Tag Archives: business

One-on-One Meetings Matter More Than You Know

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-One-on-One Meetings

There are only two of us in my department. Why should I bother with a formal meeting? We sit right across from each other.

I tried meeting individually with my direct reports, but they had nothing to talk about. Besides, we’re all adults. We know what we’re supposed to be doing at work.

I work in a matrix environment. I see my direct report about once a month, and that’s usually at a larger meeting or when we’re passing each other in the hallway. I have no idea what he does. At review time, I rely on other people to tell me.

Without trying too hard, it’s easy for many managers to compile a long list of reasons not to meet with the people they supervise. 

And guess what? The volume of reasons does not outweigh the value and importance of a regularly scheduled tête-à-tête with a direct report.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of holding regular one-on-one meetings or if you’re not getting all you could from them, now is the time to take another look Click To Tweet

Benefits of Regular One-on-One Meetings

If used correctly, over time managers and employees can enjoy many benefits by meeting one on one.

  • Visible appreciation: Time is currency. If managers carve out time for their people and are prepared when they meet, they show they value their direct reports.
  • Better thinking: Regular one-on-one meetings give managers and employees space to step away from the urgent and immediate and to think more holistically and strategically about work, goals, and development opportunities.
  • Stronger results: Accountability tends to improve when people have an opportunity or a requirement to report on their progress.

The Perfect One-on-One

Once a manager has bought into the value of one-on-one meetings, the next step is to execute them in a way that works for the manager and the employee. Good one-on-one meetings are not one-size-fits-all activities. That said, there are a few guidelines that can make a one-on-one meeting successful.

  1. Pick a schedule and stick to it. One-on-ones shouldn’t regularly disappear from the calendar simply because something else suddenly comes up.
  2. Choose a frequency that makes sense. For some people meeting once a month may be enough. For others, meeting weekly may be more appropriate. Every relationship is different. Furthermore, circumstances evolve. Depending on what’s happening inside and outside of the organization, an employee’s needs could change drastically. Meeting frequency should be looked at from time to time. If the rate of meetings is correct, managers and employees should not routinely find themselves with no reason to meet.
  3. Follow a written agenda. Well-run one-on-one meetings are not free-for-all conversations. They follow an agenda just as any other good meeting does. A one-on-one meeting agenda might include such topics as current projects, progress on yearly development goals, current challenges, and so forth.
  4. Put employees in the driver’s seat by having them manage and document the agenda. As a manager, you may create the initial agenda format. But once you do, your employees should take ownership of the documents associated with their one-on-one meetings.

Troubleshooting

One-on-one meetings rarely go from nonexistent or dysfunctional to perfect overnight. For that reason, managers should prepare to overcome a variety of obstacles.

Obstacle 1: Employees question the new meeting.

Solution: Reduce the surprise factor. If a manager has never held one-on-one meetings, they might come as a surprise to employees. To avoid feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or worse, socialize the idea before loading the calendar with unexpected surprises. “This year, I would like to focus more on individual development. Within the next week or two, please expect to see a meeting request from me on your calendar. I believe we will all benefit if I spend time with each of you individually at regularly scheduled intervals. How often we will meet will depend on each of your needs and what we decide together.”

Obstacle 2: An employee doesn’t take charge of the meeting.

Solution: Show them how. A good agenda can go a long way toward making the conversation flow. Although employees should have ultimate responsibility for keeping the agenda, this may take time. In the beginning, managers may have to model what they want to see. “For our first few meetings, I’ll prepare the agenda. Once we’ve found our groove, my plan is to turn it over to you to own. This means you’ll add to it between meetings and bring a copy for you and me when we meet.”

Obstacle 3: An employee gives short or general answers to questions.

Solution: Get specific. The more focused a manager’s questions are, the better the conversation tends to be. For example, instead of asking “what are you working on,” a manager might say, “tell me about the project that is going best right now and why that is.”

Obstacle 4: An employee seems unresponsive.

