Top 4 Critical Skills Employees Need to Develop

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Top 4 Critical Skills Employees Need to Develop

In its Critical Skills Survey, the American Management Association (AMA) unveiled the four most critical workforce skills that need to be developed. Many of these skill gaps are also extremely common among the organizations we serve at ERC. Here’s an overview of the top four critical skills as well as recommendations on how to close these gaps through training and development in your organization.

1. Communication

Communication refers to the ability to convey one’s ideas orally and in writing. In surveys conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership and AMA, communication is cited as not only a critical skill needed by the workforce, and also as a critical skill needed among leaders. It was also identified as a skill in which younger workers are most likely to need development. Effective communication is expected to grow in importance over the next 10 years.

Growing employees’ communication skills involves helping them build rapport with others, practice listening strategies, use both effective verbal and non-verbal communication, give and receive feedback, orally present information to others, and write clearly.

Communication is most effectively developed through classroom training, one-on-one coaching, and on-the-job practice.
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Evolving Communication Methods in Inclement Weather

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Despite the lack of winter weather here in Northeast Ohio thus far, earlier in 2012 Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that no matter what the temperature, communicating organizational closures or delays due to inclement weather in a timely and effective manner to employees is critical.

While the 2012 ERC Inclement & Adverse Weather Survey reports that only 41% of participants have a formal inclement and adverse weather policy in place, 95% of the total sample indicated that they have some type of communications plan that can be put into motion should the organization decide to close or delay their start time during inclement weather conditions. Most commonly this communications plan takes the form of the traditional phone-tree (52%).

More forms of communication

However, there also appears to be an emerging trend in the 2012 survey data pointing towards the inclusion of more diverse forms of electronic communication within these plans. More specifically, text messaging (20%) and email notification (29%) methods are up 11% and 7%, respectively, since 2010.

Who is responsible for initiating these communications remains very much the same, with one-third of respondents relying on supervisors/managers, 14% indicating it is the responsibility of the CEO/President/ED, and 13% reporting that HR handles these communications.
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Communicating in Times of Crisis: HR's Role

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On behalf of everyone at ERC, our thoughts are with all those affected both nationally and locally by 2012's Hurricane Sandy.

The events following Hurricane Sandy an unfortunate reminder to all HR professionals and business leaders that natural disasters, power outages, and issues with transportation systems can emerge at any time and have implications on the workplace. In such circumstances, HR plays two pivotal roles as 1) policy developers and communicators and 2) crisis planners and managers.

Policy Development & Communication

In HR, you must set and communicate the policies for your business, in collaboration with your business leaders and line managers, regarding how to handle crises and threats to your employees' safety and normal business operations, like inclement weather. In our research, however, we find that only some organizations (39%) have a specific policy covering inclement or adverse weather.
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3 Keys to Good Customer Service

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3 Keys to Good Customer Service

Good customer service is the heart of every business. It flows from employees who engage internal and external customers, meet their needs, and exceed their expectations. Good customer service creates a "wow" experience for your customers, leaves a positive impression, encourages repeat business, and ideally refers other customers to your organization. So how do you get your employees on-board? Here are 3 critical elements of good customer service.

1. Good customer service starts with the right attitude and mindset.

Customer service starts with having the right underlying attitudes and motivations. This means not only hiring people with the right customer service mentality and who want to help and satisfy their customers, but also encouraging the right focus and attitudes by talking positively about customers in the organization, repeatedly communicating the importance of customer service to your business' success, training employees on the customer service practices your organization has decided to emphasize, and recognizing employees who serve the customer extraordinarily well.

Key employee attitudes that drive good customer service include viewing customers positively, understanding that customer service is important to the organization's success, feeling motivated and accountable for providing good customer service, having the information and tools needed to provide good customer service, viewing leaders as enthusiastic and supportive of good customer service, and believing that they can take initiative to do what is best for the customer.

2. Good customer service requires effective communication.

Exceptional customer service requires mastering communication with internal customers (other employees) and external customers (those outside of your organization) as well as with difficult customers. Without both quality communication through a variety of channels such as face-to-face, over the phone, or via email, as well as effective communication in a diverse range of situations both internal, within the organization, and external, outside the organization with a diverse group of customers, service can suffer.

Customer service issues almost always arise from a failure to communicate properly.

