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Do You Know What the Big Picture is at Your Company?

Posted on August 25, 2009 by Suzanne

I recently moved into a new role at the Gordian Project, and as I was trying to wrap my mind around my new responsibilities I had a rather candid conversation with my manager about how as a team leader I should be making decisions on a higher level, and that those decisions should be based on “the big picture” for the company.  I realized, that in my previous position I didn’t really allow myself to think critically or pursue ideas that could help the company as a whole because I felt like there were too many other daily tasks that I had to accomplish.  I had a job to do, a task to complete, and that was my role.  I was finally able to take the blinders off and see the bigger picture for the first time.  But how do we lose sight of the big picture in the first place? Is it really because of the position we hold or is it a habit we get ourselves into?

We all have our own opinions on the questions above, but I think it would be helpful (for me at least) to make some of the solutions visible so we don’t “put the blinders” back on.

  1. Keep a list of your high-level ideas.  Keeping a list of your ideas can help in a number of different ways.  It can help with organization and focus, especially if you are directly working on one of those ideas, because we all know interruptions are going to take place at some point.  It can be a self-esteem booster when the idea well seems to be dry; and it can be a great tool to show what you’ve accomplished and what can still be done.  It may also be useful to organize your list by short term and long term ideas.  This way you are able to see what can be accomplished quickly in order to jump start improvements and capitalize on any low hanging fruit.

  2. Ask yourself “How will this affect the company?” Ahh... those that don’t enjoy their jobs are thinking of Office Space right now; I happen to have a different opinion but can enjoy the humor none the less. By asking this key question you should be able to determine if the idea is something that will be helpful or something that could be put on the back burner.  When asking yourself how the idea will help the company it will open the door to a number of other questions, including but not restricted to: How it will affect the bottom line? How it will affect a process currently in practice?  How it will burden or improve other departments?  How it supports or hinders current or upcoming projects or paths? These questions can help determine if you put your idea on the short term or long term list or toss it out all together.

  3. Keep thinking forward.   Continue to research and think about new and inventive ways to help your company improve.  Thinking forward will keep you stay fresh and relevant in an ever-changing business climate.

These tips can be used regardless of the position you hold in your company.  The bottom line is that we all have an effect on what happens at our workplace.  Sometimes we feel useless and unable to help, but this is simply not true.  It’s really easy to go to work and do what you have to do, but wouldn’t the work experience mean more if we remembered that we can make a difference in how our company performs?  I hope the blinders come off earlier for others, we spend a lot of time in the workplace, we may as well gain visibility and make it worthwhile.


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Four Profitable Reasons It’s Advantageous to do Good

Posted on August 19, 2009 by Trevor

I recently took a trip to the Philippines where I had the opportunity to help out at an orphanage as well as working on some philanthropic construction projects. Although the work I was doing was hard and repetitive, I had a great time and was able to maintain my energy and enthusiasm throughout the trip. Once I returned, I started thinking about the causes and effects of that experience, and how they could be applied to a business environment.

Most people want to do something worthwhile with their lives. Few people are content to simply work for a paycheck they spend on themselves. Many people choose to donate their money or volunteer their time to a cause they support, and even those who don't, often feel they should. Doing good makes us feel good, and helps us stay enthusiastic and focused. In the same way people spend their personal resources, they also react to their jobs. People want to do a job that's personally fulfilling, a job that accomplishes something worthwhile. Of course, not all of us can work at a philanthropic organization. However, we can still be doing something meaningful even if that's simply making the world a better place by leaving our customers satisfied. In college, I was the leader of a team of people who did, essentially, janitorial work. This was not a glorious job. However, I emphasized to my team that our job was to perform an essential service with superior quality, and the policies and goals I set reflected that. Because of that, my team maintained consistently high morale and an excellent service record.

Another phenomenon both experiences taught me was the benefit that doing good gives to team interaction. People that work together on a project they believe in tend to have higher camaraderie and work together more efficiently. This probably has several causes: they are inevitably like-minded people drawn to the same cause, and they receive positive reinforcement as they see each other playing out the individual benefits I mentioned above. People who are enthusiastic and enjoy what they do tend to like and work well with others who do the same, additionally gratification in assignments will drive focused attention to the project, all of which increase efficiencies.

