Posted July 17, 2012on:
Competition is everywhere these days: in academics, in sports at all levels, in our everyday lives (maybe a little too much so), and especially in business. Businesses compete for customers, for talented employees, and sometimes for survival. All that competition keeps businesses running efficiently and helps spur innovation that leads to new products and features.
This question is how you can harness the power of competition within your company. It’s a trickier balance than many types of competition, in that you’ll want to make sure that whoever “loses” doesn’t feel like, well, a loser: they’re still your employees, after all, and you don’t want to wind up doing more harm than good. But done right, internal competitions of many kinds can give a boost to innovation, performance, and employee morale.
How can you use internal competitions?
There are plenty of answers – but here are some of our favorites.
- One of the most familiar types of competition is in sales departments, which routinely have bonuses for top performers using different metrics. But that’s hardly cutting-edge: since so many salespeople are paid on commission, rewards for performance are simply expected in many cases. (One twist that BuyerZone uses: “hidden” awards for specific sales metrics that aren’t announced until the award ceremony. That keeps the sales team from focusing too intently on one particular metric in pursuit of an award.)But what about recognizing top performers in other ways? Not just “employee of the month” — although those can be fine, they frequently have problems. Instead, create specific awards for different departments or roles. “Marketing MVP of the quarter” for the best new campaign, or “best happy followup email from an originally unhappy customer” for call center employees, for example. Whatever the specifics, make sure the exact requirements are clearly defined so everyone knows who’s eligible and what they need to do to win.
- Competitions don’t have to be recurring monthly or quarterly awards, either. Big company projects like new product launches, opening new territories or locations, or new technology rollouts can all create opportunities to recognize the employee who does the most to help with the project.
- Some types of creative projects practically invite internal competition: working on a new tagline, logo, or ad campaign? Solicit entries from across the business. Sharing an idea doesn’t require a huge time commitment, and even though the ideas you get won’t be fully polished, they can provide great building blocks in addition to creating a sense of excitement around the company. Same goes for naming new products, decorating a workspace for a holiday, or other types of brainstorming/creative projects.
Choosing the right prizes
One of the most important considerations in running internal competitions is the prize for the winner or winners. They can run the gamut, from the most straightforward – cash – to more creative, like privileged parking, meals made and delivered by management, event tickets… the list is endless. The real trick is matching the value of the prize to the seriousness of the contest. If you’re running a fun naming contest, a $50 gift card or a nice parking spot for a few months is plenty: it’s just a recognition. On the other hand, if the contest involves sustained effort over a longer period of time, the award had better be more substantial.
Mismatching the competition to prize value in either direction can cause serious problems. A small-scale contest with a huge prize means your employees will invest way too much time and effort in something that’s supposed to be a fun diversion; a significant contest with an undervalued reward can lead to disillusioned winners and a lack of participation.
The bottom line
Competitions are tricky. Done well, they can be a great way to motivate your staff; handled poorly and they can cause serious hassles and disruption around the office. It’s worth taking some extra time to review any planned competition with an HR specialist as well as someone who’s done them before, just to make sure you’re not missing anything.
Have any great competitions at your business? Let us know in the comments.
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One of BuyerZone’s core values is “Test, measure, repeat.” The idea is that there are always better ways to do things – from the tiniest changes in the color of a button or the text of a headline, to total changes of core business practices – so we should always be testing new approaches.
When testing new ideas, though, there are many kinds of mistakes that can cancel out your efforts. Here are 7 testing mistakes to avoid as you’re trying new tactics or approaches for your business.
1. Not defining metrics clearly.
Whatever your test is, it’s essential to be able to measure the results before and after (or with and without the change, if you’re doing simultaneous A/B testing). Sometimes the metrics are obvious: did the new button get more clicks? Does a new process speed up production time? But often, they’re not as clear, or there are multiple metrics to consider. Does a new style email get more clicks, more opens, more purchases, more subscribers, or more forwards? What if a new price point gets you 10% more revenue overall, but 5% fewer customers purchasing? Make sure you know both what metrics you’ll be tracking and what will define a successful test.