For example, customers may not know what to expect or may not be accurately informed of changes and schedules. Customers also could perceive a lack of responsiveness or courtesy. A customer's tone may unleash an emotional reaction from your representative. The underlying problem in all of these issues (and most customer service dilemmas) is a failure to communicate well.

Effective communication with customers involves listening and understanding your customer's viewpoint or problem, handling emotions, organizing and preparing one's thoughts, speaking clearly and succinctly, responding to or following up on questions directly and in a timely manner, watching non-verbal cues like tone and body language, problem solving, and closing conversations or interactions to keep the door open for an ongoing positive relationship with the customer.

Communication is as much an art as a science and takes practice. Building self-awareness of communication strengths and weaknesses and teaching skills through training, role-playing, scripts, and conversation coaching are just a few methods to use to drive better customer service. But beware: not all customer service training and skill-building is created equal. Traditional lectures or "guides" simply won't cut it. Employees must practice, engage in the changed behaviors, and obtain feedback as they are doing so by a trained professional.

3. Good customer service is practiced on your internal customers.

Practice good service with your internal customers. Employees generally don't provide good customer service to their customers if they aren't serving one another in a consistent, reliable, friendly, and timely manner.

Good customer service is the result of positive, supportive interactions between staff members who are interdependent on one another for information, especially when multiple people and departments are involved in the process of delivering a product or service to the customer.

Organizations that provide good internal customer service:

  • Have collaborative cultures that recognize and reward teamwork
  • Freely and efficiently share information with one another; create processes that enable free-flow of information
  • Respect each others' time; respond and resolve internal inquiries in a timely manner
  • Listen and try to understand the concerns and demands of one another
  • Have clear communication channels for communicating product and business process information
  • Speak to one another courteously and respectfully

If you expect and want good customer service from your employees, the best way to achieve it is by modeling the attitudes, behaviors, and communication practices you seek inside your organization and creating a workplace that lives, breathes, and teaches what it means to put the customer first.

Customer Service Skills Training

Customer Service Skills Training

This training helps you build better relationships with your customers.

Train Your Employees

5 Myths About Workplace Communication

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5 Myths About Workplace Communication

Employers constantly find themselves battling communication issues between employees and managers in the workplace. These issues commonly stem from not understanding the basics of good communication, mistaking frequency for quality, and making inaccurate assumptions about how much information others want and need to know. Here are 5 myths about workplace communication that your organization should consider "debunking" to improve communication.

1. If your employees are talking to you frequently, you have good communication.

Regular one-on-one "catch up" meetings between your employees and supervisors do not guarantee that quality communication is taking place. Despite these meetings, misunderstandings and communication breakdowns can still happen. Frequency of communication, while important, has little to do with how effective the communication between your supervisors and employees actually is. Focus instead of what is actually being discussed in those meetings and how it's being said.

2. Line employees are the main reason that communication suffers in the workplace.

Sometimes...but not usually. Effective communication is important at all levels of the organization, but is most important and more commonly expected at the manager level. After all, managers spend the majority of their time communicating with all levels of the organization, including other departments, employees, managers, and leaders. Their job is to make sure people have the information they need to do their jobs well and that they have the information necessary to manage their departments and employees. This involves sharing lots of information and asking lots of questions. As a result, when there is a communication problem, it usually falls on the manager.

3. An open-door policy is enough to encourage employees to share their concerns and ideas.

If you think that your organization's open-door policy is enough to encourage employees' sharing of opinions, ideas, and concerns, you're probably placing too much faith in your policy. Simply saying that your organization has an open-door policy does not necessarily ensure that employees will actually take advantage of this policy and voice their concerns to management. You will probably need to make more proactive attempts to gather employees' ideas and encourage their input if you value two-way communication with your staff.

4. Employees aren't interested in, privy to, or already know information.

This may be true for some of your employees, but not of all of them. Many employees desire more information about the organization and what it's trying to achieve, and your organization has a responsibility to share it with them. When employees are treated as partners in the business and given access to sensitive information, they are more likely to engage in their work and create greater value for your business. Additionally, never assume that employees already know something that is important for them to do their job. A good deal of communication problems result from assuming that people already know information they actually don't know.

