motivation

Improving Employee Performance: How well are you motivating your employees?

How do you get employees to improve their performance? Telling them what to do won’t get you very far if they already know what you want. Certainly people need to know what you expect of them, but repeating it with a stern voice could have the opposite effect from the one you want.

First, try to understand why the work is not getting done as you want. Is your employee in the wrong job? What is her work style? Some employees are creative thinkers with a short attention span. They won’t be very good at lengthy, routine or highly detailed tasks. They may have some good skills, but the cost of continually correcting their mistakes might be more than it’s worth. People perform best in roles that play to their strengths. How well do you know your employee’s strengths and work preferences?

Suppose your employee is in the right role. Then what’s wrong? Are personal problems blocking his ability to focus? How can you help him alleviate this stress? Is she not very organized? Some people perform best at the last minute. They hate planning ahead. They aren’t motivated to finish their work with time to spare. They need the sense of urgency that only last minute pressure can offer. One solution is to ask for work to be done well ahead of when you need it. You’ll only create mutual frustration if you try to change this employee’s basic work style.

Maybe your employee was doing a good job but is now demotivated because the job has become routine or because she feels ready for a promotion. An important step in motivating people is to sit down with them regularly and ask them questions about what aspects of their work they enjoy and don’t enjoy. Find out what they would like to do more of and less of, what new things they would like to be exposed to or new skills they would like to learn. If your employee wants a promotion, discuss what you see as his development needs and give him developmental tasks. Whenever you delegate a project to this employee, select the task based on how it will appeal to his self-interest. Keep in mind that we are all motivated to do what is in our own interest. Finally, do more question-asking than telling, such as: “What do you feel really motivates you?” What other kinds of jobs appeal to you?” “What kinds of work really hold your attention?” “What sorts of things do you tend to put off doing?” “What does it take to really give you a lift?” Maybe they just need a little more recognition from you.

performance chart

Managing Performance: Handling poor performance without demotivating people

Anyone can track performance. It’s a simple numbers game. The hard part is giving negative feedback. How do you get the balance right between correcting poor performance and still motivate people to perform better? How do you avoid provoking a defensive reaction, upsetting people, demoralizing them and damaging your relationship with them?

Not easy. But there are a few simple techniques that can help you make this challenge a bit easier to tackle. The first thing to do is to hold performance discussions with your team members frequently, at least once a quarter, but better still, once a month. Frequent discussions are less threatening than infrequent ones. People get more used to it; they adjust emotionally. A second step is to accentuate the positive. Discussions at work are too focused on problems, issues and things that have gone wrong. As a result, employees approach such meetings with their boss prepared to defend themselves.

The easiest way to accentuate the positive is to start every meeting with a simple discipline: ask your subordinate to list the things that went well since you last met. Ask what things he or she is most pleased about. This gives subordinates a chance to talk about achievements first, hence creating an atmosphere where they will look more forward to such meetings. As a result they will relax and feel less defensive about admitting mistakes. Put the onus on them here too. After you have asked them what has gone well, ask the flipside question: what has not gone so well? Then ask what they feel they need to do differently in future. The key point here is that it is easier for someone to admit their own errors than to have to listen to someone else tell them where they goofed up. Moreover, you are more likely to motivate better performance if your subordinates tell you their improvement plan than if you tell them what to do. If they don’t own up to something through your questions that you feel needs to be discussed, ask more specific questions: How do you feel the meeting went yesterday? How could you have helped it go smoother? Again, the key is to avoid operating in ‘’telling’’ mode.

So, the key steps here are frequency, start with positives and get subordinates to do most of the talking. Try this in group meetings as well. Ask people to state what they are pleased about since the last meeting and then what they feel they could do better.

free wifi

Free WiFi for the Portable Office: General How-To Guide for Finding Free WiFi When Working On the Road

I realize this may sound unusual, but truth is always stranger than fiction: I worked from my own (makeshift) portable office using free wifi most of last year while traveling.

In a ten month span I found myself in strange, out-of-the way places with oftentimes no power, much less an Internet connection. It was my first vacation ever as an adult, and I had planned on making it well worth the wait.

During this long, somewhat relaxing span, I also ran my business. Luckily, all I required to keep things running were the Internet and a power source – both of which were in short supply in most places. However with some creativity and a lot of luck, I found both in almost every locale imaginable. Since power isn’t normally an issue for entrepreneurs on the road, I will focus exclusively on finding free wifi access points for the portable office enthusiast.

  1. Hit the Library

Strangely, almost all of the small towns I spent time in had free wifi access (or at least a connection to the Internet) available for visitors at their public library. For the very few that didn’t – they knew the closest place that did.

  1. Find the Visitors’ Center

Usually run by local Chambers of Commerce, most North American cities also have a Visitors’ Center for travelers looking for something specific. The Kelowna Visitors’ Center, for instance, gave me a one-page handout of all paid and free wifi hotspots in town for portable office purposes when I moved here.

