Employees – They are in the middle

Have you ever had a call from a front-line employee, asking you for help with what seems like the silliest of customer problems?  You are thinking, “This is so simple, why are they not just following the procedure and moving the customer along?”

It is common practice for a front-line employee to turn from an empowered problem solver to someone who is out of options for a particular situation.  This is the ‘I only work here, let me call a manager’ point in the conversation.  Sometimes this happens not because the employee has done a poor job of solving the problem, but because the customer is just not going to back down.

It is important to recognize that when the employee calls you, the manager, for help that it is not always because they have forgotten the policy or the process for solving the customer’s problem.  It is very possible that they have tried all they can and escalating the problem is a step toward making the customer happy.  The manager may tell them the same thing that the employee did, or they may be able to take it a step further.

Understand that they may have a customer standing right in front of them, listening to everything that they are saying.  Their job is to tell you the situation, what is wrong, and what they have tried.  This is not so much for your benefit, but for the benefit of the customer, so that they realize their story is being heard and understood.

The critical point here is that as a manager, do not talk to the employee as if they are bothering you, and act as if they should have solved this on their own.  It is at this point that you and the employee are a team, working to please a customer.  Remember that the employee is the one that has taken on the full force of an irate customer, or a difficult situation.  This is not the time to make them feel even worse because they may have missed a step in the fray.  Now is the time to be supportive and help them to help the customer.  There is plenty of time later for training and review of the situation.

Our employees are very important to us and to our business.  The ones who interact directly with customers perform an extremely valuable job, and not a job that all can do well.  Just a reminder to respect their talents and to let them know that you appreciate them.

Creating Your Vision – Define the Target

We have talked before about the importance of having a vision to draw us forward in life.  Why is it then that so many people, including entrepreneurs, do not have a vision?

For many, trying to create a concrete and compelling vision is just overwhelming.  Like anything else that I do, I find that taking it step by step helps it all to come together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first step in the visioning process is to clarify what part of your life you want to focus on.  There are many possibilities on how narrow or broad this can be.  For instance, you may want to look at where you are in your life now and where you want to be in 5 or 10 years.  This could encompass work, health, relationships, finances and location.  Or, you may be interested in focusing on only one of these aspects of your life.

For some, looking at their whole life vision is a bit overwhelming.  They are not ready or simply cannot envision all of the aspects of their future life at this point in time.  When struggling with an issue such as debt, poor health, or feeling unsafe, looking at the bigger, rosier picture can feel impossible.  Instead of throwing the whole process out the window, choose to focus on one issue that is important to you and you feel will make the most difference.

If you are reading this, you are most likely a business person.  Even if you decide to focus only on your business and not the personal aspects of your life, there can be a huge number of places in your business that you want to address.  If this is still overwhelming, take some time to categorize the issues, and then decide which area will make the biggest impact on your business if you improve it, shift it, or grow it.  It is OK to have a vision which focuses on a narrow aspect of your business.  At least you can get started, work toward it, and make a change.  Without the vision, who knows where you will be next year.

Pick an aspect of your life, imagine an exciting future for it, and write it down so that it can inspire you over and over again.

Imperfect Action

Imperfect Action is better than No Action!

What is that all about?  If you are a business owner, you know what it is like to get stuck, not moving forward, looking for everything to be in place before you take action.  You may say, “When I have that Sales Script down pat, I will start to make sales calls.”  Or “When I have my 12 month program completely written, I will try to sell it.”  Or “When I have the perfect business card, I will go networking.”

We are waiting for our action to be perfect before we show it to the public.  There are some things that this may be valid for, but in many cases, we learn so much from our imperfect action.  We learn where to make adjustments to the Sales Script.  We get practice delivering the Sales Pitch.  We learn which tweaks will help us to feel more authentic in our sales.

Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?”  If you have a Sales Conversation and it is not perfect, what is the worst that can happen?  You may feel a bit foolish or awkward.  You may not get the sale (this time).  What is the best that can happen?  You actually are successful with the sale and you are now moving forward.

Take a look and see where you are not taking action.  What are you waiting for?  If it is important, then get on it.  If ‘good enough’ is ‘good enough’ for now, then get into action, even if is not perfect.  Get started, and get your business moving!

Busy Work – The Death of the Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur do you find yourself very busy, yet you don’t have the business that you want?  This happens quite often with new business owners.  Many of us have been told that if we don’t work hard, we will never succeed.  So, we go about doing things, no matter how useful or useless, just to fulfill that subconscious need to be working hard.

What is busy work?  Answering emails as soon as they come in.  Taking phone calls, no matter what you have scheduled yourself to work on.  Stuffing envelopes.  Surfing Facebook or Twitter.  I am not saying that these things may not have a value to your business.  It is the way that you approach them that makes the difference.  I think that we all know that we can get distracted and off on tangents while on social media or even on the phone.  Be honest with yourself and ask if what you are spending your time on is productive.  Better yet, ask yourself if what you are doing is helping to improve your business and make it into the life that you want.

The key to being busy with productive things is to schedule them.  Just putting a time in your schedule to work on your business is not enough.  Before you even get to that, you want to know what you will be working on.  What are the projects that are going to move your business toward your vision?  What are the action items that will move that project along?

Prioritize your projects.  Prioritize your action steps.  You can’t do it all!  If you try to work on all of your projects at the same time, you will get into overwhelm.  Pick one or two projects and break them down into actions steps.  If you don’t know the action steps, then just pick the first step to get you on your way.

When you have your scheduled time to work on your business, just go to your list of action items.  Start working on them.  It is that simple.  When you finish an item, write down the next step.  If you have time to work on it, that is great.  If not, it will be there for your next scheduled time.

This is how you focus your time and energy on moving your business forward.  It may be ‘hard work’ or may be enjoyable for you.  In any case, it will not be useless busy work.

How to Be a Good Volunteer

Volunteers - Stony PointI just got back from 4 days of volunteering to install windows in a new building.  I had no idea of how to do this or how I was going to be able to be useful.  The great news is that with a team of 6 volunteers and three professionals, we installed 25 windows in our time there.  Yes, I feel great about it.  I look forward to volunteering for this organization again.

One of the side benefits of this week is that I got to observe my own behavior and that of others as volunteers.  It made me think about what it is that makes a good volunteer:  someone who not only enjoys their own time, but also helps to make the event an enjoyable one for the other volunteers.  After all, the goal is to have everyone wanting to come back another time to contribute.

Here are some of the things you can be aware of when you are ‘on the job’:

  • There are lots of ‘cool’ jobs and lots of ‘dirty’ jobs.  All of them have to be done.  It is not fun if you are getting stuck with all of the dirty jobs.  It is also not fair if you seem to have all of the fun jobs.  A good volunteer is aware of sharing the load.  If you see someone always getting the boring tasks, take a moment and offer to change places with them for a while.  If you see someone with a job you would like to try, speak up!  Ask them if there will be a time that you can try some of the fun work.
  • Do a good job.  Just because you are volunteering doesn’t mean that the work does not have to be done correctly.  If you are not competent to do a task, ask for training, ask for assistance, or ask for another job.  Sloppy work is not appreciated by anyone.  Volunteers want to be proud of what they have accomplished.
  • Chill out!  There may be times when there doesn’t seem to be something for you to do.  Take a break and rest.  Going over to others and taking their job away from them, just because you are bored does not make volunteers feel competent and useful.  After you have rested, ask the coordinator how you can help or look around and see what needs to be done.
  • Show up on time and make sure someone else always knows where you are.  “Disappearing volunteers” is not a good thing.  It makes people worry about them.  Are they OK?  Are they coming back?  Can we give their job to someone else?  Simple communication solves all of these problems.
  • Defer to the volunteer coordinator or project head.  You may think that you know a better way to do things, but you do not know the whole picture.  Suggestions are appropriate, but the final decision goes with the boss.
  • When working in teams, make sure to communicate.  Get everyone working in the same direction and don’t take bumps in the road personally.  Keep it light and remember that the goal is to get the job done (not necessarily to be ‘right’).