All of this is fairly straightforward: it's no secret that we want our team members to care about what they do. But it is one thing to want something and quite another to have it. How do we instill this atmosphere in our business? The first and most important step is to have a business worth believing in. That means your goal has to be to provide superior goods or services that actually help people, not simply to make money. Secondly, you must clearly show your team members how your business does that. Third, they need to know their place in the system and how they contribute. Finally, they need to have active participation in improving the process. When team members believe that their active participation has a real positive effect in the world, they'll naturally gain that enthusiasm that helps them do the best job they can.

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Posted on July 21, 2009 by Ellen

I’ve been thinking about something lately and I need your help. Can someone please tell me why every article, blog post, news report, or ANY informational piece in our space has had recession tunnel vision?  Entrepreneurs in eCommerce have quickly shifted focus from the latest fads and trends in user interfaces and vendor partnerships to best practices in hiring, strategic cash plans, etc. and all as a result of the recession.

It seems that the recession is the driving factor behind the influx of attention made on best business practices.  This just cracks me up – as if these things should not be a major focus in BOOM times.  We should be doing this (concentrating on efficiencies, market share, employee retention rates, etc.) all the time!!  I have to admit, I am guilty of writing posts like this myself.  Just imagine if all of the business owners, politicians, whoever should be named, crunched these same numbers when the economy wasn’t forcing everyone to pay attention and do so?  What if we were motivated and “entrepreneurial” enough to make these meticulous calculations when things were going well?  If we all acted as if “economic Armageddon” (as we all like to call it around here) was just around the corner, just think about how much leaner and meaner our businesses, industries and economy would be as a result.  Those that are successful, those that survive and move through these difficult times are those that are proactive, those that are prepared and ready for what’s next, they create their own competitive advantage in doing so.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that different times call for different strategies, but it just seems like strategies such as particular hiring, sensible cash plans and market share maneuvers are important regardless of what the economy is doing.  How about from now on, don’t just ride the market cycles, drive them.


Hiring: Don’t Take it For Granted

Posted on June 25, 2009 by Ellen

I recently read Jason Calcanis’ newsletter regarding the current hiring environment entitled, "How to Hire – and Get Hired – in a Recession".  This newsletter spoke mostly of how important it is to be a hard worker and how important it is to hire someone who is willing to work hard. He admitted that it sounded a little obvious, but still had many legitimate and important suggestions regarding the subject. I would like to advise readers of Jason’s newsletter that our economic position can cause a lax attitude when it comes to the subject of hiring and reply with a few things to consider before making any drastic changes.

    1. Understand what the unemployment numbers are really saying:  Yes, the overall unemployment rate might be 10%, but that doesn’t mean the employee you are looking for necessarily comes out of that unemployment pool. High school grads have the highest unemployment rate at (10-15%), while college grads are in the middle (7-9%), and graduate degree earners have little unemployment problems at all (2-3%).  Jason said he received 200 resumes for one $10/hr job posting. That would make sense considering that the $10/hr job would most likely (not always) be picking from the high school graduate pool with the highest unemployment rate.  So the next time you’re thinking, “I know the pickins are good and I can just replace that person”, think of what group that person comes from and how hard it might really be to replace someone. This leads to my next warning…


    1. Don’t let your attitude turn into “my employees are dispensable”.  Remember that your employees are the people that you have entrusted to run the day to day functions of your business and these responsibilities shouldn’t be taken lightly. They can mean the difference between profits and losses. If you treat your employees as if they are dispensable, they will treat your business as if it was dispensable. This leads to my next point…


    1. Pay the Price: Jason talks a lot about hiring someone who is obsessed with work and who is willing to work late, extra hours etc.  Remember that type of employee comes with a price and you better be willing to pay that price for that type of commitment.  This doesn’t mean that you have to pay more money necessarily. Really, paying the price can be as simple as recognizing that your employees are working hard.  I’m not sure any staff member would appreciate being told that they are replaceable let alone the “work-a-holic”.  Rarely being recognized for the hard work that they do can be a larger detriment than monetary compensation to some.  Individuals that are that dedicated to their work, who spend their personal hours to improve your business, look for recognition.  A little encouragement goes a long way.


