One of the oft touted benefits of technology; new and shiny gadgets, software or apps, is their ability to make our lives easier, save time and be more efficient.
Not all make the grade, in fact many can create quite the opposite effect and leave you staring at a screen for far longer than you’d want. The app that promises to make your life so much easier and then fails to act at the all too critical moment
There are however some gems that do indeed work their magic and serve as excellent tools to help keep us organised and in control. I have 6 such examples here that I would recommend you looking at if you don’t already use.
Issue #1 – Managing multiple accounts or a single brand across many social media platforms
Hootsuite – there are other platforms such as Tweetdeck that continue to deliver a good PC experience for visibility of activity but for me Hootsuite offers just that little bit more. The dashboard can take some getting used to but it’s worth persevering
Issue #2 – Keeping abreast of news on specific topics
Google Alerts – this little nugget has been around for a few years now but still many are not using it. I don’t know why. By searching for Google Alerts you’ll identify a keyword tool that can provide search results for specific keywords on a daily or weekly basis. You set the time and frequency and provide an e-mail for this digest to be forwarded to. A great way to monitor yours and your competitors brand along with sector specific items that may be of interest to you, your staff or your customers.
Issue #3 – Smartphone Memory Management
CM Security is one tool I make good use of as I have an iPhone and without this very effective app I’d be all out of memory. There are other similar apps available but CM is one of the best offering a simple click solution to removing excess, unnecessary items.
Issue #4 – Keeping on top of followers/ unfollowers on twitter and Instagram
I’ve been aware for some time of the rather short sighted method of attempting to grow a network. Someone follows you, on for example Twitter and then a week later after you’ve returned the compliment and followed back they “unfollow” you. Nice! Surprising how many accounts employ this strategy – if you are please don’t and if you’re subjected to it don’t let them have the benefit.
One of the best apps I’ve found for regularly reviewing those who unfollow and keeping your network to those who you can trust will engage is Unfollow for Twitter. The same issues arise on platforms such as Instagram, again there is an unfollow Instagram app. Given the difficulty of identifying these unfollowers, especially if you have a large network, I would recommend uploading these apps and once a week clearing out any accounts that are not following you back.
Issue #5 – Sleep patterns affected by late night browsing
Increasingly smartphone users are complaining of tiredness and attention deficit. This is often a side effect of staying on a smartphone, ipad or laptop late into the evening. The screen glare of these devices replicates sunlight telling the brain its wakey-wakey time rather than time for bed. At the point of retiring to the duvet the brain is unable to switch off.
The Opera browser which you can download to your devices offers a “bedtime” mode which reduces glare and keeps your brain in line with the actual time.
I’ve used it and it certainly works.
Issue #6 – too many passwords to remember
Do you get frustrated with the number of usernames and passwords your forced to remember or record to access your bank, facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, e-mail accounts, Starbucks app, iTunes, Amazon, ebay, MailChimp….I could go on.
If you’ve a brain that can cope with keeping and retrieving multiple passwords you’re ok but if like most people you can only remember if prompted the 1Password App may well be for you.
Some people keep spreadsheets of their log-ins which is great, until someone unauthorised accesses it or it’s deleted. The 1Password option gives you a secure vault in which you can then introduce the accounts you want to quickly access.
I’m sure in time the finger print or eyeball scanning will be the way we access our all-important data but until that becomes the norm I’d suggest looking at 1Password.
Most of these apps can be found by searching on your device by the name or if that doesn’t work a quick Google will do it. If you’ve got a hot tip for a great time saving or efficiency promoting app please drop me a line and we’ll feature it.
It’s surprising how many times we can make assumptions of others in the workplace and often underestimate the workload and stresses those in senior roles deal with. As a junior and middle manager I too fell into the trap of thinking the “boss” was not always engaged with the important stuff and didn’t understand what it was like at the coalface. Of course the chances were that not only was the boss aware of the issues they too were under enormous pressure and keeping many plates spinning on may poles, your universe of interest being just one.
The need is as great now as it’s ever been for business owners, directors and senior managers to understand how they can best inspire, motivate and manage the human resources around them.
The “boss” today has to look at markets that are increasingly competitive. There are very real pressures on expenditure and real need to maximise returns whilst customers are expecting “more for less” and the opportunities for growth harder to define and find.
Having recently worked with a number of clients with similar issues I thought it timely to look at some ideas to help better manage the essential asset of most businesses, their people.