5. Information is the foundation of good workplace communication.

Information is important, but trust and communication skills are the true foundations of good communication in the workplace, and both need to be developed over time. Trust is also one of the major reasons communication fails in the workplace. When departments don't trust other departments, employees don't trust their managers, and leaders don't trust employees, information gets withheld, decisions are made without consulting others, conflicts emerge, and everyone starts choosing their words less wisely and thoughtfully. Similarly, communication skills need to be built and fostered among all levels of your employees, and especially your managers, through training, coaching, and practice.

Communication issues affect every organization, but "debunking" common myths and assumptions about communication can be a good first step to improve communication in your organization and especially between your managers and employees.

Additional Resources

Supervisory Series
In this series, participants will gain an understanding of how to communicate effectively with others in the workplace, in addition to dealing with everyday challenges of being a supervisor, resolving workplace conflict, and managing performance and coaching. This series is offered in AM sessions and PM sessions and begins February 7th.

Communication & Interpersonal Skills TrainingERC specializes in communication, interpersonal, and soft-skills training for all levels of the organization. Click here to view the many training courses we offer. These courses can also be customized to meet the needs of your organization.  For more information, please contact ckutsko@yourerc.com.

Communication Skills Training

5 Common Management Challenges

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Communication, management of conflict and performance, and management of potential liabilities are all challenges managers experience. Here are some practical ways to deal with these common management challenges and support and develop your managers.

Communicate.

Managers are frequently not aware of the quality of their communication about expectations, changes, procedures, and other work-related issues, or how their communication or interpersonal style is perceived by their employees. Help managers understand their unique communication and interpersonal style and how to “flex” this style in different situations. Provide managers with communication templates, scripts, tips, or checklists. Engage in role-play or dialogue with the manager to help them practice their skills and identify opportunities for improvement. Additionally, educate managers on common communication breakdowns and how to avoid them and encourage managers to notice signs of communication problems (misunderstandings, consistent performance problems, etc.). When all else fails, provide a personal coach if communication problems persist

Resolve conflict.

Many managers ignore problems and do not address conflicts with their employees or work team directly. Whether these are performance problems, conflicts among team members, issues of trust, or personality clashes, managers are challenged to confront and address problems head-on and as they emerge, diffuse employees’ feelings and emotions about the problem, listen to both parties’ needs and desires, derive win-win solutions that lead to more productive and positive work relations, and prevent conflict in the future by nurturing positive coworker relationships and recognizing potential for conflict or problems early.

Manage performance.

Managers must balance meeting goals, managing workloads, and motivating employees. These issues coupled with the fact that many managers are ill-equipped to provide regular and constructive feedback and may not understand the importance of documenting performance can make managing performance challenging. To support them, build on-going performance feedback into the performance management process to ensure accountability. Create an easy method for managers to document performance like a database, log, or diary. Provide support tools for managers such as rewards, recognition, training, and development to recognize and build performance. Most importantly, train managers in topics such as performance management, coaching, and feedback since many will have had no experience with these.

Handle protected employees.

Most managers are not well-versed in administering ADA, FMLA, and other laws that protect certain groups of employees, but unknowingly find themselves managing an employee that requires an accommodation, leave of absence, or falls into a protected class. These situations need to be handled delicately due to their legal nature, so make managers aware of:

  • Legal basics such as conditions or disabilities that are protected
  • How to determine essential functions and reasonable accommodations
  • Requirements associated with FMLA (eligibility, length of time, etc.)
  • Types of employees that are protected under law (gender, race, national origin, etc.)
  • Hiring and interviewing liabilities (questions to ask/not ask, etc.)

Administer policies fairly and consistently.

One of the most common challenges for managers is treating employees fairly and consistently. A manager may allow policies and rules to be disregarded by some employees and not others – or may disregard employment policies altogether. “Stretching” the rules for some employees can open up a range of potential liabilities and perceptions of bias and favoritism that have negative far-reaching affects in the workplace. Be sure to write clear policies and let managers know when changes have been made. Set clear criteria for making employment decisions, particularly where managers need to distinguish between employees (recognition, reward, development, etc.). Also, clearly differentiate between the policies in which managers have discretion to implement and those in which they do not.

Addressing these management challenges sooner then later can prevent your organization from experiencing many problems and liabilities. It’s never too early to ensure that your supervisors and managers have the skills, tools, and support to do their jobs effectively, so if your supervisor is just starting out, consider developing these important skills as soon as possible.