Jason is right; I agree that hiring the hard worker will be the best for your business.  Please remember however, not to take advantage of these people or let the unemployment rate change your appreciation of your employees.  Your employees are the ones running your business. Treat them with respect and they will keep making your company a profitable one.


How to Use Metrics Based Customer Connection Rates

Posted on June 16, 2009 by josh

We were recently able to upgrade our phone system. We had spent time, energy and effort to build a better system under the assumption that it would improve a number of important metrics. More importantly, the new phone system made it easier for us to see those metrics. Consequently, I was able to get better reporting on phone utilization, especially as it related to customer service. One of the first things that struck me was our maximum load. We had gone from 8 lines available to 23 lines available. With 8 lines, extra calls would roll over in to voice mail, creating havoc later in the day as we scrambled to try to call people back. Many times, people would call two, sometimes three or more, times to try to reach us. Also, with eight lines, it made it very difficult for us to make outgoing calls during peak periods. With 23 lines, surely we would handle the load. Not so fast! Over the first few weeks I checked our maximum load on all 23 lines and, on several occasions, we had exceeded our maximum load during peak calling periods! We nearly tripled our call capacity and still had overflow. Thankfully, the overflow is not frequent enough, at this point, to justify another 23 lines.

Alrighty then, what about our connect rate? Given all the customers that try to reach us, to what percentage do we actually connect? I was more struck by this metric than our load. Let's just say it was less than half of what we would want it to be. It turns out, we were literally turning away hundreds of calls a week, probably mostly due to long hold time. Even more striking, our average hold time for a connected customer was approaching 30 minutes! 30 minutes?! Dreadful! Sales customers simply will not hold for 30 minutes to buy something. What made this even scarier was the fact that our mix of callers (known by the queue that they select when calling) was more than two-thirds sales calls. We were turning away hundreds of sales a week. This means we were turning away customers who wanted to buy something (and were probably at the end of the buying cycle) in order to provide support to customers we had already acquired.

OK. Now we know. What do we do? We could hire 10 more reps. Nope. Don't have the budget. OK. We don't have an unlimited budget. What else can we do? We could slow down marketing and sabotage our own SEO to get fewer sales calls. Nope. That's dumb. So what do we do then?! How can I get more work out of existing resources? How can we add hours to the day to get more done?... wait... Eureka! We needed more hours in the day! It was ultra-clear that our call and chat volume was much higher earlier in the day than late in the day. Once the clock gets to about 3:45 pm, things tend to slow down. With reps struggling during our rush periods to perform administrative and follow up tasks, it would be near impossible to be more efficient during regular 8:00 am to 5:00 pm business hours. So, why don't we have some reps come in at 7:00 am, instead of 8:00 am, to finish any lingering issues from the previous day and get a head start on the new day before we start taking calls and chats? We could even perform some proactive functions that prevent customers from calling for support reasons in the first place! Why didn't we think of this sooner?! Oh yeah, we didn't think of it sooner because we didn't have great data to stare at.

The effect of having half of our customer service team come in one hour before business hours has been exponential in its positivity. We still have load issues, two or three times a week, during peak times we exceed our capacity. However, our connect rate has doubled! Our hold time has gone from nearly 30 minutes on average to less than 10 minutes! Interestingly, sales are up, but we have reduced our volume of calls and chats by about 10%. Fewer calls and fewer chats, coupled with increased sales, is a strong indicator to me that we are servicing customers more efficiently. We still have a great deal of growth opportunity, but one simple scheduling decision has drastically improved our ability to service customers and, as a positive consequence, also greatly improved morale in the customer service department. Go team!


Internet Downtime: Leveraging Perceived Disasters for Optimal Performance

Posted on April 28, 2009 by josh

I was about to leave my house for work the other morning, when my phone rang. It was Vanessa. I say, "Good morning, Vanessa!" She says, with a pinch of panic and frustration in her voice, "We're down." I panic for a moment; my mind was whirling through yesterday's development activities and I was trying to remember any update or job that we scheduled that could have taken us down. It occurred to me that I was still pretty depressed after watching the Lakers lose to the Jazz in game three of their playoff series and this would not help my already poor disposition today. Thankfully, she was referring to the internet connection at the office and not any of our eCommerce sites. Whew!

