To Err is Human by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Mistakes are part of life. We all work to minimize our mistakes, but even so, these happen on a regular basis. All too often, we get far too focused on mistakes, and our focus tends to be in the wrong place. Learning to look at mistakes differently can help you to use your mistakes for growth. Consider these questions as you look at your own mistakes and those of your employees. images2

  1. Was it avoidable? If the mistake was avoidable, you may have a training issue. Take a look to see if you (or the employee making the mistake) has been thoroughly trained on how to perform the task at hand. If training isn’t the issue, look at whether the employee has too many tasks on their plate, or has a distraction that is impeding their ability to focus.
  1. Did it uncover something important? Sometimes mistakes lead to innovation. For example, the “post it” note that we all use regularly was invented as the result of a glue recipe gone wrong. Sometimes it’s all about perspective.
  1. What can you learn from it? In addition to finding a training or workload issue, or uncovering a cool new product, there are other things you can learn from mistakes. You are learning how “not” to do things, which is the first step to learning how to do things. In the early days of running a new business, you will make a lot of mistakes. Just be sure you’re working toward getting better and not making the same mistakes over and over. If you learn from your mistakes, these become tools that can help you improve your processes.
  1. How bad was it, really? Sometimes our fear of making mistakes holds us back from taking risks. Once you’ve failed a few times, however, you begin to realize that it isn’t always as bad as you imagined it might be. As long as you’re learning from the mistake, you’re seeing opportunity for growth.

Mistakes are inevitable, but how you handle mistakes makes all the difference in your growth and opportunity as a business leader. When you look at each mistake as an opportunity to improve yourself, your employees, and your organization, those mistakes can be some of the most beneficial learning experiences of your week.

Silence is Golden by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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As a busy professional, it’s a good bet that you always have a task or a problem vying for your attention. But, did you know that you may be negatively impacting your ability to effectively deal with those tasks and problems simply by letting too much come at you at once?

The workplace today is stressful, at best. Often times, however, we create more stress than need be by letting allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed and failing to give ourselves indexthe down time we need. Here are some tips to help you manage your tasks and issues effectively and calmly.

  1. Take one thing at a time. At times, you may feel like you spend a lot of time putting out fires. But, even when the fires come at you in multiples, you can only put these out one at a time. Taking each issue on its own will allow you to think more clearly about it, leading you to make a better decision. In fact, by slowing down and making a better decision about that fire, you may prevent it popping up again.
  1. Use stress relief techniques. If you find that you feel stress or anxiety symptoms when dealing with a barrage of issues, use traditional stress relief techniques like taking deep breaths or meditating for a few minutes before dealing with the issue.
  1. Take time out. Don’t underestimate the benefits of taking down time. Business is busy, overwhelming and noisy, and can sometimes be overstimulating. Taking time to relax with your family, rest, and do the things that you enjoy can help you be better mentally prepared to deal with the next crisis when it arises. Schedule your down time just like you would an important meeting so that you don’t neglect it. Regular breaks provide the most benefit. These don’t need to be a week in Tahiti to be effective, either. A date night out or an afternoon spent on your favorite hobby is often enough, as long as it’s done regularly.
  1. Knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about problems that are likely to arise in your business before these happen. When you’re well informed, and know the options for handling common situations before you’re faced with these, they will seem less overwhelming when they do arise.

By minding these tips, you should be better equipped to handle whatever problems your business throws at you, and to maintain your composure while doing so!

 

 

OMG! Technology Has Failed! Now, What Do I Do? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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We’ve all come to rely heavily on technology. It saves us time and makes us more productive. However, it can also leave us dead in the water when it fails, especially if we don’t have good backup plans in place.

Here are some backup plans that might save you when technology has failed. images

  1. Have a list of tasks employees can perform when computers are down. Filing, clearing out old files and other paperwork tends to get behind anyway. Use the down time to catch up.
  1. Use backups. Employing backups and cloud storage is imperative for the small business. When technology in the office fails, you should be able to revert back to last night’s version of the data either on a separate hard drive, on the network backup, or on the cloud. Having yesterday’s data available to you is far better than losing everything.
  1. Paper files. Whether or not to keep paper files is a huge debate, and it really depends on the size of your business and whether or not it is feasible to keep paper files. Contracts and other important items may need to be kept on paper as well as in electronic format.