Contracts large and small are a fact of doing business. Once you’ve settled on the basic terms of an agreement, the contract spells them all out, as well as all kinds of other details you may not have considered. And while most people you do business with aren’t out to fleece you, there are some contract surprises that might be buried in the fine print of your next contract.
In most cases, the surprises aren’t deliberate deception. The most common problems stem from each party seeing the transaction differently. Of course, there are those few companies who will unscrupulously try to get a little extra money out of you by using some of these tricks, too.
The most important point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to edit and return contracts before signing them. There’s always room for negotiation. And as always, lengthy or complicated contracts should be reviewed by a lawyer once they’re finalized.
Unfavorable renewal terms
Automatic renewals are a fairly common feature of many service contracts, and can make for a smooth ongoing relationship between the respective parties. However, they can also cause problems, especially if the cancellation window is very narrow. Consider asking the vendor to omit automatic renewals for the first term of your agreement, to let both parties get accustomed to the relationship. Also make sure that at the end of each term, either party has the ability to end the relationship.
A related stumbling block is extensions. Often, long-term contracts can be renewed or extended fairly easily – but watch out. In some cases, if you want to add a month or two to the end of a multi-year contract, you’ll wind up with much less favorable terms. If you’re unsure of your exact timeline, be sure the various extension options are spelled out clearly.
Early cancellation fees are common – if you sign a two-year agreement, it’s fair to penalize you for canceling after a year and a half. Just make sure the specific penalties are detailed in the contract just in case it comes up.
Only in the intimidating legal language of contracts could another party get away with redefining a month as 28 days, or a year as 13 months. It happens! These alternative calendars may be legitimately included to try to simplify costs or schedules, but usually wind up overly complicating matters. Stick to the same calendar the rest of the world uses.
Vague substitution clauses
The more details spelled out in your contract, the better. This applies to all aspects of the contract: costs, terms, responsibilities, materials, and approvals. Phrases like “or similar materials” can be dangerous. If some components haven’t been specified when the contract is signed, that’s fine, just make sure that you have final approval as decisions are made.
Incomplete cost listings
Contract-based purchases often include multiple charges, so it’s easy to overlook some costs. Make sure that all applicable charges are included:
- setup / integration
- maintenance / repairs
- warranties / guarantees
- support and service levels
- annual fees
Don’t accept “reasonable delivery charges” or similarly vague constructions: have the other party include exact charges or rates for each item listed. Some vendors will demand pricing flexibility in case their costs rise – limit those types of changes to contract renewal time.
It can seem awkward to plan for the end of a relationship when it’s just getting started, but it is a good idea. It’s essential for business services like hosted applications, call centers, and other professional services: in any situation where another party has access to your critical business data, make sure the contract specifies how they’ll return that information to you, and how quickly they have to do it.
In other cases, look for clauses that specify costs and timetables for removing equipment at the end of a contract. And for long-term contracts, make sure either party can end the agreement for any reason – once you’re beyond an initial term, there’s no reason to lock the agreement in place for long periods.
When you need some extra help at the office but you’re not ready to hire a full time staffer, it’s not always easy to know what type of offer you should make. A contractor? A temp? Or even an intern? Here’s a look at how to decide which type of relationship is right for you.
What do the different labels mean?
The differences between the various types of non-permanent employees center on how they’re paid and their relationship to the hiring company.
- Temporary workers are usually employed by an agency. You pay the agency, and the agency pays the worker after taking a cut. Their benefits, if any, are provided by the agency. Their employment can be full or part time, but is always finite: they are hired for a particular project or time period.
- Contractors or freelancers are usually employed directly by the hiring firm, but also work for specific time periods or projects, and don’t receive benefits. The other key differences – according to the IRS – are that they work somewhat independently and have financial responsibility for themselves. If you meet federal and local guidelines for hiring contractors, you don’t have to pay unemployment insurance, payroll tax, and other costs normally associated with employees.
