The Best Managers are the Best Communicators

As a business owner, you dedicate much of your time to communicating with your clients. While this is crucial for your business, equally important is communicating with your employees. Internal communication touches every aspect of your business from announcing the onboarding of a new client, to introducing a new product to your business line. No matter the size, industry, or type of company you own, I recommend having an internal communications process embedded in everything you do.

An internal communications process allows for the exchange of information between all members of your organization, which will save you time and money. In fact, companies with effective internal communications processes experience 47% higher total returns than those that are not effective at communicating.

I’ve outlined below 3 key elements to help you establish an effective internal communications process.

  1. Have the Right Mechanisms in Place to Keep Employees Informed

Your internal communication mechanisms must be strategic, in order to be targeted and the most beneficial. Consider your company’s current mechanisms, from the methods of communication it uses, to the way your company engages with and seeks feedback from your staff, to the way it measures if the mechanism is successful and identifies any issues for future change.

Choosing what mechanisms to use depends on your size and budget. If your company has multiple locations, you may decide to invest in passive, large-scale communication options to disseminate information. Creating an intranet (a private network only available to a company’s staff) is one great option. If your business is smaller, consider using more conventional communication channels such as an internal newsletter, e-blast, Director’s blog, or notice board. I have even seen some companies benefit from using social networking sites as their primary means of internal communication. More directed options could include Breakfast Briefs for front-line staff, a monthly Director Communications Day, scheduled Director Q&A drop-ins, or Lunch & Learns.

No matter what mechanism(s) you choose, the bottom line is that employees have access to a platform where they can receive important company information so they stay abreast of the information they need to do their job.

  1. Creating a Two-Way Loop

Having great communication mechanisms in place is vital, but ensuring that they consistently generate engagement between management and employees is a key step. It is imperative that business owners and managers actively respond to feedback received and ensure a loop is created, as opposed to a top-down form of communication. By acting on the honest feedback reported by employees encourages more of the same – staff telling it “like it is”.

  1. Measuring the Mechanisms

To ensure that the communication mechanisms you choose are working effectively, incorporating measurement indicators, such as scheduled weekly face-to-face meetings with actionable items reported for follow-up, anonymous employee surveys offered at quarterly or annual company all-staff meetings, or through specific activity surveys through the intranet, could help identify gaps, what is or isn’t working, and what methods of communication work best for your employees.

Regardless of which avenues you choose, the main goal is to ensure employees have several effective paths available to them where they can communicate with senior management and feel heard.

Communicating with your employees is essential for the productivity of your business. Does your company have an internal communications process in place?

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Everyone Needs to Take Time Off

sea-holiday-vacation-tableAre you suffering from vacation deprivation? If so, you’re not alone. So much has been written about the importance of a work/life balance, but not enough Canadians are living it. According to Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You?, “Humans were never designed to have stress all the time. Our stress reactions were designed to be turned on and then off. That’s the healthy cycle. But today we operate in a semi-permanent state of stress. Proper vacationing is an antidote to chronic stress. It is absolutely imperative that Canadians are vacationing each year – and not just one time per year.”

I understand from many of the business owners I work with that you worry about leaving your businesses because you feel nobody else can do your work, and although that may be partly true, I can guarantee that if you burn out – you risk not having any business to run.

Make this the year that you take a vacation – consider it preventative medicine – and instead of just thinking about taking a vacation, prepare for actually taking one by following these 4 tips:

  1. Plan your vacation during a slow period. It will definitely reduce your stress levels about going away.
  2. Deal with all time sensitive issues before you go. In theory, anything that arises in your absence should be able to be dealt with by your staff or wait until you return.
  3. Contact your clients well in advance and let them know you’ll be going on vacation. If they have anything that requires your special attention you’ll be able to take care of it before you leave. Delegate a point person for them to contact in your absence.
  4. Empower your employees to step in and step up while you’re on vacation. Delegate specific tasks or duties. Leave detailed instructions about how to deal with situations that may arise. If you’d feel more comfortable with regular status reports, have a staff member email you at a predetermined interval with a report of the company’s activities during your absence. Let your staff know that they can reach out to you under certain circumstances and be clear as to what these circumstances could be.

All work and no play is a recipe for burnout. We all need time to relax, recharge and reconnect with family and friends. What are you waiting for? Start planning your vacation!


