The wrong impression can cost you an important business deal

Posted By Laurie Richards on July 5, 2015 in Customer Service · Leadership & Management · Motivation

Many of us go into business meetings misled about the important role meetings play in keeping one in the loop. Believe it or not, important things do happen at meetings – the most important of these is that people learn about each other. Judgments and impressions are made and opportunities to impress abound, according to Jodie Vesey, an etiquette expert who works with us at Laurie Richards & Associates.

One misstep, warns Vesey, and an important business deal could go down the drain.

“I’ve seen too many business relationships fall apart in meetings,” says Vesey. “People sometimes take a meeting for granted and then they wonder why they didn’t finish the deal.”

Vesey notes that there are ways to avoid missteps. Here then, are some tips from her on how to best take advantage of these opportunities.

  • Arrive at the meeting on time or even a little bit early. Arriving late impresses no one and, in fact, is an insult to those who made it on time. If the meeting starts at 10 a.m., be there no later than 10 a.m.
  • Enter the meeting room with a friendly confidence and looking your professional best. Shake hands with your colleagues and introduce yourself to those attendees that you do not know.
  • Be fully prepared. Have the agenda, pertinent papers and a pen in front of you. This will keep you from having to fish around while everyone waits for you. Avoid running back and forth to your desk to retrieve something that should have been in front of you in the first place. Not being prepared will give others the impression that you are a disorganized person.
  • Your briefcase does not go on the table or on a spare chair. It belongs on the floor. The same holds true for purses.
  • The types of business accessories you use speak volumes about your level of professionalism. Carry a leather briefcase and notebook. No plastic, canvas or something that looks like it belongs on the space shuttle. Own a quality writing instrument, preferably one that does not have the name of a hotel on the side of it. (Unless, of course, you work for a hotel!) These small details are what will set you apart from the ordinary.
  • Do not look bored, even if you are. Right about the time you tune out, something of importance will be said and you will miss out. Avoid playing – no paper clip people, rubber band instruments, or doodle masterpieces. If you keep both feet on the floor and lean forward, you will look and feel more attentive. Leaning back with your leg on you knee is altogether too casual. If you start to feel sleepy, get up and throw a piece of paper away in the garbage can. This will get the blood flowing and give you a quick boost.
  • Speak up, but keep it brief and to the point. We all know how painful it is to sit through someone’s aimless ramblings. Do not interrupt, no matter how much you disagree with what is being said. If you disagree with someone, never publicly criticize that person. You will lose respect and the person you are attacking will gain office sympathy. Think before you speak and try to use positive language as often as possible.

If you make the effort to pull all of these tips together at future business meetings, you will create a stronger professional image for yourself. You will also gather more information than ever before, and soon, you will be looking forward to meetings as an opportunity to let yourself shine!


Business Travelers Lament: On The Road … Again

Posted By Laurie Richards on June 27, 2015 in Leadership & Management

Traveling on business can sound so glamorous! Warm tropical locations, luxurious hotels, wining and dining with interesting people … However, the reality is more along the lines of exhaustion from driving or jet lag, scratchy bed sheets, and bad room service food in front of the TV.

Yet, whether you are lucky enough to travel on business to a resort in a sunny location or whether you are staying in a budget hotel in Sioux City, one thing remains the same: you are on company time. With that comes responsibility.

“When you are on the road, you literally become a one-person show, representing your entire company,” notes Jodie Vesey, an etiquette expert who works with Laurie Richards & Associates, a professional training firm based in Hackettstown, N.J. “Your actions, words and general behavior are going to be judged by all of the people that you come in contact with during your business trip. Based on others impressions of you, you will either do your company and your self a favor, or you will be leaving a trail of negativity in your wake of poor behavior.”

With that in mind, Vesey offers the following the tips for business travelers who want to greatly increase their chances of making the best impressions while on the road.

  • First and foremost, remember that you are on company time the entire time that you are out of the office. Don’t put on your business face for the two-hour meeting, only to later go out to the pool in a skimpy swim suit and wave to your client! Act as though everything that you do will get back to your boss, because it just might!
  • Dress in clothes that are both comfortable and professional looking. No sweat pants or grungy weekend wear. Remember, if you are wearing a shirt with your company logo on it, everyone will know whom you are representing and will judge your company according to your actions.
  • If you are driving, make sure your car is clean on both the inside and the outside. The front passenger seat is the “seat of honor” and it should go to the client or the highest ranking person.
  • Carry plenty of one-dollar bills with you for tipping. You will look like a rookie if you do not have tip money readily available.
  • When it comes to tipping while traveling, who gets what? If someone helps you with your luggage, you should tip $1 per bag. The doorman at a hotel should get $1 if he provides a service for you, such as hailing a cab. Hotel housekeepers should get $2 to $3 dollars a day, and the room service delivery person should get $2.
  • When two people of unequal rank travel together, the person with the least amount of seniority is to take care of details such as making dinner reservations, hailing taxis, and so on.
  • When male and female coworkers travel together, each person is responsible for carrying his or her own luggage, and paying for their own meals.
  • Never over drink. It may be tempting to go with the “the company is buying” attitude, but this is a dangerous position to take. Maintain control and limit your self. Anything less will come back to haunt you!
  • Luggage does get lost and reservations do get messed up. Ranting and raving will not magically make your luggage appear. You will not have to sleep on the street. There is always a “Plan B” available if you stay clear-headed and flexible.

