Internal Communication and Respect: Just as Important As External Relations

article-new-thumbnail_ehow_images_a01_ur_gr_win-employees-respect-800x800Have you ever been to a shop or a restaurant and spoken with a friendly, helpful manager – only to watch that manager turn around and speak rudely to his or her employees? At that moment, did the store or restaurant suddenly lose its credibility? Think about this situation and apply it to your own company: does your organization respect its employees as much as its external clients and partners?

Even for companies that prioritize customer service and external relations, it is essential to foster positive internal communication and respect for employees. Without a strong internal foundation, external relations can’t follow suit – and external contacts will notice fissures in an organization that has weak internal relations. Also, an organization likely will have less focus and lower quality outputs if internal staff does not communicate well or feel appreciated.

Here are a few strategies to consider for improving your company’s internal communication:

  • Invite different forms of communication.
    While certain employees might feel that a face-to-face discussion is the most effective way to communicate, others may be more comfortable with email correspondence. As management, suggest different forms of communication through which employees can reach you or their supervisors directly. In addition, resources such as staff-wide forums (online or in-person) or informal monthly gatherings keep multiple communication channels open – and set the tone for a culture of communication.
  • Provide clear solutions for problem solving.
    It is important for employees to know where to go or whom to speak with when issues arise in the office. Otherwise, small problems occasionally can grow into job-threatening issues. The most obvious solution is having a strong and approachable Human Resources department. Ensure that HR employees are at the top of their game through professional development training and conference opportunities
  • Promote interdepartmental communication.
    In most companies, various departments rely on one another to complete their own work, whether directly or indirectly. However, many departments end up working in silos with little to no understanding of the objectives of other teams in the same company – even those working right down the hallway. Through team-building solutions and company-wide events, promote interdepartmental communication.

    It is important for staff to understand how their work fits within the work of the whole company as well as how it contributes to the efforts of others. With a better collective understanding of the overarching institutional objectives and strategies, employees will be able to pinpoint how their work contributes to the company as a whole – thereby finding more meaning in their own work.

  • As management, find ways to respond to employees directly.
    Simply because of the overwhelming number of responsibilities for executive-level staff, it is often necessary for an assistant to respond to emails and manage the bulk of the communications. Occasionally, however, it is important for employees to be able to reach company leaders directly. Employees should know that upper management is aware of the work and that it matters to the success of the company. Even a brief encouraging email to a department or an acknowledgment on a first-name basis can make a difference.

 

 

The Art of Business Cards

Business cardWe have discussed business cards previously on the blog, asking whether the traditional card is on its way out in this digital age. While there certainly are many digital counterparts to the classic card, the truth is that physical business cards are still a very prominent part of contemporary business exchanges. In this blog post, we will address the art of the business card: from the card itself to the protocol of exchanging them.

The Look and Feel of a Business Card
The appearance of your business card matters greatly. Just like your own professional image, it can make or break a great first impression.

  • If your business card reflects your role within your company, the design of your card is more or less out of your hands. It should reflect the brand guidelines of your organization. Make sure that you know who organizes business card production in your company, so that you can let them know when you are running low on your supply.
  • If you have a personally branded card – whether you are a consultant, business owner, or prospective professional – ensure that the design looks professional.
  • The text should be in a legible font and size, properly justified to the card dimensions. Treat your own brand like that of a company: have clearly outlined brand guidelines that define the colour, font, sizing, and possible logo for all of your materials, including your cards, letterhead, and PowerPoint template.
  • If you do not have the skills or supplies at home to produce your own cards, have your business cards professionally printed and cut. Your card may look amateur if you do not have the know-how to create a crisp, clean cut. Choose a paper with a heavier weight, so that the card is sturdy and does not appear flimsy when held against other cards.
  • Match the design of your business card to the personality of your industry. Are you a graphic designer? Ensure that your card reflects your creativity and design expertise. Are you a Certified General Accountant? Then perhaps you may choose a simpler colour scheme or design concept.

