Archives for September 2013

Why Organizations Should Use Social Media

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I’m an avid supporter of  organizations using social media. Organizations should use social media to create a place for open internal communication and knowledge sharing, as well as customer engagement.

First, let me just say that it’s important to link any social media effort with your organization’s overall business objectives; it’s crucial for leadership to plan out how social media will fit in with the overall vision and goals of the organization. As leaders, we have to push social efforts not only to positively change organizational behavior and how employees interact with each other, but also to change how they interact and collaborate with customers.

Social media allows organizations to:

  • Clearly state the company’s vision and provide more transparent leadership
  • Enable employees to feel as if they are a part of the the overall vision and organizational plan by creating a sense of empowerment
  • Create a more transparent environment of collaboration and innovation through knowledge sharing
  • Engage their employees and customers more effectively, whether it’s through promotions or customer support
  • Improve internal processes and decision making which often times relies on effective and clear communication

We live in a time of connected employees and consumerism, where the employee and consumer voices are more powerful than ever. They are expressing themselves through active communities in and outside of the office. This is why it’s crucial the organizational leadership take the time to engage employees and customers in order to build trust, and it should never be used as a way to simply broadcast a commanding and controlling message. Social media provides and excellent opportunity for leadership to bridge employee and customer expectations with their objectives.

It’s important that organizations adopt social media because it has become a natural part of our everyday lives, not to mention part of the ebb and flow of effective companies. Social media can positively motivate employees as well as promote dynamic forms of peer and customer connections through increased engagement. It isn’t just a trend or a passing fad, it has become a part of who we are.

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My Life in an Electronic Vacuum: Seeking Balance

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Have you heard anyone say this?  Finding a work/life balance is getting harder and harder, and the paradox for me is that the tools which are intended to convenience me, are the reason why I am losing my ability to carve out personal time for myself and my family.

Outside my back door is the raised vegetable garden I built by hand.  It is beautifully constructed, if I do say so myself, and this summer it has produced a dizzying array of produce. In these waning post-season days I can look out my second floor office window and see that there are cucumbers still on the vine, eggplant galore, and lettuce that is overgrown, and if I had the time I would go there to pick them, clean up the garden, ready it for winter.  Did I say that the garden is only steps from my back door?  Are you asking yourself why I haven’t tended the garden lately, or have you figured it out already?  Stuck in my office, I have many reasons why I do not visit my garden and enjoy its abundance, and all of them are electronic.

Are you tethered to your gadgets?

My day begins with several activities, in this order:  Turn on the computer, pour a cup of coffee, return to the computer and read my email – from all five email addresses.  I have two email addresses for the online school I attend, and from which I will soon have earned my M.B.A. in Internet Marketing; I have two personal email addresses, one that I have owned for 20 years and a newer one to which I am beginning to direct traffic – if for no reason other than every spam artist in the world has found the first; and finally, I have an email address for work.  Sometimes, between the time I go to bed and the time I begin reading the emails, 100 or more communiques have landed in their respective boxes. Once I am finished reading, deleting, or responding, I move on to the cell phone to check for text messages, and from there I check my two calendars, one for work and one for school, so I can begin to map out the day. At this point I am into the second or third cup of coffee.  I take a short break, maybe play a field or two on Angry Birds, and I begin the next phase of the morning. The rest of the day is spent at the computer, moving from program to program, to fulfill work and school commitments.

Online education is not easy, mostly because of the heavy reading and writing loads.  It is not unusual to be assigned a couple of hundred textbook pages to read each week plus case study research, and a heavy writing schedule to boot.  Then there is the blog project, for which this post is designed; it also takes time and thought. Research on the computer to verify the accuracy of information we share on the blog is necessary to maintain the integrity of the project.