Business travel can be a great change of pace from the office and a wonderful opportunity for you to shine; take advantage of the opportunities that abound! Just remember, you never know the connection that a stranger may have to your company!


Three Steps for Building Morale at Work in Good Times, Tough Times

Posted By Laurie Richards on June 21, 2015 in Motivation

There are three steps to building morale at your company, whether times are good or times are tough, whether you have a large company or a small company.

In taking the first step, consider this: Extensive research indicates that two out of three people are unhappy in their jobs. Ask them why and they’ll tell you it’s not the work. It’s not the environment. It’s the people they work for and the people they work with.

And most of us will admit that we could/would get more done if we wanted to. Make no mistake about it, morale makes a difference in your company’s productivity and profitability.

In Step 2, realize that building morale starts with managing expectations. Surprises and disappointments will happen. The higher they are, the lower they fall. Instead, manage expectations by being realistic when addressing new situations.

When you win a bid, how are you selling it to your staff? Is it, “This is going to guarantee we’ll hit our goals this year.” Or, “This is going to be a great project.” And maybe, “This project won’t take much time. No problem.”

When you sell a project like this, and something goes even slightly wrong – a shipment shows up late, a vendor misses a deadline, a price is underestimated, the crew is expected to work an extra weekend – the disappointment is great.

A realistic approach, on the other hand, preserves healthy morale. “This is a big project. It could get us to our 2003 goals. But it’s going to take a lot of extra work from all of us. The good news is that when we meet our annual goals, we all go home and it’s happy holidays!”

On to Step 3. The defining moment of building morale is realized at the point of engagement – when things go wrong – a client is lost, layoffs are imminent, holiday bonuses evaporate.

Under these circumstances, reviving morale effectively will take three stages:

First, let them vent. Provide opportunities to commiserate, support one another, share stories, and relieve stress. Schedule a town meeting-style gathering where people can ask questions, share their thoughts and ideas. Include situation status on department meeting agendas.

Second, limit venting time. Like so many things, venting is best when done in moderation. Encourage your team to keep proper perspective. A missed deadline with limited ramifications may command a few minutes of ranting, while it may take several days to settle down after a layoff of 10 percent of one’s team.

Third, begin rebuilding trust by increasing communication. Now is the time to communicate, communicate, then communicate again. Trust is built by sharing information – not holding it back. Now is the time to share everything you can (not necessarily everything you know). Tell them why. Tell them what they can expect short-term and long-term. Tell them what you and the organization expect of them as individuals and as a team. Explain the organization’s commitment to each of them. Explain your commitment to each of them.

Building morale takes a lot of planning and hard work. Once established, though, it is well worth the effort.


Making the Team Work Takes ‘Work’

Posted By Laurie Richards on June 14, 2015 in Leadership & Management · Motivation

Making the company’s “team” work isn’t a simple process. Like anything else in life – including the big football game – it takes time, planning and energy to find long-term success. But once you’ve put the initial effort into place, the process becomes simpler and the results are greater for the duration.
In order to make this happen, there are several points I stress to managers:

  • Cover all the bases – Hire and train in order to have all the necessary skills available to the team. Capitalize on the natural talents of every team member while developing additional skills to help the team. A team that can score but can’t defend is in for a long, hard game.
  • Make sure everyone knows the rules – If the player doesn’t know – and understand – the rules, it’s tough to help the team. Be careful about using words such as “big,” “more,” “less,” and “often.” What you evaluate as “often,” someone else may see as “rarely.” The most effective teams have rules, clearly understand them, and enforce them.
  • You can’t win all by yourself – Whether your job is coach, quarterback, or tight end, you can’t do it by yourself- no matter how good you are. The best teams are made of players that do their job and fill in wherever and whenever necessary in order to win the game. You don’t hear, “It’s not my job” at the Super Bowl.
  • Have a game plan – Run up the score? Stay with the pack? Break ahead early? Save the secret weapon for the last quarter? What’s your team’s strategy? Better customer service? Safety above all else? On time, on budget, on target? Make sure your entire team understands the game plan – and understands that it will change with the industry.
  • Call a time out – To many companies, a time out comes in the form of an annual performance review. However, the most successful businesses know that the time out is a strategic move to evaluate the current situation and modify the game plan based on the most up-to-date information.
  • Learn from past performance – After the big game, the first team meeting is spent evaluating the team’s performance- and sizing up the next challenge (next week’s opponent). Now is not the time for thin skin. Everyone on the team has a responsibility to know his/her strengths, improve his/her skills, and contribute to the team’s success. Get ready to tell and be told.
  • Celebrate – No victory is complete without a celebration. Whether it’s throwing a cooler of Gatorade over the coach, toasting with champagne, or sharing a victory pizza, take time to savor the victory and give credit where credit is due.

Remember, success ultimately comes as a result of solid execution of a game plan, whether in the office or on the football field. However, it’s the planning – and follow-through – of that plan that is the key to that success.