- Interns are generally employed for a semester or a summer. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and rarely include benefits. The focus is on providing a student with experience and connections that can help them in their future career.
Benefits and drawbacks
There are two key reasons to use temps: they’re inexpensive, and they can be hired for as little time as you need them. The main drawbacks are that they’re usually looking for other work, so they can disappear with little notice, leaving you in the lurch again. It can also be hard to find temps for more specialized work.
In contrast to temps, contractors or freelancers are often contracting by choice – they like the flexibility or the ability to take different jobs. They’re generally more dependable for longer contracts: months- or even years-long assignments are the norm in some industries. But experienced contractors can be expensive, and some will only book jobs over a certain minimum length.
Interns can be the cheapest of all — free, in some cases. The main tradeoff is that you’re expected to provide guidance and learning opportunities: while interns should expect to get some of the low-end grunt work, you also have to offer them chances to build their skills and learn more about their chosen field. And of course, you’re hiring young, inexperienced workers, so there can be quite a bit of training required to get them up to speed.
Going permanent eventually?
The “temp to perm” transition is a tactic many companies use when hiring. It lets you get to know an employee’s strengths and weaknesses while they’re working for you on a temporary basis. If they’re not up to your standards, you can just let them go when their contract expires — without the hassles that can be involved in terminating a full time employee. If they do measure up, they already know your workplace and how to get the job done, so they’re ready to dive in when you make the transition.
Temps and interns are both good candidates for temp to perm employment. As mentioned above, some contractors really prefer freelance work, so they might accept a full-time offer. The key is setting expectations when you hire someone on a temporary basis: if you’re considering temp to perm, let the new hire know in advance and be sure not to promise anything.
Being a smart buyer for your business sometimes means saving money on an initial purchase, sometimes spending a little more up front to save in the long term, and sometimes coming up with creative ways not to spend at all. The most savvy shoppers know how to balance all three options. Here are five tactics to consider as you plan your 2012 spending.
- Plan for the cloud - from software like your CRM or recruiting software to essential services like your phone system, more and more applications are moving to the cloud. Instead of running servers in your office–and the associated costs to keep them updated, powered, cooled, and secure–you access the apps over the network and let a provider handle the hard work of running the back end. You can call it SaaS or hosted services if you like–but whatever you call it, cloud-based computing is making rapid gains in many industries due to the significant cost savings and flexibility it provides.
- Think about outsourcing – From simple call answering services to PEO services that handle all of your HR work, there are loads of specialized providers who can take on specific pieces of your workload, allowing you to focus on your primary business. In many cases this kind of outsourcing is cheaper and can be more effective than hiring additional staff in-house. Here’s some help on how to decide what to outsource.
- Cut travel expenses - At many companies, travel budgets have been shrinking for years, and with good reason. Expensive travel to meet with one customer or partner is much harder to justify in the days of affordable video conferencing, screen sharing, and a wide variety of other communication options.Don’t get too aggressive with this savings, though. Conferences and large-scale public events are often worth the expense if your employees can make valuable connections with new prospects. As always, the trick is to balance the total opportunity with the costs.
- Upgrade your phone system – Telecommunications upgrades can be expensive–but eventually, you’ll need to replace an outdated or underpowered system. Next time you do, you should absolutely expect to move to either VoIP or a fully hosted phone system. VoIP uses data networks to handle your calls; they can save you considerable amounts of money on inter-office calling and provide easy access to advanced features like screen pops and unified communications. Hosted phone systems go one step further, using cloud-based servers (as described above) to handle VoIP calls, so you don’t even have to have a VoIP server in a telecom closet.Either one can help you save considerably on your phone bills while giving you access to the latest phone system features.
- Negotiate everything - Sometimes, saving money isn’t about one big purchase–it’s about saving a little on every purchase. Almost any B2B purchase can be negotiated, either for reduce cost or extra freebies. Need tips? Here are five ways to be a better negotiator.
