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Posts Tagged ‘management’

Employee Management Lessons From the Military

November 9th, 2010 :: Karen Axelton

By Karen Axelton

Would your employees rather be working for a drill sergeant than for you? Quite probably, according to the results of a new survey of the “10 Most Blissful Workplaces” by CareerBliss, a website that helps people find joy at work.

The results of CareerBliss’s study showed that despite multiple ongoing engagements, lengthy deployments, and lower pay, the U.S. military is among the most blissful places to work in America.

Military personnel were more satisfied at work than many in the private sector. All four major branches of the military and the Army National Guard outranked well-known companies such as Disney, Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft in overall happiness.

Drilling down to specific aspects of happiness, The U.S. Army and the Army National Guard ranked number one and number two, respectively, out of all places of employment in career advancement, topping corporations such as Google and PricewaterhouseCoopers. CareerBliss also found that, on average, military members are happier with their benefit packages than employees in companies such as General Electric and Qualcomm.

What are some reasons military members love their jobs—and how can a small business owner emulate the military?

Security. Job security is a key reason U.S. military members valued their workplace. If you’re in danger of having to lay off employees, try everything you can to avoid it – whether it’s cutting hours, cutting pay or cutting overhead. Employees who know you’ll do everything you can to stick by them will be more loyal to you in return.

Development. The military places a high priority on personal and professional development for employees. Offer your workers chances to improve their skills, whether by cross-training them, giving them flexible schedules to take college courses or further their business training, or signing them up for online webinars and industry training events.

Camaraderie. The bonds forged in the military enable members of the armed forces to do the impossible. Foster an environment of teamwork, friendship and caring in your business, and you’ll create the same kinds of strong ties. When you and your employees truly trust and care for each other, there’s nothing you won’t do to get the job done.

Employee Benefits Still Matter

October 27th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

In today’s challenging economy, you might think that employees would be grateful to have a job—any job. But a new survey from the Financial Services Roundtable and Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that benefits are an important factor in job satisfaction for employees at all salary levels.

Over half (52 percent) of employees value their benefits as a way to “protect their financial well-being”. What benefits are valued most? When asked to rate (on a scale of 1 to 5) different benefits in terms of providing financial protection, 85 percent rated health insurance a 5. Sixty-nine percent also rated retirement plans a 5, but that number increased to 80 percent as workers’ ages and incomes rose.

Interestingly, some other benefits were valued more highly by lower-income employees. While 48 percent rated life insurance a 5, that increased to 67 percent among workers making less than $35,000. Although less than half (39 percent) of workers rated long-term disability a 5; that rose to 52 percent among workers making less than $35,000. And while 35 percent rated short-term disability a 5, the number rose to 45 percent among workers making less than $35,000.

The power of benefits is evident in these results:

  • 36 percent of employees have taken a job because of the benefits and insurance an employer offered;
  • 40 percent have stayed in a job because of the benefits and insurance offered;
  • 10 percent have left a job because of the benefits and insurance their employers offered.

I often hear entrepreneurs say they can’t afford to offer benefits, but the reality is, you can’t afford not to. As a small business, there are many more options for providing benefits for your employees than ever before—whether it’s 401(k) plans (which can now be offered by even the smallest companies) or work-life benefits such as flextime or work at home policies. Benefits don’t have to cost a lot—and as this survey shows, they bring you a lot of loyalty in return.

Image by Flickr user Andrew Magill (Creative Commons)

For Business Success, Go Back to School

October 15th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Karen Axelton

What can going back to school teach you about running a better business? Plenty. And it doesn’t have to mean dropping everything to enroll full-time. Here’s a quick look at the many options available.

Entrepreneurship education. More and more colleges these days (over 700 nationwide) offer degrees in entrepreneurship. And recognizing how busy real business owners are, many of them have classes at nights and on weekends. If you don’t want to take a full course of classes, you can brush up on subjects like accounting, or using business software such as Excel, by taking classes at community colleges or through adult education programs.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). A partnership between the government, private sponsors and educational institutions, SBDCs are one-stop centers where business owners can get free counseling and assistance to improve their businesses. SBDC Business Advisors—in many cases, current or former entrepreneurs themselves—work with you to pinpoint problems and opportunities in your business and coach you through to reach your goals. Visit the SBA’s online SBDC locator to find an SBDC in your area.

