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When the Torch is Passed Take the Initiative and Ask: Guidelines for Requesting Additional Resources

Posted on November 4, 2008 by Jeff

Since my last post, I Stand Corrected: Blogging is More Than Random Thoughts and Voyeurs, I’ve continued to tune in to the content generated by our team. I was recently struck by an entry from Brian entitled, Taking a Step Back: A Business Owner’s Perspective on Letting the Team Take Over.
Brian honestly wrestles with his necessity as a partner to continually pass on the “torch”. He summarizes his conclusion as, “If we’re [leadership] leveraging every resource available to attack the highest priority opportunities in the best way possible, maybe it’s time to let the team carry the torch.” As a manager, a member of the team, I’m both encouraged and challenged by this leadership style.


Everyone Take One Step Back, I’m Taking the Next Bullet

How do you, as a member of the team, in turn encourage and challenge leadership to invest resources to attack the highest priority opportunities within your department?  That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with as it pertains to supply chain.  As I recently worked through this I noted thoughts that I believe are important to consider when making your case.

First, clearly identify what you and your department are actually responsible for.  The lines of responsibility can get cloudy unless there is mutual understanding about the hand off of a project from one department to the next, around the office we’ve begun to understand this as the “Handshake of Responsibility”.  This has been a difficult transition for me. I naturally want to see a project through to “completion”.  I do this partly because I naturally look to retain control, partly because I don’t want others performance or lack of performance to reflect poorly on me, and ultimately I want Gordian Project to be successful. However, this handshake method has been a freeing concept. “Completion” may not necessarily mean seeing a specific project from A to Z, rather my action plan of A to I, with the responsibility clearly being passed at J. This handshake method is about the clearest indicator we’ve had to communicate, “I’ve successfully completed what’s been asked of me.” I’m then freed to focus on other projects and/or processes leadership has asked of me.

Second, clearly communicate your competency of the responsibilities owned. The point of communicating known competencies isn’t to be arrogant, but to add awareness of resources that may be available to provide assistance.  Note that no matter the size of your company resources are limited, and knowing the capabilities of the resources can be the difference between making or breaking deadlines. Everything in business is about prioritizing opportunities with resources. If you can’t communicate competency within your area of responsibility you’re unlikely to be resourced. For each area of responsibility look to communicate:

  • Philosophies - I understand why we do what we do.
  • Strategic Goals - I understand where we want to be.
  • Management - I understand how to get there.
  • Processes - I understand what we do.

Then, provide a tangible comprehensive document, hard copy or electronic, that serves as a departmental manual.  Something that allows the executive leadership to understand all that makes your department tick along with providing the processes so your team understands how to make it tick. Clearly state needed resources as this is where the rubber meets the road, as my grandfather would say. Asking for resources assumes you’ve “clearly identified what you’re actually responsible for and clearly communicated your competency of responsibilities”. Understanding what leadership looking for when prioritizing resources can help management determine where and when the next set of resources will be applied.  I would bet that the following factors play a part in their decision:

  • Strategic Goals - With an understanding of limited resources, limit the strategic goals to those prioritized as the immediate keys to moving your department forward.  Keep each area of responsibility separate in the philosophical vision.
  • Resources - Identify specific required resources for realizing your stated strategic goals. Consider as many factors as possible: budget, time, personnel, physical goods, other department’s resourcing, reports, benchmarking, etc. and limit them to the actual need for realizing opportunity.
  • Incentives - Provide leadership with reasoning for resourcing your strategic goals. Don’t make them wonder why they should provide the requested resources; spell it out. What are the opportunities and efficiencies you’re going to specifically bring to your department with the provided resources. Go the extra mile and connect your department’s potential successes to the larger company vision.
  • Timeline - Should the resources be provided; simply asking for resources demands performance. Set a realistic completion date, company visionaries will appreciate a target for rallying the whole of their business initiatives around. Timelines also set an expectation for response from your leadership.

Talk about calling yourself out; everyone take one step back, I’m taking the next bullet Smile.