  1. Check for Free Wifi Hotspots Online Before You Leave

Before I returned to Vancouver, B.C. (my hometown), I checked online to see if anyone had mapped out the free wifi hotspots in town. Luckily the WifiMug does just that. I even posted a own new location myself! Although this particular company is only listing Vancouver (Canada), Boston, Chicago and Seattle, a quick check for other free wifi hotspot listings netted thousands of websites.

  1. Ask the Locals

In two of the more unusual locations I visited I had to resort to asking passersby on the street where I could find free wifi for my portable office setup. Both of these situations netted beautiful, one-of-a-kind spots to check my email and get a bit of writing done. One, the Landmark Bakery (250-353-2250) in the small town of Kaslo, B.C. offered free wifi to anyone who stopped by, and even kept the signal on at night so you could sit out front afterhours on their quaint park benches. Another, in the tiny City of Slocan, was housed in what looked like the addition on the side of an elementary school, where unlimited access cost only $5 for a lifetime membership to the Society that ran the place.

  1. Check Out the Independent Coffee Shops

When all else fails, stop by or call the coffee shops listed in the yellow pages. Most of the larger chains have wifi, but it’s rarely free – except in rare cases such as:

  • Blenz (Canada)
  • Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar (US)
  • Office Depot (both US and Canada)
  • Staples (both US and Canada)
org learn

Does your Organization Learn?: The difference between organizational and individual learning

Organizations that are good learners continually adapt successfully to a changing environment. An organization cannot read a book or attend a course, so how does it learn? One thing an organization can do is regularly assess what’s working and what’s not, then make changes accordingly. This is learning from experience and it depends on rigorously facing reality. Studies have shown that the main reason high fliers in business fail to learn is that they never admit to making any mistakes. Someone or something else is always to blame. Being defensive is a sure way to avoid learning.

Sometimes we are not very good at being honest with ourselves. Defensiveness is like an immune system. It serves to protect us from a serious crisis of confidence but it can block us from really learning how we need to change. The old saying ‘’nothing succeeds like success’’ has been turned on its head of late so we now say ‘’nothing FAILS like success.’’ The moral of this story is that success can set us in concrete and prevent us from learning new ways of behaving until it is too late. Many successful organizations have failed because they stuck to the knitting long after it was still useful to do so.

There are two kinds of learning an organization can foster: constant individual renewal and a culture of organizational learning. The former is not enough. There is little point in developing talent if the organization is so risk averse that it waits too long to try new things. The need to get things ‘’right first time’’ can induce a reluctance to experiment. Fundamentally, the best learning organizations are entrepreneurial. They launch new products quickly, not worrying if they are 100% perfect. They are religious about getting feedback from customers and other stakeholders so they can modify products or services quickly. Such trial and error learning is becoming a necessity in a world that is too complex and fast changing to plan ahead with any degree of certainty. In the past you could lay out your strategy as confidently as you could plan your vacation. Now, it is like planning a holiday in a world where prospective destinations are continually disappearing or changing beyond all recognition. For this reason, you have to be prepared to combine your strategy with an entrepreneurial adaptability so you can change directions quickly. This means creating a culture where such organizational learning is encouraged and rewarded. This is especially important if your business competes on the basis of innovation, less so if cost, efficiency and service are paramount. But no organization can rest on its laurels for long.

home business

Gift Baskets As a Home Business: Exhibit Your Creative Abilities With a New Career

This type of business is not for everyone, but if you are the type of person that has arranged a bouquet of flowers from your garden for a sick friend, or saw a cute basket at a sale and then filled it with lotions or a special tea mix and gave it as a gift, this business could be for you. If you are concerned about beginning your own business, inquire at your local gift shop or florist to see if they could use your services.

Who is Suited to Creating Gift Baskets

It takes an eclectic yet organized personality to be successful at assembling and selling gift baskets. To be successful, you must have a knack for choosing gifts based on certain personality types, and a second factor is making good gift choices with the occasion in mind. This ability does not come naturally to many people, so if you have been rewarded often with comments like “You always know what I like” and “This is exactly what I was looking for”, then you are a good candidate for this business. You probably already have the innate ability to ask the customer the right questions to assemble the perfect basket for them.

Gift Baskets for a Small Budget Business

A gift basket business can be operated on a small budget since the baskets do not have to be brand new. In fact, one angle to use could be that your baskets have been rescued from the landfill because they have been repurposed. Thrift stores and garage sales are overflowing with baskets, many of which were lovingly handmade by a weaving artist, which means that they are high quality.

