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Three Simple Tips for Staying Focused at Work

Posted on August 2, 2011 by Suzanne

I find that I often have the hardest time staying focused during the summer time. I think there will always be something inside me like an alarm that signals vacation time! I know there must be a lot of people out there like me so I thought I would write my tips for staying focused when all you want to do is relax at the beach.

1.    Make a List

It’s really easy to lose track of time, as well as where you are in your work without a list. If you have due dates add those to your list first and then smaller tasks that also have to be done after that. When approaching any project I normally have two lists that I work from. One has all the items that I have to do for that project and the other includes all the other daily tasks I need to get done that do not relate to the main project. Not only does this help me stay focused, but it helps me multitask as well. Having a list with tasks you can cross off goes a long way to motivate you to complete projects.

2.    Make it Fun

Setting goals for yourself is one way to make work fun and stay focused. I usually work back and forth between my lists and give myself little “treats” when I reach my goals. Usually in the morning my goal is getting a certain amount of items on my lists done before I can go to lunch. Then I usually like to break my afternoon up into two parts so once I reach my afternoon goal I usually take a break as well. There are a lot of great programs that can help you manage time such as these great Google Chrome extensions. The extension called time tracker that shows you how much time you spend on other sites can help you to stay motivated.

3.    Take a Break

We all need a chance to step away from our desks and just have a moment to ourselves. I usually like to do this in the afternoon because it allows me to take my eyes off the computer screen and step back to make sure all my daily projects are getting done. I normally go outside of the office and take the chance to soak in the warm summer sun. I like to take walks, but some of us here enjoy taking our lawn chairs out to the grass and just relaxing for a couple minutes.

What about you, do you have some tips you use to stay focused at work? Leave them in the comments.

Three Tips for Problem Solving in the Workplace

Posted on June 13, 2011 by Suzanne

I was never a fan of problem solving in school. I would always question when I was going to actually use it in real life. Well, I may not be solving math problems all day, but I do have to do a lot of problem solving in business that can be tied back to what I learned in school. So, here are the three basic steps that I walk through when a problem arises in the workplace.

Step Back and Gather All the Information 

I often find that many problems happen because the person that has the problem is overwhelmed / stressed, and unable to see the big picture. What I find helpful is to take a deep breath and start from the beginning by answering three simple questions. What am I trying to accomplish? How did it get to this point? and How can I resolve the situation and still achieve my goal? In asking these questions it helps me step back and see what I may have missed before. Gathering this information can be vital to a successful resolution to the problem.

Make the Call

What I have learned during my time at Gordian Project is that every vendor, customer or team member has a different personality. Some need to be white gloved and others just chug along without much stress. It is important for me to understand that when there is a problem, sometimes the best thing I can do is get on the phone and talk to the person directly. What I usually find out is that there is information that was not given to me in the first place, or one or both of us misunderstood the other.  The computer revolution has given us many amazing pieces of technology; however, we still do not have a device to help interpret the tone an email is sent in. Calling that person allows you to directly diffuse any tension and remind both parties that you’re only human.

Follow Up

Following up after a problem is solved is a great way to build confidence with your customer’s, vendors or team members. It lets them know that you took their issue seriously and that you are going to be available to them if another one comes up. I personally find the follow up to be one of the least used aspects of problem solving. Following up is essential to making sure all parties involved were happy with the outcome, while at the same time building up trust in the relationship between those involved. Make sure you always follow up.

Of course in problem solving every situation is different, so all problems may not fall into these tips. However, these basic steps always help me to get straight to the critical thinking and leave the stress and frustration behind, allowing me to better answer and address problems when they start.

What about you? How do you tackle problems when they arise? Any tips we left out? Make sure to leave them in the comments.



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Three Tips to Help When Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

Posted on March 4, 2011 by Suzanne

Feeling overwhelmed is inevitable in today’s workplace. With technology we not only work faster, but are constantly berated with incoming issues. It often seems like it is coming at you too fast or that you will never get your head above water. Just opening your computer in the morning to see your email inbox is sometimes enough to make you disheartened. Take heart, you are not alone; but how do we look past the avalanche of work and accomplish the tasks at hand? These are a few things I think about when I feel like I’m overwhelmed at work.