In truth, having an understanding of where you are, where you’re going, and how to communicate the process of arriving, will encourage and allow your team to step up and perform.  It also provides the confidence to be held accountable for that personal performance. Brian, thank you for wrestling honestly with your necessity as a partner to continually pass on the “torch”, and in so doing encouraging others, in similar fashion, to do the same.

When It’s a Buyer’s Market, That Can Mean It’s a Headhunter’s Market As Well

Posted on October 15, 2008 by Ellen

It’s all about the silver lining…

If you’ve looked at the prices of homes lately, there are some great deals out there; a huge supply and little demand.  The same can be true in the employment market. When other companies are cutting jobs, many qualified people are out there hunting for employment.  Not to make light of a very sensitive subject, but the current employment rate’s 16 year low, can actually be a great opportunity for the growing small business. A huge supply and little demand of workers is a great chance to snag up a quality employee.  Not only will you get your pick, but you will be less likely to get caught in a bidding war, which most small businesses can’t afford to win.  You will have a better opportunity in this market to hire qualified employees, then when the competition for such employees is fiercer.

Shop on.

 

 

Customer Service Training: The Representation of the Company Can Depend On It

Posted on October 7, 2008 by Archives

The importance of training new and current staff members is very important in customer service, especially in a call center environment.  The first impression of the company is likely based on how well the representatives respond to customers.

At Gordian Project when we hire a new CSR (Customer Service Representative), we want them to receive the best training possible. Our training consists of educating the representative in what we believe to be customer service’s three core responsibilities, which also happen to be our three main methods of contact. There are many aspects to training a CSR, but in order to properly execute communications with our customers we assign greater values to training on the phones/voicemail, email, and LivePerson.

Assigning responsibility to answering phones is pretty straight forward.  The CSR is tasked with answering the customer service phone lines. Although this sounds simple it is also very important. We have several lines a customer can call into: CS cancellations, CS returns, and CS sales. Depending on what line the customer selects, the CSR assists them appropriately. The importance that we are attempting to impress upon the trainee here is that, each customer, depending on their need, will need to be taken care of differently. There are many reasons our customers call in, some of them being assistance placing an order, order status, product inquiry, checking stock, shipping inquiry, assistance in returning a product or requesting an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization). A qualified and seasoned representative should be able to help the customer that is calling for any of the above reasons, and not in a robotic fashion.  For instance the person calling in that wants assistance in placing an order is likely unfamiliar with the product, the company, or placing an order online.  Knowing these traits gives the representative the opportunity to forge a relationship with the customer, by helping them with products that may be needed to finish the installation of the product they are ordering, answering questions about our company so they are comfortable placing an order with us, or simply assisting a new internet user place an order.
 
We find the most efficient way in training someone on the phone is to let them shadow an experienced CSR. In doing this they can observe a variety of calls that we typically receive, and listen to the appropriate language that should be utilized in customer communications. This also allows trainees to ask the experienced CSR questions regarding the calls as they arise. Once the trainee has shadowed an experienced CSR for a set amount of time, the trainee is able to answer calls with the experienced CSR looking on so they are able to assist if any questions arise.

The second duty our new CSRs are trained on is voicemail. It is extremely important in a call center to get back to customers in a reasonable amount of time. Our goal is always returning a call within 24 hours, most of the time this goal is reachable depending upon the call volume. When voicemail queues are checked they are entered into a ticket system that has been created especially for voicemail. The ticket consists of entering any or all of the following information: First and last name, phone number, email, order number, and LivePerson ticket number. Contact type and an inquiry type should also be selected if the customer has left this information. A notes section is provided as well so that the person responsible for returning the call has all pertinent information. We feel all of these fields assist in our response and preparation for calling the customer back. Training a CSR in this area is simple and easy because all you have to do is enter the information left in the voicemail into the ticket fields. The importance we stress in this area is returning the customer’s voicemail within a reasonable amount of time.

The third task is Live Person which covers our email and chat program. All customer emails are sent through this program and they have the ability to chat with us during business hours by simply clicking the chat icon on our site. This area of customer service is also important because a number of our customers use the email and “chat” feature for product inquiries, order status, help with an order, help with a return, etc… The chat feature is becoming more popular everyday as it allows a customer to be connected with a CSR quickly without having to pick up a phone.
 