Solution: Leverage silence. When managers don’t get immediate feedback, they sometimes mistake silence for non-responsiveness. It’s important for managers to remember they already know the questions. The employee is hearing them for the first time and may need some time to digest and think about what’s being asked. Instead of rephrasing questions that don’t produce an immediate answer, managers need to get comfortable with letting silence sit in the room.  

Reevaluate From Time-to-Time

Like anything, one-on-one meetings can get stale. It’s important to look at the format and frequency from time to time and to solicit feedback regarding what’s working and what isn’t.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of holding regular one-on-one meetings or if you’re not getting all you could from them, now is the time to take another look. After all, can you really afford not to?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Stalled Sales? 

Get Unstuck by Engaging in a Strategic Market Analysis

Jill Johnson-target market

By Jill J. Johnson

If you are struggling with sluggish sales, there are two critical areas you must review to address the situation. The first is determining if the slowdown is due to changes in your target market. The second is determining if your sales and promotional approaches are ineffective. While there may be complicating factors beyond your control, most of the time a sales slowdown can be attributed to one or both issues. This type of analysis reviews your demographics, competitors and the effectiveness of your marketing messages to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the demand potential for your business. When combined with a marketing audit, you have a powerful opportunity to turnaround your sales.

Strategic Market Analysis is a powerful approach to uncovering the true reasons for your revenue slowdown. Click To Tweet

Conduct a Demographic Analysis

A demographic assessment is the foundation of determining if your products or services remain feasible. Understanding your target market demographics provides insight regarding the impact of any changes in market volume. A demographic review can help you determine if you are in a short-term sales slump or if a more significant market decline is expected over a longer time horizon. All too often the cause for a revenue decline is evident in the demographic data. The key is to allow the data to show you objectively what is going on in your market.

A well-executed demographic analysis evaluates shifts in the variables of your consumer’s age, gender, income and other economic variables impacting the market you sell to and identifies potential market risks impacting your business survival. Business client demographics include company age, revenue, number of employees, or number of locations.

Be careful in defining your market area boundaries. Too many businesses use wider geographic areas for their market than they realistically serve. Overly optimistic boundaries will overstate your market potential. Think of your customer demographics as you would a doctor looking at your vital signs. Demographics will help identify new opportunities. Or they will confirm your market has shrunk to a level where you should re-consider your offerings.

Conduct Market Interviews

Some organizations conduct probing interviews of customers, employees, key community leaders, industry associations, and vendors to gain insight on what is changing within their marketplace. Interviews provide you with insights into what makes your competitors tick or help you understand what your key target audiences really think. Interviews can help you understand what is going on and provide you with insight to refine your marketing messages to improve sales.

Study Your Competitors

While the Internet has made it easier to gather basic information on competitors, competitive intelligence involves deeper methods. Look at what products and services they are promoting. Evaluate how they are positioning these resources including how they address pain points to meet customer needs. You can use primary research techniques including networking with industry experts, customers, suppliers, key referral sources and even competitors to better understand your market environment. Combine this information with the use of secondary research sources such as news media or subscription databases to help you gain additional insight. Researching your competitors will provide you with a deeper awareness of opportunities or the need to revamp your offerings. Competitor insight also can help you develop more effective strategies to address the impact they might be having on shaping your consumer attitudes or restricting your market area.  

Secret Shop Your Sales Team

Secret shopping allows you to better understand how effective your salespeople are at sharing your brand message with your target audience. You can assess their conversation approaches, closing techniques and positioning efforts when responding to contacts from a prospective customer. You can combine this approach with secret shopping your key competitors. Secret shopping your team and competitors will give you greater insight into identifying opportunities for improvement and enhancing sales effectiveness.  

Complete a Marketing Audit

Effective marketing strategies balance the critical interrelationships of the elements of the marketing mix with your organization’s strategic plan to reach identified target markets and generate desired sales results. A marketing audit evaluates the effectiveness of your marketing and promotional tactics to identify what needs to be maintained or improved to support your organization’s strategic vision and plan. This would include a review of your website and sales approaches (phone, drop-in, Internet, etc.). Review all of your marketing collateral materials to assess improvements to enhance consumer decision-making. Carefully evaluate how you utilize your social media channels to identify more effective tactics for sharing your marketing message and engaging with your prospects or key referral sources.