• Time Management
How many times do you find your blood pressure rising when a member of staff saunters in at 9.15 a.m.? The fact is, strict times for starting and finishing a job may apply to specific jobs that require production schedules or the presence of those offering direct customer engagement. For many others, especially those in technical or creative roles, a 9 to 5 doesn’t really apply. What we should look at is not the hours spent sat at a desk but what was produced in the time they were at work. You could have the most punctual person in the world working for you but that doesn’t automatically make them better than someone who might arrive a little later. To overcome stresses and possible squabbles amongst staff offer a flexible working schedule and consider working from home as a genuine option. Remember to measure and manage what’s produced in that flexi time.
• Match roles and tasks to those best suited
Square pegs and round holes, yes it’s a very real problem for many businesses. Here’s a “for instance” – Derek’s worked in sales administration for years but is actually far better suited to working in IT and training others on how to get the most out of the software used in the company. How do you work this out? Talk to staff, make an appraisal a proper appraisal and assess real strengths and weaknesses and personal aspirations and likes. Quite often a secret interest or passion can become incredibly useful to a business. It helps to know what those special interests and skills are and to keep an ongoing dialogue with staff as things rarely remain static.
• Bright stars should work on the biggest opportunities
The high flyers in a business need sufficient air space to demonstrate their skills and offer the greatest return for your organisation. Too often talent is held back or restricted through traditional hierarchical structures and/or short sighted managers. The outcome? The talent leaves for a job where they can truly realise their ambitions. If you want to keep the best and get the most from them allow a little latitude, remove the shackles and allow them to take responsibility for their own projects. Building experience in such a way is invaluable and often rewarded by increased loyalty and performance.
• Set stretching but achievable goals
No one should suggest that we avoid measuring performance, quite the contrary but at the same time we shouldn’t become overzealous with our expectation and demands. Realistic, stretching but manageable objectives shared and understood by the team will provide the motivation to reach for the target. Too tough and it quickly becomes a disincentive to try and too soft and staff may believe they’re on easy street and get distracted with other non-essential matters.
• Put your trust in the team and let them know you trust them
Without a fundamental level of trust between business owners and staff, conflict, stress and aggravation often follows. People like to know that they are valued. Demonstrating trust through allowing self-control of their tasks, time management, resources required and engagement with goal setting can prove immensely motivational.
• When things go wrong don’t seek out someone to hang it on
Things will and often do go wrong. The way in which you handle the failures marks out the culture of the business. By way of comparison our own true character is often shown in adversity. It’s all too easy to find and single out the cause if it’s an individual, they may well admit to their part in the process. Remember Alan Sugar is playing a role in a TV show on the Apprentice and it bears very little relevance to the day to day running of a company. Be positive in the analysis and just ensure that the team understands where things went wrong to avoid the same mistakes happening again. In the same regard don’t desperately hang on to a failing project, be brave, assess the prospects and if the expected outcome looks unlikely to materialise, provide a positive review and close it down. It’s pretty de-motivating working on a project that just isn’t delivering, better to re-focus efforts on more positive opportunities.
• You’re the boss but you don’t have to have all the answers
All too often I meet with business owners who shoulder an enormous level of responsibility and in their minds the expectations of the workforce. Often they themselves apply the added pressure assuming staff are looking to the owners for the answers to every strategic and operational issue. This again reflects the culture of an organisation and if a “control freak” management style permeates the business, employees will sit back and expect that controller to manage them and make any major or even minor decision. That weight of expectation can be lifted by getting staff to think for themselves, make their own decisions and participate in planning.
• Give staff credit for successes
Don’t forget we all like to receive positive feedback and know we’re good at our jobs. Recognition and rewards are a very important factor in building and maintaining positive team spirit and momentum.
• Managing Change
In my experience the vast majority of employees can cope with and manage changes in their working patterns very well. A lack of communication however can seriously jeopardise the chances of capitalising on a change in business direction or move to new markets/ products. The more you involve staff at the earliest juncture and keep them updated the better the chances of success. Change can be worrying for some, so avoid big surprises by communicating as outlined above and cut off any negative rumours or grapevine that left unchecked may undermine your best efforts.
It’s true to say that managing people is one of the toughest aspects of running a business. Get it right and it not only has the prospect of providing a turbo boost to hit targets but also make the owners lives far less lonely and stressful.
David Laud – follow me on twitter @davidlaud
Back in the early 1980’s a US sit com hit our screens and almost immediately became a hit. Centred on a small bar in Boston the show introduced us to a series of characters who were the regulars and staff of “Cheers”. The theme song was catchy and used the phrase “Where everyone knows your name”. One character personified this tagline more than any other. A large chap with ill-fitting suits, tie almost always askew and mop of curly hair, his name was Norm Peterson an *accountant played by the wonderful actor George Wendt. *In later episodes Norm becomes a house painter.
Each time Wendt’s burly frame stepped down the stairs and came into view he was met with a chorus of welcoming voices “Norm!”