Training new or experienced CSRs in this area of customer service, puts their multi-task abilities to use. They must be able to answer several emails in a timely manner while taking chats in-between. Training on this task is similar to phones in that trainees shadow someone that is experienced in LivePerson. They explain how the program works and show them first hand how to answer emails and assist a customer via chat. Learning to answer emails can take some time as the CSR has to also be familiar with our order system and how to check for order status and return status. Our call center feels that Live Chat feature from LivePerson is one of our greatest tools as it allows a CSR to do more than one task at a time.

Successful training is very important for employees that are directly interacting with customers. The effectiveness of being able to assist customers is dependent upon the quality of the customer service skills they are taught, and the tools available to them. The way our employees represent customer service to our customers will determine how our customers feel about our business practices and can be a determining factor when or if they decide to do business with us in the future.

Intern Week - My Take on Mobile Advertising

Posted on October 3, 2008 by Interns

Welcome to our fourth installment of intern week, where we present blog posts written by our remarkable interns.  The following blog post may sound contradictory to what an eCommerce intern would believe, and trust me, we gave Jeff a hard time about it after we read it.  However, he brings up some good points and reminds us that not everyone is as internet savvy as those we are used to being around, which I think is a needed reminder.

- Vanessa

 

Online advertising allows businesses to reach their target markets through the internet and has become one of the core advertising formats for many companies.  However, with new technology always on the rise new forms of advertising may be leading the way and marketers will need to be prepared in order to take advantage of these new advertising formats.  One of the fastest growing advertising platforms is Mobile Ads. Companies that have already succeeded at online advertising are quickly moving in to mobile advertising, companies like Google for instance.  Google has launched Mobile Ads, its mobile complement to AdSense. This concept is not exclusive to Google alone; other companies like Yahoo! and AOL have their versions of mobile advertising as well.  Google however, is attempting to take mobile ads to the next level.  According to Google, their current advertising platform would sense when a user is accessing a website on a mobile device by connecting the user directly to Mobile Ads.

Mobile advertising spend as a whole is expected to reach $1.3 billion in 2008 and is expected to continue to grow.  Mobile Ads are comprised of mobile video, images, banners, text, or a combination. For now text is the main format sent for mobile ads, but video is expected to be the wave of the future.

Mobile Ads may sound good to some, but I feel that our society is too technologically dependent. For example Mobile ads would be more of an annoyance than a perk for people like myself that don’t typically shop online and aren’t constantly texting.  Not to mention these ads could potentially would be dominate text, picture, or video message allowances for individuals who don’t have unlimited text, picture, and video messages within their mobile plan. Also, regulations have not been established for mobile advertising yet.  This could be a problem for parents that already have to regulate the number of advertisements their children see on television and other traditional marketing formats. Another problem could be that with the increase in ads could come an increase in cell phone models, such that the cell phone technology would be able to keep up with ad technology.  I am sure some consumers dispose of their old cell phones properly, but those that don’t could potentially harm the environment every time they upgrade their phone. However, the one good thing that I do see about the concept is that it does allow eBusinesses to reach out to more customers and potentially new customers. Like I said though, when it comes to my personal opinion I prefer buying in store and viewing my advertisements on the good old fashion television, and not my cell phone.

- Intern Jeff

 

Intern Week - eCommerce 101 in Eight Short Weeks

Posted on October 2, 2008 by Interns

Welcome to the third addition of intern posts for intern week.  This post was written by Rochelle who's focus was in the marketing department during her time spent here.  She impressed us greatly when she showed up for work after having a tire blowoutI hope you enjoy her take on what she learned while she was here.

- Vanessa

These past 8 weeks have flown right by me. Oh, the knowledge I have gained while at the Gordian Project.  I have learned so much in my “crash course”, and my time spent at PlumberSurplus.com has been very rewarding and profitable for me.  I am grateful for the time that my supervisors spent in teaching me about eCommerce.  There were times that I got confused, however, I learned a great deal.