Don’t Get Stuck on the Big Picture
We all want to help with the main goals the comapny is trying to accomplish, but once you know what the general direction of the company is, use that information to help direct you to the projects that best assist the big picture. It’s easy to dwell on the big picture and forget where you are actually headed, so instead of letting that drive what you do, make that knowledge work for you in order to accomplish your smaller goals. These, in turn, will help drive the overall goals of the company.

Know When to Say “No”
In a technology driven society we all have the ability to multitask in a way our parents never dreamed of; but just because you can juggle ten flaming pins doesn’t mean you should. Know how you work and know where your max is. If you continue to take on responsibility there will inevitably come a time when all your tasks begin to hinder how well you work. In work, quality is always better than quantity, as a sustainable business grows on quality work. Say no to the projects that will push you over your limit and work hard to create the best quality work on the ones you are currently undertaking.

Stuck? Ask for Help
If you do end up with too much on your plate, don’t be afraid to ask for help or delegate a task to someone else. It’s for this reason that it is important to know who you work with and how you can help each other succeed. For me, when I am stuck on a task, I ask for help from someone who may know what I’m doing better than I do. Not only does this help get the task done faster, but I learn how to trouble shoot that problem in the future. We all love being the best at what we do, but there comes a time when a problem can be solved in 5 minutes by asking for help and that 5 minutes can save 45 minutes of frustration trying to think of what to do.

These three tips are what help me the most when I am feeling overwhelemed. How about you, how do you deal with your workload?



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Hey Google! The EU Says Don’t Be Evil

Posted on December 3, 2010 by Suzanne

Google’s unofficial slogan is seemingly being dragged through the mud lately with some pretty serious allegations from three competitors. The complaints caused the European Union to announce on Tuesday that it would be launching an investigation to find out if the search engine giant was guilty of manipulating search results in its favor. The Washington Post is reporting that the E.U. will be focusing on the following areas:


1) Rankings: Google allegedly lowered the ranking of unpaid search results of competitors that specialize in services such as price comparisons. The firm has also allegedly given preferential placement of its own search services in order to shut out competitors.


2) Sponsored Advertising: Google allegedly lowered the 'Quality Score' for sponsored links of competing vertical search services. The Quality Score is one of the factors that determine the price paid to Google by advertisers.


3) Advertising Obligations: Google allegedly forced exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their Web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.


4) Data Portability: Google allegedly restricted services from transporting advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.


In the SF Gate on Tuesday, Microsoft, who went through their own E.U. investigation offered up some advice on what Google should expect.   Here are the highlights:


* The EU will listen to your competitors, but not to you. In the digital media case, the EU seemed to believe what RealNetworks and other competitors told it: that there was a dynamic market for software-based digital media players, if only Microsoft would stop shutting them out. When Microsoft tried to respond by explaining the realities of the market--for instance, PC makers don't want to give customers too many choices of default software because it raises support and manufacturing costs--the EU didn't listen.


* You're dealing with regulators, not techies. The EU seemed to believe that removing the Windows Media Player was as easy as uninstalling any other application. When Microsoft tried to explain that the Player had deep ties within the guts of the OS, and asked specific questions like "which DLLs would you like us to remove?" they were met with meaningless answers or silence.


* The EU will impose a remedy to save face. The order to ship a version of Windows without the Media Player was never going to work--and this employee suspects the EU knew it. The regulators weren't stupid. But after spending years and millions of dollars of taxpayers' money, the EU couldn't just say "pay a big fine and nothing else has to change." It had to impose a behavioral changing remedy, even if it turned out to be ineffective.


* Don't take your eye off the competition. The EU investigation did change how Microsoft does business in some critical ways--the rulings gave the company certain new rules which it now abides by, such as "you must offer consumers a way to remove Windows features" and "no integrating formerly separate products (like Bing search) with Windows without talking to the lawyers." It also showed Microsoft that it needs lobbying power with governments, and couldn't afford the faux-naive "we're just a little technology company" stance that it took in the 1990s. But in the end, competition in the digital media market was restored by competitors, not the EU. One big competitor in particular: Apple. As this employee said "we didn't stop doing PlaysForSure because the EU made us, we did it because we kind of got our butt handed to us.”