That friendly welcome became one of the most popular aspects of this hugely successful show which ran continuously from 1982 to 1993 and produced a number of spin offs including Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier”.
But rather than offer up a history of popular US sit coms I’m highlighting this specific element as an example of how we should be looking after customers.
Business owners and managers in the hospitality sector appreciate all too well the importance of knowing the customer and making a personal connection. Restaurants, bars, hotels, clubs they all rely very heavily on the power of personal recommendation and with the advent and growth of TripAdvisor they know they cannot afford to let standards slip.
Just for a moment put yourself in the role of a customer looking to use your business to buy or enquire about a product or service. If you’re a first time customer it’s highly unlikely that the communication is going to be as warm and familiar as that enjoyed by Norm but the objective should be to get to that level. Who wouldn’t want to feel that they’re recognised, remembered and ultimately valued by the establishments they frequent?
At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive and the winning of new customers more complex and costly, it’s logical to invest time to understand their experience, their needs and without being too intrusive more about them as individuals.
Starbucks are a great example of a business that invests in exactly that element of their marketing. You can buy a decent coffee in any one of a number of nationally branded and local establishments in most towns and cities. Why would you choose one shop over another? Some may genuinely prefer the taste of Costa coffee but the vast majority of us weigh up the overall experience.
The simple task of taking your name for the cup makes you feel as though the staff are taking a personal interest in you, yes it has a functional purpose but I suspect it was introduced for more reasons than you may think. Trying to remember hundreds of regular daily customers by face for the average person is quite a task but if you take their names you are adding a neat memory aiding process to the task and chances are they’ll not need to ask after one or two visits. Then how good do you feel when your name is remembered? Would you want to return to such a store? Of course you would.
Keeping with Starbucks their attention to customer’s behaviours extends to the queues waiting to place their orders. Ever noticed what most of us do when we’re waiting to be served? We reach for our smartphones, check our social media accounts, e-mail and then when we’re ready to place that order we scrabble for a wallet or purse. Noting this behaviour Starbucks developed a function of their smartphone App which enables customers to not only earn rewards and get free food and drinks but essentially pay using those phones they already have in their hand. Just look around at your average Starbucks and count the Apple Macs and smartphone usage, they understand their market and how best to engage with them. What I like about the Starbucks example is that they took the time to consider the customer experience and find a way to improve it. I also like the fact that it’s a great combination of offline and online but at the heart is the desire to make that trip to buy your coffee and snack that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt Starbucks to have an app that requires your personal details to register and use it but by now you’ve built a level of trust having been a “regular” and happy to share a little personal data.
For those of you now complaining that you don’t have “Star-bucks” to throw at such projects (see what I did there) don’t worry it doesn’t need to be expensive.
The best marketing and customer service solutions are often simple, common sense and can be implemented without breaking the bank. The essential part of this process is to initiate direct action and start taking a greater interest in that over used phrase the “customer experience”.
Here are 10 suggested steps to get things underway
1. Take time to stand back and become a customer of your own company, be honest and objective.
2. Look at what you’re delivering, break down the elements into stages.
3. How are customers responding?
4. Become more familiar with competitor approaches but avoid following their lead.
5. Build on the positives of the current offering.
6. Address the negatives.
7. Adapt to take advantage of the intelligence gained from the exercise.
8. Train staff to become more aware and develop empathy with the customer.
9. Introduce communication channels to keep feedback flowing.
10. Review and refresh regularly.
If this is an area that interests you or you would like more information please feel free to drop me a line.
We all need a virtual or actual boost in our businesses now and again. It’s too easy to become complacent, comfortable or afraid of making any changes that might make things “different”.
What many successful businesses do is harness a culture of continual evolution never settling for the status quo. This can be massively helped by recruiting staff who don’t fear change and have their own streak of entrepreneurism. If this is harnessed to a leadership team with clear goals and a strategy to enable attainment of the objectives the future will look bright.
Unfortunately certain sectors contain more than their fair share of risk averse personalities and they can in turn keep a business locked into a mode that ensures it fails to capitalise on new trends and seek out opportunities.
Smaller organisations can rely on the owners far too much and expect them to feed the company through their efforts to win new customers. For a large number of proprietors the challenge of running a business alone is enough to fully occupy them and the additional responsibility of bringing in revenue gets consigned to a “to do” list that rarely gets actioned.
So what can be done for these many ambitious but largely stagnant businesses? How can they rekindle the pioneering, energetic and challenging spirit that formed them?
There are any number of resources available to the average business – but this in itself can prove to be an inhibitor as too many options can prove confusing and ultimately fail to deliver the desired result.
The same may be said of certain third party agencies who approach business owners direct and feed their anxieties. They make promises to provide the solutions sought but end up costing the company an expensive fee and wasted time in pursuing false hopes.