My first project was writing a buying guide for the OutdoorPros.com Learning Center.  I enjoyed the project very much because it enabled me to gain product knowledge. The information that interested me most was learning about Google AdWords.  I listened to automated lectures from Google that talked about AdWords, and was able to take quizzes to test how much I had learned from those lectures. I was also able to create keywords for organic search results for PlumberSurplus.com.  Another project that I was given was writing advertising text for AdWords. This task was challenging because it introduced the important aspect of ad copy writing for an internet retailer.  

I think one of my favorite projects was doing competitor and product research on comparison shopping engines.  I researched PlumberSurplus.com products on several different shopping engines such as Shopzilla, Google Product Search, MSN shopping, Nextag, Pricegrabber, Yahoo Shopping, and more.  I learned how these search engines are used as marketing tools to create brand awareness, and how these comparison engines compare different company's products and prices.  These engines are also helpful to consumers who are trying to make better purchasing choices.  

Affiliate networking was really great to learn about.  An affiliate network consists of merchants and publishers that get connected and find a relationship that is beneficial and complimentary. The Gordian Project websites currently use multiple affiliate networks to manage affiliates. I worked on recruiting new affiliates and reviewing the many publisher applications that came in daily.

The merchandising research project gave me the chance to analyze site search results sets so that merchandisers could improve upon the result sets that needed improving.  When searching for products on Outdoorpros.com most of the searches were good, however, some searches would have random, irrelevant products show up in the results.  Janelle (another intern) and I went through all the product categories on the website and gave synonyms and keyword recommendations to the merchandisers for the products on the site.

I thoroughly enjoyed the video project the interns got to work on.  I learned how valuable videos can be for internet retailers.  This was actually one of my favorite projects and it was great to actually see the videos live on the Learning Center.

These projects are merely a glimpse into what I have personally learned during 8 weeks as an intern here.  I have appreciated everyone's kindness at PlumberSurplus.com.  The employees are truly wonderful people that wish to see the interns through this short but valuable experience.  The Gordian Project program has been a pleasure to be a part of.  

- Intern Rochelle

 

The Building Blocks of eCommerce and Internet Retailing: 10 Basic Concepts I Learned as an Intern

Posted on October 1, 2008 by Interns

Our second addition of Intern Week posts is brought to us by Kelli.  You may realize this while reading the post but in case you don’t, she was the ornery one of the bunch.  I personally enjoyed having her around as I finally had another girl participating on the basketball court amongst the many guys that play.

- Vanessa

Why would one want to do free busy work for a company when another company could pay for the work to be done? This whole internship shindig isn’t all sunshine and roses. We get stuck in between the bathrooms with all the ants, and even the day to day Surplusers call the intern section of the office the “dungeon”. What good can come out of all of this?

 

These thoughts definitely crossed my mind when I took on this internship, but I quickly realized that it is probably one of the best learning experiences I have had to date. There is not one collegiate class that I have taken that has measured up to the amount of information that I have acquired through this internship. Here at the Surplus, there is probably about two years worth of information thrown at you in the time span of about two or three weeks. After I and my fellow interns felt comfortable with all the information thrown at us, we then have the opportunity to put it to work. Employees around the Surplus then ask us interns to help them, at which point, we let our knowledge shine. This helps us further understand the information we have been given, as well as giving us real life situations to utilize these different concepts.

Here are just ten of the many things that I have learned about at the Surplus:

 

