Monday, February 15, 2010

Is your staff in the right job?

Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.
~Joseph Addison

There is no question that staff is the most important thing when running a business. After all, nothing would happen without them! It is the staff that represents your company, and you want to have the best team that you can. That said, when an employee is no longer effective, you must take action.
However, before making any decisions about termination, I think it is so important to ask yourself whether or not an employee is in the right job. Time and time again, I have seen employees flounder because they lacked either the skills or the motivation to do the job, and if an employee is in the wrong job, it is through no fault of their own.

We were working with a business that had promoted a very good salesman to the position of sales manager. As a salesman, the employee had always exceeded his sales goals and contributed so much value to the business. Having performed at such a high level in his sales job, it seemed he was the best candidate for the management position. Additionally, the owner really liked the man, so he was promoted.

As part of the promotion, the salesman’s salary went from 100 percent commission to 98 percent fixed and two percent override commission. The owner did not think that the salesman needed any additional sales manager training as “obviously he knows how to sell and is good at it.”

Fast-forward about four years, and the firm’s sales were very flat with no growth at all. The sales manager was not very successful as, even after all this time, he still did not know how to manage effectively. The owner was paying this sales manager much more than he was making as a salesman, but obviously, the owner had little to show for it.

The owner knew the sales manager was not doing a satisfactory job and would have considered letting him go except that, under current job market conditions, he was concerned for the employee since he is older and has a family. The owner said he would feel so guilty letting the employee go knowing the impact it would have on the man’s family, yet this man was having such a tremendous impact on his business. The owner knew if he did not turn things around very soon, the firm could wind up in a very difficult financial position.
When we met with the owner and came to understand his issues, we clearly saw how dramatically this sales manager was affecting the business, as well as how difficult it would be for the owner to let this employee go. We also quickly saw that the sales manager really wanted to return to selling – the position where he felt comfortable.

We strongly recommended to the owner that he temporarily take over as sales manager and allow the sales manager to return to a salesman position. While initially the sales manager’s ego was hurt, two months later he was so happy to be back in a job where he felt confident and capable.
Now go out and make sure that you have the right people both on board and in the right positions. Your business is going to be so much better simply by having the right staff doing the right jobs.

You can do this!

Monday, February 8, 2010

"No Problem" is a Problem!!

Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.

~Rita Mae Brown
Whenever your staff communicates with current or potential customers, the words they use have a considerable impact. Customers judge your business by their first impressions, and how effectively your staff communicates plays a large role in influencing these opinions. When interacting with customers, it is critical that your staff communicates in ways that neither offend nor leave anything less than a professional image of your business. I just do not think that you can underestimate the importance of communications between your staff and your customers.

Frequently, Generation Y and so many others use the expression, “No problem,” to mean, “You are welcome.” However, many, many folks are put off by this expression, and I believe the reason for this is that it invalidates the comments that precede it. Furthermore, it is just not very professional.

My wife and I went to a very nice restaurant with another couple, and we had absolutely great service from a very attentive server. He did not hover around the table, but he was there when we needed him. At the end of the meal, I told the server what a great job he had done, and you guessed it, the next words out of his mouth were, “No problem.” I felt that these words nullified every nice thing I had just said to him.

“No problem” responses are very often the subject of the many speeches I give, and Sam Varn, owner of Awards4U in Tallahassee, has just put into place a very novel fix to this problem. In his showroom, he now has a sign that says, “’No Problem’ is a problem” which is viewable by both customers and staff. The message continues on to say that he wants his staff to be courteous, friendly and offer the best customer service possible. Additionally, the sign says that if his staff uses the phrase, “No problem,” with any customer, he will pay that customer five dollars. Obviously, Sam does not want to pay out a large sum of money, but it is more important to him that his staff and his customers know that words matter and the phrase, “No problem,” is not acceptable.

One other restaurant chain that so evidently understands that words have meaning is Chick-fil-A. Every single time I visit one of these restaurants, I hear, “It was a pleasure to serve you.” Never do I hear, “No problem.” Obviously, Chick-fil-A understands how critical communications are between employees and customers, and as a result, they train their workers about using correct language.

Now go out and make sure that your staff is communicating effectively. You can do this by listening in to their conversations or by devising your own novel approach to ensure that good communications are always in place.

You can do this!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Strategic Planning

When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.
~Chinese Proverb

Every business needs to have a strategic plan as part of its normal operation. Running a business without a strategic plan is like flying an airplane with no guidance assistance. It is vital that each and every business has a strategic plan as part of its arsenal of operating tools. I really do not know of a successful firm that does not have a strategic plan.

In simple terms, a strategic plan bridges the gap between where the business is and where it wants to go. Starting from the business’ current position, the strategic plan develops the course of action the business will need to follow in order to achieve its future goals.

There are basically three primary steps in strategic planning. The first step is the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Basically, this is a process used to ascertain where your business is right now and what is happening outside your company. In my mind, the critical thing here is to carefully examine and identify your weaknesses as these must be remedied, if possible, in your strategic plan. The most common weakness is communications. Most businesses just do not do this as well as they could.

The second step in the strategic planning process is developing goals for the next two to five years that will allow your firm to grow and prosper. These goals should be both quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative goals are typically financial figures such as sales growth rates and net profits, and qualitative goals frequently include objectives like improving the customer service experience and improving the quality of new hires.

The final – and in my mind the most interesting – step in the strategic planning process is developing a tactical or implementation plan. The tactical plan charts the course that will allow you to reach the goals that you have set. This tactical plan includes a timeline showing what has to be accomplished each year and identifies the party that is responsible for each component of the plan.
Normally, a business’ top leadership team is included in the strategic planning process but then is gone over with all staff. After all, the more staff buy-in, the better. A strategic plan should be one that the whole staff – not just the CEO – considers theirs.

Typically, establishing a strategic plan takes about six hours, with the first three hours devoted to the SWOT analysis, and the remaining three hours covering the second and third steps. Additionally, in any strategic planning session, someone must be keeping notes and recording the decisions so that a written plan can be produced.

After a strategic plan has been agreed upon and written up, the next thing is to get the entire staff to understand the plan’s meaning and its implications for each of them personally. This is so important as, in order to be successful, any plan must be adopted by every person in your organization.

Developing a strategic plan should not be considered an optional but a necessary practice that occurs every year or two. Additionally, the plan should be revisited every month, and the progress – or the lack thereof – should be recorded. If perchance, things have changed, then altering the plan is fine as the strategic plan should be considered a guide and not a rulebook.

If needed, there are many consultants out there that can help you through this process. In fact, in so many ways, having an outsider as a facilitator is the preferred method of producing a strategic plan.

Now go out and make sure you have a great strategic plan to guide your business.

You can do this!