These three tips can help you survive during technology failures. Be sure to put together a plan, in writing, of the steps you’ll take to continue to function when you have a technology problem. These three items can help you, but won’t be as effective if you don’t have a game plan that lets employees know who should perform which tasks and under what circumstances your office will revert to backups, etc.

Once your game plan is written, go over it in a staff meeting to ensure each person knows exactly what to do and how to do it in each potential failure scenario.

Technology failures are not a matter of “if” but “when”. Eventually, no matter how careful you are, something will go down, at least for a short period of time. Technology failures can make people panic, losing even more productivity. But, there’s really no reason to panic, when you have a plan, and backup measures in place. You’ll be sailing along smoothly in no time.

Can I Really Count on You? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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We’re all busy, and we all have a lot of personal and professional priorities tugging at us. It’s easy to fall into the trap of over committing ourselves. There are several pitfalls to this bad habit. One of these is having to cancel on commitments you’ve made, whether it’s bringing cookies to the class party or having to miss an important business conference because we’ve fallen behind at work. index2

Over committing yourself takes a toll on you, leaving you tired and feeling guilty. But, it also takes a toll on those you have to cancel on, and takes a toll on your reputation, too.

One of the most important characteristics of a good leader is that this person is a “person of their word”. If you want to be viewed as a leader in your business, your community or your family, you must be someone others can count on.

When we drop the ball and don’t come through on a commitment we’ve made, it isn’t usually intentional, and it isn’t usually because we believe the commitment wasn’t worth our time. It is generally a problem of over-scheduling ourselves or being unable to say no when we’re asked to do something.

Both of these problems are worth taking the time to solve. Keep a calendar at all times that includes your personal commitments as well as business commitments, and be sure this calendar makes room for down time. When you can see in print how busy you are, you might think twice about committing to something else. In addition, you can see right away if you already have an appointment on your calendar that would interfere with this upcoming event.

Learning to say no is very difficult for many people. However, if you are regularly backing out on commitments you’ve made, the damage you’re doing to others is worse than if you’d said no when asked. If you say no upfront, the person has time to make other arrangements. When you back out at the last minute, or fail to follow through, you may leave others in a bind.

Being a person of your word is important in all of your relationships. If you tell a customer you’ll call them back on Tuesday with an answer to their question, it’s important to call them on Tuesday, even if you don’t have an answer, simply because you said you would. If you promised your daughter you would be at her dance recital, you can’t pick that night to work late.

Take stock of how much people can really count on you to do what you say you will. If you find you’re lacking in this area, make strides to improve your credibility.

Are You Really Listening? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Listening is a critical skill. Many of us think we’re good at listening, but what we are doing when others are talking may not be really listening. In many cases, we’re just waiting for our turn to talk.

You see, often our minds are formulating our response to what’s being said while the other person is still talking. This isn’t really listening, and often our response isn’t based on the entirety of what was said, because it was created before we had all the information.images2

The next time you’re having an important conversation with someone, do your best to turn off your natural urge to start thinking about what you’re going to say and just listen to what’s being said to you. Then, taking all of what you heard into account, formulate your response.

We often listen only with the intent to respond because we believe we need to have a response at the ready. This isn’t necessarily the case, and you’ll find that people won’t be upset with you if you take a minute to think about what is said before you answer.

The more intense the subject and the more passionate you are about your opinion on the subject, the more likely you are to not really listen to what the other person is saying. (Think about fights with your spouse.) You’re eager to make your own argument. This is when listening only to respond, however, is most dangerous. You may be shutting out the feelings and opinions of someone who is important to you. In your quest to be heard, or to be right, you’re jeopardizing the entire relationship.

So, next time you’re having a conversation with someone, whether it’s business or personal, practice listening just to listen. It isn’t easy at first, especially if you’ve never realized that you listen to respond. Over time, you’ll learn to really hear what is being said and you’ll formulate well thought out responses more frequently. You’ll likely find that you make better decisions, and that your relationships with those you love are better, too. That’s when you can truly say you’re a really good listener.

