building exercise they've done so far."

The London Free Press reports on a team-building exercise that has seen marvelous results from participants.

"Viewers of the Amazing Race know that participants rarely emerge from the contest unchanged.

Sometimes the twosome is drawn closer together, their friendship strengthened by the intensity of the experience. The more entertaining couples go the other way, bickering their way around the world, straining whatever relationship they began with.

The creative minds behind Conundrum Adventures Inc. hope their clients fall into the former category, working together to solve puzzles that lead them through downtown London.
‘It started with the idea of corporate team building, but we've also had a large family reunion do a Conundrum,’ says Teresa Boere, a recent addition to the company. She runs the London arm of the business, which is based in Toronto."

And to dig a little deeper into this subject, Ephraim Schwartz of InfoWorld.com talks about the essentials of global team-building, which focuses less on activities done together to build a team, but highlights essential education and knowledge required when going into a truly global team space.

"Just as a company puts a localization strategy in place when opening a new plant or launching a new product overseas, company leaders must learn about communication styles, attitudes toward meetings and deadlines, even the very notion of what makes a good leader in a given culture before entering into business negotiations with an organization overseas.

In the United States, a direct approach -- even when critiquing a team member -- is admired, but in most of Asia, directness is not regarded as highly. A leader who practices that approach humiliates the person she is criticizing; moreover, in the eyes of the other team members, she humiliates herself."

As business deals spread across the globe, taking care that your communication and assumptions are correct and appropriate goes a long way toward a strong team effort, probably more so than just solving a puzzle or building bikes for children. The essence of team-building is more complicated than a simple exercise, and we’ll be discussing this much more in the near future.

Happy 4th

We hope everyone enjoys a wonderful July 4th this year. Make sure to watch fireworks, eat hot dogs and spend some time with friends and family.

Happy 4th

Business Bending Toward Gen Y; Frustrating Other Generations

Generation Y vs Generation X

In the United States, learning to communicate between different age groups is the new challenge of business communications. Why? Generation X and Y groups speak differently than the Boomer generation.

- Diane Stafford, writing for the Kansas City Star, reports, "The entry of the techno-savvy Gen Ys is getting far more notice than the smaller, quieter absorption of Gen X, the demographic group sandwiched between the boomers and Gen Y.

Whereas Gen X pretty much got with the boomer program, Gen Y has a style of its own. That's created a cottage industry of commentary and consulting about the communication difficulties among the four generations at work."

In the 2008 World of Work survey recently completed by Harris Interactive Inc., workers were given "31 traits to choose from to identify co-workers in their same generation. The top five choices in the four generational groups showed just how differently the groups see themselves.

Gen Y most often described their own workplace personas with: Makes personal friends at the workplace; sociable; thinks out of the box; open to new ideas; and friendly.

Gen X's most frequent self descriptions were: Confident; competent; willing to take responsibility; willing to put in the extra time to get the job done; and ethical.

Boomers most often selected: Strong work ethic; competent; ethical; ability to handle a crisis; willing to take on responsibility; and good communication skills.

And the mature group self-identified with: Strong work ethic; ethical; committed to the company; competent; and confident."

The generations at the most odds, Gen Y, Boomers, and the mature group, have the hardest time communicating. Yet, "Gen Y was just about as hard on itself in evaluating its own work ethic and other 'serious' business traits as the older generations were in downgrading the Gen Y work ethic.

Gen Y is changing the face of global business, possibly the most dramatic upheaval in business culture since women entered the workplace during World War II. 'The significant factor is not how today's business views the newest members of the workforce … it's how Gen Y views business.'

'Gen X challenged the status quo. Gen Y chooses to press for more from their work life. They don't accept all the tried and true principles and practices. The old rules of thumb do not apply. Neither do many of the management techniques employers have used with previous generations.'"

Thus, the challenge in the next few years is for Gen Y to learn to understand how other generations view business and for other generations to allow Gen Y to redefine business in their terms.

