Archive for the ‘Productivity Improvements’ Category

Twittering the Day Away…

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Image courtesy of Tanatat // FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of my clients recently called to ask how to handle the following situation:

Greg (not his real name) had been caught spending a lot of time for personal on-line stuff. One day he sent 60 (yes, 60) emails back and forth to his real estate agent while he was buying his house. Another day, he sent a screen shot to his manager to show her something on the company site. Unfortunately for Greg, his screen shot also captured an open kijiji page, showing that he was once again surfing the net for his own purposes rather than working. When Greg’s manager sent a message back commenting on the open kijiji page, Greg took it upon himself to barge into her office complaining that she had no right to question him about how he spent his time…

Ah, the sense of entitlement was thick in the air; as it is in a lot of other organizations.

Twitter is here to stay, at least until the next tech tool comes along… But what can managers do to make sure their staff are not twittering, or facebooking, or tumblr-ing, the day away? Let’s face it, in today’s electronic  age, where we are plugged in 24/7, there is going to be some time spent during the work day when staff are sending or receiving text  messages, checking for bargains online, or just plain old “surfing the net” for something interesting to read.

 

And is this really a problem? In years gone by, workers used to refresh their brains by looking out the window, or doodling. If a manager walked past a desk and saw the worker staring aimlessly into space, day dreaming in other words, the manager would probably speak up and remind the worker that they were paid to work, not daydream.

Today, management styles have changed, and it is no longer acceptable or wise to come down too hard on staff who abuse the rules: unless they are for safety reasons, then it is prudent to take a strong stance. Instead, it is somehow expected that managers find a way to motivate staff to work throughout the day. Easier said than done. How can managers highlight the importance of self-restraint when using the internet, texting, etc. for personal purposes while being paid by the employer to produce results?

  1. First off, companies have to anticipate that their workforce will surf the net during the day if they have access to any electronic device. The company must also decide in advance how strictly they wish to control non-work related surfing. Of course, policies should be in place regarding what they can surf: internet porn, violence, anti-religious rhetoric, etc. should all be prohibited on company equipment. But what about the staff who uses their computer at work to search the MLS listings? Or goes onto ebay to buy new guitar strings? Or texts their kids several times a day? What is the message they want to send employees about this sort of behaviour?

 

  1. Secondly, companies have to find a way to communicate their philosophy on using electronic devices during company time. Are managers willing to tell staff they know that there will be times when staff jump online to check their facebook status or to post a picture? And equally important, how do managers communicate that while staff may feel entitled to surf the new on company time, there has to be integrity in the number of times they log-on or the amount of time they spend on personal business.

I think one of the main reasons companies do not want to acknowledge that staff are surfing on company time is because there is a real fear that the workforce may interpret that acknowledgement as tacit approval for the behaviour. It is vital for managers put a time parameter around what they would be willing to tolerate: half an hour a day, fifteen minutes, an hour… Without guidelines, workers can easily rely on the fact that they simply did not realize what they were doing was against the rules. Since “everyone else” surfs the net, they thought it was acceptable.

 

In the case of Greg, he threw his colleagues under the bus by saying that they are online WAY more than him. When we meet with him, there are three main issues we need to address:

  1. It is inappropriate to feel entitled to storm into your manager’s office to argue that the manager has no right to ask about how he spends his time at work. What part of “manager” does not involve monitoring performance?
  1. We will be setting clear performance parameters to help Greg understand that if he is failing to meet targets (i.e. making his quota of outbound sales calls or following up with client requests), then he should perhaps focus on getting his work done and THEN use his free time the way he feels is productive to his mental and emotional health at work.
  1. Greg needs to hold his own integrity, and accept accountability for his actions. Rather than pointing out the faults of his co-workers, something that undermines the work culture, he should focus on his own behaviour and make sure it is impeccable before he calls others’ into question.

Companies today are coming up against issues that never existed in previous decades. And, they need to anticipate those issues so they can avert problems before they arise. And where the internet, social media, texting, and personal cell phones and emails are concerned, companies must know what they expect from their workforce and communicate clearly on the expectations. Otherwise, they will continue to bump up against the new challenges of having a 24/7 plugged in workforce.