When in Doubt, Check it Out by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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As a busy professional, there can be many things that legitimately get in our way of reaching our daily goals. Crises at work must be managed, as well as crises at home. However, sometimes we’re simply our own worst enemy, causing ourselves our biggest headaches of the day by simply not prioritizing correctly, not asking the right questions, or not planning ahead.index

We can greatly increase our productivity by learning to avoid these pitfalls. One of the biggest is making assumptions about what we are expected to do or how we are expected to do something. There is nothing worse than working hard to complete a project only to realize you either didn’t accomplish the project’s goals or you didn’t do it correctly. Problems like this can plague us in everything from simple household tasks to large, complex work projects. The bigger the project, the more problematic it will be if we don’t get it right the first time.

Don’t Let Your Pride Get in the Way

Sometimes we fail to ask questions out of fear of looking stupid, or because we think we should know how to do something. This is a huge mistake, regardless of the reason behind it. You sully your reputation much more by making assumptions about how to do something and then doing it wrong than by asking questions or gaining clarification.

Don’t Waste Your Time Doing It Wrong

Protect your time by ensuring you really understand what is expected of you before you begin any task. Seek clarification by explaining your perception of how to perform the task to see if you are on the right track. If not, seek further clarification. In some cases, it’s a wise idea to ask if there are written objectives or instructions.

It takes far less time to ask a few questions than to have to do something over again, and it hurts your pride a lot less, too!

Once you get in the habit of ensuring you truly understand the requirements of any project, you may find that you gain some precious time in your work day because you don’t have to repeat steps or entire projects. This can help you to be more productive and have more free time, as well.

Seriously! You Think You Can Manage Time? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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People spend a lot of time talking about time management. In addition, people often complain that they don’t have enough time to get everything done. But, the truth, as we all know, is that all of us have exactly the same number of hours in every day. It’s not about how much time you have, it’s how you manage your priorities.images

Many people would benefit by handling time management exactly backwards of how they currently handle it. Instead of trying to fit in all the things you want to do, try prioritizing those things and allotting time to them. For example, you know what your work hours are, so use that time frame to prioritize what you want to get done in those hours.

This is a fundamentally different approach than making a “to do” list for the day and then working as many hours as needed to complete it or leaving for home at the end of the day with things unfinished. Plan how many hours you want to work for the day, and then prioritize your tasks. Some tasks will be things that must get done that day, while others will have some time flexibility. Prioritize your “must do” tasks into time slots on your calendar, along with appointments for the day. Then, fit your other tasks into the available time with the highest priority tasks scheduled first.

Putting your tasks on your calendar with specific time allotted to completing these helps prevent time wasting and gives you a sense of urgency in getting  your most tasks completed, if you can be disciplined enough to treat these just as you would an appointment.

By prioritizing this way, you should have all of your most important tasks completed at the end of the day, with some of your next highest priority completed, too. When you make your schedule for the next day, some of your uncompleted tasks will move up in priority.

This system allows you to leave work on time most days, freeing you up for the things you need and want to do in your personal life. Prioritize your off hours in a similar fashion if you’re one of those people who tends to over schedule their personal time, as well.

This system won’t guarantee you’ll never have to work past your preferred work hours to keep everything going. However, it will ensure that you are aware of your time and you most important priorities during that time. This will help you go a long way toward better use of the time you have each day to meet your professional and personal goals.

Spring Tune Up for Your Health by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Spring is the time of year when all things are new. Our minds turn to spring cleaning, swapping out winter clothes for summer ones and renewing the look of the front of our home. As you’re contemplating all these other items, don’t forget to maintain your health, too.images

It’s easy to forget little things like yearly physicals, having your teeth cleaned, or getting those recommended tests that come with age, but it’s important not to let these items be forgotten.

Maintaining your health through regular checkups and preventive tests and procedures is no different than maintaining your home or car. If you don’t clean out the gutters and have the oil changed, it will lead to problems that take far more time and cost far more money to repair. Maintenance is a way of protecting your investment, and what bigger investment do you have than your health?

Routine physicals and preventive measures take little time and cost little money. In fact, most preventive measures are fully covered by health or dental insurance because insurance underwriters understand that it’s cheaper to cover the preventive maintenance than to have to pay to fix the health problem later. That’s a lesson we’d all do well to internalize.