Google may want to take that last point to heart since at least two of the complainants have direct ties to Microsoft. You be the judge. Is this just two of the biggest competitors in the tech world using the E.U. to jockey for the coveted top spot in search, or is Google really just being evil?

 


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An Introduction To Net Neutrality

Posted on November 10, 2010 by Suzanne

Net NeutralityAs an employee of an internet company I consider myself somewhat technically savvy; however, when it comes to net neutrality, I have a hard time explaining and comprehending the idea. I know I must not be the only one, as this topic has been in the news a lot lately with Verizon and Google. So in writing this blog I planned to help others as well as myself better understand what net neutrality is, and what it means for the future of our internet use as consumers.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all information is created equal, therefore, it should be available to all users of the internet without the interference of big companies stating what can or can't be viewed. For example, if there was not net neutrality then Google could choose to not allow any Gmail users to receive emails from Yahoo accounts and vice-versa. Also, wireless carriers could sell tiered services that would allow some people to get information faster than others. The reason why secret negotiations between Verizon and Google caused so much outrage is because Google has historically been pro neutrality. The idea of content being controlled by those like Google, Yahoo and ISP’s could mean the internet would slowly start to be run by big companies with their own specific initiatives that may not align with those of the consumer.

Net Neutrality seems to be the web's new battle ground. On one side, backers believe that the internet should be a place void of discrimination, while on the other side, backers think businesses should be able to create a better user experience based on what they think the customer wants. Both sides have good points, but in a world that is controlled more and more by media spin, the internet is one of the last places where both sides of any argument are readily available. I understand that it’s a stretch to think that there would be content that would be totally unavailable in search, but think about China and the restrictions they have on what their population can search. I think once we close the door on net neutrality we open the door to more restrictions that can be put upon the normal consumer.

What do you think?

 


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B2B Technology Finding Ways to Replace Paper

Posted on October 19, 2010 by Suzanne

Technology has slowly taken over our everyday lives. Some of us still may not realize how much technology affects us until we try to live without it. This becomes painfully clear to me when I see a business request a fax or continue to send paper invoices, both allowing room for error that is not necessary. I myself have slowly come to the realization that technology rules my life. It’s sad, but I have to admit that I feel incomplete and unprepared when I leave home without my cell phone or iPod. When did this happen? Technology, like internet, cell phones, eReaders and iPods are relatively new in my life so how did it take over so quickly? It all comes down to convenience. Simple put technology makes the things we love easy. So it’s no surprise that it works so well in business.

In business technology makes everything streamlined and efficient. Invoicing becomes more exact. Shipping information can be communicated quickly. The possibilities are endless. That is where B2B eCommerce comes into play. B2B or Business to Business is the electronic exchange of business documents between businesses for the purpose of conducting commerce. This article from Electronic Cash News helped me understand B2B eCommerce. Most of the time, businesses using B2B technology will be using EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). This technology allows the exchange between the 2 parties to have little to no manual interaction, allowing companies to cut out the middle man, which in this case is usually paper.

When I compare companies that have an EDI with those that do not, the differences are numerous. With EDI, invoices are automatic (to an extent) and accurate, while the company without EDI may send invoices via a number of different methods such as snail mail, email, or fax. All methods that require manual interaction, which is inefficient and can lead to errors. But these efficiencies are not just in invoicing, they can also help many other aspects of the business such as order entry, shipping updates and even communicating stocking status.

With the advances in technology, especially with EDI, I find it hard to understand why more companies are not moving to more of these types of B2B interactions. I suppose these businesses are the ones that said internet retailers wouldn’t last, but according to this article from Internet Retailer “half of retail transactions will take place online or be influenced by what consumers see on the web by 2013.” So it looks like it’s time to break the news to your fax machines and your paper; the internet is here to stay and if your business wants to keep up it’s time to move on to some up to date technology.