My job carries its own burden of responsibility and thankfully I have a very understanding boss, who happens to teach online classes and therefore understands how tough it can be to manage one’s time effectively while maintaining good grades.  My job is with an online marketing firm which provides pro-bono services to non-profit groups in need of sustainable, capacity-building systems to manage their organizations.  I work in a virtual environment, with internet-connected teams of people, and often have direct contact with clients, too.  This means that we meet frequently online, in a virtual office environment, we share documents, and apart from these activities we are each responsible for blogging about social change initiatives, and we monitor and generate social media campaigns through the use of online digital dashboards.

Throughout the day I continue to monitor and respond to emails, intra-office messages, contribute to discussions on client projects, and answer telephone calls.

My day typically ends when my husband arrives from work around 9PM, and for the hour or so we spend catching up or watching a TV program, I am returning text messages and monitoring emails from my cell phone.  The last thing I do before turning in for the night, is check the computer one last time.

I joke about the day when I am finally free of school and working at a full time marketing job; I say it will feel like I am on vacation.  Secretly though, I fear that the time vacuum created by graduation will be filled with some other online, smartphone, blog, or tablet-based activity, and the cycle will continue, the electronic noose will grow tighter, and the concept I currently hold about what personal time is will no longer be a reality,  only a fond memory.

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3 Ways Evernote Enhances Productivity

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Evernote is one of the most important productivity tools in my arsenal, which makes it an essential part of my everyday management and organizational process. Basically, Evernote is a tool for storing, organizing, and accessing content across all of your computers and mobile devices.

I use it to capture ideas and information as notes, audio clips, photos, PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, and web clippings that I place into notebooks and even stacks of notebooks. It offers a an efficient way to organize your projects, daily tasks, research, blog posts, you name it. OK, so how can Evernote enhance your productivity?

  • Keep track of your tasks, objectives, and overall goalsNo matter what you do for a living, you have to set goals as well as objectives to you help you achieve those goals. Evernote allows you to quickly map out your goals and objectives as well as the tasks you need to accomplish both. You can easily keep track of everyday tasks and to-do lists in order to keep track of what you’ve completed and which tasks still need attending to.
  • Quickly record ideas on the goIf you’re like me, some of your best ideas come when you’re in the car, out at the store, or pretty much anywhere that’s not in front of a computer. No matter where you are, you can use Evernote’s mobile app to record audio notes and take photos of objects or napkin notes so you don’t forget any of those great ideas. Your notes will automatically sync with your Evernote account and be available on any of your other devices.
  • Clip inspirational web pages and contentEvernote’s Web Clipper makes researching on the web a much more productive experience. The clipper is a plug-in for your browser. As you browse the web, you simply click the Evernote Web Clipper button to capture to the entire page or sections of it.
So there you go, a few ways Evernote can help enhance your productivity and make your life, work or personal, that much easier to manage.

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Is Money the Ultimate Motivator?

Over the years I have tried to find what motivates my team to do well in their jobs. I think I have found a recipe (I’m sure this is not THE recipe) but my recipe used in running my business for the past seven years. Hopefully by sharing a few of the ingredients you can freshen up your recipe for a successful team.

People want to feel valued. Give them a reason to show up every day. Tell them that no matter what small task they perform that it is essential to the overall business and without that, the business would not be successful. Help the entire team understand the goals and how everyone is needed to achieve those goals. Many times the behind the scenes employees are making ‘it’ happen for those in the limelight. Remind them that no one shines if there are burned out light bulbs and the entire business is left in the dark.

Ensure that every job has an element of fun. Now I am not saying that it is your responsibility to make sure employees are having fun at all times. However, there was something that motivated them to apply for the job, sell themselves to you in an interview and then accept the commitment to do that job. So many times, somewhere along this path, that enjoyment; fulfillment; sense of fun; is lost. Here are a few ideas to help keep or bring back the fun in your team.