Whether you’re looking forward to your annual rollicking good time or dreading the yearly snooze-fest, the company holiday party is a December staple for businesses small and large. It’s also the cause of all kinds of unintentional problems that can range from Monday morning embarrassment to an unpleasant meeting with HR. And even if you think it went great, you could inadvertently damage your image.
Before you head off to your company party, consider these common mistakes — and maybe you won’t be the one everyone’s talking about afterwards.
- Inappropriate drinking. By far the number one problem at holiday parties – and the cause of many of the other mistakes. We’re not suggesting you abstain altogether, unless you want to. Try this: however much you’d drink if you were out with friends, drink half as much. Order a water, or a soda with lime, or a Shirley Temple if you have to, in between each actual drink. And when the boss starts ordering rounds of shots (Is that just a BuyerZone thing?) … duck out to the bathroom.
- Not dressing for the situation. There are two factors at play here. The first is simple staying appropriate: no matter how cute that miniskirt looks, think about how appropriate it is for a work event. The second is the location: some holiday parties take place in venues that are dressier than a typical business casual office. Other parties may take place at spots where a more casual look fits in. Take a few minutes to check out the venue and talk to your coworkers to avoid over- or under-dressing.
- Bringing uninvited guests. If you’re allowed to bring guests at all, consider yourself lucky — not all companies invite spouses or other guests. But whatever the policy, don’t push it. Don’t bring an extra friend, a former co-worker who just wants to see their old friends, or anyone you didn’t specifically RSVP for.
- Talking shop all night. It’s easy to fall back on work as a topic of conversation, especially when you wind up talking to someone you don’t really know well. While you don’t have to forbid yourself from talking about work, it’ll feel more like a party if you can move the conversation in a slightly different direction.
- Losing track of boundaries. When you are talking about work, be aware of who you’re talking to and who you’re talking about. In a party situation it’s easy to slip into gossip, complaining, or badmouthing other employees — and if you have had a couple of drinks, it’s easy to wind up saying something that gets overheard or passed along to the wrong person.
- Not planning for after the party. Two pieces here: one is simply getting home safely. Take a cab, public transportation, or organize a carpool so anyone who’s drinking isn’t driving. The second is thinking about the next day: do you have an early morning meeting or call? Maybe you should call it an early night. If it’s going to be a late one, can you take the following day off? A little advance planning goes a long way.
- Getting romantic. No matter what — even if you and Mindy from accounting suddenly realize you’ve been crushing on each other for months, and you’re both single, and you think you can sneak off from the main party — any kind of romantic entanglements are completely inappropriate. You’re a) probably not as sneaky as you think you are, and b) likely to wind up the subject of office gossip and/or scorn for a long time to come. Just don’t take any chances – you’ve got the rest of the year to work on your social life.
- Inappropriate drinking. Yeah we’ll say it again. In addition to alternating drinks with non-alcoholic beverages, consider the overall inebriation level of the party. Some companies are just more free-spirited than others — but whatever’s “normal” at your event, try to stay near the middle of the group. Even in a group that parties hard, you don’t want to be the guy that partied that hard.
With flashy TV ads inviting home users to “move to the cloud” and the widespread popularity of services like Salesforce, and Amazon’s S3, the concept of cloud computing is everywhere these days. But what does it really mean – and should your business be taking advantage?
Cloud computing in a nutshell
As often happens with emerging technologies, the term cloud computing means different things to different people – particularly among competing cloud service providers. The general sense is clear: cloud computing is using external computers to handle some of your IT work. Whether that means just remote servers or more traditional hosted applications is up for some debate, but the term is often used to mean any kind of remote IT service, from simple data backup to virtual servers to hosted apps.
What services are available through cloud computing?
Simply put? Almost anything you do on a computer. Some are primarily for IT departments or companies that sell software: distributed web or database hosting, APIs and web services, and even the old familiar remote backup service.