  1. Keywords - Keywords are the words that individuals may use to search for different items on search engines and websites. When thinking of different key words we had to stretch our minds and think about all the different ways a user may search for the keywords we were targeting.
  2. eCommerce - Basically eCommerce consists of things that are bought or sold through the Internet and other computer networks. eCcommerce is important to understand, considering that in this generation more and more companies are getting started by establishing their business on the Internet.
  3. HTML - HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. I found this concept especially difficult to understand, and implement successfully. From my perspective HTML is basically the matrix like gibberish that creates an internet page.
  4. Pay Per Click - Pay Per Click (PPC) is paid links that are placed on websites, mostly search engines, as advertising. Each time these links are clicked the site owner pays the website a designated fee. The websites that advertise for retailers gain money from the clicks and the advertisee gets increased traffic.
  5. Google Adwords - Adwords is the PPC Google advertising platform.
  6. Buying/How to guides - Too many websites have products that people know nothing about.  What better way to teach consumers about the products than with a buying or how to guide? These are exceedingly important for those who are trying something new. Buying guides tell the prospective buyer what they may need for different products they may be planning to buy as well as possible problems they may need to look out for. How to guides are exactly what it sounds like, they tell you how to do a certain activity, with simple, clear, step-by-step directions.
  7. Importance of Content - Good websites that are trying to sell things should have content that appeals to the prospective buyers. The website should not just be trying to fill in space and make their site look longer and more knowledgeable.  The content needs to be easy to understand yet contain specific information as it relates to the products or services offered by the internet retailer. Everything that is said on the page should be organized and flow. Pages with content that is all over the place are confusing to the readers, consequently this will shy away potential buyers from the website.
  8. Importance of Pictures - Pictures seem like such an easy thing for websites to master, yet almost every website has flawed pictures. Obviously when making a buying decision the images with the best colors, details, and views becoming increasingly important. Overall pictures can make or break a sale. Even after the sale, if a customer receives his or her product and is unhappy that the picture was different then the actual product received, the consumer will likely return the product and possibly never purchase from your website again.
  9. Food is Key - I have worked a few different jobs, never have I seen such a happy bunch of employees, the reason…FOOD! Hungry employees can lead to grumpy employees. Stuffed employees can lead to happy employees.
  10. Get the Food Fast - The people at the Surplus are savages. Consequently, when a new shipment of food comes in you have to run to get what you want.


For those that are considering starting an internship program, I have one tidbit of advice, it is better to not think of an internship as pro-bono work, but as a regular job, in which you get paid in knowledge verses money. 

- Intern Kelli

 

Intern Week - Putting Prejudices about Free Work to Rest: The Benefits of the Intern Experience

Posted on September 30, 2008 by Interns

School is back in session and our group of interns has moved on to their next project.  Some of them graduated, some went back to school and others are now working here.  We have a new set of interns this semester and we expect them to be as successful and helpful as our last group.  One of the last tasks we assigned to the interns was to write a blog post on their experience or what they learned about eCommerce.  As we usher in the new and say our goodbye’s to the old I wanted to share what they learned with our audience, who knows maybe they picked up a golden nugget that some of us “experts” have missed.
-Vanessa

My goal is to eventually start my own internet retail business, and like most entrepreneurial ventures there are a large number of unknowns.  I entered business school with the intention of learning all that I could about the retail business and eCommerce in order to give myself any advantage I could.  When the opportunity to participate in this internship presented itself, I saw it as a chance to just that. I have to admit, I was unsure that this was the best thing for me. With the ability to learn first hand the way an internet retailer operates, there was no shortage of reasons why I should participate, but there was one thing that bothered me: the pay, or lack thereof.  I understood that this was something that would benefit me greatly, but something about working for nothing bothered me to no end.  I’m not against volunteering, mind you, in fact I support it whole-heartedly; working for free in an actual business is something entirely different.

After much deliberation, I decided that I should push through my prejudices against unpaid work and participate in the internship. I was not disappointed. This internship provided me with a glimpse into the inner workings of an internet retailer, and while I was apprehensive about working for “free” this alone was worth every dollar that would have or could have been made doing some mediocre job over the summer. Not only did I get to see what happened behind the scenes, I got to participate. This is the most profound difference between working in a classroom environment and working in an actual business. In a classroom, a project has little value after it has been graded—I have a desk full of forgotten projects to prove it. One of the main tasks that I took on was content creation for the two internet retail sites that Gordian Project currently has.  Unlike the classroom experience, I was able to put all of the things that I learned into immediate use, and it was really gratifying.  In this practical learning environment, I was able to see the result of my efforts and take pride in the fact that my work was made for a purpose.

After having completed my internship, I see that intern programs provide benefits to everyone involved, not just the company receiving the free work.  I sincerely believe that most businesses should offer some form of intern program. The business would receive free labor, and the interns receive invaluable real world experience. The end result would be a more educated group of people that have the benefit of first hand knowledge. I can’t imagine a business owner denying the advantage of hiring employees that can hit the ground running.