Help going global. Global business is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs. If you’re currently doing business internationally—or just considering it—contact colleges or universities near you to see if they have an exporting education center. Exporting centers provide training and education for entrepreneurs who are interested in or currently exporting.

Class project. Many colleges’ entrepreneurship programs or business schools have students work on real-life projects with local businesses as part of their education. You could get business students to assess your marketing strategy, or find a graphic design student to create a new brand image for your website. Talk to nearby schools to see what options exist.

Ask the professor. Students aren’t the only ones at colleges that you can enlist to help you. Often, business professors do consulting on the side—and their prices may be lower than other consultants, especially if they combine the work with using your business as a class project. Many professors are former or current business owners, as well, so they’re not just offering advice from the ivory tower.

Image by Flickr user Michael Oh (Creative Commons)

5 Secrets to Successful Business Leadership

October 14th, 2010 :: Rieva_L

By Rieva Lesonsky

One of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur is the leadership role you have to fill in your company. Before you launched a business, you may have headed a department or even a division, but being in charge of an entire business is something else altogether.

That’s why smart entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to boost their leadership skills. In a long-range, in-depth study, researchers at McKinsey & Company assessed successful leaders and pinpointed 5 components of what they called “centered leadership”:

1. Finding meaning in work. Centered leaders see their purpose as greater than themselves. They often use storytelling to convey their passion to their employees, and to convey the meaning they find in their businesses. This might not be the most “efficient” means of conveying information, but it can be the most inspiring.

2. Converting negative situations into opportunity. Fortunately, entrepreneurs tend to be natural optimists. But for those entrepreneurs who aren’t, change and uncertainty create stress and can cause paralysis. The good news is, you can learn to “reframe” negative events as positive opportunities is by spurring employees’ creativity. Brainstorm ways to turn a problem into an opportunity, and give people the OK to try and fail.

3. Leveraging connections and community. Bringing the right people together—both inside and outside your company-is key to leading successfully. Often, this means nurturing relationships that may not pay off right away, or bringing together people who may not seem to have a natural fit.

4. Acting in the face of risk. “Engaging”—facing up to what scares you, and inspiring others to do the same—is crucial for leading in times of change. The McKinsey research suggests the best way to do this is by imagining the worst-case scenario, fully feeling the fear that comes with that, then strategizing plans for dealing with it.

5. Sustaining energy. Entrepreneurs are “idea people,” but seeing an idea through to completion is hard, and often our energies fade along the way. Good leaders know how to replenish their own energy from time to time, as well as how to enable their employees to do the same. This can be accomplished by taking brief “technology breaks,” fitting in regular exercise or meditating—whatever works for you.

In a recent McKinsey global survey, leaders who master just one of these skills are twice as likely as those who have mastered none to say they are ready to lead through change. Those who have mastered all five skills are four times as likely.

Being a centered leader pays off, not just in your business, but in your life as well: Leaders who have mastered all five skills are more than 20 times as likely to report being satisfied with their lives in general. Isn’t that what we’re all aiming for?

Review: Conquer the Chaos

July 27th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

If there is one thing that any small business owner is familiar with, it’s chaos. No matter how organized you are when you start a new business, you wind up as a victim of entropy pretty quickly. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to handle every task that needs to get done and those that don’t quickly pile up into a mess, whether that mess is actual or simply emotional. Good small business owners find ways of handling the chaos, prioritizing what needs to be done and essentially riding the wave. The same chaos shuffles out the business owners that just can’t hack it.

Clate Mask and Scott Martineau co-founded Infusionsoft, a company that sells email marketing software. Their business started out with just the two of them, struggling to support their families and handle the chaos inherent in a small business. Since then, Infusionsoft has boomed and Mask and Martineau have codified their approach to cutting through the chaos in a new book: Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business without Going Crazy.