Provide Sales Coaching to Your Team

Sometimes your team needs outside support to review their sales approaches to improve overall performance. It is not uncommon for novice sales people to be given a few books and some sales manuals with the expectation they will intuitively figure out how to sell. Closing deals, whether to a consumer or a commercial client, can be a much more complicated effort, especially if it involves a complex sale. Complex sales do not resolve in a single interaction and they often involve multiple decision points before the final decision to buy. Sales professionals often have to tweak how they converse with prospects. Developing better skills and questions for probing prospects can help isolate decision criteria and move the sale forward.

Final Thoughts

Engaging in a Strategic Market Analysis is a powerful approach to uncovering the true reasons for your revenue slowdown. The goal is to determine if your marketing approaches or your lack of a viable market is the cause of your situation. If it is your marketing, you can adjust your sales and marketing messages to better align with your customers and their decision triggers. If it is the market, you can review your pricing strategy and geographic market area boundaries to better optimize those elements impacting your target market.

Sifting through the data you gather will help you reassess your market trends, growth factors and competitive dynamics. You gain an understanding of the implications of this information relative to your organization, as well as an assessment of how well you are positioned for long-term success.

Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than 4 billion dollars worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

From Blunder to Wonder: How Companies Successfully Bounce Back from Mistakes

Emily Safrin

Emily Safrin1993 was a terrible year for a particular major national fast food chain. It was an even worse year for four families who suffered unimaginable losses after their children ate contaminated meat at the establishment. Unsurprisingly, the chain found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. However, in a matter of years, it had not only recovered, but doubled its number of locations—a feat that is now considered one of the most impressive comebacks in contemporary business history.

If this is the first time you’ve heard this story, you may be shocked that a company responsible for something so horrific was able to salvage its sales at all, let alone become the fifth-largest burger chain in the US just years thereafter—but that’s exactly what happened.

The reality is that no enterprise can escape at least some degree of error. And while there is certainly a vital difference between an erroneous invoice and unintentionally causing the unthinkable, certain damage-control strategies have proven successful time and again, no matter the blunder.Remember the importance of accepting blame and saying you’re sorry. Click To Tweet

Own The Gaffe—And Fast

Especially in today’s well-connected world, official statements get around fast. So does radio silence.

As soon as possible after disaster strikes, offer a firm and heartfelt apology. However, refrain from being overly apologetic or defensive. Instead, focus on action. The old adage “Actions speak louder than words” has stood the test of time for a reason.

Nevertheless, judicious and impactful action takes time to implement. So, while you get to planning, make sure from the get-go that your words reflect a sense of accountability and the intention to fix the problem.

Watch Your Words

Word choice is paramount when delivering a public statement.

If your company serves an international market or consumers who speak a language other than English (as is the case of most businesses in the social media age, whether by design or not), take extra care that your mea culpa reaches your audience unscathed. The last thing you want is to create another mess when you’re already in damage-control mode.

For example, an international bank fell victim to a simple yet costly translation slip-up in 2009 when its catchphrase, “Assume Nothing,” was infamously mistranslated as “Do Nothing.” The mishap cost the company 10 million dollars for a new ad campaign alone.

Be aware of variants in widespread languages like Spanish and English that can make or break how your message is construed. Avoid embarrassment by hiring a professional translator who’s well versed not only in English, but the language and culture you aim to reach. Imagine, for example, how confused American consumers would be if a fast food restaurant referred to its french fries as “chips” (the British variant).

Furthermore, if there were ever a time to avoid using machine translation services, this would be it. There’s no room for error when it comes to cleaning up after a misstep, so make sure human translators—who are able to adequately interpret nuance and impact—craft the message in the new language before it reaches the public.