On a more positive note I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with the Growth Accelerator programme. The phrase “Growth Accelerator” for some seems to conjure up rather dubious pills that might be promoted via spam e-mail but I can assure you it is no quack solution. This is a well organised and effective initiative for commercial enterprises covering three core areas:
Growth Accelerator provides access to finance to assist the companies in achieving their agreed goals.
What is reassuring about this programme is the assessment and selection of coaches and clear focus on quality service and the ultimate delivery for the businesses taking part.
Growth Accelerator is available to businesses registered in the UK who have fewer than 250 staff and a turnover less than £40m. Essentially they must be looking to grow their business by 20% – turnover or profit.
The Growth Accelerator process uses template guides that are introduced by experienced coaches offering a highly visible and effective tool to help the business see their future growth over a 3 year period.
It’s certainly not the only option but it is currently one of the most popular initiatives sought out by businesses wishing to grow but to do so in a manner that is both practical and sustainable.
If this is something you would like to explore further please feel free to drop me a line and we will put you in touch with your regional Growth Manager.
Sunday is traditionally known as the day of rest, the day we stay away from thoughts of work and revert our attention to more leisurely pursuits. The need for rest and relaxation and diversion away from stresses and strains of our busy working lives make Sunday a perfect day but….
That’s not quite how my Sunday worked out for me.
This Sunday I spent the best part of the day harvesting dead wood from my office, organising myself and planning. It had been a little while since I’d last re-organised but I’m now determined to stay on top of all things real (paper) and virtual (e-mails and digital files).
It is quite amazing how much “stuff” we accumulate and what we regard as important one week but happily consign to the bin the next.
Staying organised takes discipline and the ability to make effective decisions. My biggest problem is fighting the inner hoarder in me – time to be more ruthless.
Of course the process and determination of what “truly organised” is will vary from person to person. They key is to feel on top of things and confident that matters won’t get overlooked and opportunities or deadlines missed.
There is a level of science and tangible evidence of the psychological benefits of having a tidy up in the office. So if you’re in need of a little more order in your life here’s a few tips to get things started:
Once you’ve finished remember you actually haven’t…being organised is an ongoing process. Keep on top of matters to avoid falling back into the bad habits of old.
The greatest advantage, once the job is done is the feeling of control and confidence you get from knowing exactly where things are. You can save a great deal of time and avoid the frustration of duplicating effort by clearing out the clutter and in so doing retain the knowledge of what you have.
For me a cluttered office results in cluttered thinking and working practices. A clean and ordered environment certainly improves my outlook and ability to cope with the ever increasing demands of the modern multi-tasking world in which we live. My weekend might feel a little shorter but the week ahead will prove far more productive as a result.
David Laud – Click Here to follow me on Twitter
Charles Darwin knew a thing or two about evolution. If I can cast my mind back to my human biology lessons, the term coined by the great naturalist was “Natural Selection”. It took a little while for this radical theory to be accepted by the mainstream scientific community but now it is universally seen as the reason we, as humans, exist in the form we do today. Of course not just humans, we can trace the origins of all living creatures through this process.
If Darwin were alive today he would no doubt be fascinated by our individual and organisational development. He might also see how his theory can as easily be applied to businesses as it can to individuals.
A sector currently experiencing a significant series of evolutionary events, shaping their structure, relationships and existence is the legal profession.
Just last week we heard of yet one more familiar north east name going into administration. The loss of 50 jobs and a history of 250 years, gone. They are not the first in this recent wave of firm closures and they most certainly won’t be the last.
Why are we hearing of so many failures? The answer, as in any scientific evaluation, is not straightforward. The truth is that the myriad of challenges that have conspired to arrive at the door of law firms in the UK are individually manageable with care but when they arrive in rapid succession, they create a chain of events that leave only the very fittest and dynamic of practices standing.
The Law Society reported toward the end of 2013 that over 400 law firms had closed in the preceding 12 month period. Last week the same organisation revealed that more than 4,500 solicitors had simply not arranged to renew their practicing certificates. Without it they are unable to carry their work.
The events that have brought about the closure of so many firms include;
These facts and more point to a series of tremors in the legal world that have built to form a seismic event. The consequence of these factors is when the dust settles the clients, both personal and business will have far less choice. On the upside, of those firms remaining we can be assured that they are resilient and very likely to be focussed on the needs and value they can bring to the client.
The conclusion we can draw using Darwin’s theory is that having survived the natural selection process those still standing will be fitter and more prepared for the future. The advantage existing firms have at this time is their opportunity to still act, adapt and ensure their survival and avoiding a Dodo dilemma.
David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP