How Not To Communicate Change to Your Employees

The layoffs and the bankruptcies are clogging the national and local news these days. It's affecting more and more people as real estate, construction, and retail markets tighten for this final quarter of the year and move into an unknown 2009.

As a business owner, how do you communicate these changes to your employees? If you find yourself doing one of these things, it's time to shape up your communication skills.

1. You don't really talk about the economy, as there's work to be done. Nope. That's not a great approach. Sticking your head in the sand doesn't leave you with much to see. Your employees are looking to you to decide their future and the least you could do is to keep up on current happenings in your industry and run some numbers with your accounting department. Then call a meeting and talk about it.

2. You keep promising that nothing drastic will happen, but you just laid someone off this week. It definitely shakes the faith of your employees and it may affect your relationships with key client/customers. If you say one thing and do another, your employees may start to disregard everything you say. Far better to communicate change as a process your employees (and your clients) can track with.

3. No one knows what will happen next year, so we'll just wait it out and see. Again, why aren't you strategizing and putting forward possible plans and scenarios in case things get bigger or smaller, the economy stops completely or regains its footing? Isn't that a leader's job? If you communicate that you're thinking about these issues, wouldn't that be better all around?

4. You walk around bemoaning the loss of sales, but don't communicate how it can be fixed. Employees will wonder why the company isn't doing a major sales push or why you seem immobilized by the situation and can't move forward. Employees will begin to second-guess your leadership. It would be better to gather teams and prepare to combat lack of sales with extreme effort from everyone, most importantly, you.

5. You repeat everything the media squawks from television, radio, and Internet.
Your job is to communicate your company's message and goals at all times. If you only repeat what you hear from a media who can only spell out doom and gloom, your communication plans have been vanquished. Don't waste time repeating others' predictions. Make your own, inspire your team, and get to work.

Handout Tips

Presentations, conferences, and meetings almost always have handouts. These can be as simple as a one-page agenda, or as complex as a fifty-page workbook. Regardless, handouts help to guide your audience through your presentation, understand your message better, and give them something to take away from the meeting… literally.

It's easy to simply make copies of your notes and pass them around the room, but this really isn't the best. If your notes are sparse, the handout is pretty much useless. If your notes consist of your entire speech in bullet points, then what is the point of listening to you? Take a look at three good tips for handouts from The Power of Reflection.

First, encourage your participants to take notes by leaving large spaces for them. Make sure every page has a header, section titles, and page numbers. Refer to where you're at by saying the page number and titles. Though don't make the mistake of making your "master" copy be different from theirs. Finally, if you have more than one booklet or stapled stack of material, color-code each to make it easier for your participants to pick up the right one.

Handouts aren't limited to face-to-face conferences. You can distribute pretty much anything, even if you are hosting a webinar. Email your handouts to your participants to print out before the conference call. You could also setup a downloadable version and simply send the link. If you are hosting a web conference, most likely all of your participants are in front of their computers. Blast email handouts to participants during the conference, or have a link ready that you can put into the chat.

Even if it's a virtual meeting, you're not as constrained as you think. Don't forget to include handouts in your presentations and your participants will appreciate it. One more thing to think about: you can probably have donuts and coffee delivered most anywhere…. just a thought.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Turn Your 800 Forwarding Number Into a Filing System

Talking about lean management last week was just a brief overview. Part of being lean is about eliminating clutter. We all know the cliché "out of sight and out of mind," and what is more out of sight than the file cabinets in your office. Have you looked in them lately? Some people are completely dedicated to keep those cabinets organized and well taken care of and some offices…well, let's just say you would have better luck trying to figure out what the original content of that plastic container in the back of the refrigerator is.

One of the best ways to clear up some of this clutter is to e-file your documents rather than printing them out and putting them in files. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take your 800 forwarding number and incorporate it into all of your daily activities. Not only can you forward that number to another, but you can also use it as a fax machine. The program will recognize what's a fax and what's a phone call and route it accordingly.

You will get an email notification that you have received an incoming fax, with that fax attached as a PDF file. If you're one of those people who opens the PDF and presses the print key automatically, slow down and rethink what you're doing. Old habits die hard, I understand, but technology is one of those things that can live forever if you embrace it.