Make It Right

Words are vital when it comes to apologies, but they must be backed by tangible actions that illustrate genuine concern.

In the case of the fast food chain, the company offered to cover victims’ medical expenses, settling for amounts of up to 15.6 million dollars. The COO and chairman-cum-CEO attended mediation hearings to show their concern. The chain also opened a question hotline and made a generous donation to research efforts seeking treatment for infections caused by the bacterium behind the outbreak.

This demonstration of remorse and accountability in actions big and small communicated the company’s commitment to doing better.

Establish Long-Lasting Change

Once apologies have been made in both words and deeds, it’s crucial to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated. It may be tempting to make the blemish disappear from sight, but finding a long-term solution is an indispensable step.

The fast food chain began cooking its burgers at temperatures guaranteed to kill the guilty bacteria. It also implemented additional safety measures to ensure the food was handled properly from producer to consumer. In fact, this system was so successful that it was later endorsed by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration and came to be considered the gold standard among fast food chains.

The company didn’t stop there: it became so invested in harm-free dining that it continues to receive honors for its leadership in food safety to this day.

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Believe it or not, mistakes can be a blessing in disguise. For this to be true, decision makers must think glass half full. Slip-ups present an opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s leadership, transparency, and trustworthiness—and all of this at a time when you’re already in the spotlight. Just make sure it’s for better, not for worse.

A well-known pizza chain faced a rude awakening when one of its employees shared a video of himself tarnishing food in the kitchen. When the video went viral, it turned out the company had an even bigger problem on its hands: they admitted that customers had been complaining of pizza that tasted “like cardboard” and sauce that tasted “like ketchup.”

Instead of succumbing to an apparently imminent downfall, the company’s leaders decided to come clean and promised to improve their product. Shortly thereafter, they introduced a new pizza recipe, as well as a novel online ordering system designed to appeal to the younger generation. Their shares increased sixty-fold and the company is now worth 60 billion dollars.

Next Time You’re Caught in a Mistake, Stay Calm and Innovate

Businesses are no more perfect than humans. Every organization will face its day of reckoning, big or small. Luckily, history demonstrates that it’s not the mistake itself, but the response, that leaves a lasting impression. And as in the case of the fast food chain, if addressed properly, a foul-up can even be turned into an asset.

So, next time your business finds itself in a rough spot, remember the importance of accepting blame and saying you’re sorry. Then roll up your sleeves, fill your metaphorical glass, and turn the blunder into your next wonder.

Emily Safrin is a certified Spanish-to-English translator and editor specializing in the medical sector. She is also an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

Five Ways to Leverage Your Talent Brand to Attract Great Candidates

How your company can leverage what employees and candidates say about you to attract top talent

By Jeremy Eskenazi

Have you ever struggled to hire the right people? Do most of the people you interview seem like a questionable fit at your company? It might be a symptom of not using your employer brand to your best advantage. An employer brand is what employees and candidates say about your company and the work experience when you’re not in the room. It’s not something you can go out and buy, or have a fancy branding exercise to develop and replace if you don’t like the one you have. Much like branding a product, your employer brand takes on elevated meaning and a predisposition to buy or join. In what is currently a competitive talent market, effective branding creates a sustainable competitive advantage and can make a huge difference in who is interested in working for you.Your employer brand takes on elevated meaning and a predisposition to buy or join. Click To Tweet

If you’re not sure what your employer brand is today, think about employer review websites online that are popular in North America and many parts of Europe. If you’re not familiar with the concept of these sites, they’re user-driven platforms that encourage people to anonymously record their experiences with a company as a candidate or employee. They can write whatever they want, even if it’s negative, and they can encourage people to run in the opposite direction. The flip side is that reviewers can also sing your praises and wax lyrical about you. Unfortunately, much like any user-driven site, anonymous contributors are usually either delighted with something, or were very upset; so you tend to see wild swings of positive or negative comments.