Getting the internet connection back up should be easy. We had recently faced an issue with one of our ISPs, so naturally I thought it was them, again. So I go through some steps to test that connection... Everything looks good there. So, I test our backup connection... Everything looks good there, too. Hmmm. I run through some other issues via remote connection, but I can't see why she's down. So, I proceed to work, since I don't have any other network savvy employees on site to help. I know that I'm going to be there late, as I stopped to troubleshoot remotely.

I show up to the office at about 8:10 AM, fully expecting chaos and disarray. I was pleasantly surprised that when I walked in I was greeted by smiling faces and mild applause. People were delighted that I was there to fix the internet connection. But what's more, is people were delighted to be at the office. Folks were chattering and laughing and seemed genuinely happy. It made me feel nice when I walked in. Knowing fully the weight of my responsibility, however, I rushed past everyone to get to the task at hand. A few of my more technical colleagues pointed out that one of our building two access layer switches was freaking out and was lit up like a Christmas tree. Indeed it was. A switch had simply gone bad. So, I ran to my pile o' old equipment to find an extra 24 port switch and a crossover cable.

I worked feverishly to plug in the first few users to test my dead switch theory. ¡Viola! It worked. So I started the task of migrating everyone on the dead switch over to the temporary switch. As I am doing this, I notice noise in the office. Somewhat annoyed, I turn to find people are still talking and laughing. Granted, we work for an ecommerce company and, as a consequence, working without an internet connection can be a challenge. But I was, again, surprised by what I saw. The noise and commotion was coming from people who were cleaning their desk area, vacuuming, cleaning our whiteboards, discussing business strategy, etc. The whole office full of employees was happily chugging along like busy bees in a hive. People were communicating and moving and working outside of their normal routine. As I was getting everyone back online, I noticed folks settling into their desks and getting back to their routines. The noise died down and it was back to business, but a nice tone was set for the day (aside from the catch-up that now had to ensue subsequent to our downtime).

There are three simple observations I had on this morning, few but all important:

  1. Always have at least one backup access layer switch.
  2. A little bit of "downtime" can be a good thing. I'm certainly not suggesting that someone pull the plug on the office internet connection to create downtime! I simply mean that it was nice to hear the camaraderie when I walked in. Maybe I should come into the office 10 minutes early and just greet people as they come in?
  3. Losing the routine for a short period created interesting work of even mundane tasks. People seemed excited to be able to do something other than what they always have to do. Maybe, as a manager, I should consider mixing it up a bit and allow some of my employees to work on other things on occasion?


Recreational Web Browsing: Surfing on the Clock, Not a Bad Thing?

Posted on April 6, 2009 by Archives

A recent study from the University of Melbourne goes against the pretense that personal website browsing at work negatively affects employee productivity. Dr. Brent Coker says, “People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t... Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretense that it costs millions in lost productivity, however that’s not always the case.”

This recreational browsing helps prevent burn out by letting the mind rest. In the long run taking a break from time to time leads to a more focused concentration level for the tasks at hand that day. Some of the examples given were online banking, YouTube, social networking or sending a personal e-mail.

Though I agree with the study, there are some reasons why a business would want or need to control or limit the personal browsing of employees. One reason may be as simple as scheduling.  Take a call center for instance, in a call center proper phone coverage is necessary for day to day business activities.  While personal browsing may be good for overall productivity, if everyone in a given call center decided to start their personal browsing at the same time how successful would that call center be as employees adjust from personal activities to business tasks?  Could the company depend on these employees to make their personal activities second to what is going on at the company? Other concerns could be bandwidth issues.  Having multiple people watching video online could seriously diminish productivity to those still engaged in tasks associated with work.  Another issue to be wary of is the security hazards that can be associated with some social networking sites.

The key, as in most things, is moderation.  A little bit of personal browsing is most likely good in the workplace. A lot of browsing will most likely lead to a decrease in productivity and employers may not like it. On that note, be sure to check your workplace policy on browsing the web so you know the consequences of personal website interactions at work. Happy Browsing!



Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of April 3rd, 2009

Posted on April 3, 2009 by Vanessa
  • The Boston Globe reports that retailers need to be prepared for a somewhat new and increasingly more frequent trend, customer haggling.  It’s understandable that with the economic decline those who are shopping are shopping for the best deal, but not many retailers are working with the margins that they used to.  If you haven’t done so yet this is a good time to train your representatives the proper way to interact with price negotiations.
  • Whether you have an SEO campaign, are thinking about starting one, or questioning if you should keep it in house or outsource, Stoney deGeyter of Search Engine Guide has put together a list of “61 Pre-SEO Campaign Questions You Need to Answer to”.  What’s great is that he has included questions that relate to both in-house campaigns as well as outsourcing.
  • Sage Lewis of Search Engine Watch experimented with promotions.  He based the experiment on two different types of promotions: one included user feedback on the best ideas for the future of his column, and the other was based on getting users to link to the column.  He provides his thoughts on the outcomes of the two here.
  • Branding can be difficult, especially for the little guy.  Entrepreneur magazine points out five common mistakes that brand marketers may be engaging in.
  • Seth Godin is great at pointing out the obvious.  This statement is not meant to belittle his writings but to point out the fact that a lot of the things he writes about are issues that have been on many marketers’ minds, he just finds an eloquent way of relaying the information.  In a post written early this morning he puts into perspective the reasons that good intentioned marketers are finding it harder and harder to get the word out to potential consumers.


Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of March 20th, 2009

Posted on March 20, 2009 by Josh
  • We are working in an economic climate that requires retailers to be efficient and cut unnecessary costs.  That being said if you offer promotional codes at your cart page you may want to read “How Much is Your Coupon Code Box Costing You?” by Linda Bustos.  This has been a topic of discussion here for a while now, yet we haven’t come to any definite conclusions about what our strategy will be moving forward.  Linda’s article offers valuable insight about how coupon code boxes at the cart page is likely affecting your bottom line.
  • Ever sent out an email that you wish you could take back?  If you are like me, then you are probably a bit clumsy and can totally relate to this question, so I am really glad that I am a Gmail user.  Gmail users can take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief, as Gmail has added an “undo” feature.  After you send a Gmail message you will have five seconds to change your mind and undo your email, and although the previous message says “message sent” it actually hasn’t until the five seconds is passed and the “undo” feature is no longer available.  You will have to activate the feature in labs to take advantage of it.
  • TechCrunch’s review of Internet Explorer 8 is optimistic when it comes to the improvement of features like tabbed browsing, and search suggestions, but is bleak when it comes to the speed of the browser.  The article points out that IE’s market share has been on a steady decline for a while now.  This begs the question, “Is speed the most important feature when web browsing?”  If so retailers will need to make sure that their websites performance can keep up with consumer expectations.
  • I hope that this doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but Google knows a lot about you.  Most of us know this, but you may be surprised exactly how much they know.  E-Justice reveals 25 things you may not think Google knows but likely does.
  • Entrepreneur Magazine published an interesting article on how generational differences may be the root problem of work conflicts.  The article states that you should watch for certain red flags, most of which I believe are too generalized, as they may be indicators of a generational conflict.  Even if the red flags mentioned are general and often present in most work environments, it doesn’t mean that generational conflicts aren’t the origin of the problem so, it is worth the read.


Avoid Living Beyond Your Means: Determining Salaries for New Hires

Posted on March 19, 2009 by Ellen

One of the most difficult areas of Human Resources to manage is salaries and wages.  As an eCommerce business, and I am sure traditional businesses face this too, it is one of our highest expenditures.  Not only that but salaries, wages and benefits are one of the most difficult areas to tweak.  I highly recommend charting out your barriers and expectations before you start the hiring process.  Setting up guidelines should not prevent you from being flexible, but rather should just set up fundamentally necessary boundaries that may help to prevent future regret.

A lot of small business do not know how much to pay a new employee.  Instead, they wait to see what their resumes are asking for and make decisions based on the asking price of the new hire.  These decisions are not made on what they can afford, and maybe more importantly, what fits in their lifestyle.

I think of it in terms of making any large purchase.  If you know how much your bandwidth as a company can handle, in terms of salaries and wages, don’t get bright eyed and excited when you see the flashier, more qualified, more expensive person.  More importantly, don’t fall into the, “I’m sure we could make more money if we just hire her.  She’ll pay for herself!”  Just know your limitations and know your goals.

In the end, find a balance between flexibility, goals, and living beyond your means.