Handling the Chaos

One of the points Mask and Martineau work hard to drive home is that while chaos may be a natural part of entrepreneurship, you don’t have to put up with it. Chaos can quickly consume a small business owner: between the drive to get everything done so that you can actually pay your bills and support your family at home and the stress of being ultimately responsible for everything that does (and doesn’t) get done, stress seems to be a constant companion. The feeling that we should be hard at work every moment of every day isn’t far behind, either.

These stressful situations are almost the exact opposite of why many entrepreneurs go into business. We want the ability to control our own lives, reduce our stress and accomplish something with our businesses. When chaos invades, though, it feels like none of those things is possible. The fact of the matter, though, is that it isn’t impossible to get control of the chaos. There are many ways to do so, but simply getting things under control is the most important part.

One Approach to Chaos

Within Conquer the Chaos, there are two key strategies: automation and list building. List building may be a marketing strategy — and it isn’t particularly surprising that two guys who built a company based on email marketing think list building is important — but it does have an impact on the overall structure of your business. If you have a list, after all, you handle marketing and making sales in a very different way than if you’re out beating the pavement and looking for new clients every day. The approach is one that Mask and Martineau have found very successful in creating a stable business with enough income to let them focus on handling chaos through other ways. The other key to their strategy is automation — getting as much of the business running without your attention as possible.

Image — Wiley Books

Ready To Grow Your Business? Know Thyself Before Hiring

March 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

From Aidan Jones on Flickr

I recently met a super cool CPA.  I do realize that statement is (usually) an oxymoron, but this guy is pretty much the opposite of what I expect a numbers-loving, detail-oriented accountant to look and act like.  Jason Howell is one of the nicest, funniest, most friendly people I’ve ever met.  He is full of energy, quick to laugh, and very engaging.  In other words, he’s my kind of people.  After talking to him a couple of times, I realized that not only is he really smart, he is also overflowing with advice for small businesses.  We sat down one recent warm, sunny afternoon to talk about small business finance and money matters.  This post is the first in a series of three based on the wisdom that Jason so generously shared with me.

The idea of hiring my first employee, full-time, part-time, or temporary, is exciting and scary at the same time.  I’m getting busy enough that I don’t really have time for networking anymore.  In the next few months, I should also be on the verge of turning away prospective clients.  In this economy, that’s pretty cool.  On the other hand, hiring an employee strikes fear into my heart.  Just thinking about the additional paperwork (we all know how much I love accounting/finance/tax stuff) and time needed to manage others stops me cold.

Jason said that before you or I think about hiring, we need to think about our business and what we most enjoy doing.   Simple enough!  He said all small business owners have varying levels of expertise in following three areas: 

  1. Technical skills.  We are technically proficient at whatever it is we do.   We might not love everything it is we do, but we are good at doing it.
  2. Management skills.  Some of us are very good at delegating responsibility and leading and managing others.  You can hand over the aspects of your business you don’t enjoy to focus on what you do enjoy.
  3. Sales skills.  Some small business owners think very strategically and are totally sales-focused.  They have a long-term vision of how they can grow their company, and they are good at selling their company’s products and/or services.  These people live for networking and closing the sale.

When you’re ready to hire people, simply figure out which skill it is you enjoy the most.  Is it doing the work, managing others who will do the work for you, or networking and selling your products and/or services?

If you enjoy the technical aspect of your work…Hire a salesperson to network and drive sales.  Train the heck out of that person so they know your business inside and out.  They need to have several elevator speeches ready for different audiences and have the charm and persuasive skills to set up meetings and close deals.  They will be out and about constantly, leaving you time to focus on doing what it is you do.

If you like managing others…Replicate yourself.  Hire people who have the same and/or complimentary skills and pass work over to them.  You’ll still get to do some technical aspects of your business if you choose—the ones you like doing best.  Say you’re a bakery owner.  You specialize in artisanal breads—it’s what you love doing and what you’re known for—but you also make pastries, which you don’t enjoy as much.  Employee A can help you with the bread baking, while Employee B can make the pastries.

If you’re a born salesperson…Find technicians to do whatever it is your company does.  This will allow you to be out networking, selling, and closing deals.