Creating and Tracking Business Processes

pexels-photo-1157859You may have a firm grasp on how to run your business, but if you left the company today, would someone else know exactly how to fill your shoes? I have seen many business owners make the mistake of storing an abundance of knowledge in their head and overlook documenting company processes and procedures for others to reference in their absence.

As a business owner, it is understandable that the needs of your business can consume a substantial amount of your time, which sometimes means documenting your processes takes a backseat on your priority list. If you would like to improve your business’s organization but are unsure where to start, here are a few procedures to consider documenting first:

  • Recruitment
  • Onboarding
  • Customer relations
  • Product development
  • Organizational restructuring

Once presented with a list, I’ve noticed that many TAB members don’t seem to have problems identifying which processes they use, but they do often question exactly which details they should write down. Again, this may differ from business to business, but I encourage every business owner to describe as much about their processes as they can.

Once you have prioritized your business’s processes and decided which to detail first, here are the next steps you can take:

  1. Choose a name. What will you and your employees call this process so that it can be easily referenced? Consider a name that is clear and concise yet informative enough so as not to accidently be confused with other processes.
  2. List the steps. What event triggers the start of this process, and what has to happen to reach the desired end result? For example, the need for a new employee would trigger your recruitment process, and writing a detailed job description would be one of many steps that must be taken to reach the end result of a qualified hire.
  3. List the roles. Who is in charge of which step? Continuing with the recruitment example, your HR manager may pass along the job applications to the applicable department head, who then conducts the interviews and hiring negotiations.
  4. Organize the document. How will you and your employees ensure the process is being followed? You can create a summarized version of the process in the form of a checklist or flowchart that can easily track completion of steps.

This may seem like a daunting undertaking, especially if you have a lot of processes that need documenting. However, you may find some employees are equipped to document the processes of certain tasks that only require your final approval.

If you would like to discuss how to organize your business processes, contact me today to join a TAB peer advisory board.

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How Do You Provide Employee Feedback?

pexels-photo-70292It’s a standard business practice among large corporations, and even smaller businesses: annual performance evaluations. Many businesses hold on to the tradition of conducting annual performance evaluations to review employee progress and goals. However, 30% of performance reviews decrease employee morale rather than improve it.

To ensure your employees receive constructive feedback in a receptive manner, here are a few other options for providing feedback you can consider:

Be Timely

I encourage business owners to provide constructive criticism as soon as their employees experience difficulties within their role. This way, they can take appropriate steps right away to improve their actions rather than continue down a slippery slope of poor performance, which can in turn negatively impact your business. For example, if one of your employees seems slightly too blunt with a client, consider speaking with them immediately after the meeting to discuss how to better communicate with clients.

This suggestion of providing timely feedback applies to providing praise as well. Although it may be appreciated at any time, your employees will have a precise image of how to continue their good work if they can clearly remember the work you’re commending.

Clearly Define Expectations

Before we hire employees, we have an idea of the tasks they’ll perform and the role they’ll serve in the business. Sometimes, especially in smaller businesses, the roles and responsibilities of an employee can shift quite quickly based on the needs of the business. If there’s been any change in the roles or responsibilities of an employee, it’s important that you communicate any changes in expectations that arise as a result of a shift in responsibilities.

You can improve your employees’ performance even further by discussing with them how to meet the expectations of their role rather than to simply assign the expectations. Much of business success is rooted in two-way communication.

Ask for Their Feedback

Although intimidation isn’t your intention, some employees believe receiving feedback to be a daunting ordeal. To help them be more receptive to feedback, try asking them to comment on themselves first. If they are already mindful of their workplace struggles, this allows them the opportunity to inform you of the steps they are already taking to improve. You can then offer further guidance, as needed. The goal of this method is for your employee to have a conversation with you rather than feel they’re being criticized.

To find out how you can better provide employee feedback or learn how other businesses approach it, contact me today to discuss joining a TAB advisory board!


Respecting Professional Boundaries

29-11-2011Have you ever patted an employee on the back to praise them? Or, have you ever asked them a deeply personal question simply because you care about their well- being? While your intentions may be good, your staff may perceive these gestures in a completely different way than you would like them to. Sometimes we work so closely with our staff that the boundary between employee and friend can become blurred. Despite having the best intentions, as a person of authority, you should be cognizant about how you interact with your employees.

In order to protect yourself and your brand’s reputation from unsavoury allegations, I encourage all businesses, no matter their size, to implement a workplace harassment policy. In fact, all employers are required to have a workplace harassment policy under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The purpose of a workplace harassment policy is to ensure there are procedures in place to prevent and handle employee harassment complaints. If there aren’t documented procedures that you and your employees can easily reference as needed, you potentially open yourself up to legal repercussions. To avoid any grey area, there are template policies you can use to create your own.