Additional Resources

Supervisory Series
In the series, participants will gain an understanding of their role as a supervisor as well as employment law as it relates to common supervisory issues. They will also learn how to apply basic managerial and interpersonal skills including dealing with the everyday challenges of being a supervisor, communicating effectively with others, resolving workplace conflict, managing performance, and coaching. Click here to register or click here to learn how we can bring this training on-site to your organization.

Strategic Legal Update
Stay up to date on all of the most recent law and policy news with our blog

Coaching & Performance Management Services
ERC offers a full range of services to support your organization’s performance management activities. We also offer one-on-one coaching services to help your build and develop your manager’s skills. For more information about these services, please contact consulting@yourerc.com.

What a Manager Needs to Know to Drive Project Success

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The challenge in project success rests in the ability to deliver to the desired business goal in the desired time frame and within the available budget. These three forces:  time, cost, and quality, are often in conflict with each other. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has defined nine body of knowledge areas that when followed, would increase probability of project success. However, if you are not a full-time project manager and still want to increase your project results, follow these three project management principles:

1. Establish a Project Plan.

The project plan will tell you, your team, and your customers the:

Goals: Define the business reason for the project and how you will know it was successful at the end.
Scope: Determine the boundaries of what your project will address, and just as important, what it won’t address. 
Milestones: Work backgrounds to identify important dates for deliverables, reviews, etc. This is a very easy way to do a reality check on what it will take to meet the due dates.

2. Build a Communication Plan.

The communication plan is not only how you will communicate at the end of the project, but who should be informed and engaged throughout the project. At the minimum you should be able to identify the:

Who: Identify the key stakeholders, the departments, customers, or processes that will be impacted by your project
What: Create the message, which could be different for each audience – some want to be updated while others require more detail.  
When and How: Identify the best time and format.  The rule of thumb is to communicate your message at least three times, and I would add, in at least two different formats (email, phone, in-person).  Leverage communication channels that are already in place like staff meetings, monthly newsletters, weekly email blasts, websites, etc.

3. Define Change Management Processes.

Change is a constant. On any project the scope will alter as more information is gathered.  Define a process and procedure for identifying project changes, approvals, and documentation requirements. The more complex the work, the more important this becomes. 

These are just a few principles to keep in mind to ensure success on your projects. The more you can learn about project management and the underlying principles, the better equipped you will be to lead your organization in the future.

Are Your Supervisors Prepared for These 5 Challenges?

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are-your-supervisors-prepared-for-these-5-challenges

The following is a complimentary audit and assessment consisting of key questions your organization should ask to determine if your supervisors and managers have the appropriate skills and competencies to combat the most common management pitfalls. Additionally, tips we frequently recommend to organizations in addressing these pitfalls are summarized.

Challenge 1: Exposing the organization to liabilities

Organizations are exposed to liabilities when their supervisors and managers are not knowledgeable of employment law or understand how to apply legal guidelines. For example, supervisors and managers may make selection decisions based on non-job related criteria or subjective biases, ask inappropriate interview questions, not document performance, misapply wage and hour law (not recording overtime worked, not providing necessary breaks, etc.), or fail to handle employee issues with consistency.

Key questions include:

  • Are supervisors and managers knowledgeable of employment laws and do they successfully apply these legal guidelines in the workplace?
  • Do supervisors and managers ask appropriate interview questions, if they are responsible for hiring duties?
  • Do supervisors and managers participate in making legal selection decisions, based on job-related factors and qualifications and not based on any protected criteria (such as gender, race, national origin, religion, etc.)?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand wage and hour law (FLSA) and how it affects the pay of their employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers discipline or handle issues of employee conduct with consistency?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand the basics of managing employee leave, particularly FMLA?

Challenge 2: Failing to document and manage performance

Performance management is a common struggle for many supervisors and managers. Oftentimes, we find that the supervisors and managers are not doing enough to support the employee in achieving their performance expectations and standards and not providing regular feedback, counseling, and coaching. In addition, correctly documenting performance is commonly overlooked.

