Friday, April 30, 2010

New Freebie for Non-Profits

I've just posted a new eBook in the Freebies section of my website titled Non-Profit Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

It's my notes from the presentation I gave yesterday to the Jackson Non-Profit Support Network about simple ways non-profits can improve their marketing without spending a ton of money.

Thanks, Regina, for the opportunity to speak to your group. They are doing important work and I was glad to have this opportunity to support them.

If you're in a non-profit or know someone running a non-profit, click here to see what I said.


PS Printing more than one copy – or distributing the free eBooks electronically – is not only legal, but is actively encouraged. Please share the documents in the Freebies Section with anyone you think would benefit. Pass them along to coworkers, colleagues and friends with my blessing. You may also reprint the text in your own writings as long as you credit the author (me:-).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Employee Handbooks - Do You Have One?

I created quite a stir in ASTRALand last week. Someone posted the question on the listserve about employee handbooks. In my reply I offered to send a copy of our handbook and training checklist to anyone who wanted it. In short order I had 45 requests for copies of our handbook.

Apparently, handbooks are a hot topic in the independent toy world.

Do you have one for your employees?

If you don't, the good news is that they aren't as complicated as you think. The hardest part is getting started. Here's what to do...

Write your manual on your computer.
Do a little at a time.
Update it every time you hire someone new or notice something you missed.
Give everyone a new copy of any section that changes (keeps it relevant).

It doesn't have to be a complete and polished document on day one. It can be a work in progress.

Here are some of the things you should include:
  • Employment Policies - the basics of employment like Dress Codes, Vacation, Holiday & Sick Pay, Maternity Leave, Jury Duty, Payroll, Safety Policies, Emergency Procedures, Terminations, etc. (Yeah, it seems like a lot, but do it one heading at a time and it won't take long.)
  • Store Procedures - this is where you list all the services you offer and the how's & why's of each service
  • Special Services - If you have certain services that require extra explanation, make a separate section for each, such as Cash Registers, Layaways, etc.
  • Training & Evaluation - Spell out how you will train and evaluate your employees.
  • Forms & Paperwork - If you have special paperwork or forms that need to be filled out, show how to do it properly.
There are many reasons to have a handbook like this.
  • Having written policies protects you when terminating someone for violating a policy
  • The handbook becomes an extra tool for training new employees. Not everyone learns the same way.
  • Putting your policies in writing forces you to evaluate why and how you do them, which helps you make your services better
Once you get it written, have your attorney look it over to make sure you aren't doing anything blatantly illegal. And make sure you look it over every few months to see if anything has changed.

Employee handbooks are valuable to any business whether you have one or one hundred employees. Dust yours off and see if it has what it needs to be effective for you. And if you don't have a handbook, send me an email and I'll send you back what I do. You can use it as a template or reminder of which topics to include.


PS I also sprinkle in a full dose of our store philosophies including our Character Diamond, and a section of difficult situations we encounter regularly and how to deal with them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'm Hiring Part 4 - The Interviews and the Aftermath

I asked each applicant to, "bring in one item that best represents you and be prepared to explain why."

All 14 did an excellent job with this exercise, and the insights it gave me into what really makes them tick was well worth the effort. It also gave them one question for which they could be prepared, which helped some of them with their nerves.

Sure, you can argue that I got canned, prepared answers. But I would argue back that for the most part, I got honest, insightful answers that in some cases told me all I need to know and the canned answers are also quite telling. Plus, some of their answers led me to better questions than I had even prepared.

Mostly, however, we focused on behavioral-based questions that involved specific details of how they handled certain events in their past. Questions like...
Tell me about a time when you made a lasting, positive impression on a customer.
What is the most difficult decision you have ever had to make?
Describe your most remarkable achievement at work.
After each interview I gave myself a couple minutes to quickly write down first impressions. Sometimes that first impression was simply "No". No sense wasting an extra minute of your time on someone who doesn't fit the bill.

It didn't take long to get from 14 down to 6. But I only needed three. How do you separate the rest? Reference calls.

I started by calling past employers. This is always tricky. They rarely give you anything but the run-around (especially chain stores). But there is a way to get around that. I will often ask if the person answering the phone knew the applicant. You can often tell from their response exactly what they thought about the applicant. One of my best hires was a gal that when I called her previous employer, the receptionist asked me how she was and how much they all missed her. From that little tidbit, I knew she would get along well with others.