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Cups Over Customers

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
Customer service training

Image courtesy of Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all experienced it: we walk into a store and the clerk is busy doing some menial task such as sorting bags or stocking a shelf. As a customer, we want to be polite, so we wait for the clerk to recognize us. Instead, the clerk ignores our presence until they are finished with their task…

This happened to me the other day. I was at our local grocery store picking up a ready-made salad to bring to a pot luck lunch. In a rush as usual I ran in, picked up the salad, and headed to the “meals-to-go” section to pay. The clerk was stacking cups for the hot soup. After several attempts to get her attention (“uhm, can I pay for this here?”, “hello, is it all right if I pay here?”, “hi, are you on this cash?”), the clerk looked up from her cups. “Yes, you can pay for that here. I’ll be a few minutes.” She returned to stacking her cups and again ignored me standing at the cash register. I thought “a few minutes” was just a figure of speech, but obviously not!

A second clerk came out of the stock room, saw me standing at the cash, looked at her fellow worker, and proceeded to ring me out. All the while the other clerk continued to stack her cups to get them ready for the lunch rush. Now here is a worker who is destroying the company’s brand and not fulfilling her role as a brand ambassador.

What’s wrong with this picture? We see it all the time. When we do, our first thought is normally, “Wow, there is a person who hates his/her job”. Our second thought is “how rude”. I won’t even mention the third thought that runs through one’s mind.

Whatever happened to customer service? Where did courtesy at work go? When did the worker begin to place a higher emphasis on cups over customers? Is it because management places a higher value of stacking cups rather than providing exceptional customer service? I highly doubt that. However, somehow management has forgotten some critical factors of creating a shopping experience for the customer that draws them back time after time.

1. Employees must understand that their entire job revolves around satisfying the customer. The mundane tasks they are doing is a means to an end – and that end is a delighted customer. Employees may do things to please their managers, but lest we not forget, our entire job is centered around a paying customer. THEY are the ones who pay our paycheque. The manager just signs off on the hours.
2. Make customers feel important (and yes, that means NOT ignoring them Ms. Cup Lady). Our customers are not there to serve our needs, we are there to serve theirs. Customers are not “pieces of work” and deserve a little respect. Customers are individuals, each with their unique personality and reason for being in the market for your particular product or service.
3. Listen to the customer – they can give an employee clues to what they want. Customers are not merely buying our products or services, they are buying the entire experience. Just because we sell the best ice cream this side of the Mississippi or the strongest glue ever made, our employees can lose customers by failing to fulfil the customer needs and expectations along the path from prospective shopping, to sale, to delivery, to after sale experience.
4. Give more than expected. Had the cup stacking lady acknowledged me right away, it would have been a start. Making me more important than her cups would have been appreciated. Coming over and offering me a smile and pleasant attitude would have put me over the top.
5. Even if she had stacked a few more cups after acknowledging me, Ms. Cup Lady could have explained why stacking the cups was so important. Maybe they were a bit behind and she had to get them out quickly because staff would be coming for lunch in a minute. Maybe she was in the middle of a count, and didn’t want to lose where she was. Maybe… Trust the customer, if they know the system and how it works at your company, they will probably understand and cut you some slack. Who hasn’t been in the middle of counting something, or adding along list of numbers, only to be interrupted and lose our place? Help the customer understand where you are coming from, instead of sticking to a regimen that may end up frustrating, annoying, or upsetting the customer. Customers give feedback by going somewhere else when they don’t get good service or the quality of care they deserve.

Why did Ms. Cup Lady place more priority to stacking cups over customers? My gut tells me that she feels underappreciated or unimportant. Employees are the company’s ambassadors to the world. I believe that both managers and workers alike often forget that simple yet powerful fact.

If we want our employees to be exceptional ambassadors, managers need to remember that the staff are management’s internal customers. Give the workforce a reason to be happy at work. Their smiles will be infectious to our customers. Respect the workforce, and they will respect the customer in kind.

