Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Managing Your Business’ Workload During The Holidays

The winter holidays offer a chance for employees and managers at your business to spend quality time with their families, decompress, and recharge their batteries. But for many businesses, December is the busiest time of year, and few can afford to shut down entirely for longer than a week. If you want to allow everyone at your company to enjoy a little time off, you’ll need a strategy to manage issues that may arise while you’re short-staffed.

Plan ahead.

If you can firm up details about the availability of your staff and co-workers well ahead of the
holiday season, you’ll be able to design your schedule with greater precision. This will help you avoid the stress of trying to fill in gaps at critical times, and allow you and your staff to set your holiday itineraries. This is especially important if you, or any of your employees or co-workers, hopes to travel.

Rotate on-call responsibility.

Work out a plan to share phone- and e-mail-answering duties, and allow for some flexibility. Draw straws or flip a coin for those occasions that are unlikely to entice many enthusiastic volunteers (like the morning of December 25, or the morning of January 1). Set up shifts, and make sure everyone is aware of when h/er shift begins and ends. To save time and energy on tasks that run across multiple shifts, the person who initiated the work should send an e-mail to the other staff describing the assignment, and what remains to be done. If you shut down your business for a few days, create answering machine messages and automated e-mails to let clients and customers know when they can expect you to return to work.

Share the load.

If there are assignments that need to get finished during the holiday season, try to divide the tasks so that no one feels overburdened. You can do this for both work-related and domestic chores—like decorating the house, cooking, and organizing for holiday parties and social events. Share and delegate!

Design an effective online contact/order form.

An online contact form, with fields that allow clients and customers to describe what they need in detail, can be a great asset during the holidays; it allows you to automate orders so that no one must respond in real time. While designing your form, keep economy of customer/client effort in mind. In other words, the form fields should provide space for essential information, with an optional field for notes. Overly wordy or complicated contact/order forms tend to dissuade prospective form-fillers, who may just prefer to wait—or take their business elsewhere.

Complete generic or non-time-sensitive tasks in advance.

Your holiday consists of precious moments, not surplus time. If your work involves weekly blog or social media posts, for example, prepare a few in advance so you can simply click “Publish” when you need to. Dedicate your spare time to completing assignments before you take a holiday, and you’ll free up additional time for family, friends, and valuable relaxation during that holiday.

Live in the moment and enjoy yourself.

If you’ve set aside a few hours for family and fun activities, don’t taint them by worrying about work. Leave your job behind and enjoy the holiday experience.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Negotiate From a Position Of Strength

In business, as in life, your skills as a negotiator will occasionally be tested. By concentrating on five fundamentals in particular—preparation, factual agreement, rapport, active listening, and common interests—you can greatly improve your prospects for success.

A negotiation strategy can’t succeed in advance, but it can fail in advance.

There is arguably no more important component of a negotiation strategy than preparation.

Start by envisioning the negotiated outcome to which you aspire, and understand why it is desirable for you. Identify your must-haves. This will enable you to distinguish areas where you are willing to compromise, from areas where you are determined to stand firm.

Your preparations for a negotiation should include research into the other party and h/er interests. Try to identify the outcome the other party desires, and issues on which you think s/he may be willing to compromise.

Finally, it is important that you clarify the terms and process of a negotiation at the outset. Who will be present at the meetings? How long are the negotiations anticipated to last? What does the other party’s chain of command look like, and who will sign off on the final decision? Are there key dates upcoming, deadlines, or other technical details that need to be established?

Make sure the other party is willing to agree, in writing, to the terms of the negotiated outcome. You want to avoid a situation where the other party unilaterally re-opens negotiations that you thought had concluded.

Establish consensus on key facts.

Negotiations tend to be deliberate and can be mentally taxing, so it’s helpful to reach agreement on the facts, and thereby avoid unnecessary discord and delays.

Over the course of the negotiations, information may come to light that is new to you. Should this occur, make a note of it and try to verify it. Call for a pause in the negotiations if necessary. Don’t accept a consequential “fact” that you don’t know is true, or an interpretation of reality you can’t endorse.

Just as importantly, both parties to a negotiation must have realistic expectations—including an understanding of the conditions that each party faces.

If, for example, a manufacturing subcontractor cannot fill an order because h/er factory has sustained significant damage in an earthquake, a well-informed manager of the retail firm that placed the order won’t attribute the shortfall to the subcontractor’s incompetence or negligence. A shared understanding of facts on the ground, including risks and potential causes of delay, is often essential to maintaining positive professional relationships.

Build rapport.

This involves getting to know one another personally, ensuring that all parties are on the same page, and managing or de-escalating conflicts. Rapport has verbal and non-verbal components; body language plays a central role.

