Category Archives: best manager blog

We’re going to be doing a little redecorating around here, but it’s all good!



On April 23rd, when you come to the blog, you will be redirected to our new parent company blog on  Don’t worry though! First of all, you won’t need to do anything differently – you’ll just automatically go to the new location. Second, we know you have come to enjoy and depend on the content we publish here and our goal is to continue to provide interesting, thought-provoking and helpful blog posts from industry-leading experts as well as our staff. The only thing that’s changing, really, is the URL.


For our dedicated audience who request the Better Managers Blog be sent to them via email, we will continue to do so. No change is necessary on your part. Also, we’d love to stay engaged with you on our social media platforms as well.  Follow and like us by clicking on the icons below.


Thank you for your loyalty to our brand, products and blog.  We’re excited to bring you more great content, news and helpful advice from our new location!

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New Year’s Resolutions

man jumping over 2014

I always think of a new year as a time that brings new hopes and goals. It provides me with an outlet to stop and think about what I want to achieve throughout the year. However, in my experience I’ve learned if my goals are too unrealistic, it has led to failure. Yet, when I’ve developed reachable goals, it has given me a better chance to succeed. As you know, making realistic New Year’s resolutions is also important in business. Here are 6 ideas to assist you when making your New Year’s resolutions.

1. Management/Leadership
Example: “In 2014, I would like to improve my relationship with my staff.”
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.” I believe this quote applies to all type of leaders. I once worked for a company that had their employees anonymously write-up an evaluation on their managers. I always thought this was such a great idea. I mean, how else would a manager know how to improve their leadership skills? Listening and receiving feedback from staff provides a better understanding on which management skills need improvement. Taking the extra time to work on becoming a better manager or leader is important for everyone. There are even social online classes that teach management skills including how to organize and plan ahead, how to communicate effectively, and how to motivate employees. Learning from and talking with peers is also a great method.

2. Customer Service
Example: “This year I want to receive better reviews from customers on our service.”
With so much competition in the restaurant and retail industry, having great customer service is vital. So, how do you obtain great customer service? We know that ensuring proper training of staff is key. This not only includes training new staff, but also ongoing training for the entire staff either with in-store training and/or social e-learning courses. Secondly, I’ve experienced that how you treat your staff can have a direct impact on customer service. Creating a good work environment where the staff feels respected and rewarded helps attribute to providing great customer service. Another important way to improve customer service is to listen to customers and receive their feedback. Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” When I eat out at restaurants with my family and the manager walks over to our table and asks, “How is everything?” My husband always makes it a point to give them feedback instead of just saying, “Good.” And as I’m sure you’re well aware, there are many customers out there just like him. Sure, many times all you will get is a “good”, but whether it’s positive or negative feedback, it is always helpful to hear what is working and what can be improved. Last but not least, it’s always nice to go that extra mile for customers. If they leave your business feeling like they had a wonderful experience, they will become loyal customers and refer your business to others.

3. Technology
Example: “In 2014, I want my restaurant to run more efficiently.”
A new year calls for new technology. Technology is becoming more and more popular with both restaurants and retail. Nowadays, in order to compete with other businesses, adding technology has become quite the necessity. I have interviewed many restaurant managers who have raved about how technology has allowed them to spend less time in the back office, and more time on the “front lines” engaging with customers and spending time with their staff. They say that it helps their restaurants run smoothly, improves staff morale, and most importantly, increases profits. Whether it’s improving inventory count, back-office organization, shift scheduling, or hiring, technology can be a managers’ best friend.

4. Marketing
Example, “This year I want to increase traffic to my business by 10%.”
Speaking of technology, marketing has become more affordable and easier these days. Developing a marketing plan for the New Year can help maintain current customers and establish new ones. Affordable marketing tactics include social media marketing on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare, mobile and email marketing to your opt-in customers, and loyalty programs to retain customers. Keeping your business top-of-mind within your community and customer base through marketing can easily help generate increased revenue.

5. Community Involvement
Example, “In 2014, I would like my business to be more popular among locals.”
Community involvement is also a great way to keep your business top-of-mind. Sponsoring community events, junior sports leagues, and school functions not only provides recognition for businesses, but also creates a positive image. Community involvement is a great way to obtain new customers. I’m always a sucker for it!