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers generally have a high performance work team, or do their employees struggle in reaching certain performance standards or goals?
  • Are employees aware of what is expected of them in terms of performance?  Do supervisors and managers communicate these expectations to employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers take the performance review process seriously? Do they understand its importance and how to prepare for and deliver a performance review?
  • Do supervisors and managers document any and all incidents of poor performance? (note: this is also a potential liability)
  • Do supervisors and managers guide performance through regular feedback and coaching?
  • Do supervisors and managers support performance with development and training if needed?
  • Do supervisors and managers have conversations with employees about their career aspirations and developmental interests? Do they follow-up on insights obtained in these conversations?
  • Do supervisors and managers continually challenge and empower their employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers make themselves available to answer employee questions about projects, assignments, and tasks?
  • Do supervisors and managers recognize and thank employees for their contributions when they do a good job?
  • Do supervisors and managers criticize more than they praise? Is there an imbalance of negative and positive feedback, and is this justified?

Challenge 3: Poorly communicating

Inadequate communication manifests itself in a number of problems including poor supervisor-employee work relationships, frequent misunderstandings of job tasks or policies/procedures, and unclear expectations. These issues often surface from poor listening, relationship building, clarifying, and feedback skills and lead to frequent supervisory problems.

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers establish rapport and positive relationships with employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers engage in frequent methods of in-person communication?
  • Do supervisors and managers actively listen to employees’ concerns, problems, and questions?
  • Do supervisors and managers clarify points and issues, trying to better understand work problems employees have?
  • Do supervisors and managers ask for employees’ viewpoints and opinions?
  • Do supervisors and managers exhibit effective non-verbal communication with employees? Do their words match their body language?
  • Do employees often feel confused when completing work assignments, or do misunderstandings frequently occur?
  • Do employees receive enough performance feedback from supervisors and managers? Do they understand where they excel and where they need to improve?
  • Is the feedback provided by supervisors and managers constructive and well-targeted at behaviors needing changed?

Challenge 4: Failing to resolve conflict

Many managers fail to resolve conflicts between employees and coworkers or may perpetuate too much conflict in their groups. It’s common for supervisors and managers to avoid conflict altogether. In addition, they may not do enough to prevent conflict.

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers work to accurately define and identify key workplace conflicts or are problems frequently incorrectly identified? 
  • Do supervisors and managers recognize the causes of conflict?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand and costs of conflict on your business and recognize its effects on productivity?
  • Do conflicts generally go unresolved by supervisors and managers, or do supervisors and managers create different strategies to manage and resolve conflict, ensuring that it has a limited effect on performance?
  • Do supervisors and managers frequently collaborate and strive for “win-win” approaches to conflict?
  • Do supervisors and managers try to prevent conflict by encouraging positive coworker relationships, encouraging recognition of individual differences, and addressing work problems quickly before they escalate?
  • Do supervisors try to adapt to different personalities and styles in order to maximize their effectiveness?

Challenge 5: Not understanding their role

Typically promoted from individual contributor roles, supervisors and managers find themselves not understanding the new requirements and expectations of their role, or encountering common challenges like micromanaging, distrusting employees, treating employees poorly, or not making time for them. 

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers frequently encounter challenges on the job, in dealing with employee issues and problems?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand how their role is different than that of their previous role as an individual contributor? Do they understand its importance in driving results through others?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand the responsibilities of their role and how to carry them out?
  • Do supervisors and managers make time for employees, balancing task completion and building supportive relationships?
  • Do supervisors and managers show trust and confidence in employees?
  • Are employees excessively directed and micromanaged?
  • Are employees treated with respect and courtesy? 

Addressing Management Challenges

If your supervisors don’t have the right competencies in place, there are a number of ways to develop them. In our experience, these are the most common and effective ways to build supervisory and management skills:

  • Supervisory and managerial training
    Training is one of the best and most common ways to develop supervisors’ and managers’ abilities. Consider registering them to attend ERC’s Supervisory Series, an affordable training program that develops their skills in all of these critical managerial areas including communication, conflict resolution, performance management, and employment law. This program can also be delivered on-site and customized to your organization’s needs. 
  • Skills coaching and mentoring
    Sometimes a more personalized and customized approach is necessary to develop skills and solve specific managerial and supervisory issues, particularly when training has already been conducted. This can be facilitated either through mentorship of leaders internally or skills coaching with an external consultant
  • Management literature and educational materials
    Articles and learning aids are another great way for supervisors and managers to develop their capabilities and can be great follow-up resources for after training to help transfer skills learned back to the workplace. Checklists and forms that guide behaviors learned in training can help them stay better organized on the job. These can be created in-house or training programs may have them available.  

Interested in learning more about training your supervisors?

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