In the end, the best part of my experience as an intern was the people. The employees were always available to offer advice and suggestions, and the interns formed a tight-knit group that made working fun and easy—even if it was for free.

-Intern Andrew

 

Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of September 26, 2008

Posted on September 26, 2008 by Vanessa

Google celebrated their 10th Anniversary this week, and announced “Project 10^100”.  Ryan was actually at Google during their anniversary celebration and told us about special anniversary sprinkle cupcakes, balloons, a 10k run, and nerf gun wars!  I am sure there is more but I’ll let him tell you about it.  I think it is really cool to see the 10 ton gorilla giving back, quite the opposite of some of the other stories that I want to touch on this week.

  • One of my favorite bloggers, Sarah Bird, Esq. of SEOmoz, published a blog this week and I am so glad that she did.  She brings great legal perspective to her posts that are therefore educational if nothing else, but this one really makes me want to campaign against the 10 ton gorilla.  The gorilla in this case is U-Haul.  The gist of the story is that U-Haul is suing HireAHelper.com for copyright infringement, but they are not only suing the company they are suing the founder and his wife personally.  I am sure that there is more to the lawsuit than what I am actually able to provide insight on, for multiple reasons of which I believe are too obvious to name, but I want to bring this up for revolutionary purposes.  I am sick of the Fatcats bullying the little guy.  The biggest players in Wall Street have run their companies into the toilet, and still think they deserve to walk away with millions of dollars in pension.  U-Haul has watched HireAHelper succeed, beat their website called emove (which I am referencing for purely journalistic value and refuse to provide any kind of linkjuice to the site) in organic rankings for highly targeted keywords, and then slapped him with a lawsuit.  From what Sarah knows about the suit she thinks he could win, if not for the fact that U-Haul has far more resources to come at HireAHelper with.  I think all of us self-starters, entrepreneurs, “little guys”, and forward thinkers should find a way to help Mike out, if not for principle alone, then for precedence as well.  Otherwise these suits are going to continue to happen, the industry Goliath’s are going to continue to monopolize the competition until we as consumers are left with inept products and services.  I for one am open to ideas on how the eCommerce community can contribute to Mike’s cause, and willing to help implement them, as I hope that my peers would do the same if I were in HireAHelper’s position.
  • The economy isn’t all doom and gloom.  Take digg for example, they just received $28.7 million in funds, and one of the areas they plan on expanding on is employees.
  • Who needs the police or a judiciary system if you are Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy?  Retailers such as the ones I have listed claim that their goods are stolen and then sold online and because of this they want to have the ability to send take-down notices without first reporting incidents to law enforcement.  They are acting like internet retailers are modern day pirates, come to think of it, I did see an Overstock employee wearing a patch and carrying a sword the last time I saw them, that must be the key to their online success.
  • A child advocacy group has campaigned against Google Street View on the basis that it’s use can be exploited by child predators was called out for their exaggerations this week by Larry Magid.
  • I have seen a lot of error messages in my day, but I have to agree with this blogger when they say that one of Gmail’s is the best. 

You havve reached the error page for the error page
 
 

Taking a Step Back: A Business Owner’s Perspective on Letting the Team Take Over

Posted on September 23, 2008 by Brian

Hey business owner, are you willing to be bored? (Don’t let your employees read this.)

If you’ve worked on a startup you can likely argue that it involves little boredom.  However, what I’m finding now, a bit over four years in, is that a little boredom at the top may be a necessary evil.  I think understanding this issue requires understanding resources, growth vs. leveling off, and good management.  So the question I ask myself is “If we’ve tapped into all of the financial resources available and established a qualified, motivated team, charged with managing and growing the business according to our plan, what should I be spending my time on?” 