Giving good customer service is not hard. It takes no more time to be courteous as it does to be cranky. According to the blog “getsatisfied.com” (http://blog.getsatisfaction.com/2010/10/04/fastest-way-to-lose-customers/?view=socialstudies), 68% of customers leave a company because of poor customer service.

Will I be back to that local grocery store again? Not any time soon. In fact, since I have choices (do you hear that Ms. Cup Lady? CHOICES!!), I’ll be taking my business elsewhere. Yes, it was only a salad. But I too do not just buy products or services. I buy the experience of spending my money where I feel appreciated, cared for, and recognized as the person who makes the company’s sustainability in business possible. Take that Ms. Cup Lady, AND your manager!

We work with clients to develop a culture of exceptional customer service, one where the customer experience is always top-of-mind – at all levels of the organization. Call us today to learn about our training and coaching programs that deliver practical tools and techniques to enhance awareness of how best to delight your customers.

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Finding Fault or Correcting Problems?

Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Workplace investigations

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever been chastised by someone? A parent, a teacher, a boss… It feels terrible, and it undermines the confidence and willingness to work hard for that person, doesn’t it? It is embarrassing to be called out for something we did wrong, especially if the person calling us out treats our mistake as if it were incompetence.

Mistakes happen. That is a fact. It is also a fact that many managers and business owners find it hard to fathom that anyone could be so “stupid.” These are the people who want to find out who is to blame; to figure out who is at “fault” and then put their heads on the chopping block. Especially if those mistakes cost the company a lot of money.

 

Before you push forward with conducting a forensic inquisition, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  1. Is there a procedure in place to avoid this sort of mistake? If there is, and the worker failed to follow the procedure either through laziness or carelessness, this may be a good counselling moment to emphasize the reasons companies have procedures in place. If there is no procedure, perhaps it is time to put one in place. If this sort of mistake happened once, chances are good that there it could happen again. This then becomes an excellent coaching moment where a manager can develop critical thinking skills within the workplace.
  2. Were clear instructions given to the worker? Just because the person sending the message believes they were clear, communication is a two-way process. And the receiver cannot look into the sender’s mind to figure out critical nuances or missing details. Often companies develop their own sort of “lingo”. Procedures get shortened names, like “non-con” for non-conformance problems. Or “cred test” for credibility and reliability testing. We all know what a “non-con” is, right? Or do we? Before we can point the finger at someone, it is important that everyone has a shared understanding of the message. They also need the full information in order to do their jobs properly. In our hurried workday, we habitually give sketchy messages with too little information. Then, when things go wrong, we look for heads to roll. Perhaps we should be looking into the mirror first.
  3. What circumstance allowed the problem to go unnoticed until it was too late? When processing orders or entering data, it is vital that companies have a system of checks and balances along the path. Mistakes that get to the end of the process without detection demonstrates that there are insufficient quality control measures along the process. “Just-in-time” does not mean “push-it-through”. “Streamlining procedures” does not mean “steamrolling the process”. “Lean manufacturing” does not mean “starving the line.”
  4. What can we learn from this mistake? If we only look for blame, we are looking backwards to find fault and punish the person. When we ask what we can learn, we enable ourselves to make improvements on a regular and continuous basis. This is what “continuous improvement” is all about. It is how we help prevent the same or similar mistakes from happening in the future. Unfortunately, it is like that companies will never know how many problems it avoided. Seeking lessons from mistakes is sort of like eating healthy – we will never know what illnesses or disease our healthy eating has avoided. But most would agree, that is not a reason to eat unhealthy, because the risk is far too great.

This is not to imply that mistakes should not be taken seriously. Nor is it to imply that discipline should not happen. Discipline in its true form is a behaviour modification process. It is designed to encourage a worker to start or stop something that is getting in the way of good performance. From experience, it seems that managers and business owners still cannot separate a mistake from incompetence, and their first reaction is to find fault and blame. In our experience, this is most often is the least effective thing to do.