The Art of the Exchange
Exchanging business cards is still an important step in forming a business relationship, and it is essential that you demonstrate Executive Presence when exchanging cards with someone.

  • In our new Introduction to Executive Presence Video Series, we outline several do’s and don’ts of how to exchange business cards properly.


    You can also watch the video here. Some of the finer points include:

  • Carry your business cards in a nice cardholder. This will prevent the cards from becoming dog-eared in your pocket or wallet. Also, when someone gives you his or her card, put it into your cardholder as well. They will notice you treating their card with respect and retaining it for future reference.
  • When someone gives you a card, be sure to take a brief moment to look at it before putting it away. Make this step easier for the other person by presenting your card face-up.
  • As you present your card, don’t rush. Carefully take the card out of the holder and present it with measured movements.

Outstanding Professional Skills Training for Graduate Students & Post-Doctoral Fellows

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 7.46.24 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 7.45.12 PMPost-graduate studies can provide an in-depth knowledge and expertise in a particular field. In any field, however, there is one common set of skills necessary for success: professional skills. Yet in many academic programs, there are few opportunities to refine these skills or enhance students’ abilities outside of the program requirements.

This is where the Mitacs Step program makes a difference. Mitacs Step provides professional skills development workshops for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows across Canada. The free workshops offered by Mitacs Step give students a competitive advantage as they launch their careers and enhance skills that will be necessary for a lifetime. Here at Corporate Class Inc., we excited to be part of this exceptional and accessible programming with our Business Etiquette and Networking Skills workshops in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

How Mitacs Step Lends a Competitive Advantage
The Mitacs Step program aims to build competencies for graduate and post-graduate students in four key areas that are recognized as essential for professional success. All of the Mitacs Step workshops address at least one of the following competencies; some address all four:

  • Leadership & Management
    From “big picture” management issues (such as influencing future outcomes, risks and impacts) to day-to-day organizational processes (such as planning, budgeting and performance management), participants learn skills necessary to lead and manage people and projects.
  • Communication & Relationship Building
    Working with people – and doing it well – is essential to success. Mitacs Step helps participants assess situations and communicate solutions, while fostering collaborative environments and offering constructive feedback to a team.
  • Personal & Professional Management
    For individual success, Mitacs Step aims to help students find self-management techniques to achieve their career and personal goals.

  • Entrepreneurialism
    Participants are encouraged to identify professional surroundings as a professional marketplace – then acquire the tools to take advantage of opportunities within that marketplace.

To address these four competencies, Mitacs Step offers a range of workshops that are hands-on and interactive and help students apply these skills to both academic and non-academic settings. Further, the workshops provide access to networking opportunities and industry expertise.

Corporate Class Inc. in the Mitacs Step Program
We are excited to be part of the Mitacs Step programming. With sessions on both Business Etiquette and Networking Skills, our team connects with graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in universities across Ontario and the Atlantic provinces.

  • Business Etiquette: This full-day workshop aims to increase awareness of how one’s actions and behaviours matter in building personal and professional relationships and reputation. The session begins with an overview on business etiquette. It then discusses the role of business etiquette in and out of the workplace environment, using technology appropriately, running and participating in effective meetings, and personal appearance.

    Click here to learn more about the learning objectives and key topic areas covered during the workshop.

  • Networking Skills: In the full-day Networking Skills session, participants gain insight on how to build and sustain professional relationships through effective networking. Participants then have the opportunity to try out the skills learned during the workshop during an in-session networking opportunity.

Click here to learn more about the learning objectives and key topic areas covered during the workshop.

We look forward to meeting you at one of the upcoming Mitacs Step workshops. For extraordinary skill development for emerging Canadian professionals, find a workshop here or share this link with a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow today!

Leadership Toolbox: Taking Initiative

Leadership Toolbox: Taking InitiativeAs part of our Leadership Toolbox series, we have explored how you can develop your leadership skills through effective communication and by facilitating efficient meetings. In this post, we’ll focus on one of the most basic traits of a leader: the ability to lead! Taking initiative is critical if you want to make a name for yourself in business. And if you don’t know where to start, do not panic: there are so many opportunities to take initiative in any organization. Below are just a few situations where you can step in and lead.