Client Favouritism – Is It a Bad Thing?

CustomersLet’s be honest, we all have our favourite clients. I know I do. More often than not, our favourite clients are also some of our best clients. These are typically the clients with whom we have great partnerships and an understanding that together, we’re responsible for success. The question is do we, or should we, treat all clients equally?

How we differentiate clients

For some, client favouritism is already built into many of our business models. It’s common practice to tier clients based on the amount of revenue they generate. We routinely see companies offering different levels of service typically called Gold, Silver or Bronze, similar in idea to consumer credit cards. The clients that spend the most have Gold cards, then Silver level, and then Bronze for “basic level”. Does this differentiation set us up to treat our clients differently instead of focussing on delivering great customer service to all of our clients? Is client favouritism itself two-tiered – clients we like and clients who generate the most revenue? How are we treating clients that don’t generate the most revenue but are still solid performers?

Can client favouritism be a bad thing?

Client favouritism is not a good or a bad thing. It’s perfectly fine to dedicate more time to the clients you have great working relationships with; the ones that are profitable, appreciate your work and do what they say they’ll do. But if you’re only focussed on your highest revenue generators and let others fall by the wayside, you may be alienating some good clients. Not all of your clients are going to be rock stars in the revenue department. However, I do suggest that you nurture solid, steady, long-term clients that deliver consistent revenue, in addition to the few rock stars. These steady clients speak about your service to others, and can be a good source of referrals, so maintaining a relationship with your clients, where each feels like they are the “only” client, is the ideal.


Do your clients make unreasonable demands?

TAB-Demand (1)As a business owner, it’s always very difficult to turn away business, especially in challenging economic times. However, the reality is that not every client is a good client. In fact, some clients make unreasonable demands. You know the kind of client I mean; we’ve all had to deal with them.

In my experience providing advice to business owners, I’ve heard hundreds of stories of unreasonable clients, yet many owners are unclear as to how to improve their relationship with these clients.

I’ve outlined below some of the classic unreasonable client requests and some steps you may want to consider trying to better the relationship.

1. They expect you to be available 24/7.

Unless this is the type of service you offer, you should clearly define your boundaries. Let your client know what your working hours and days are.

2. No matter what you charge, it’s always too expensive for them.

An unprofitable client takes time away from your profitable clients. Set your pricing and be prepared to negotiate but only within preset parameters. Be prepared to say no and walk away if necessary.

3. They consistently pay slowly which has a negative impact on your cash flow.

If you’re spending a lot of time and energy chasing a client for money, this may be a client worth letting go – unless you can afford to wait for your money. This type of client will not change their paying habits until you enforce your payment terms. You may have to hold back on your deliverables to make your point.

4. They keep changing their mind about what they want.

If you have a client that keeps changing their mind about what they want after you’ve done the work, start charging them for the changes.

5. They don’t respond to your calls/emails/texts in a timely fashion.

Ask if there is another person who perhaps has more time to be responsive. Let them know that the lack of response may delay timelines and keep a paper trail in case it does.

6. They rarely turn up at meetings or cancel at the last minute.

Your time is valuable. If your client is consistently not turning up at meetings or cancelling at the last minute, start billing them for your time.

I recommend that you try to convert an unreasonable client into a good client, but that’s not always possible. When all of your best efforts fail, it may be time to fire the client.


Do You Need To Be A Visionary To Be A Successful Business Owner?

visionary-leadership-vision-business-planningYou are a successful business owner, a leader, a strong-minded individual with direction, but are you a visionary and if so, is that a good thing for your business?

“The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones that do.” – Steve Jobs

With strong words like this, it’s no wonder many business owners strive to be visionary leaders. But with over 30 years of expertise working directly with business owners, I can tell you it’s not the visionaries alone that make a business successful, it’s a combination of vision and planning. And these two valuable traits can be, but are not often found in just one person.

A visionary leader is: someone who focuses on the big ideas and end results, who can inspire his team to reach organizational goals. They are entrepreneurial in spirit and can easily jump from one priority to another when a new opportunity arises. Creativity, openness and persistence are their drivers.