I have come up with seven options that may be likely considerations:

  1. Get all in my management team’s mix - I could repeatedly request status, take over decisions, drive their teams, and other micro management efforts.  I think we know this undermines their efforts, creates inertia and waste, prevents learning, and ultimately renders the team impotent.  The key is to get the right people, build trust, and let them go within a wide boundary.
  2. Find random little things to involve everyone in - You know, that neat new idea I just read a blog about.  Instead of efficiently rolling new ideas into the strategic plan, I can simply nab people here and there to run down what I consider to be fun, but are ultimately distractions.  Nimbleness should be innate, not the result of boredom.
  3. Keep coming up with new projects, assignments, and responsibilities – Even the good projects, valuable assignments and important responsibilities cannot be tackled effectively without new resources. The assumption that my team has endless capacity to tackle new opportunities will quickly lead to burnout and de-motivation.  Eventually they’ll just stop getting anything done, or ignore me.
  4. Join the "data team" - I could throw my body at whatever projects are currently in work.  I am sure that there are tasks that are consistently in need of an extra hand: Data entry, physical inventory of the warehouse, answering calls, issuing refunds, cleaning the trash bin, etc.  This is a tricky one since it seems like a good idea to jump on whatever fires I can see, and I’ve done so in the past.  At some point, however, we have to stop covering the fires with elbow grease from higher compensated workers.  We need to let those groups work through their staffing, processes, or focus issues rather than building in inefficient use of our dollars.  I’ve also found that sometimes I’m more trouble than I’m worth when I randomly toss myself into a department for a couple days.
  5. Here’s a scary one… replace someone on the management team - Let’s face it, my partners and I have done each of their jobs at some point in our history.  We may be a bit rusty but it could be done again.  Assuming we don’t want our business to level off and slowly die, this may be the worst idea on the list.  If we’ve worked to put together a team that can use the available resources to grow the company, any reduction to that team would be a step backward to some previous point in time.  Our growth mentality makes this a last resort driven only by necessity, and definitely not boredom.
  6. Get outside the office - This may be the best option, given the right team.  If your team needs to see your car in the parking lot every day you may have to take up web browsing as a profession.  Otherwise, I can get my creative juices working on the next thing, related or unrelated to this business.  The risk here is taking your eye off the ball, moving to something new too early, or not resisting trap number three above.  There is a possible upside to this, you may quickly test your assumptions about a “qualified, motivated team”.
  7. Find more resources - Maybe this is my real job.  Debt, equity, grants, profits, couch cushions, recycling, Guido…  My partners and I need to make sure we are always on the limit of what we can do, and are willing to do, in terms of fueling our business with financial resources.  This goes back to my assumption … assuming we’ve tapped into all of the financial resources available. 

At the risk of sounding pompous, I suppose I’m learning the difference between managing and leading, or maybe a GM vs. a CEO.  At the core, I think the lesson is that we can’t always do more, even if I have time to spend.  If we’re leveraging every resource available to attack the highest priority opportunities in the best way possible, maybe it’s time to let the team carry the torch, while I simply make sure the two basic assumptions are progressively being met.  Eventually, as they build, we’ll reach new milestones that will require more of my involvement and guidance.  Otherwise, if I choose the wrong option above we change our trajectory, which isn’t best for anyone.  If I’ve maxed resources, setup the team, and created the plan, maybe I can use any extra time on a random Thursday to jump start a new venture of my own with personal resources.  I wonder if Guido will still give me that short term loan at 45%?  Uh, I guess I like my knee caps too much to take that deal.

 

 

Ask Not What Your Company can do for You – Ask What You can do for Your Company

Posted on September 17, 2008 by Vanessa

I have seen a lot of blogs lately that focus on what employers can do to keep their best assets, their best assets being their employees.  There are many reasons to consider employee assets: training is time consuming and costly, time has already been invested in the employee, and performance could be interrupted during a transition from one employee to the next.  Some central themes that have been taken from the blogs I have been reading are to challenge employees, trust them, respect their talent, and appreciate them with both monetary compensation and productive words.  I think all of this is great.  I am an employee, I can benefit from all of the things that I have listed above, but I also believe that we are from the “entitlement generation” and we believe we deserve great jobs, healthy salaries, and benefits right out of college.  We have the attitude that we should be subsidized for every hardship that comes our way.   My generation seems to have started it and the younger generation that is coming out of grade school is just making it a whole lot worse.  I want to know when we switched from the mentality that’s core was based on working your tail off and reaping the benefits to this entitlement thought process.  I don’t think it is just in the workplace either, it is happening in many aspects of our society, but I want to get the focus back to the workplace.