Maintaining your health is important for your family. They depend on you and need you to be in top form. You can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of yourself first. In addition, teaching your children that health maintenance is important will help to set them up to be conscious of their own health later in life.

Maintaining your health is a smart business move, too. Your business is an investment, and you are that investment’s most important asset. If you lose time due to sickness, the business suffers. Too much time lost to sickness could ruin the business entirely.

So, as you make your “to do” list for the spring, take a look at your health records. If you’ve neglected having checkups or preventive procedures, get these on the calendar as soon as possible. The time away from work or other activities you’ll have to devote to getting caught up is nothing compared to what it could cost you in time, money and well-being if you choose to neglect yourself and have health issues as a result.

Customer Service and Beyond by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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Good customer service is a secret to success in any business. Though the details vary by industry, the basic customer service principles are the same. Providing excellent customer service to your clients helps ensure your business thrives. In most businesses, gaining customers is expensive, so keeping these customers after you’ve won them is critical. Providing good customer service is the single biggest thing you can do to keep those customers. Here are five customer service principles that transcend industries.index2

  1. Know your product or service. You should be able to talk knowledgeably about your products. When customers have questions, you should be able to answer these. When you don’t know the answer, you should be committed to getting the answer quickly for the customer.
  1. Provide timely service. Don’t make customers sit on hold or wait in ridiculous lines. Of course, there are times when business is busier than other times, but do your best to keep the customer’s wait short.
  1. Be friendly. If you’re a customer facing employee, you don’t get to be in a bad mood. Be nice, every time, even when the customer isn’t nice to you.
  1. Keep your promises. If you tell a customer you will call them on Thursday with the answer, then call them on Thursday. If you don’t have the answer, at least let them know that you are still working on it and give them a new time when you will call them back.
  1. Follow up. Be proactive in following up on customer problems. Rather than assuming a problem is resolved because the customer didn’t call back, take the time to call and ask if the problem is resolved.
  1. Be reasonable about rules. It’s imperative that companies have rules. However, do your best not to apply rules arbitrarily, or use these to avoid doing what is right. When the rules just don’t make sense for the customer’s situation, be willing to go to bat for the customer to get an exception approved. Be willing to admit it when a rule shouldn’t apply.

Discuss these six principles within your organization and assess how you’re doing as a group. While these all seem like obvious things to do, they may not be everyday practice. Look for ways to improve your customer service using these ideas. Your customers, and your bottom line, will thank you.

Are You a Salaried Entrepreneur? by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

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index2As a business employee, you may believe you have little influence on the decisions that are made about how the business is run. Depending upon your particular situation; this may or may not be true. However, there are reasons you should act like an entrepreneur even when you don’t own the business. Take a look at some of the benefits you can realize by having an entrepreneurial mindset instead of an employee mindset.

  1. You’ll make better decisions. When you adopt an attitude as though you own the business, you make decisions based on the best interest of the business, considering far more pieces of the puzzle than when you act like an employee.
  1. You’ll share ideas. With an employee mindset, you might be reluctant to share your ideas for improving a process or reducing costs. But, if you’re acting like a business owner, you are eager to share your ideas for improvement, even if some of these don’t pan out.
  1. You’ll learn more. With the attitude of an entrepreneur, you’ll take every opportunity afforded to you to learn about the business, the industry and leadership.
  1. You’ll be more cost conscious. With an entrepreneur mindset, you won’t be wasteful with money. Instead, you’ll look for the potential return on every investment before making it. However, when you see true return on investment or a significant bottom line improvement that comes from spending a little cash, you’ll be eager to spend it, and able to articulate justification for spending it.

Acting like an entrepreneur even when you aren’t one can offer some very valuable learning experiences, and can entirely change the way you look at your job. It will likely make you a better employee, a more thoughtful manager and a better financial steward. It might also get you promoted, as those in the chain of command notice your efforts.

Even if acting like an entrepreneur doesn’t bring you any rewards in your current job, you can be sure that it will provide a learning experience that will help to prepare you to run your own business one day if that is something you are intending to do.