Five Tips To Reduce Your Company’s Expenses

Are you feeling the squeeze as a business owner? The papers are full of talk about rising food and gas prices for consumers, but the business owners have to deal with those issues as well. Not only are consumers not spending right now, but the price of gas increases the price of other supplies that businesses require to operate. And the mood among small business owners is dour, so here's a few tips to pep up your day.

  1. Check your utility bills for errors. Phone bills, water bills, electricity bills, any recurring cost of doing business expense has a bill and they are nowhere near fool-proof. Check them to make sure you're being charged the right amount. Check with the companies to see if they offer a promotion for being a loyal customer. Make sure you're paying for what your company is using and not extras that you're not.
  2. Renegotiate your contracts. This slides neatly into the second slot after number 1 above. Is there a better deal you can get by going with another company? If you pit two companies against each other, can you whittle them down bit by bit? Never be afraid to ask for a better deal. It's the name of the game. Especially now.
  3. Think outside the box. Rather than flying everyone to one location for a meeting, think about a conferencing service and instead of handing out cell phones willy-nilly, reconsider how many people in your company really need them. It only takes a little bit of brainstorming.
  4. Outsource. Trying to do it all as a small or mid-size business isn't smart and these days there are services for everything. Shop around and don't sign any long-term contracts until you know you'll use it. This can be for HR, teleconferencing, accounting, marketing, you name it. There must be one thing holding up progress in your company. Figure that out and the sky's the limit. And don't outsource everything; start with one thing.
  5. Show that you're cutting back. Be the example. Turn off the lights when not in the office. Eat a sack lunch twice a week. Print on both sides of the page. Recycle. And always praise employees who attempt to help you cut costs by doing any of the above. It goes a long way and builds morale, which improves productivity, which improves sales and on and on. You know the drill.

Going Green, Along With Everybody Else

It's the biggest buzzword of the year, and may end up the most popular trend of our decade: green.

And everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, including whole sectors of business, government, and media.

The Chicago Tribune reports a list of celebrities who have not gone green yet including: Celine Dion, Tiger Woods, Elizabeth Hurley, Al Gore, John Travolta, Madonna, the Beckhams, and Bill Gates.

Why do these famous people get cited? And what is with Al Gore ? Isn't this his pet peeve?

The Trib reports that each celeb on the list uses more than the usual amount of water, has larger than above-average homes, and uses up a lot of resources traveling the world.
According to the BBC, "David Beckham may have had the largest carbon footprint of all in 2006. Add on his wife's carbon footprint, and they could be one of the most eco-unfriendly couples in the world."

The San Jose Mercury News tells us that public school districts in Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago will benefit from a partnership between a television network and an environmental media company.

"CBS Corp. and EcoMedia of New York City announced Thursday that they will sell special advertising content and programming. They will use part of the proceeds to install solar power, green roofs and organic gardens at schools in the three cities. This is the first step in what will be called the 'Green Schools Initiative.' It will cost about $250,000 per school for the upgrades. EcoMedia wants to expand the program in dozens of schools nationwide over the coming years."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on an upcoming initiative joining Seattle's blue collar workers together to create a new green economy.

"'This is hard-wired into Puget Sound's genetic code. We understand technological revolutions. We started one in aerospace in the '50s, and we started one in software in the '70s, and now we can start one in this,' said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who will address the conference. 'Against a backdrop that for decades seemed to pit environmentalists and labor groups against each other, greens, labor and their allies worked together in the last few years to help pass state laws to improve energy-efficiency and require use of renewable energy. Now they're looking to make sure the jobs those requirements spawn end up in the Evergreen State.'"

What green trends do you see in your neighborhood?

How to Go Back to School . . . and Still Keep Up With Life

There are so many options out there for getting that degree you never finished, brushing up on business skills, or even to retrain for a new career—all without changing your entire life in the process.