A planner is: an action-based practical thinker. They focus on the processes behind any task, initiative, or goal. Their top priority is to figure out how the team is going to get things done. Their linear, process-driven approach shows in how they take all things into consideration before making a decision.

Both types are necessary when putting together a successful team, and recognizing what type of leader you are is the first step to making sure you have the right team to lead your business to success.

Which are you — a visionary leader or a planner?


The 3 Ps of Business: How Are They Different and Why Do They Matter?

ProcessesSuccessful businesses have three things in common: effective policies, processes, and procedures. We can refer to these as the three Ps. Each employee in a company has their own set of rules to follow as they complete work tasks, and it is critical for the prolonged success of a business to ensure that each employee understands the company’s three Ps.

The problem is that far too many businesses struggle to both define and differentiate their three Ps, leading to confusion among employees and the muddling together of these three fundamentally different but equally essential elements.

Understanding the three Ps is important for creating and maintaining a complete working system. Too often do we see businesses implementing only one or two of the three Ps, yet all three elements are equally necessary in order to properly delegate job tasks and ensure continued productivity and profitability.

I’ve outlined below the definitions of and key differences between each of our three Ps. It is my belief that understanding these three elements is one of the key determinants of success in any business.

  1. Policy

A policy is a guideline used to set direction in an organization. Without such guidelines, there is much more room for error in your business. An example of a policy that is prevalent in today’s business world pertains to email. Common email policy within a business often includes rules regarding imitating others, the use of foul language, and malicious content.

Policies should be seen as courses of action to guide and influence the decision-making process in your business. With clear and effective policies comes increased efficiency and the mitigation of avoidable mistakes that threaten productivity as well as your bottom line.

  1. Process

A process is the high-level overview of a task. In other words, the process is the expanded view, or “map”, that defines exactly how an objective can be reached, from start to finish.

Take a moment to think about any task that may be required to be completed in your business. What steps must be taken in order to complete that task? At any level in your organization, it is critical to have processes with clearly defined objectives as well as steps to take in order to reach these objectives. Whether you are an intern or senior management, you need processes that plainly outline your objectives and how to meet them.

  1. Procedure

Building on what we now understand about the high-level nature of a process, a procedure refers to the series of steps required in order to complete a task. If the process can be seen as a map, then the procedure covers the directions to reach the destination. If the task is posting a blog, then the procedure would detail the exact steps that must be taken to complete the task from start to finish.

As you can now see, the three P’s are interconnected, yet fundamentally different from each other. Each of these elements must be present in order to encourage maximum productivity in your business.

Creating, maintaining, and continually updating your policies, processes, and procedures mitigates avoidable mistakes and ensures that every employee at every level of your business knows what is expected of him or her, and how to achieve their clearly defined objectives.

How are your three Ps? Do you think you are giving them the attention they deserve?


When to Manage and When to Coach- Recognizing the Difference

prop-motivatingAs a business owner, you wear many hats, two of the most important being “manager” and “coach”. What I’ve noticed most business owners have trouble with is differentiating between the two roles, and when exactly to wear each hat.

There is a very clear difference between managing and coaching, and it is important to recognize the distinction in order for your company and employees to achieve success under your leadership. So what is this apparent difference exactly?

In the simplest sense, managing is all about directing. As a manager, you are telling others what needs to be done, how to do it, and when it needs to be completed. You have a specific outcome in mind, and you are directing a group whose purpose is to achieve it.

Coaching, on the other hand, is all about facilitation. Your purpose is to create a relationship with your employees as a guide and mentor, working towards long-term improvement and a number of outcomes.

While a manager and a coach may have the same authority, the way they approach each situation varies greatly. While managing, you’re concerned with the strategy and planning, delegating the tasks to the appropriate people. While coaching, you are present, providing encouragement, support, and making suggestions/revisions along the way.

So at what point do you wear each hat? They’re both effective under different circumstances. When facing stressful deadlines or crisis situations, acting as manager is what’s needed. When you are building your team and focusing on your staff’s development, you are coaching them.

A combination of these two styles is ideal, and by evaluating the task at hand first and the individuals involved second, you can then decide on your management style. Managing an employee who is new or unfamiliar with a task makes sense, while coaching your experienced staff can assist in developing their growth.

In what situations do you find it difficult to distinguish between the leadership styles and which to use? Share your questions or concerns in the comments.