To find out more effective ways to handle mistakes, and knowing when to discipline and when to coach, give us a call. We have leadership development and supervisory skills training that helps managers increase their comfort level and competency when dealing with performance issues.

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Problem Personalities that Undermine Productivity

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Every workplace has them: the few staff members who make it miserable for everyone else. Left unchecked, these select few can spoil your company’s productivity, undermine progress, and derail even the best laid plans. We all know who they are, but for some reason, most of us never find the courage to confront them for their bad behaviour.

Take Fussy Fanny for example. Fussy Fanny believes that she has all the right answers and that only her way of doing something is right. Anyone who has another way of doing something is “wrong” in Bossy Betty’s eyes, and she is not afraid to let them know. Like when the admin assistant started and put the client information in the blue files instead of the yellow files… Fussy Fanny made it her mission to correct the poor girl in front of everyone in the office; at the same time, Fussy Fanny also made it clear that because of the “incompetence”, Fussy Fanny had to work extra hard to change the files from blue to yellow. Boy, what would we do without Bossy Betty’s single-minded focus on getting things done right – aka – her way.

Another workplace personality that leaves tears in his wake is Domineering Dan. Domineering Dan likes to tell everyone how to do things, in a loud, assertive voice. Domineering Dan struts around the workplace like he owns it, scrutinizing everyone else’s job to make sure they are doing it right. Of course, Domineering Dan never makes a mistake – primarily because he is too busy dictating the work for others. Domineering Dan considers his treatment of his co-workers as “making sure everyone is doing their job”. But what he is really doing, is bullying everyone with his loud voice and aggressive manner.

Then there is Meek Molly. Meek Molly just wants everyone to get along. She never stands up for herself, so both Fussy Fanny and Domineering Dan push her around. The entire staff sees it, but they figure it is better Meek Molly than them. And Meek Molly just does what everyone wants – even if it means doing something that is not in the best interest of the company. Like the time she let Tardy Tom submit his inventory replacement order three days late, leading to a shortage of one part that had to be couriered overnight at a cost of $250… Meek Molly lets everyone push her around and everyone knows it. Because of this, there is a general attitude that procedures do not need to be followed, because Meek Molly will take it upon herself to go behind the scenes to make everything all right so nobody gets into trouble.

And let’s look at Tardy Tom while we are at it. Tardy Tom is always late: the last to arrive at work, the last to arrive at a meeting (normally after it has already started), and he is always that last one to get his paperwork in. This not only disrupts other peoples’ workflow, but also has people wondering why they should be on time for anything. The trouble is, Tardy Tom is a good worker. He has a great sales record, and is likeable. So nobody seems to want to challenge Tardy Tom or to hold him accountable. Tardy Tom’s been allowed to be late for everything ever since he started several years ago, so his manager is at a loss of how to introduce this performance issue now; so he just sits back and ignores it.
There are others too: Critical Carole, Negative Ned, Avoidance Alan, Gossipy Gail…
If we all recognize these people as having a negative impact on our work environment, why do we allow them to get away with it for so long? The truth is, most people (managers included) are not comfortable with telling people their personalities are toxic. Most people (managers included) would rather let things slide than create conflict. Why? Because most people (managers included) simply do not know how address personality traits that need to be improved.

Our training and coaching programs are designed to help everyone in the workplace learn how to address problem behaviour and hold others accountable in a professional and meaningful way. Let our team of highly trained experts deliver training that is powerful and lasting; giving lasting solutions to the seemingly never-ending problems created by personalities at work.

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Diagnosing a Toxic Workplace

Monday, November 26th, 2012

It’s a phrase we are hearing more and more. Toxic Workplace: also referred to as a Poisonous Workplace. What is it and more importantly, how can you tell if your workplace is toxic?

The first clue to diagnosing a toxic workplace is the attitudes of co-workers and managers. Are they friendly, or are they cranky? How do you feel? Are you happy to go to work everyday, or do you silently hope that the flu hits you at night just so you can miss a day?