The New York Times reports on whether or not online education is right for you . . . and your current or future employer.

"While every employer is different, Susan Kryczka, director of distance education at Boston University, said that most treat online degrees as equivalent to degrees obtained by attending classes in classrooms.

Ms. Kryczka said that many employers would cover online education as part of existing tuition reimbursement programs, provided that employees could prove that the online degree pertained to their current job.

Once employees have completed their degrees, she added, many are rewarded with additional compensation for advancing their education. . . .

When employers are considering job applicants, online degrees are also becoming more accepted. Bob Leber, director of education and work-force development at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., says that when employers are evaluating prospective employees, most don’t ask applicants to specify how they obtained their degrees, just where they obtained them."

So how do you find a good program?

OnlineEduBlog.com rates online universities here. This rating service offers news updates, ratings, and links to a wide selection of online education classes that are available.

"OnlineEduBlog is an education directory and guide that provides exclusive information, reviews, tips and suggestions on choosing the best online college, online course and online education resources that will help you complete your higher education very conveniently along with the degrees they offer for various levels."
The Denver Post reports that with the rising cost of gas these days, online classes are becoming the preferred choice of prospective students.

"As the price of gasoline swells by the day, online education appears to be one industry that has grown sweeter for those hoping to get a degree.

The wait list at the University of Colorado Denver's online program is up 90 percent from last fall. The number of students enrolled in CSU's distance-learning courses is up by 300 students from last year."

What are you waiting for?

Does Your Customer Service Measure Up?

Measure Up

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article by business coach Maureen Moriarty provide a nice "next action" list for companies seeking improved customer service marks from their customers and their own employees.

"Many companies espouse that they provide great customer service, but few deliver. The inconsistency often stems from a failure to model it internally. The quality of customer service that co-workers provide to each other invariably shows up with outside customers.
Sadly, not all co-workers treat each other with the same kind of respect and care that they treat their customers. Perhaps you've heard the relationship advice of, 'Treat your spouse/partner as if they were a guest in your home.' With co-workers (not unlike spouses), there are times we forget we are all rowing for the same team!"
Customer Strategy talks about research released by the Ken Blanchard group that reports that good customer service and developing good customer loyalty are not high priorities for businesses in the UK.

"Despite the fact good customer service could provide an all-important competitive edge in the current economic climate, when asked about their key employee development concerns in Blanchard's annual Corporate Issues Survey, only 10% of businesses identified it as their top management challenge for 2008. Overall, only 38% recognised it as any kind of priority at all, a 10% drop on 2007 survey responses.

Peter Brent, who overseas Blanchard's 'Legendary Service' customer service training in the UK described the figures as shocking."

And the Chicago Tribune talks about Zappos.com's newest effort to weed out uncommitted workers to improve their customer service experience.

"It's called 'the offer,' and here's how it works: About one week into a training program that every headquarters employee cycles through, someone steps into the room and asks the group about their experience so far.

'Is this living up to your expectations?' the trainer asks. 'Is this the right place for you? Because if it's not, we definitely have something for you, it's an early-resignation offer. We'll pay your time so far, plus a bonus.'

Zappos offers $1,500 to anyone who wants to quit, up from the $100 offer when it started the practice three years ago. Between 2 percent and 3 percent take the money and run."

I thought these articles were very insightful, especially in light of several customer service situations I experienced this week. One was stellar, establishing me as a very satisfied return customer, and the other? Not so much.

It got me to thinking, do we as small business owners (or even employees of larger companies) really know what it takes to retain our clients and customer? And do we realize how important retaining satisfied customers will be to us in the long run? Especially during this season of reduced economic growth?

What do you think?

The Downside of Upgrading

8.3 million. That's how many times the new version of Firefox was downloaded yesterday. We were part of the 8.3 mil. Probably millions downgraded - we did (5 out of 5 in our office). Why?