Your workplace harassment policy can cover as little or as much as you deem necessary for your business, but here are a few subjects to take into consideration:

 

Verbal Phrasing

I strongly suggest mulling over every comment in your head before sharing them with employees, because carefree comments from a superior can easily be misunderstood as inappropriate or intimidating. Some employees may give you the benefit of the doubt over simple mistakes, but there may be others who take offense. The same goes for jokes; a joke that went over well at a friend or family gathering may not be appropriate for the workplace.

 

Physical Actions

You may have the most innocent of intentions when you pat an employee on the back or place a hand on their shoulder, but not everyone will realize this. If you have a habit of casually touching people when you speak to them, I would suggest trying to break it. If you’re unaware of any such habits, I would recommend taking a day or week to be particularly conscious of your actions around employees; you might have a habit you didn’t know about.

 

Visuals

Décor such as calendars, posters, paintings, statues, and any other form of decoration brought into the workplace should be chosen with a purely professional mindset. Where possible, I suggest choosing pieces that won’t cause debate over the definition of “tasteful.” And similarly to being cautious of jokes you share with employees, satirical images may not be as well received among employees as they can be among friends.

For specifics on what topics should be avoided in the workplace and to ensure discriminatory or offensive remarks/actions don’t take place, consider reviewing the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If you need help manoeuvring around this delicate subject and want to discuss how to implement an effective workplace harassment policy, contact me today to join a TAB peer advisory board.


The Pros and Cons of Working with Family

Have you ever considered running a family business? Perhaps you’re enticed by the convenience of working with people you already know, or maybe you’re seeking to leave a family legacy for your children and theirs. While there are many benefits to working with family, it can also have its downsides. Although many families succeed in business, sometimes the stress of running a business can get in the way of family relationships and vice versa.

I have worked with dozens of family businesses over the years, and through TAB meetings I have noticed several pros and cons family business owners seem to experience. Here are a few pros and cons you may encounter if you decide to work with family:

Pros

  • Kick-Start Your Succession Plan. Your business may be your pride and joy right now, but if you ever plan on retiring or starting another venture, you may need to consider eventually passing it along to someone else. Partnering with or hiring a family member can be a great way to show them the ropes so they can one day run the business.
  • Gain a Valuable Marketing Angle. Consumers prefer purchasing from family businesses. Although this doesn’t mean you should partner with any family member for the sake of owing a family business, hiring a qualified sibling or child can improve your business’s image.
  • Trust Who You’re Hiring. Hiring can be a convoluted process, and it can become discouraging if your business experiences a high turnover. By hiring a family member, you likely already have a strong sense of their work ethic and whether they’d be a good fit for your business and team.

 

Cons

  • Taking Work Home With You. Many business owners I know are guilty of this, but you may find it difficult to keep business discussions within business hours. For the sake of continued positive family relationships you may not want business to be at the forefront of every family gathering.
  • Concerned Employees. Unless your entire staff is family, some of your non-related employees may worry that they won’t be treated equally. I encourage you to communicate to your staff that all employees are held to the same standards, and are subject to the same policies and codes of conduct.
  • Maintaining Professionalism. Regardless if you’re working with relatives, a certain level of professionalism should still be maintained in the workplace. Keep family gossip out of the office and treat each other no differently than you’d treat a normal co-worker.

If you truly believe that one of your family members would be a valuable asset to your team, I encourage you to hire them. If, on the other hand, you are considering working with family solely out of convenience or family pressure, I suggest standing firm on the decisions that are in the best interest of your business. There can be substantial benefits to partnering with or hiring a family member, but it takes a strong, communicative family to make it work.

To discuss the ups and downs of your family business with a TAB peer advisory board, contact me today!


Don’t Let Numbers Paralyze Your Business

document-3268750_1920Since profit is essential for longevity and overall success of a business, it can be difficult to not obsess over your business’s numbers. As a passionate business owner, you may find yourself spending a lot of time worrying about unmet sales goals, overspent budgets, or unforeseen expenditures. These are all valid concerns, but is fixating on them benefitting your business?

Probably not. Instead, I encourage you to look at your business’s big picture. I believe that numbers are better used as a point of reference for the future rather than as an immediate source of panic. To help free you of the burden that numbers place on many business owners, here is what I suggest:

Build a Detailed Plan

You may have annual or quarterly financial goals, but are they included in an in-depth plan that includes steps and strategies to reach those goals? It’s generally easier to reach a destination with a map. Consider implementing KPIs into your business plan to help you recognize that a poor financial quarter doesn’t necessarily mean your business isn’t growing in other relevant areas.

Re-evaluate Your Existing Plan

If you already have a detailed business plan, it can be understandably frustrating if you are not meeting your goals. You have big ambitions for your business, but every business moves at its own pace. Consider that perhaps some goals may be currently out of reach and can be postponed until next year. Aim for greatness, but ensure your goals are realistic for your current means.