  • Once a week, once a month, bring in breakfast to the team. Encourage a bit of informal water-cooler chat time to let everyone get to know each other and discuss things outside of work that means something to them. (kids, hobbies, trips, latest movies or television shows)
  • When someone has a big task that can be divided and conquered with a group, bring others in from their normal tasks to help out. Team members enjoy a change of pace and like being able to help out others. They become a part of something bigger. It can be a win-win for everyone involved.
  • Ask them what they enjoy most in their job. I know it is novel to actually ask someone, but it will tell you a lot just to ask “what part of your job did you enjoy most today, this week, etc.” It is amazing what you will find out. Use that information and try to have them do more of whatever that is for them. Again, another win-win, as long as their answer isn’t ‘going home’. But if it is, you know you need to dig deeper, that may not be the best person in the right job any longer.

Praise accomplishments, both big and small, along the way. Recognition is often left until the end of a project or sales season, when results are tallied and profits are gained. Although, don’t forget to give public praise for the steps along the way.

  • “Good job”
  • “Thanks for the extra effort to get that done”
  • “Great work in helping that customer have a wonderful experience”

These will go a long way to take a challenge or difficult customer situation and make it into one of the fun, fulfilling moments of the work day.

Loyalty is hard to find, sometimes you do need to pay for it. In an ever changing work environment, loyalty is not something that is at the top of most lists, neither the employer nor the employee. A great workplace culture will only take you so far, employees jump from job to job to make even a little bit more money. If you have found good people, you need to provide the financial incentives to keep them producing for you and not your competition. I have found that although I pay above market minimums, I cannot afford to pay the premium wages that some of my employees could command. So I make up for it by:

  • Creating sales incentives to help increase take home pay based on specific products sold
  • Paying for and providing food on busy days
  • Pay season-end bonuses (a practice that is not common for my industry)
  • Enable an aggressive employee discount on our products
  • Direct our donations to the schools and community groups that impact my employees

Here is a taste of my motivators. I know that these are nothing new, but I find in the day-to-day of everything we do, I need to remind myself to take care of those that, without them, the lights on my business would go out.

Share your thoughts:  What ingredients for success do you use to motivate your team?

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Performance Evaluation Feedback: A 360-Degree Approach

One of the things that really get’s under my skin is not getting good feedback. Whether it’s a project, a presentation, or a performance evaluation. Which is why I’m adamant about providing good feedback to anyone I manage. If fact, informative and positive feedback is key to ensuring a highly effective performance evaluation. One of the most interesting feedback approaches I’ve seen is multisource feedback through the 360-Degree Approach

The 360-Degree Approach

In a 360-Degree feedback program, anyone in an employee’s circle, their 360 degree range, can be a performance evaluator. This includes peers and other team members, subordinates, managers, and even the employee being evaluated. The idea is that this 360-degree group can provide a better overall picture of an employees performance than just one person. OK, so here are some best practices for the 360-degree approach:
  • The 360-degree approach should be used for individual employee development. By focusing the attention on the individual performer, you are more likely to get that person to open up to the program and the feedback itself
  • It should be integrated with other types of activities. Make sure to follow up the performance evaluation with coaching or additional training, and even setting clear goals. The intent is to improve performance and help your employees continue to develop.
  • Make sure the feedback is in line with the overall direction and strategy of the organization. For example, if you are a service oriented company, make sure the employee development plan includes improving and building upon service-related tasks.
  • In a 360-degree feedback program it’s important that the manager (evaluator) is in complete control of the process. This includes training everyone involved in the process, planning out the improvement activities, etc.
  • It’s imperative that senior management behave as role models. If employees see you taking this process seriously and taking the appropriate actions regarding the 360-degree plan, then it stands to reason they will take the program more seriously as a result. This is an important note for those learning to lead as new managers.
  • If you plan to use coaches to help employees improve their performance, make sure those coaches are well trained themselves. It will go a long way to making sure those coaches can help create action plans and help employees understand the results so their performance evaluations.
  • It’s important to measure the overall effectiveness of the evaluation process and make the necessary modifications where they are needed.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Ok, as with any approach to performance evaluations, there are advantages and disadvantages. So let’s lay them out.
Aside form what is listed above, the key argument for a 360-degree approach is that since the evaluation doesn’t hinge on only one point of view, the impression is that the evaluation is not only fair, but more credible. Also, this approach could be a good way to improve performance evaluations overall. With that said, there are some valid arguments against this approach.
Peers may not want to hurt their fellow team member’s careers, and therefore might not provide an evaluation that accurately reflects the employee’s performance. For example, they might give higher marks than were deserved. Another disadvantage is that everyone involved in the process has to be in a position to frequently observe the employee’s performance. Differences in observation frequency can result in different opinions and therefore major differences in the results.
Informative and positive feedback is one of the keys to ensuring a highly effective performance evaluation. The 360-Degree approach allows peers and other team members, subordinates, managers to get in on the evaluation process and help each other grow as one cohesive team rather than just a group of individuals. Even if you don’t choose to use the 360-degree approach, you should definitely provide accurate and effective feedback in your performance evaluations and make sure you set a plan and goals for your employees to improve their performance.