Making Organizational Improvements
We are creatures of habit, and often we can get stuck in a rut simply because we do not have the time, energy, or wherewithal to change our habits. The same goes for companies. Where in your organization can you see room for improvement – and an opportunity to take initiative?

  • System Improvements
    Does your company use a filing system that no longer makes any sense and resembles organized chaos? Or are you stuck with an outdated database system that restricts your company’s potential? These are two typical examples of systems that everyone would like to see improved, but no one wants to take on.Set aside a small amount of time every day to brainstorm how you can improve outdated systems. If the task is small enough that you can handle it yourself, take it on after gaining approval to revise a broken system. If not, develop a plan to distribute tasks among staff, so a large task is effectively managed across your organization.
  • Attitude Improvements
    Attitudes can get caught in a rut of negativity, often resulting in a pattern of inappropriate behaviours in the office. What is the culture like in your workplace? Do employees often gossip or speak negatively in the office? Is there room for improvement for employees to become effective brand ambassadors? If any of these situations sound familiar, it’s time to step in. Recommend and organize a staff training session or a Lunch and Learn to address persistently negative attitudes that ultimately may damage the workplace environment.
  • Appearance Improvements
    When left unmonitored, appearance – of both the office environment and of employee dress – can slowly become less and less professional. Look around your office: when was the last time the staff pitched in to tidy up? Are certain employees’ desks messier than others? Are employees dressing like every day is casual Friday? If this is the case, work with HR to clean things up: whether it is by organizing an office-wide cleaning day or implementing a standard dress code.

Taking on Tasks
There are certain tasks that no one seems to want to take on. Whether it is a long project with no perceived ending, a portfolio with difficult clients, or an assignment that will require extra hours in the office, these tasks always require a strong leader. Be that leader – and benefit from it:

  • If you lead, others will follow.
    Do not panic when you take up a daunting task. If you lead, others will follow! It will be up to you to determine how to move forward and to distribute work among others. But once the first steps are taken, the support of others will make the rest of the job easier.
  • Upward Mobility
    There are benefits to taking on those tasks no one else wants to handle: senior staff will notice, and they will take note that you can take on challenges within your organization. If you consistently demonstrate your leadership qualities, soon you may move up to become an official leader in your company.

Professional Presence: Actions and behaviours in the workplace

Nervous businessmanDoes your company have a great external presence but lacks professionalism and good communication internally? You’re not alone: many of our clients grapple with this troubling dynamic. While it is important to show the best side of your company to external contacts, smooth internal operations are equally as critical for a company’s success. Not only can bad behaviour and actions in the workplace foster a negative workplace environment and hinder employee efficiency, it also can begin to influence your external presence.

Encourage the best professional presence in your office by addressing internal issues upfront, even before they start. With this strategy, your Human Resources colleagues won’t have to address issues on a constant basis, and all employees in your office will function on the same understanding.

Below are a few examples of issues that we have come across in our trainings and conversations with clients, as well as reasons why they need to be addressed immediately and tactics on how to do so.

Breaching confidentiality
If a staff member inappropriately shares confidential information, not only is this disrespectful to the owner or person to whom the information pertains, but also it can put all parties involved at risk. Additionally, if the confidential material pertains to an external client or partner, it could put the whole business in jeopardy.

This issue needs to be addressed up front. Many companies outline their confidentiality policies in the hiring documentation. If this is not enough to deter employees from breaching the confidentiality policies, then ensure it is emphasized doubly through company-wide email or verbal reminders.

Inappropriate conversations in front of clients
Gossip, arguments, and other inappropriate conversations in the reception area where clients are waiting is an example of negative professional presence in the workplace – and one that can hinder your external relations as well. When clients overhear disrespectful, confidential, or confrontational dialogue in common spaces of the office, this will influence their relationship with your staff and perception of your company.