We use Firefox for the extensions. Without the extensions, we might as well be using Netscape 1.0 or IE. We'll gladly upgrade to 3.0, but only when the extensions catch up, if they ever do. We have to have our tab options! This seems eerily similar....does anyone remember the Vista upgrade headaches? We still have issues. Why can't UPS send us a Vista compatible version of their shipping program?

So who's to blame? The original developer (like Mozilla or Microsoft) by not sending out dev kits in time? Or 3rd party developers who haven't yet caught up with the platform? Or is everyone to blame? …for simply not hopping on a conference call to talk about it.

Before definitively pointing the finger, let's keep in mind "What makes a browser great?" Compatibility (ALL Types: Site, Application, Plug-in, & Platform) and Speed. In that order. Some users might wonder if Mozilla could include a ‘fatter' version of the browser with a certain level of compatibility with old extensions. Maybe simply warn about stability or security issues until extensions are updated.

From the Mozilla website: "When you install Firefox 3 all of your Extensions and Themes will be disabled until Firefox 3 determines that either a) they are compatible with the Firefox 3 release or b) there are newer versions available that are compatible."

This can't be the best policy.

Individual extension developers are usually not paid. Maybe they make some AdWords cash, but they are donating to the community and bring the biggest piece of the value pie. Is there more Mozilla can do to cater to these developers? Could they further open up what is being developed to the public domain and stay competitive? Trust in users could generate more brand loyalty and give 3rd party developers more reaction time. People love the name; dare we say they are as positive of a brand as Google. How is the beta/RC program working out? How soon DO developers get information? Is that soon enough or do unpaid extension developers simply ignore the idea of updating their code until they hear from users in their inbox.

As users, we can love extension developers and show gratitude for their time. Please let them know they are appreciated!

As platform developers, we can take some more time out of the busy rush to "release". Although this might "cost" the company, it would be invaluable. Imagine a "no-name developer" receiving a phone call or an email double checking about compatibility.

As third party developers we can bask in the billions of dollars being made from AdWords; or just continue taking pride in persistence. A job well done!

IM Etiquette

Instant Messenger

So, last week, PC World reported a study from Ohio State and University of California, Irvine (joint study, I presume) that instant messaging actually improved people's productivity during the day.

The reasoning is that instant messaging (IM) is less obtrusive than a phone call or even “a knock on the side of your cubicle” because like email you can choose when to respond. I wasn't sure about that claim, because I have had multiple experiences in the past week that were exactly the opposite.

A coworker who wanted to know if I could talk on the phone right then. A vendor needed me to provide him with a proof of purchase so he could make sure I actually purchased software from him. A friend sent a YouTube link and then asked how I liked it.

But IM can improve productivity if used correctly.

Here's a few survival tips:

  1. Only turn on IM when you're actually available or willing to talk. See those nifty little away messages? Use them. Especially if you're busy. That way, people will wait until you're available, or if they send you a message anyway, won't expect an immediate answer.
  2. Be careful who you let on your friends list. This is key. If you're college buddies only want to send YouTube videos all day, and want to chat about your friend who made a fool of himself while he was intoxicated at Saturday night's party and you have work to do, perhaps they should be removed from your work IM and added to your personal IM.
  3. Don't bug your friends or your coworkers. Are you the one sending out YouTube links all day? I would guarantee your productivity has slowed as a result. And the one rule of IM is simple: treat others as you'd like to be treated.
  4. IM on a work computer is not private. Those all-knowing guys down in IT know what you're doing, so watch out. The same goes for how long you sit on YouTube.com. You might, however, be allowed to take breaks and surf the Internet, thus see How To Keep Up . . . And Get Ahead for help convincing the powers that be to allow breaks to surf Facebook.
  5. Impress your boss and use IM to actually save time and be more productive. Ask a quick question, send info to someone, invite a friend to lunch, and you'll improve your ability to multitask and accomplish more than you thought you could today.