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Online Education: Older Students Learn to Fit In – Virtually

In my college career I have spent equal amounts of time in brick-and-mortar universities and online universities. Today I am nearing completion of an M.B.A., with a concentration in Internet Marketing, the wave of the future, and a world wherein virtual offices are common.  I mention this because it is important to understand the benefits of online education, beyond the obvious convenience factors.

If you are over 50 and still in school, this story might resonate with you.

Make the right decision the first time:  Getting into law school is no easy feat; students with degrees from lofty universities are turned away each year, unable to score high enough on the LSAT or to pass the scrutiny of admissions boards.  I was one of few lucky applicants who made it through the vetting and gained a seat.      Like any other prospective student I was anxious to see and feel the schools I applied to, and in the year leading up to my admission I toured campuses and spoke with law school admissions representatives.  You are probably saying, “So?  What is so unusual about this?” The answer is that in every face-to-face encounter I had with admissions folk and other prospective students, it was assumed that I was a parent, not an applicant.  Despite my carefully colored hair, and my hip-for-campus-yet-still-appropriate clothing, there was no hiding the fact that I was decades past the typical age of someone seeking new, relevant credentials with which to gain employment, which was my aim, indeed my need, as I passed through mid-life into my golden years.  If I did not already suspect I would not fit in, it was made very clear when, speaking with an Assistant Dean of Admissions from a prominent Texas law school I was told, “You can get through law school, but you won’t be able to practice in the area you are attracted to – because of your age you will not only be denied the job, but you probably won’t even get the interview.”  I was floored.  Did he really say that to me?  Is it legal to say that?  Needless to say, I did not get into that law school, despite having a GPA of 3.98 and excellent references.

 Has anyone ever tried to hold you back from your dreams?

Ironically, after fighting so hard to gain admittance to law school, once there I hated the curriculum and eventually withdrew. I was not a good fit, for all kinds of reasons, but chiefly because I could see my future in the legal environment through the course studies, and I dreaded the idea that I would be stuck there forever; I loved law, but I didn’t want to become a lawyer.

Seek Progress, not Perfection: I am going to digress here and go back to the time I attended brick-and-mortar, over age 40, and anxious to complete my education.  For 3 ½ years I commuted the 5 hour round trip drive to earn the degree I finally was awarded – again with honors – and the experience was a nightmare.  Older than all of my colleagues and many of my professors, I was shown again and again, how I didn’t fit with the college norm.  One professor suggested I think about whether I wanted to endure the rigor of starting a new career at my age, and the students simply shut me out – I was not someone they could relate to, and because my age near their parents’ age, they didn’t want to try.  It was a lonely time, and a younger student confronted with these non-too-subtle roadblocks might have quit; I did not, I had the same goal then that I have today, and I am hell bent to reach it.  In that regard my age probably works for me, because peer pressure becomes less of an issue when we age.