If that isn't enough (although it usually is) I would call their personal references.

Lastly, I prioritized the remaining 6 by comparing them side by side. Then it was simply doing that most favorite part of my job - calling and offering someone a job. My top 3 accepted. Two of them start tomorrow:-)


PS Everyone that interviewed received either a personal call or letter explaining that they did not make the cut. I believe they deserve that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm Hiring Part 3 - Who to Interview?

This is Part 3 in my quest to find the next great employee. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

In three weeks I have received 79 applications. I need to get that down to a more manageable number before I start interviews. Here are some of the steps I have taken to weed through the potential applicants to get my list of candidates to interview.

First, to make it on our team you have to get past the front line. When you turn in an application, the sales person accepting the application initials it. If she thinks to herself, "I really hope Phil doesn't hire this person," she'll also mark the application with a simple "N".

Any application with that "N" is done. Hey, if my staff doesn't want to work with them, why would I want them on the team?

Second, I scrutinize each application. Any app not completely filled out also goes in the NO pile. Any app with major misspellings or extremely sloppy handwriting also gets yanked. If they do sloppy work there, you can bet they'll do sloppy work on the job.

Surprisingly, this usually weeds out 60-70% of the applicants (yeah, you'd think people would be more careful, but they often are not). The remaining applicants get a second level of scrutinizing.

At this level I'm looking at availability (our application has a place for them to list what days/hours they can work). Anyone with limited availability that doesn't fit my needs gets tossed.

I'm also looking at their work history. Not so much for experience, but for the other signs it shows such as...
  • Loyalty - did they work at one place for a long time or bounce around from job to job?
  • Work Environment - do they prefer working in office settings, factory/warehouse or in front of the general public? With kids? With seniors? In a team setting or by themselves? These are more important to me than what they did. I need people comfortable working in front of the general public.
  • Gaps in Employment - what did they do during those gaps? Did they leave on their own accord? Did they leave for another opportunity?
  • Reasons for Leaving - I actually had an applicant who listed for all four previous jobs her reason for leaving as "had problems with the boss". Sorry, honey, the bosses weren't the problems.
Finally, I take the pile of potentials left and do a quick background check via the Internet, looking at the free public records available through our District Court and State of Michigan Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS). You'll be surprised how easy it is to find all kinds of information on your potentials. This time around I eliminated three applicants because of their court records - problems I just didn't want to bring around here.

The goal of all these steps is to eliminate as many applicants as possible so as not to waste any unnecessary time interviewing applicants you won't want. Your time is precious, so the interview should be only for people with the greatest potential.

Out of 79 applications, 65 received letters saying...

Thank you for applying to the Toy House. We have received many qualified applicants but have only limited space available to hire new employees and do not have a position available for you at this time.

We will keep your application on file for one year should our needs change in the future.

Once again, thank you for applying and good luck in your employment search.

Fourteen lucky people got scheduled for interviews.

In Part 4 I'll tell you how the interviews went.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

How Much Are You Giving?

Wal-Mart recently announced that it gave $467 million in charitable donations of cash & in-kind gifts to non-profits last year.

Some people will read that and say, "Wow, that's a lot of money! Way to go Wal-Mart!"

Others will do the math and see that with $401 billion in annual sales for 2009, Wal-Mart's donations to charity were a paltry 00.12% of revenue. "Geez Wal-Mart, is that all you have to give?"

The bigger question is... Where do you stand? Did you give more or less as a percentage? Are you supporting the non-profits in your town? Are you giving more than 00.12% or are you letting Wal-Mart take the high ground?

I only ask because $467 million is a big number and people like big numbers. You're not making enough to give that much, but percentage-wise I'm betting you give more. Add it up and see where you stand. If you're higher, you need to let the community know that supporting you supports them, too. If you're lower, you have to ask if you're doing your part to support your community. If nothing else, I guarantee that number will be enlightening.


PS Full disclosure... for 2009 our charitable donations including cash & products totaled 0.55% of revenue - and yeah, I think that's too low.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Comments, Anyone?

Apparently some of you have tried to leave comments on my blogs but had problems. Oops! That's not good manners on my part. Sorry.

I think I solved the problem.

Could you please try to leave a comment on this post so that I know if it is working?? (And if you can't, send me an email.)

Thanks bunches!