Progress in negotiations tends to be especially difficult when there is hostility between the parties. Small talk can help to break the ice, but in some cases, this approach simply won’t be adequate. Some basic conflict management techniques can help you move forward in negotiations, even if you aren’t particularly fond of your counterpart.

  Avoid making provocative statements that may cause your counterpart to shut down or become defensive.

  If your counterpart makes such a provocative statement, express your lack of appreciation therefor, but suppress the temptation to retaliate in kind.

  Maintain non-threatening physical posture and body language. Speak calmly and slowly, and de-personalize the source of conflict—for example, “This situation makes me uncomfortable.” rather than “You are making me uncomfortable.”

  If necessary, take a break, and return to the topic of contention once you and your counterpart have both had an opportunity to regain composure.

Listen actively.

Active, attentive listening enables you to ascertain your counterpart’s wants, needs, goals, and any other relevant information s/he may have to offer. It also allows you to hold h/er accountable for any changes in h/er position that you haven’t acknowledged or agreed to. Your priority in negotiations should not be to catch your counterpart off-guard, to exert control, or even to “win”. Rather, your main aim should be to safeguard your own interests with an approach that emphasizes listening, critical thinking, and strategic dialogue.

Seek out common interests.

Ultimately, the goal of all parties to a negotiation is the same: to obtain something they desire, while sacrificing as little as possible. Because desirability is partly subjective, successful negotiations among equal partners can often result in a “win-win”.

A sure way to achieve real, substantive progress in a negotiation is by focusing on shared interests and ambitions. Once you know where your common interests lie, you will find it easier to iron out the details of any compromises that may be necessary.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Website Translation Advice

There’s a lot of truth the to statement that we live in a global village. Technologies like the internet, social media, large-scale shipping, and commercial airliners have dramatically reduced the effective distance between countries and continents—facilitating communication, trade, and travel to an unprecedented degree. For businesses, this offers a world of opportunity to engage with prospective clients and customers all around the globe.

Nonetheless, entrepreneurs and businesses who hope to outfox their rivals need to ensure they’ve got the right tools in place. And one of the most crucial must-haves for enterprises looking to expand overseas is a website that offers comparable content and functionality in various languages.

Hire a professional translator and/or reputable translation firm.

If you’ve ever attempted to translate lengthy passages with Google Translate, you may have noticed that flaws tend to crop up in the English version. There are many reasons for this: certain idioms don’t work well in English, cultural concepts expressed in other languages are difficult to convey in English, the software fails to correctly distinguish one homonym from another or misinterprets the context of the sentence, etc.

Assuming you want the content of your business website to convey a comparable level of meaning and impact in multiple languages—including some that you don’t happen to speak at an advanced level—you should strongly consider hiring reputable, professional translators to assist you.

Before choosing a translation firm, do some research and try to find testimonials from past clients. Seek firms that either specialize in or have native proficiency in your target language. Ideally, the translators you hire will also possess specific cultural expertise, and have the ability to operate on a 24-hour cycle for time-sensitive assignments.

An anecdote: I have a friend who works at an organization that opted to switch from the translation company it had traditionally worked with, to an outfit that offered a lower price for (ostensibly) the same work. As a native speaker of the target language, my friend noticed that the lower-priced enterprise’s content was replete with mistranslations and other errors. Unfortunately, by that time it was too late; my friend’s organization had already ordered thousands of copies of their newly translated brochures. Although the errors were eventually corrected (with my friend’s help), her organization ended up wasting significant amounts of money, time, and paper.

The moral of the story is, be vigilant, and make sure you’re not sacrificing quality at the altar of a seemingly attractive price.

Cultural appropriateness.

There’s more to effective translation than simply altering the words on your web page. Depending on the scale and importance of the target market, you’ll also want to consider ways to make your website’s content culturally relevant and appropriate for your new customers.

If certain imagery doesn’t work, messages in your original content are culturally specific and don’t transfer well to other countries, or for any reason your English-language material doesn’t address the needs and priorities of your target market, then the translation firm should be able to alert you to the problem and offer a viable solution.

As your dealings with international markets become more sophisticated, you may also want to select stock photos and symbols that are likelier to resonate with customers overseas. Furthermore, customers may feel more comfortable with your brand if they see a resemblance to themselves in some of the people whose likenesses appear on your website.

Watch out for possible issues with site architecture and navigation.

As you translate from one language to several others, you will inevitably find that the same content in different languages will occupy different amounts of physical space on the website. This can introduce problems with the layout of the pages, and the ability of visitors to navigate smoothly and efficiently.

This is one of several reasons why it’s important to run reasonably thorough quality assurance tests before you launch new content on a foreign-language version of your website.

Technical glitches are a fact of modern life, and problems will almost certainly arise with any major online translation project. But if you succeed at making inroads into lucrative foreign markets, you’ll be rewarded for your patience and perseverance.