 


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Creating the Customer Experience from Every Department of the Company

Posted on August 27, 2010 by Suzanne

Most of us think that the customer experience is the responsibility of Customer Service department, which seems natural, right? They deal with the customer, so why should a warehouse guy or a data temp care if our customers are having a good experience? This is the wrong way to look at it, as the bottom line is everything we do as an eCommerce company culminates in the customer experience. If the customer does not have a good experience on our site, chances are they will never come back, and may even tell others not to as well. For example, if the information on the site is incorrect, and the customer receives the incorrect item, their experience with the site may not be a good one. Similarly, if an item isn’t packaged properly and ends up damaged on the way to the customer, again, the situation could end in a bad customer experience.

Customer Service is a big part of the customer experience simply because they deal most with the customers on a one-on-one basis. Wouldn't their job be so much easier if we all had the mindset of wanting our customers to have the best experience possible? If that mentality were part of a mantra or a company pillar and was engrained in the work ethic of new employees, wouldn’t that make the internet a better place to shop?

So, as a member of Gordian Project/Supply Chain, how can I contribute to a great customer experience? The first thing that comes to mind is better internal and external communication. I can encourage our vendors to give us the best information to put on our website, and in turn I can communicate any changes within the department that may affect customer experience to Customer Service. Which will prepare them for any questions they may receive. This is just one change I can make, but actively looking for these types of oppurtunities can greatly effect the customer experience.

For more ideas on how to encourage your team to give your customers a great experience, read this awesome article I found on eCommercetimes.com. There are some great tips for all departments and employees, from the top down.

 


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Dog Whisperer Guidelines Applied in the Workplace

Posted on June 24, 2010 by Suzanne

I love the Dog Whisperer, and recently I’d been trying to apply his principals to my life. What I didn’t realize was that those guidelines could also apply to the workplace! So I hope I don’t get in trouble for writing about my co-workers in comparison to dogs and I hope that Cesar doesn’t mind. So here it goes! Here is how I think we can create a calm/submissive and calm/assertive workplace.

Applying Dog Whisperer Training to the Workplace


Discipline: This is Cesar’s first and probably most important and foundational rule. Without discipline, you have nothing. This point is most important for those in management. It’s important to correct an issue as soon as you become aware of it. If the issue is allowed to continue you lose the respect of your other workers as well as the person that is creating the issue. In my experience with the Dog Whisperer the discipline aspect is the hardest part of the rehabilitation for most owners, and I expect it’s hard for most managers. Discipline doesn’t only come from managers; the pack also corrects unwanted behavior. This is probably the coolest part of it all. Leaders can’t be everywhere, and good leaders rely on the pack to call one another out when necessary because it is good for the pack. Here is how that applies to work: as a team we are responsible to each other to keep the team afloat. If you see someone slacking off you call them out.

Exercise: Since physical exercise in the workplace rarely happens, unless you work at a gym, I am going to apply this principal to mental exercise. It’s really easy to turn your brain to auto pilot, but that is when mistakes happen. Our department tries really hard to keep everyone engaged with projects and tasks outside their specific daily tasks. Not only does this help keep everyone engaged and using their brains, but it helps protect us so we don’t fall into the hazards of a mushy brain.

Affection: Receiving rewards and approval from leaders is awesome!! Having hard work recognized makes “the pack” want to work harder. A little encouragement really does go a long way. If a worker is praised, then it sets the bar a little bit higher in their heads. Actively using rewards not only encourages workers on a personal level, but it also raises the moral of everyone around.

So, that’s how you can create a well balanced workplace that encourages all of its workers, managers and team leaders alike to set the standard high and work toward a common goal.


 


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A Lesson on Prioritizing the Goals of the Company

Posted on March 31, 2010 by Suzanne

In my pursuit of being more business minded I stumbled upon a very important lesson.  It’s the balance between doing what your suppliers and vendors want, and fighting for the goals of your business.  Being rather new to this position, I assumed that I was here to serve the every need of our supply base in an effort to create more meaningful and impactful relationships. This is not the complete case. A time inevitably comes when this becomes crystal clear, and my moment came just the other day.