I successfully completed the undergraduate program I described above, and I don’t count the left turn I made into law school because I recognize that my ego was more in play than I was willing to admit at the time.  Still, I wasn’t finished gaining the education I need to compete in today’s high pace, technology-driven world.  When I examined my options after leaving law school, it was obvious to me that I should pursue a field I have experience with – I have a background in advertising – and I should do so through a college or university that would provide me with the best educational options, and the fewest social hurdles.  I chose another online program, this time offered by a tier-one university, known for its superior research training, and where all of the professors hold doctorate degrees or a PhD.

Keep an eye on the future: Online education is, in my opinion, far more demanding than brick-and-mortar. A side benefit is that everyone is on a level playing field – age is a non-issue.  The self-discipline and time management you must employ to succeed, indeed to meet deadlines each week, are more exacting than any you have encountered in traditional universities.  In my program the reading can exceed two hundred pages every week, and the writing is detailed, formal and scholarly, requiring a fine-tuned, efficient, and organized approach to synthesizing data.  The graduating M.B.A. today has learned about the new office culture: the adoption of virtual office environments and the corporate norm of virtual team project management. Both of these disciplines are employed in the online education environment.  As such, it is my belief that a student graduating from a respected university’s online program will be better prepared for the corporate culture of tomorrow, than will their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Please join the conversation:  Do you have an opinion about how online education prepares you for the office of today and tomorrow?  

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Learning to Lead: Advice for New Managers

Experience is a great educator; nearly everything I know about being a manager I have learned from the mistakes I have made, or the successes I have stumbled upon. To help a new manager avoid some of the pitfalls I have fallen into,  I want to talk about what it means to be a manager and what it takes to be a leader, two very distinct identities.

I do not believe that you have to be a manager to be an effective leader.  On the other hand, I do not think you can be an effective manager unless you are an effective leader.  I read once that the difference between the two is that a leader is born, and a manager is trained.  Do you agree with this?  I don’t.   I think it is possible to learn how to lead – look at the military if you don’t believe me – but in military environments the option to not follow orders does not exist, and therein lays the rub.  This is not true in a non-military environment, and by many accounts, it will often be the most talented of your team who will be least inclined to accept directives.

New managers are sometimes challenged with learning the nuances of leadership through trial and error, as I had to learn them. When a new manager is confronted with the unanticipated push-back from the staff, the new manager is left to wonder why.   In what can seem like a live ammunition testing ground, a new manager’s authority, judgment and decisions will sometimes be undermined or ignored, and more often than not, it is the manager’s fault.

New managers must reject the notion that their title confers authority, although it might seem counter-intuitive to the newly minted manager. That the manager can produce results and exhibit competence is more important to the personalities in his department than his professional title.  In an adaptation of the “Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business, Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill also emphasizes that a manager’s title confers nothing, and that earning trust and respect is more important than the business moniker he is assigned.

So where does effective leadership begin?  It begins with inspiration and motivation – of yourself and others, but especially others.  Leadership takes time to develop, if it happens at all, and a leader is not promoted into the role.  The leader is the person to whom others turn for guidance, encouragement, and reassurance.  The leader is the person who, through deed or personality, as gained the trust and the confidence of the team.  Leaders do not manage, they lead. Simple enough to say, but the details are in the execution, and all too often the person charged with managing a group is not, in fact, the leader.  Most assuredly it isn’t the newly minted manager.

There are a multitude of reasons why the new manager is not likely to be accepted as a leader right off the starting line.  First, a new manager is simply that – new – and “new” hasn’t been there long enough for anyone to know him, let alone trust his competence, strength of personality, or commitment to his team.  Next, the new manager is learning on the job.  It is a stressful position for someone without many tools in his managerial toolbox; it is fraught with career dangers.  The manager is in the unenviable position of high scrutiny – from the top and from the bottom – and not unlike walking a tightrope, he has to find his balance or risk falling.  There is also the human factor, which occurs anytime a new personality enters an established culture, the equilibrium is upset and it takes time to right it.