Communicate With Staff

Part of re-evaluating your business plan may include confirming that individual staff and departments are aware of the specific part they play in achieving the company’s goals. Perhaps your employees are doing their best to play their parts, but their best could be better if offered the right motivation. Budgets are often tight, but there are ways to keep employees motivated without giving pay raises.

Remember, going over budget on one item or for one quarter rarely means that you need to stop everything. Businesses have their ups and downs, but you will remain on the path to success as long as you treat everything as a learning opportunity.

If you would like to discuss how to build an effective business plan, contact me today to join a TAB peer advisory board.


How to Keep Valued Employees Without Giving Raises

action-adult-african-descent-1089551For small businesses, every dollar counts to achieve a positive bottom line. When a hard-working employee asks for a raise but your budget doesn’t have the wiggle room right now, but you also can’t afford to lose a quality employee, how can you ensure they don’t start looking elsewhere?

Here are what I suggest as alternatives to pay increases to keep the employees you want without paying more than you can afford:

Flexibility

One survey revealed that 58% of millennials would choose a better work-life balance over improved compensation. Do your employees need to be physically in the office every weekday? If they have everything they need to perform their duties from home and the independence to work on weekends, consider allowing them the flexibility to do so when it may be more convenient for their social or family life. Showing your employees that you care about their life outside of work will likely motivate them to care more about their life at work.

Commission

If the employee requesting a pay increase are members of your sales team, consider offering them commission incentives. Commission payouts may sound like they will cost you money, but they encourage your team to hit difficult goals that they otherwise may not have the motivation to accomplish. With increased sales you should be able to afford the commissions that come with them. There are many different commission structures that I recommend you look into before deciding which is ideal for your team.

Bonus

If an employee is putting in extra time on a project and the results are successful for your business, think about sharing some of that success with an employee with a bonus. This could be a cheque or a Visa gift certificate. Let them know why they are receiving the bonus.

Travel Expenses

Does your employee frequently use their own car for business-related travel? Reimbursing their per-kilometre allowance may be costing you more than if you provided them a company vehicle. As a Canadian business owner, many expenses related to company cars are tax deductible. Consider the difference in cost, and if the math doesn’t add up in your favour, then it may be better to consider one of the other alternatives on this list.

Professional Development

No matter which industry you’re in, it’s changing. Businesses that don’t grow or adapt to new technology or best practices become stagnant, and your employees want to stay relevant in the industry just as much as you do. In fact, 70% of employees wish they had more growth opportunities within their company. Offering them free learning opportunities to better themselves and develop their skills will allow them to better benefit your company. There would be costs involved, but group workshops, seminars, and conferences benefit multiple employees as well as your business, whereas individual salary increases only benefit the individual employees.

If you would like to hear about other ideas on how to keep your employees engaged and productive for the long-term, contact me today to discuss becoming a member of a TAB peer advisory board!


Know Your Clients: Tips for Effective Surveys

user-satisfaction-2800863_640Based on discussions at TAB meetings, I have found that regular client feedback is essential for business improvement. Because of this, business owners often ask me how they can create surveys that get opened and collect relevant information.

To increase the probability that clients will complete your survey, here are the practices I follow:

  • Use action verbs. Much of English conversation consists of the verb “to be”, resulting in dull, passive language. Try to use the active voice as much as possible.
  • Create an easy user experience. Because the human attention span is generally quite short, I suggest creating a simple survey using multiple choice and dropdown questions rather than paragraph-style questions where possible.
  • Offer an incentive. Who doesn’t like free or discounted products and services? Consider holding a draw for clients that submit the survey or providing a discount code upon completion.

As for which questions to ask, here are my suggestions based on the type of data you want to collect:

Client Data

Do you want your client email list to answer which demographics your clients are from and in which neighbourhoods or countries they live? If this kind of client information might benefit your business, surveys are great opportunities to ask for targeted information, which in turn allows you to customize marketing campaigns.

Consider including these questions to gather useful information about your clients:

  • What is your postal code?
  • In which age range do you belong?
  • What is your ethic background?
  • What is your job title?

In order to assure clients that their information is safe with you, it is likely in your best interest to include a disclaimer at the bottom of your survey that states how the information will be used. 

Product/Business Data

When a business’s sale decrease or become stagnant, I have found that surveys are effective tools to find out why that is. Your loyal clients want to see your business succeed and are likely more than happy to suggest a couple small areas of improvement. But whom you really want to hear from are the one-time buyers that didn’t return. How can you get them back or at least prevent future clients from walking away for the same reasons they did?

Consider including these questions to gather useful feedback about your products and your business practices:

  • Which of our products or services do you use?
  • Are you satisfied with the product or service quality you received?
  • How can we improve your customer service experience in the future?
  • Will you continue to do business with us in the future?
  • What types of discounts would encourage you to purchase our products or services in the future?

If you would like to discuss different forms of client engagement with a peer advisory board, contact me today to find out more about TAB!