A well run volunteer project is about getting the job done well and safely.  It is also about having the volunteers feel useful and accomplished at the end of the day.  Everybody wins this way and you have people ready to help with the next task, whenever that may be.  Strive to be the volunteer that makes the project great, not the one that makes it miserable for the rest.  As a volunteer, step up and carry some of the responsibility for creating a great experience for all.




Managing Volunteers – Part 3 – The Volunteer Board of Directors

Organizations that are governed by a volunteer based Board of Directors have their own brand of ‘volunteer issues’.   In previous postings we talked about organizations with Volunteer Labor.  Here we will discuss volunteer Board Members, what makes them tick, and how to create an environment that attracts and keeps your most valuable players.

Why do people volunteer to be on a Board of Directors?

There are various reasons why people will volunteer to be on a board of directors for an organization.   Boards are a long time commitment.  It is not like volunteering to collect tickets for 2 hours at the school play.  Most people can do that without a really strong commitment to the organization.  Board members believe in the purpose of the organization and what it is there to accomplish.  They are therefore willing to make the time commitment required.

Given that they believe in the purpose of an organization, what else drives them to commit their time and energy to a particular board of directors?  There are various reasons.  Some are good and some of them are not.  Here are some to look for when choosing new board members:

1.  They feel that they have a talent to contribute to the board.  A strong Board is made up of individuals who have various talents which complement each other.  Once the member is on the Board, ensure that they are given the opportunity to use their strengths.  It makes the member feel needed and that they are using their time in a way that is useful.

2.  They want to see the organization move forward based on their own concept of how things should work.  This can be a double edged sword.  Bringing change to an organization can help the organization to move forward and grow.  It can also bring disruption and chaos.  If someone is presenting ideas of change and upheaval before they are nominated, consider carefully if this is just the change you have been looking for, if you are ready for it, or if there might be a better candidate for your board at this time.

3.  It looks great on their resume.  Watch out for this one.  All Board members need to contribute.  Just being on the Board does not help.  All Board members need to contribute something in the form of ideas and action.

4.  It gives them high profile exposure to more people.  This only works in favor of the member if they are able to showcase their talent.  If all they do is sit on the board and do not contribute, their exposure will highlight their weaknesses instead of their strengths.

A bit of advice to those who are looking to join a Board of Directors:  Make sure you are dedicated to the cause, and be prepared to put in time, energy, and talent over the course of your tenure on the Board.  If this doesn’t sound like something you can commit to, then do the organization a favor and let someone else fill the seat.

How do you attract and retain quality board members?

1.  It is essential that the purpose of the organization is clear.  Don’t assume that everyone knows what the organization or the board is there to accomplish and its reason for existence.  People get their own ideas about what they think an organization should be doing.  Make sure that the board members are crystal clear about the purpose of the organization.  If they have other ideas, goals, or ambitions, then they need to find a different organization that will fulfill those ideals for them.

A clear purpose helps to set boundaries within which to work.  Setting boundaries for an organization does not mean inhibiting creativity or new ideas.  These are certainly welcome and essential to moving things forward.   The boundaries ensure that the purpose of the organization is being fulfilled.  They help the board to decide if new ideas are helping them to further their purpose or if they are getting outside of what they are chartered to accomplish.

2.  Accomplishments are well defined and easy to describe.  When volunteering time, people want to know that they are helping to make a difference.  Don’t assume that everyone can see what has been accomplished over the past month, quarter, or year.  Knowing the goals for the future allows people to see how they are going to contribute.  It keeps them interested and involved in the organization.