Toxic work environments zap the lifeblood of its workforce, destroys productivity, and undermines corporate performance. It is a “top down” problem; created, fostered, and allowed to flourish by upper management in the pursuit of the holy bottom-line. Companies that ignore people in favour of profits are likely to suffer the long-term consequences of poor staff relations and underperformance. The following are some common signs that your workplace could be toxic:

High absenteeism – do people seem to call in sick more frequently than normal? People may not necessarily be sick, but instead, could just be “sick of work”. Even if companies do not pay for time off because of illness, there are hidden costs: lost productivity, increased stress and annoyance of co-workers who have to cover, and of course, inconsistent ability to meet customer expectations.

Internal conflicts – not everyone can get alone all the time. But when staff conflicts threaten to derail the work getting done, it’s high time to take a closer look. Toxic people breed toxic workplaces. So if there is an office bully, or someone who makes others walk on eggshells, deal with the problem quickly and decisively.
Lack of commitment – either to the work, quality, or going the extra mile. People who do not enjoy their work or the workplace are less willing to work overtime, attend company functions, or participate in staff events. They see the job as a place to earn money, but nothing more. These people are not willing to pitch in to get a major project done on time, and refuse to help co-workers when needed.

Inappropriate language, behaviour, or attire – making sexist comments, poking fun of someone or name calling, publicly announcing other people’s mistakes: these are all inappropriate behaviour at work. We may have freedom of speech, but that does not give people free range on what they can say. Negative gossip, overly critical attention, or down-right rudeness create a work environment where nobody can flourish.

We spend approximately 1/3 of our lives at work. It makes sense that employees want to feel good about going to work. It is management’s responsibility to make sure that the workplace places a balanced approach to profits AND people. Gone are the days when bean-counters could dictate what a company could expect from its workforce. Younger generations are demanding a kinder, gentler approach to work. They will not work for companies who place value only on the bottom line. They also may not tell you why they leave; they just will.

So if you’d like to get a snapshot of your work culture, give us a call. We conduct assessments, employee surveys, and third party investigations into allegations of toxic or poisonous work environments. From there, we can help you strategize the best way to make positive changes at all levels of the organization: top-down and bottom-up change that lasts!

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Again, Winter driving and Employee Safety

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I’m going to say it – I HATE winter driving. So I avoid it whenever possible. Not everyone has that luxury, and work still needs to get done. However, where is the balance between getting to work and being able to arrive safely? How should employers handle employee absenteeism during bad driving advisories?

What should they be thinking about, and communicating to their employees?

I live in the snow belt of ski country. Therefore, I understand when you walk outside to begin your drive to work and find that a foot of snow has fallen overnight. As a consultant, I get the luxury of balancing my workload with winter driving. But what about the poor worker who has not choice but to venture into the sometime gruesome driving conditions?

Depending on where they are, where they are going, and under certain conditions, a vehicle accident MAY in fact become a WSIB claim. If the worker is not driving to their normal work location, but instead is driving to a client location, training seminar, or meeting, an accident can be deemed work-related.

So how should employers handle situations when they know there are bad driving conditions and they have staff who are off-site for various reasons? Yes, the company has paid for the seminar, but in the long run, would it not be prudent to tell the worker to skip it? How much more costly would a WSIB claim be to the company should that worker be injured in an accident?

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Winter Driving and Employee Safety

Monday, December 6th, 2010

You know you live in Canada when you begin to think about winter driving in mid-October. Snow tires replace summer tires, boots replace sandals, and winter driving conditions replace summer time activites in the minds of workers.

We all know some employees who will drive through a blizzard to get to work. My husband is one of those die hard drivers. Others, like me, set out on the roads with a pit in my stomach, wondering what lies beneath the snow and ice, and how much extra time I will need to make it there safely.

Employers need to consider how they handle employee absenteeism on days of bad weather. And given that areas across Ontario seem to be hit differently, managers need to consider the local weather conditions WHERE THEIR EMPLOYEES LIVE rather than where they work. There have been many instances where companies have disciplined workers (or not paid them) because it was sunny in Toronto, but highways were closed along the commute of their workers.