An employer brand is not necessarily changed overnight, but every time you interact with a candidate, you create an impression. Now multiply these impressions dozens or even hundreds of times. This is a powerful force. This is your professional brand and your opportunity to create (or start to re-create!) the first experience.

The people, symbols, and meaning we try to attribute to the company can be a powerful tool in communicating where the organization is headed. The brand management process helps you to unearth the organizations’ brand expression in the marketplace. The five ways to leverage your employer brand are:

1. Asset Assessment. Be honest: what are your strengths and weaknesses? How large is your company¾do you need people who thrive in an intense corporate environment or do you want people who are happy to have a more stable career? What benefits do you offer? Is there opportunity for advancement? Knowing this and being able to clearly articulate it is so important.

2. Employee Involvement. What is your organizational culture? Is it vertical, with top-down direction and little front-line input, or are decisions made on a broad collaborative basis? Is there opportunity for creative thinking? Knowing how your employees interact today and empowering them to tell the story of how they contribute is powerful.

3. Competitive Assessment. What other organizations can your candidates work for? You need to know who your competitors are and what they offer. If another company offers higher wages, can you compensate with profit sharing or better benefits? Are there opportunities for you to be creative about your offering based on what your competitors are packaging for candidates?

4. Brand Positioning. You need to know where your organization fits in the overall market. Does your company compete on price, or are you targeting the upscale market? Are you known for promoting from within? Does your company have a reputation for treating women and minorities fairly? The comments left online are a good starting point for this, as are any internal surveys you run.

5. Brand Expression. This is the combined result of all of the ‘brand signals’ that are present in the marketplace and are picked up by consumers and candidates. Every element of your employer brand needs to be in alignment. For example, if you claim to care about the environment and candidates are offered Styrofoam cups when they come in for an interview, you’d be surprised how much that can alter perceptions of your company and what you stand for.

In today’s competitive global economy, these five steps can help you find the candidates you need. Remember that candidates can be both internal and external. If you bring the right talent into your team, they may be interested and have versatile skills that could allow them to try new jobs at your company. They may be ready to take on a new role and be promoted, or they may be excellent at their current job. The point being: there is active work required to engage your current employees as brand ambassadors as well—they too represent and can carry your employer brand far and wide.

Remember, you can’t “make” an employer brand. An advertising agency can’t help you create a brand. They can help create a brand message. Whether or not you know what your brand is isn’t the issue. It’s knowing the what the themes are that people use to talk about your organization. Then you can manage the expression of the brand—and how people receive it—as part of your brand as an employer. You can do this through your goals, vision, and values, and the taglines that best explain what your company is about.

It’s easy for someone to throw out “we aspire to be the best place to work”. Your employer brand cannot be solely aspirational—it has to be accurate for where your organization is today. When your position is too aspirational, people will likely be unhappy when they encounter you—both candidates and employees. If you were in their position, don’t you think you’d feel let down too?

Jeremy Eskenazi is an internationally recognized speaker, author of RecruitConsult! Leadership, and founder of Riviera Advisors, a boutique Recruitment/Talent Acquisition Management and Optimization Consulting Firm. Jeremy is not a headhunter, but a specialized training and consulting professional, helping global HR leaders transform how they attract top talent at some of the world’s most recognized companies. For more information on Jeremy Eskenazi, please visit: www.RivieraAdvisors.com.

The Overlooked Management Tool

Staff Meetings Matter More Than You Might Think

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-chatI sit right next them. We don’t need to have a staff meeting.

I used to have staff meetings, but we stopped having them. Nobody had anything to talk about.

We have enough meetings. We certainly don’t need another.

For a myriad of reasons, many managers don’t hold regular staff meetings. Furthermore, most who do don’t get the most they could from them, and that’s too bad. Good staff meetings can focus a team, energize employees, and engage them in ways ad-hoc interactions don’t.