3.   Respect the time of all board members.  Most board members are busy people.  They typically have a ‘day job’, whether it be business related or raising a family.  They have taken their time away from their family to dedicate time for a cause.  It is important to respect their time.  How do you do this?

    • Have an agenda for every meeting.
    • Start the board meetings on time.
    • Stay on track.
    • If there is no apparent reason for the meeting, then don’t meet OR, make the meeting about figuring out what else the board can be doing to improve the organization.
    • Have tele-meetings when appropriate.  Only have one or two issues to discuss or vote on?  Consider meeting via the phone lines.

4.  Ensure that the Bylaws are clear and Understood by all members.  The bylaws are there to give the organization direction and boundaries within which to function.  It is important that all members of the board have read the bylaws and understand how they guide the organization.  Disagreeing with the bylaws and going off and doing things outside of them is not an option.  Board members that disagree with the bylaws are probably not good candidates for the board.  A good member who sees where a change could benefit the organization needs to go through the process of getting an official change made to the bylaws (this process should be stated in the bylaws).

Volunteers on a Board of directors will continue to serve when everyone is working together.  Following the bylaws means that everyone knows the boundaries within which to work.  Good members will leave a board if things start to run in a loose and undirected fashion.

How do you create a board where everyone is sharing responsibility? 

Have you ever been on a board where a couple of people end up doing most of the work and others seem to not be contributing?  I have seen this far too often.  Why does this happen?  Here are some things to look at:

1.  One or two people are more extraverted and ready to jump in to volunteer before the others get a chance to even think about it.  If this seems to be the case, those that are doing all of the work need to take a step back and consider how their behavior may be impacting the ability of others to contribute.  Remember, we all have different ways of viewing the world and responding to it.  Others may need more time to understand a situation or to know whether a task is suitable to their talents.  They may even need to be asked to take on a particular task or if they can do it with the help of another.

2.  Know the talents and gifts of your board members.  People like to contribute from their strengths.  Don’t expect everyone to be happy about doing every task that comes along.  Figure out their strengths and what they enjoy doing.  Make sure they are aware of a task that comes along that they would enjoy taking on.

3.  Choose and recruit your board members wisely.  Look at the talents that are missing on the up-coming board and seek out someone who can bring that to your board.  Having a whole board of people good with numbers will not move your group forward.  Neither will one filled with visionaries or sales people.   You need a balance of many talents to form a really strong board.

If you find yourself saying, “But, but, but… I had to do it.  No one else was stepping up to the plate.” Consider this:

Why would people volunteer to be on a board and then not want to contribute?  If they truly just want to show up to be seen, then you have the wrong person on your board.  It is a privilege to be on a board.  If you are in a situation where you are begging people to be on your board instead of choosing those that would benefit the organization, then there is a more serious core problem. Go back to some basics, as outlined in the section about “Why do people volunteer”.  See if any of these points sparks something in you that could be of help.

Consider a special board ‘retreat’ to focus on the board and how it functions.  This is about the board, not about the organization.  It is a time to be honest with the other board members and to express what is working and what is not working.  It is a good time to see how to strengthen the board as an organization.  I highly recommend that you bring in an outside person to facilitate the discussion and to help you to set up an agenda and expectations ahead of time.

Summary – Part Two

Volunteer Boards can be very rewarding.  Realizing that volunteers usually contribute with different standards than paid members is important to setting up a successful board.  Having the structure of a clearly defined purpose and a good set of by-laws is your first step to success.  Utilizing the talents of your members not only makes the volunteer happy, but it also benefits the organization.  Finding the balance between structure and allowing each member to contribute their gifts is the key to turning your board from good to great.

If you have been a volunteer yourself you can probably relate to the concepts brought out in this series of blog posts.  Whether looking to recruit volunteers to help you, or looking to improve your board of directors, there are a few things that seem to be common to volunteers:

They want to make a difference

They want their time and talents to be respected

They want to be appreciated

Establishing an environment to satisfy these three things is the key to running a successful volunteer organization.