Think Outside the Basket

While many folks think of lotions and bath salts when a gift basket is mentioned, those items don’t have to be a part of your business at all. A tea lover might like a basket of unusual teas and a vintage teacup and saucer while a button lover might enjoy a bouquet of button flowers with a jar of collectable antique buttons, and perhaps a price guide. If you like to frequent yard sales and thrift shops, this is one type of business that can take full advantage of that hobby. Be on the lookout for birthday gifts as well as sympathy and thinking of you gifts.

Good for Limited Spaces

Gift basket assembly is a business that can be started at home even if that home is a small one. Clear out a closet, install a few shelves and store your supplies there. Your personalized gifts will sell so quickly that you won’t be able to keep your shelves stocked anyway.

fruit basket

Gift Basket Home Business Start-Up: How to Start Your Own Gift Basket Business with Fruit Basket Example

A home-based business selling gift baskets is one that appeals to many people. It allows them to explore their creative side in building gift baskets that appeal to specific kinds of people, occasions, or markets, whilst also bringing joy to the recipient.

There are many things to think about, however. From the kind of products that will be put in the baskets, to the pure business side of research and accounting. It can be a daunting, but also very rewarding way to turn a hobby or interest into a home-based business.

The Gift Basket Business Checklist

The following is a checklist of things that need to be addressed when building the gift basket business plan. There might be additional items that come to mind as the checklist is addressed, but it should give a useful starting point.

  • Product – arguably the most important part, and one of the biggest decisions: make original products, or resell existing gift baskets?
  • Market – there are many ways that the gift baskets can be sold (direct, Internet, corporate, catalog, stores, etc.), and choosing the right one is vital.
  • Supplier – a list of suppliers and their prices needs to be drawn up; the kind of suppliers will change depending on whether the end product is created or brought in and resold.
  • Marketing plan – how does the business intend to get its message out to the customers?
  • Financial plan – the key question here is: how many gift baskets must be sold to cover all the costs — heat and light, mortgage, supplies, staff, and so on.

If answers to all of the above can be found, then the business start-up plan can be created and analyzed with the help of an accountant, or good business banker.

Case Study: Organic Fruit Baskets

One of the thriving sectors is supplying business gift baskets to corporate clients, and one of the most popular kinds of baskets are organic fruit baskets. Putting together an organic fruit gift basket for sale to corporate clients illustrates some key points that need to be addressed when creating baskets:

  • What kind of basket sends the right message?
  • What kind of basket will protect the fruit in transit?
  • Are there any local organic fruit suppliers?
  • Are there any local corporate clients?
  • What kind of organic fruit will satisfy the above?
  • What do corporate clients expect from the whole package (i.e. inserts, cards, wrapping, etc.)

The above process can be applied to any gift basket idea – but above all, it must be proved to be viable following the checklist!

Alternatives

Simple Google AdSense research throws up many untapped markets for gift baskets. For example, one of the highest rated buying keyword phrases is the phrase ‘gourmet coffee gift baskets’, swiftly followed by ‘gourmet chocolate gift baskets’.

Using AdSense and keyword research in this way to find new markets is a vital part of the gift basket business owner’s product planning. Even if the decision is taken to specialize in a certain market or product line, researching variations of different gift basket business ideas is what will keep the business fresh and

gift baskets

Start a Gift Basket Business: Earn Money Making and Selling Gift Baskets

When you present someone with a gift basket you’ve made, do you get a lot of oohs and ahhs? Do you have a knack for finding unique items for your basket that other people would never think of? Consider turning your talent into a business.

Getting Started

  • Find inventory. You could search for wholesalers on the internet, but you would have to buy in quantity. Until you get established, don’t go there yet. Who wants to be stuck with a whole bunch of candied yams for a Thanksgiving basket in June? Instead, look for clearance items at stores that have a long shelf life. For instance, a popular gourmet food store may have a fifty-percent-off sale on jars of gourmet pickles. You realize that would make a perfect picnic gift basket during the spring and summer. Scour over-stock sales on the internet as well as department stores and specialty shops.
  • Shop off-season. Buy Christmas items on sale in January that you can use the following November. Again, be sure those items have a long shelf life.
  • Present your products clearly. Wrap your baskets in clear cellophane instead of colored. You want to focus on what’s inside the basket.

Brain-Storm Gift Basket Themes

Sure, the traditional holiday, birthday and new-baby occasions are popular. But try to come up with original ideas that may draw customers.

  • Corporate appreciation. Say you know someone who owns a classic car business. As part of a promotion, suggest giving customers a basket filled with inexpensive car memorabilia. A pet store owner or veterinarian could give away baskets filled with pet toys and treats.
  • Non-traditional holidays. Tell bosses to remember their secretaries with personalized gift baskets. Instead of giving the identical basket to each secretary, give each person a unique basket based on his or her interests. Grandparents often don’t get the attention they deserve. A gift basket on grandparents day filled with money saving coupons would delight them!