How does this affect employee morale, and what is the message managers send workers during bad weather. If companies do not repsect and care for the safety of their workforce in all kinds of weather, can they realistically expect employees to “go the extra mile” when needed?

Good and responsible companies have contingency plans for bad weather. Perhaps workers are allowed to make up lost time by giving an extra hour a day the rest of the week. Or, perhaps they can work from home. Does your company have a policy and best practice for when the weather turns against us?

What message does it send? That you care about the comfort and safetyof your workforce, and trust that they will not take advantage of that understanding? Or, does it tell employees that they are expected at work not matter what?

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Third Party Investigations

Friday, November 26th, 2010

In-House or Third Party Investigations?

The only defence to a Health & Safety complaint is due diligence.  When dealing with issues of workplace violence and harassment, many managers, and even Human Resource professionals, are at a loss on it takes to ensure their company is protected and can prove due diligence.

When the outcome of an investigation seems to clearly demonstrate a violation of the Health & Safety Act of Ontario for harassment or violence, the employer has a clear mandate – correct the inappropriate situation as quickly as possible. Depending on the severity of the incident, this may include termination with cause.

Ideally, the evidence collected during the investigation will prove cause to avoid claims of wrongful dismissal. Of course, this does not prevent a terminated worker or manager from accusing the company of unfair investigation practices, coaching witnesses, or acting against their Human Rights.  What should managers do when the complaint is complicated, involves multiple workers, or regards Human Rights issues? As well, what if the outcome of an investigation is unclear?

Many managers struggle with how to handle complicated complaints. Should they still discipline the party? If so, how far should that discipline go? In these instances, how confident can a company be that their findings and subsequent actions will hold up should legal proceedings ensue?

Knowing when an investigation can be conducted in-house and when it should be conducted by a qualified third party is essential for a successful defence of due diligence. Instances of sexual abuse, claims against managers, or complicated claims involving multiple workers may be better investigated through the use of a third party investigator.

Does your company know how to handle their investigation properly so that the defence of due diligence will protect them from prosecution?       www.hrparalegal.com       www.workforceacceleration.com

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Long Weekends and Absenteeism

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Long weekends in Canada are national summer “perk”. Who does not enjoy getting an extra day off - with pay? While long weekends are eagerly anticipated by some, there are still those who have to work – retail, hospitality, health care, and law enforcement workers do not enjoy the same holiday benefits as their government or banking counterparts.

Some employees forget that their presence at work is essential to keep the work flowing. When they phone in sick, to say, go to a friend’s cottage, a party, or other holiday event, they leave their fellow workers in a lurch. It is the company’s obligation to demonstrate the importance of working ALL scheduled shifts, even those the prevent workers from enjoying non-work social events. It is the worker’s obligation to come to work as scheduled, recognizing that they are paid 1 1/2 times their wage to compensate for that missed social event.

To all the people working this long weekend, THANK YOU! I know first hand how hard it can be watching friends go to barbeques, or pool parties, when having to fulfil your obligation to your employer. I admire and appreciate your commitment and dedication – I hope your manager says thank you as well. A little appreciation goes a long way. Good employee relations does not have to cost a bundle.   Enjoy the Civic Holiday!  TD

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Dealing with “Summer Time Blues”

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Many workers during the summer seem to lose focus at work. Warm weather, impending (or just finished) vacations, and kids sports seem to take their mind off their work. Who can blame them? Summer is the one time of the year that Canadians are not worried about driving in bad weather, bundling up to stay warm, or getting enough sunlight to keep them healthy.

Employers should anticipate the “hazy, lazy days of summer” and find ways to let staff know they understand. A great way to do this is to rotate “early bird Fridays” or “Monday morning roll-ins”. Believe me, the production a company may lose by letting staff leave early on Fridays or come in late on Mondays will be returned ten-times over in commitment, increased energy, and appreciation.

It’s time we begin to look at the world of work differently, don’t you think?

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