If employees do need to discuss and work out issues among themselves, schedule a due amount of time to address these in a private space. Advise employees against engaging in serious or inappropriate conversations in common areas.

Use of bad language
Bad language can find its way into office spaces. If employees feel comfortable and familiar with one another, they may begin to speak more casually – sometimes inappropriately – at the office.

While common understanding and strong relationships among colleagues is a good thing, swearing is decidedly not. CBS MoneyWatch published a great article this spring outlining the many reasons why employees should not swear at work, including the statistic that 80% of bosses reported that a cursing employee appears unprofessional, and that employers are less likely to promote staff members who swear.

Among other reasons, these alone should be enough to deter employees from swearing in the workplace. Ensure that your employees are aware of the potential harm that swearing could do to their potential for growth within the company.

Lack of dress code adherence
Like language, when attire becomes too casual in the workplace, it can project a lower standard of professionalism. This affects the internal environment, as an inappropriately dressed employee can send a signal that they are less serious and committed to a standard of excellence than others. Additionally, this is another internal faux-pas that can make its way externally: visiting clients, partners, and contacts will see a lower standard of dress in the office, and may associate this with your company’s business standards.

Again, this is an issue that should be addressed upfront with a company policy. For tips on how to get started and a few sample policies on various levels of dress code, check out our blog post on Top 3 Business Dress Code Policies You Can Implement Today.

A successful company has a great external presence as well as a strong and positive internal environment. Help your company rank among the best by fostering professional presence among your employees.

Scent-Free Offices: Notes on the why and how of implementing policies

Going “scent-free”: this is a policy that workplaces have begun to implement increasingly over the past several years. The policy, which requires employees and visitors to refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, or using other strongly scented products in an office, aims to acknowledge certain employees’ sensitivities and to create a healthy office environment where everyone can work comfortably.

Though this specific policy is a unique example, the reasons and practices for creating scent-free offices can serve as good general guidelines for implementing any workplace-wide policy. Has your office gone scent-free? What methods did your team use to implement the policy?

Why a scent-free policy?
A scent-free policy is a representative example of an issue that, while highly bothersome to certain people, may be entirely welcome by others. Yet if the best practices for implementing a policy are to be observed, the entire staff must be on board and follow the guidelines in order to create a workplace that is inviting and safe to all.

A standard of “all or nothing” must be set to maintain a physical space free of scent, which for some could trigger asthma, nausea, dizziness, headaches, or distraction, among other symptoms.

Some offices may even choose to implement such a policy even when there are no obvious scent sensitivities among full-time staff, in an effort to welcome an occasional client, partner, or other visitor who could not function comfortably in an environment with scents present.

What are best practices for implementing a policy, whether scent-free or otherwise?
For management, implementing a policy should never take the form of a single announcement that a new set of rules is to be followed at once. At minimum, staff should be forewarned of any company-wide changes before they are expected to follow them; if possible, staff should additionally be involved in decision-making and discussion about a policy.

In meetings or via email, staff should be given the opportunity to contribute to ironing out the details, timelines, and parameters of a policy. This kind of inclusion is important for making decisions that affect the entire workplace, not merely a few people.

Additionally, a policy should be written as a report and incorporated into a staff handbook or office manual, so that there are clear guidelines to follow. If employees have questions later, they can always refer back to the original document instead of functioning on guesswork.

What if you love to wear scents – and disagree with the policy?
Like any workplace guideline, whether it is a dress code or standardized work hours, the time to diverge from those guidelines would be solely on your own time and in your own space. Just as you might wear jeans or sleep in past 9:00 am on the weekends, the same context would apply for trying out your favourite perfumes. Reserve them for weekends or special occasions, to separate your work and life habits.

Additionally, be diplomatic: even if a policy such as a scent-free guideline does not fit within your personal preferences, it is important to acknowledge that such policies exist in order to improve the overall office environment and to accommodate the needs of every employee or visitor.