If you are a new manager I offer this advice:  Take it easy.  Don’t wear the manager label like a badge of authority. Try to understand the disruption your presence brings to the norm, and work to establish relationships, without focuses so much on establishing a hierarchy.  Help your staff get to know you, help them learn to trust you, and find a way to fit in; it is, after all, their office too, and they were there before you.  If you do all of these things with confidence, integrity, and honesty, you will begin to earn trust and eventually a loyal following.  At the point when that happens, you may even begin to become a leader.

 

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How to Improve Your Performance Evaluations

The performance evaluation is one of the toughest challenges most managers and leaders have to face, not to mention the fact that developing an effective performance evaluation system isn’t an easy task. However, the following suggestions will not only help you develop a more effective system for evaluating your team members, but they will provide you with a way to positively impact behavior and possibly cultural change within the entire company.

  • Get your team members involved in the evaluation process. If they are a part of the process, it will go a long way to ensuring they are satisfied with the overall evaluation system.
  • Set specific performance goals that you want your employees to achieve rather than general ones. Avoid being vague about your expectations. It’s crucial for your team members to have a clear vision of what they need to do to succeed.
  • Clearly communicate the results of the evaluation with your team members, and discuss how you came to your conclusions. It’s important that your evaluation provides room for discussion or a question and answer session that leaves your team members feeling satisfied that they have all they need to move forward.
  • Make sure to focus on the positive aspects of your team member’s performance, not just the areas that need improvement. It’s essential that you actively recognize and reinforce the good points in an employee’s performance
  • Performance evaluation is an ongoing process. In order for annual evaluations to be effective, it’s important to implement smaller evaluations during the year in order to reinforce positive behavior, and provide your team members with ways to improve.
  • Train lower-level managers and team leads on the performance evaluation process, and make sure they are measured on how effectively they handle this task in your evaluations of them.
Effective performance evaluations are not only good for team members, but they can be a great way to positively influence the behavior and cultural change within a company. They help to reinforce good behavior, while attempting to eliminate negative behavior that can be harmful to the company as a whole.

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10 Ways to Influence and Implement Cultural Change At Work

There’s always been a big question mark regarding whether or not a workplace culture can effectively be changed, and how to go about it. With that said, there are some steps you, as a leader, can take to help lay the groundwork for cultural change in your organization.

5 Things to Understand About Cultural Change
  1. You cannot accurately diagnose, manage, or nail down exactly what needs to change an organization’s culture; this is mainly because it’s difficult to even define what it is in this first place.
  2. Effective cultural change requires a huge commitment of resources and a leader who has high degree of influence and a significant amount of power.
  3. Intentionally trying to change an entire organization’s culture simply isn’t practical. It takes a specific set of skills and a significant amount of dedication just to understand an organization’s culture, and then there’s amount of time needed to change it.
  4. Employees will almost always resist cultural change. We’re creatures of habit who, for the most part, like stability and continuity. After all, they help us through the tough times in life and at work. Attempting to change that, takes us out of our comfort zone.
  5. Managers who want to implement cultural change often times face an up hill battle to say the least; but if they are brave and patient enough, they’ll be able to slowly change an organization’s culture.
5 Ways Managers Can Initiate Change
  1. If you can change a person’s behavior, it’s very likely you will change their beliefs and values. However, this approach alone will not change an organizations culture.
  2. Changing behavior is a great first step, but you also have to show your employees the value in behaving differently. You need to justify the changes you want to make.
  3. Use effective communication as a motivational tool to support the new behavior. These can come in the form of memos, practices and procedures, anecdotes, etc.
  4. Make sure to socialize new employees and make sure they are a good fit for the new culture you’re trying to implement.
  5. On the flip side of that coin, consider removing current employees who refuse to adopt the new culture. With that said, you should definitely take the time to weigh the overall pros and cons of removing employees, especially if they’re talented.
By understanding more about cultural change, as well as the pros and cons that come with it, the better prepared you will be to lay the necessary groundwork to initiate the changes you want to see in your organization.

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