As I mentioned, I am an employee and I love and appreciate all of the things that are listed above.   I think that some employers need to wake up and read these blogs and consider what they are doing to show their appreciation for their employees.  I also think that some employers are already doing these things and employees either try to take advantage of it, or they are so far entrenched in what they are entitled to that they forget all of the good things they have at their job.  I want to challenge those of you that are in my position to ask yourselves what you can do for your company instead of what are they not doing for you.  As a caveat let me add that I am far from perfect in every way including being an employee, but I also know what it is like to be on the employer side of the fence so that may be where I get my perspective.

Not every employer is “about the bottom line”, and if you have one that appreciates you and makes it obvious that they are not just about the mighty dollar than recognize it and do your part.  I know that all of us have seen the person in the department that has car troubles every Monday, requests days off the day before they need them, or maybe they don’t even request the day off and just say “I am taking tomorrow off”.  I think of this and I think to myself, really?  These people sign your checks and you don’t have enough respect to even ask for what you need?  That is a simple respect issue though.

What about the blogs that point out that employees need to be continually challenged?  How about if the employee that is feeling like their position is stagnant actually takes the initiative and lets their supervisor know that they can do more and that they want to do and learn more, instead of showing up resentful every day that they don’t have more responsibilities.  In my experience even if there isn’t something new for you to do or work on right away, the supervisor that is informed is likely going to keep you in mind for when something does come up.  I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.  Remember though, if you aren’t succeeding at your current tasks then don’t even go here because until you can prove that you can do what they have already set out for you to do, they don’t have any obligation to have you take on more.  This might be a shocker to everyone, and although you don’t want to be treated like the bottom line, at least keep in mind that your employer is trying to run a business.  If you are upset that something doesn’t go your way try to look at it from the position of the business owner, or supervisor depending on the size of the company.
 
This reminds me of a recent incident which exemplifies this point.  A friend of mine owns a company and had an employee that needed time off all of the time to take care of some family issues.  Completely fine, but understand that the business owner needs to know ahead of time when this time off is going to take place.  As the employee think about the following: how can the business owner schedule who is going to be on what job if he doesn’t know who is going to show up?  How can the business owner plan which jobs will be done that week if he doesn’t know ahead of time that one key person will be out?  How can the business owner even bid the work if he isn’t going to be aware of what employees will be ready to go when that job needs to take place?  When this was pointed out to the employee, the employee responded with “well you knew I needed to do this and that for my kids”.  Once again, that is fine but the business has to continue to run or no one will have a job.  Does the employee think about the fact that my friend is the one who has to be on two jobsites that day and put in 14 hours to make up for it so money isn’t lost on the job?  I doubt it, because the employee is only thinking about their own situation.  This is not meant to be harsh, I know from endless experiences that life happens and can come at you when you least expect it, but these are not the situations I am talking about.  I am talking about the employee that continually does this over and over again.  The first time I ever saw someone get fired I cried, (yeah I can be a softie) but when the employee lashed back at the company with an “I’m going to sue you for wrongful termination”, I stopped crying.  While I am sure that we all think we are wonderful, don’t forget that most people are replaceable.  I wanted to know why this guy thought he was being terminated unlawfully.  What gave him the impression that he had a right to his position no matter what he put the company through?  If you look up wrongful termination claims the list of violations is short.

I agree with treating employees as an immense asset.  I also believe in employees realizing when they are being treated as an asset and having the attitude that they want to further the company, and not just their own personal agenda.  No one wants to be treated like a number, but no one is going to succeed within the company if the company is not succeeding.  While we aren’t numbers, there is still a business to run and whether we like it or not there is always going to be a bottom line.  As employees we have the ability to take responsibility of our areas.  I have a type A personality so I don’t need anyone pushing me to do well, I want to do well, I want to avoid mistakes and I want to make profitable decisions.  If your company is already backing you, then keep doing what you are doing, and quit whining about situations that don’t go your way.  I have worked for companies that treat people like a number, where they backstab one another, and take advantage of young fresh minds.  I would have to assume that those that think they are entitled to all of the benefits they are getting and still complaining, probably missed out on working for one of these companies. If they had, I can’t imagine where this privileged attitude would be coming from.

 


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