Market Your Gift Basket Business

  • Find craft fairs in your area.
  • Create a web site and exchange links with suppliers.
  • Start a newsletter filled with recipes and tips.
  • Give baskets to as many people as possible and mention your business when those compliments start flooding in!

Finally, the Small Business Association offers free tips on writing a business plan, starting, managing and marketing your business.

honesty in business

Candor In Business Can Be A Refreshing Change: Businesses Often Lack People Willing To Speak Candidly

Too many business often lack open and honest dialogue within their own organization. The ability to speak candidly can often bring out the best in a business.

It is really amazing how hard a time people have being honest and forthright with each other. But people have a hard time saying what they really mean to other people. You could call it beating around the bush but what is really going on is that people often lack the ability to speak with candor. That is people don’t say what they really want to. In business this can be especially true and counterproductive.

An Example Of Someone Lacking Candor

Let’s give an example of someone who lacks the ability to speak with candor. You’ve just been called into a meeting with your company’s department heads. You are going to review the latest quarter’s sales figures. You know for a fact they could have been much better had a few new initiatives been implemented. Ideas that had been brought up in the previous quarter’s meeting but never pursued.

Stagnation

The meeting gets under way and as each department head goes over their results a theme emerges. Sales growth across the company has been stagnant. And one by one each manager blames the current business climate for their woes. Once they are done the boss congratulates them on being able to tough it out. Everyone leaves the meeting patting each other on the back.

Ignoring Reality

In this little example company executives are ignoring reality. If people had been willing to be more candid with each other then they would have acknowledged that the achieved results were not satisfactory. Someone would have spoken up and said “What can we do differently or better to get the results we need?” Your boss would have looked each manager in the eye and said “This isn’t cutting it.”

Conflict Is Hard To Deal With

Your meeting shouldn’t be about ripping each other apart either. What’s needed in business is open and honest dialogue. Most people hate conflict of any kind. No matter how much people seem to actually fight with one another conflict doesn’t come naturally. In business people want to avoid it but sometimes a little constructive conflict is necessary to put the wheels of progress into motion.

Asking hard Questions

You have to be able to ask yourselves hard questions. What can we do differently to stimulate growth? What employees do we have that are unproductive? Are there products that just aren’t selling? How can we get more out of our production? There are so many questions that can be asked in business. Often though people have a problem accepting the facts of a given situation.

Encourage Candor

If you want your employees to start acting in a more candid manner you need to encourage them. First off you need to practice it yourself. Then you need to reward employees that are willing to be candid too. You have to show them that it is ok to be forthright and straightforward about business. Otherwise the employees within your business or organization will only be fooling themselves about the truth. Allowing candor to prosper in your organization will be like breathing in a breath of fresh air.

It in business

IT In Business: The Quality of IT: Quality, Security and Resilience Must Not Be Compromised

Well qualified people can always be found who will work at a lower rate, but there is no substitute for experience and proven track record.

Having established the business need and researched the IT marketplace to determine the cost, the business will have an IT strategy.

The business need/benefit equation forms the basis for the plan and from this IT policies should be established and published to cover the use of all IT equipment and services from servers and software to personal computers and mobile devices.

Establish the Deliverables

It will now be necessary to exercise quality control over the package being delivered or being planned. To many this will equate to squeezing down costs to create a lean, mean service to the organisation. It is always relatively simple to find a cheaper method once a standard has been established, but great care must be exercised to ensure that economies are not taken so far as to compromise quality, security and resilience.

Best Versus Cheapest

Lower cost software and free applications often appear to be a tempting option, but consider why market leaders have bigger price tickets. Usually, the reasons come down to levels of ongoing development and quality of support.

Similarly, well qualified people can always be found who will work at a lower rate, but there is no substitute for experience and proven track record. Experience and knowledge of IT application to a particular business is often worthy of retention and loyalty also has a value.

All change must be measured against the business need/benefit equation and safety margins must be allowed for.

Quality Stems from Control

Many budding businesses allow IT to grow in an un-ordered fashion. New key people bring their own technology solutions into the organisation and these are often adopted without due consideration for the general work flow.

New software offerings come to the marketplace with low introductory prices or free trial periods to entice experimentation, but the question will always remain – How does it fit the IT strategy and the overall business plan?

Changes to the strategy must also take into account the mid and long-term support and maintenance requirement. Will a free download or low price package be adequately supported and developed over time? Will new employees, service providers and outsource solutions provide sound methodology and clear documentation to guarantee process redundancy in the event of forced un-planned change?

IT Must Serve the Business and Not the Individual

Poorly considered change in technology results in an IT function that serves individuals rather than the business as a whole. There may be a very convincing case for software that improves the efficiency of a function for a person or department, but the output must also mesh with the business as a whole.

Know What You Want

IT management for an organisation may be full time, part time or outsourced, but there must always be a clear strategy and enough policy strength to resist deviation from the plan.