What does all this 800 forwarding/email notification mumbo jumbo mean to you? Well, here's the thing: by changing the subject lines in those email notifications, you can help keep faxes organized and eliminate that big file cabinet. Wouldn't that be nice?

So how do you do it?

  1. When you get an email fax notification, double-click it to open it.
  2. Highlight the subject text.
  3. Type in what you would like it to say
  4. Close the email and click "Yes" when prompted if you would like to save the file.
  5. Your new subject line will now be displayed.

When you're trying to go leaner and greener in your office, this is a great tool. By defining the subject lines and creating subfolders for storage, you can not only e-store all the new information coming in, but actually fax existing paper copied information to your 800 number and store those in your email as well.

There are some other added benefits to treating your faxes this way. By storing them in your email you, in essence, have an original copy always ready to go. It's going to have the date and time on it as well as the inbound number that it was faxed from. There's always a copy that is not going to be damaged, torn, ripped, turning yellow and peeling up at the edges from age. Also, the US EPA states that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year, so imagine the amount of money your office will save by making this an office mandate and not just a personal choice.

PS: Did you know that your 800 forwarding number is already a fax machine? Print your 800 number on your business cards as a fax number with no additional steps required.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

How to Cut Costs No Matter What Your Business

Rising Cost

The worries over inflation are not off the mark. Rising costs (even with gas prices bottoming out; watch out, they're headed back up if OPEC has anything to say about it) are chief among the concerns small businesses face in these uneasy times. So, how are you going to cut back, keep it lean, and make it through?

Invest the time and energy into research before you spend. It's too easy to just head to the local discount store believing they have the best prices on all the supplies you'll need. You need to invest some time to really find out if you're getting best deals on office supplies, health insurance, even compensation packages for your employees. How to do that?

1. Read the fine print on your health insurance coverage. Do they offer health savings accounts or health reimbursement accounts? If you give out raises, can you afford to give out 4 percent raises plus rising health care costs? Do the math now, or be sorry later.

2. Don't get swayed by the first sales person who calls wanting you to stock up on a year's worth of paper (even if it is Jim from Dunder-Mifflin on The Office). Put them off while you call a couple of other suppliers and compare prices. You can't afford not to. It's worth your time.

3. Be aware of the rising costs. If you are assured that the price of your supplies will stay the same for the next year, don't be too quick to jump on that bandwagon. Everything is going up. Prepare your budget for rising prices and be judicious about how quickly you pass that price increase on to your customers.

Keep your eyes and ears open regarding expenditures across the board. Do you keep a close eye on who has access to the company charge accounts? Do you really need to order double or triple every time you stock up on office supplies?

Include your employees in on cost-saving incentives. Make sure employees know to print on both sides of paper (if you print a lot) or consider going to a paperless invoice system. Invest in power strips and turn off equipment each night before leaving the office. Question every purchase and make sure the expense can be defended with a valid reason.

Above all, don't be known as a penny-pincher, but as a wise manager of the company funds. If it has to be spent, don't bemoan it, just suck it up. But if you don't have to spend, now is the time to take another look and/or shop around.

The Only Way to Stay Ahead and Beat the Competition

You'll hear it from me a whole lot more in coming months: Customer service. The first, most important way to keep your company out in front is making sure your customer or client feels as if their needs are your needs.

There is nothing really more to say, but I will anyway.

1. If you aren't thinking about how to make your customer or client's life easier, why are you in business? Call them and find out how you can help them. If they ever call you with a problem, drop everything and deal with it. I mean it. If you aren't sure why this is important, it's time to revisit your business plan and really ask yourself a serious question: why are you in business?

2. A business that does not aim for the highest in customer satisfaction will not survive as a business for very long. Think about it. Good food at the local restaurant doesn't matter; it matters if the food is served with a smile and they refill your drink without asking. (Hint: Your product or service actually improves in quality when people think they are your priority. Try it.)