So how do you turn a halted or ho-hum approach to staff meetings into a high-functioning management tool?Employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. Click To Tweet

STEP ONE: Connect Daily Work with Your Organization’s Purpose

In addition to distributing information, staff meetings present an opportunity to connect your team’s daily work to your organization’s purpose. If you’re thinking, “My people know how their work fits into our overall goal,” you would be wrong. In fact, if you ask your group what your organization’s purpose or your department’s purpose are, don’t be surprised when you get as many answers as there are people in the room. (And you thought you had nothing to talk about in a staff meeting! A discussion about purpose is a good one to have.)

Purpose is why you do what you do. You connect the work to it by explaining how what people did aligns with the greater goal. For example, the head of housekeeping at a busy hotel might hold a meeting with the cleaning staff. In that meeting, the managers might recognize a team that received a perfect room score from all guests who took a survey and then talk about purpose.

The purpose of the hotel is to provide people a safe and comfortable place to spend the night. Having a clean, welcoming, and functioning room is one of the ways a cleaning staff achieves that goal.

By regularly connecting such activities as cleaning toilets, making beds, and folding towels to the guest experience, the manager highlights why each of those activities is important.

No matter what they do, employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. They also tend to make better choices if they receive frequent reminders about purpose and what types of activities support it.

STEP TWO: Highlight Relevant Metrics

Connecting work to purpose usually works best when a team focuses on both anecdotal and analytical information. If you don’t currently track statistics, start. What you track will depend on your industry. However, whatever you decide should have a clear line of sight to the larger goal. For instance, a museum that holds events to attract new members might track the number of events held, contact information collected, memberships sold, and the percentage of new memberships that come as a result of attending the free event. With regular attention placed on the right metrics, the team is far more likely to make good choices as to where it should focus its efforts.

STEP THREE: Follow a Formula and Rotate Responsibility

Successful staff meetings usually follow a pattern, such as looking at weekly metrics, sharing information from the top, highlighting success, a team-building activity, and so forth. By creating and sticking with a formula, managers help their employees know what to expect. Once employees know the pattern of the meeting, many are capable of running it because they’ve learned by watching. Managers then have a natural opportunity to rotate the responsibility of the meeting to different people. By delegating, the manager is able to free up his or her time and provide employees with a chance to develop their skills.

STEP FOUR: Celebrate Successes

In many organizations, there is a huge appreciation shortage. Staff meetings provide managers and employees with regular intervals to practice gratitude.

“I’d like to thank Tom for staying late last night. Because he did, I was able to attend a parent-teacher conference.”

“Maryann’s work on the PowerPoint presentation was superb. I want to thank her for preparing me with the best slides shown at the conference. The stunning photos outshined the graphics others used. Maryann’s work really made our company look good.”

A steady drip of sincere gratitude can drive engagement. Note the word: sincerity. Most people have an amazing capacity to identify a false compliment. Real praise is specific. Well-delivered praise also ties the action to the outcome. Whether it’s being able to attend a conference, looking good in front of others, or some other result, people appreciate praise more when they understand how their actions delivered results. A praise segment in your staff meetings ensures you routinely take the time to recognize efforts.

STEP FIVE: Focus on Lessons Learned and Continuous Improvement

Staff meetings that include an opportunity to share lessons learned help drive continuous improvement. At first, people may be reluctant to share shortcomings. However, if you follow step four, you should begin to develop better communication and a sense of trust with your team. Modeling the process is a good place to start.

“I learned something this week I want to share with you. I had a call with a client that could have gone better. I’m going to tell you what happened and then I’ll discuss some ideas about how I would handle something similar in the future.”

The more you practice this exercise, the greater the gains you should experience.

STEP SIX: Develop a Schedule and Stick with It

Almost anyone can follow the first five steps some of the time, but those who get the most out of staff meetings hold them consistently. They publish a meeting schedule, and they stick with it. They may shorten a meeting from time to time or reschedule, but they don’t treat their chance to gather the team as the least important priority.

Good staff meetings aren’t perfunctory activities that add little value. On the contrary, when used to their full capacity, they are a dynamic management tool. Now what are you going to do about yours?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.