When a manufacturer decides to take a particular product, product line, collection, category or brand away from catalog I undoubtedly question the impact that it will have on sales.  One manufacturer recently decided that a particular category of products would no longer be available for sale through internet retailers, but I did some research into the product line in question and petitioned the manufacturer to allow eCommerce as a sales avenue on a handful of SKUs. They graciously kept three of those SKUs in our catalog, and I thought I had won a small battle.

Flash forward to this week when we received a cost correction for one of the SKUs that was going to be pulled from internet retail. The notification informed us that our cost for this particular item was no longer our dealer price, and it was in fact list price. Obviously this had to be a mistake?  I double checked with my contact only to find out that they decided to put their foot down and not allow the sale of those three SKUs.  I did some quick research to make sure their claims of not allowing this product line to be sold on the internet were true, and sure enough not one legitimate search result revealed itself. So I felt forced to comply. 

Later, I was recapping my decision with my boss, and he helped me see this situation across a broader spectrum of possible situations. He pointed out that the decisions our partners make affect our company and just because a manufacturer or any of our other vendors make business decisions that align with their business goals it doesn’t mean that you have to bend over backwards if it is going to discount the success of your own business. Here I was putting others first in all of this, when I should have been focusing on how this would affect our business.

When I originally did my research on the top sellers for the product line we had to take down I realized my approach was wrong. Instead of acting as a partner with this manufacturer I approached the situation as if this manufacturer was doing me a favor. When in all actuality we bring valuable business to our many different distribution channels. In some cases we are the only sales channel that a particular brand has online and without us they wouldn’t even have an eCommerce presence.

Here is what I learned: Every situation is different. Even though my decision in this case was not necessarily wrong, my approach was. I have to focus on building and maturing the partnerships we have with our supply base and not allow others to make impactful decisions to our business without putting up some sort of fight. Just the same way as our marketing team fights for the customers that land on our site, I have to fight for the business we have with our suppliers.

 


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Communication Must-Haves

Posted on January 19, 2010 by Suzanne

Communication encapsulates every aspect of our lives. Especially when working at an eCommerce company such as Gordian Project. Emails and instant messages fly through cyberspace constantly, and customer phone calls are fielded by customer service all day; the communication never ends! Is this constant communication constantly effective? Absolutely not.  It’s not effective because so much is lost. For example, when instant messaging or live-chatting with someone tone is lost. A customer or co-worker may seem rude or abrupt to you, but is that really how they meant it?  Phone conversations are another good example, because we are able to hide behind the phone. Customer service representatives and customers especially forget that they are speaking to a person. Most of the time how we speak to people on the phone is nothing like how we communicate with people in person. So, how can we make our communication more effective? We can start by practicing a few skills that will not only enhance your communication effectiveness in the workplace but in other aspects of your life as well.

Practice good listening skills – Good communication starts with being a good listener. Try to stay away from listening with your feelings. If the listener can remain unbiased and unemotional in a situation they will be able to take in and effectively process what is being communicated to them.  Then they are equipped to react in a manner that is appropriate to the situation. In a work environment there will inevitably be situations of conflict and critique.  In these situations if the listener remains neutral they will form better responses. Well thought out responses encourages effective communication and creates respect in both parties.

Stay away from Gossip – Trust me. No one wants to find this out the hard way. Gossip doesn’t help anyone. It will only lower company moral and make those who gossip untrustworthy.  Think of gossiping as communication junk food; it’s a moment on the lips, forever on the hips. If you are confronted with a gossiping situation, it’s ok to leave or change the subject.  You have probably been told this your entire life, but there is good reason for it, avoid any sensitive subjects like politics and religion. I would recommend using discretion in these situations, but if you know someone that might be offended by the topics then remember to be sensitive to their feelings.

It’s easy to say that communication is an art, but putting only these two points in practice can be a test in and of itself.  Effective communication is never easy. It is fraught with perils, but the reward is definitely something you can take with you.

 


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