3. How many people in your company answer customer service calls? Why not let everyone get a chance to handle a few at least once or twice? It changes the perspective when it's you actually having to help a frustrated customer either use your product or become successful because of your company's help. When you slow down long enough to hear what your client and customer is saying, your business will flourish.

4. Do you keep track of complaints and customer service issues? When Apple started shipping their new Macbooks back in 2006, customers immediately responded with sharp criticism of the knife-like edge of the laptop. Typing while resting a wrist against that edge made using the computer agony. Apple responded quickly. Subsequent releases and models of the Macbook boasted softer edges and Apple proved they could listen. Customers will notice if you're not paying attention.

5. Lastly, if customers need help, even if it's because of their own actions, the less work you make them do to get that problem solved will not be overlooked. The next time they are in the market for your product or service, they'll think of you. A human answering the phone, a quick response to a technical issue, a rapid follow-up when something goes really wrong, these are the little things that will make you into a company that lasts through economic downturn.

As a very wise businessman told me once: it's the little things that will kill you. Never mind your product is the best in the market, if you don't have polite customer service people that can actually fix annoying little problems in a rapid manner, well, your business is toast.

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.

How to Motivate Your Sales Team

1. Communicate sales goals as well as reasons why. If your sales team knows you want to increase sales by 20% in the first two quarters of 2009, do they know why exactly? Why not tell them? If the sales team is aware that if they can increase sales by that much, the company will be able to report record profits to the board of directors who have been concerned about the dropping sales numbers. Even something as simple as that may shed light on the situation a bit better and may inspire a salesman to push a bit harder to make a sale.

2. Offer sales strategies as well as specific tactics. If you share strategies, why not advise with more specific tactics when a salesmen heads out for a difficult sale. Sales is hard enough on its own, and right now, pitches are ultra important. So share your knowledge. Offer to listen to a dress rehearsal and offer tips, especially if the sales team is feeling some nerves about the upcoming pitch.

3. Set short-, mid-, and long-term incentives and share these goals with everyone. If one team sets up multiple goals and then offers incentives for reaching those goals, why not share that with other sales teams? Why not make it a sales department-wide incentive? What's to lose? The important thing is for the sales department to feel a part of something bigger than just themselves.

4. Don't focus on activity (meaningless activities won't help productivity), but focus on the results. Make sure everyone knows when someone makes a sale and make sure to reward both the team effort and the individual effort. Make sure everyone on the team, no matter how small his or her part, gets part of the reward.

5. Create a toolkit of sales tools and documents, sales success stories, and one-on-one mentoring and coaching opportunities. Make a workable repository of tools that make your sales team's job easier from the first step. Make it a point to focus on success stories, especially as sales people head out to pitch a difficult or stressful deal.

Sales can flourish in the most difficult of economic situations. It's a matter of harnessing the fear of rejection, failure, and despair and working through those feelings to better ones on the other side. Make sure your sales team knows you support them 100% and you just may be surprised at how a motivated team can rack of up record numbers against all odds.

Tech Crunch Spares Video Conferencing

Most of the blame of the credit crunch can be placed at the feet of sub-prime lenders and greedy bankers, but as we can see in an article in BusinessWeek we consumers may have a share as well. We embraced credit in its many forms and took on enormous amounts of debt; all so we could buy houses, cars, and tech to name a few.

Now as things become tight, we begin by buying less gadgets and the tech industry is beginning to feel the loss. Not to worry, things will balance out, the industry will be fine, and we will buy again. Maybe in preparation of those days, there have been a lot of telepresence communications commercials on TV recently. Talk about bad timing.

The equipment in the commercials is impressive: usually two or three huge flat-screens in fancy boardrooms – in large corporations or a national chain of upscale hotels – but talk about expensive. If tech spending is going down, where will that leave normal, medium to small businesses?

As a savvy business person, you most likely know about video conferencing already. Yes, it would be great to have floor-to-ceiling, perfect mimicry of realism in the conference room, but at what cost? Video conferencing can be good and functional with a fifty dollar webcam. You can look someone in the eye or smile with them. You can get things done without having to go there.

All in all, tech spending may go down while the economy adjusts and tech industries may feel a sting, but for the normal business, it's business as usual.