6. Time Off
Example, “This year I don’t want to get burned out, and I would like to spend more time with my family.”
We all need a little time off to get re-energized. I admit, I am guilty of prioritizing myself and my health far behind work and family. However, planning a vacation or some time off is important to maintain sanity in ones’ personal and professional life. It can provide that quality time we all need to take a step back and reflect on our goals. Not only will it benefit yourself, but your staff and business as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about social e-learning courses or restaurant technology, visit Red Book Connect at

Please share with us your New Year’s resolutions in the comments section below.
Red Book Connect wishes you a happy and prosperous New Year!


Jodi Sabol | Marketing Consultant | Red Book Connect

What’s a Happy Employee Worth?

One of the items that comes up regularly in our employee surveys is a wish for improvements in our physical work environment, so we’ve made some investments recently in fresh coats of paint, removing clutter and keeping items in their proper place, and other efforts to polish and shine things up a bit.  We haven’t addressed every concern, but we are getting a positive response to the efforts we’ve made.

In the last Better Managers’ blog by Debra Koenig, she spoke about the “satisfaction mirror” in which happy employees result in happy customers.  We’re hoping that addressing the issue of physical environment improves the happiness quotient at our office and brings us closer to the many companies   whose happy employees have brought happy customers resulting in happy shareholders.

Google invested in providing a great dining experience for employees at its campus which also includes pool tables and swimming pools.  They were on track to hit an all-time high share price last month and currently rank #1 on the Forbes magazine Best Company to Work For list. The Parnassus Workplace Fund was created in 1984 – a mutual fund that includes companies that consistently land on that list – and it shows strong long-term growth, outpacing the S&P 500 Index for more than a decade. Dr. Noelle Nelson in her book “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy cites the example of Alcoa that determined that safety (not profit or any other typical measure of company success) would be its focus in the late 80s and into the 90s.  Significant improvements in safety resulted in happier employees and also annual income growth near 500%!

In the Harvard Business Review, Michael Schrage said that while the connection between happy employees, happy customers and company profitability can be valid, happy employees don’t always translate into profits. He cites Yahoo as an example of a company that isn’t currently performing well despite offering some of the perks that often indicate happy employees.  This is an appropriate caution that throwing perks and benefits at employees doesn’t automatically generate happy customers and broader organizational success.

Employees that are truly happy at work and not just showered with perks are the ones who are engaged, keep their skills current and are often part of innovation or process improvement teams.  To help identify which of your employees really like their jobs, the website suggests you look for the following:

  • Promptness: anyone who is consistently late probably isn’t the most engaged or happy
  • Productive: gets work done on time and produces at rates higher than their peers
  • Trainable: interested in career development or skill training, volunteers for extra duties or projects
  • Communication: participates in the regular exchange of information about their work and the company’s success
  • Commitment: works overtime to get the job done, pulls together during difficult times
  • Service: for both internal and external customers, they work to keep all of them happy

Congratulations to those of you who already have a core of employees who fit the above description.  If you’d like to increase the number of happy engaged employees, use these Simple Guidelines to Drive Your Company’s Success:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – provide information and regular feedback; it shows that you respect, trust and value your employees
  • Keep promises – don’t offer what you can’t deliver, but deliver what you promise; if you don’t, you’ll undermine any of the respect and trust you may have generated by communicating
  • Pay attention to regular recognition – not all recognition has to be monetary, so don’t ignore the small ways you can thank and reward good performance
  • Support employee development – nothing says you value someone like an investment in their future (and yours); if your budget is limited, find projects or other ways to expand an employee’s experience
  • Work on motivating or inspiring workers – this is where your leadership comes in; chart the course, set the example, be a cheerleader and make your employees believe in your company

If you’re successful in increasing the number of happy and engaged employees, it can result in an increase in the value those employees may bring to the company.  In her blog from last March called “When Employees aren’t Happy then the Company Isn’t Happy”, Elizabeth Lupfer uses the following to calculate that value:

  •  Fully engaged employees RETURN 120% of their salary in VALUE
  •  Disengaged employees RETURN 60% of their salary in VALUE

It may take more than a little paint, but if the above is true, it’s more than worth the investment to see what you can do to keep your employees happy.

By, Nancy Lane, Human Resource Manager at Red Book Solutions and B2A, LLC – 30 years of experience in education, medical imaging, oil & gas and business services.

The Mark of a Truly ‘Better Manager’

Overexerted, under appreciated and undervalued. That would be how many twenty-somethings in the job market today would respond to the question, “How would you describe your current position?” But there are ways to engage this valued, up-and-coming workforce when you can’t show them appreciation in the typical ways, ie: above medium-range salary for their field and talents, clearly defined and attainable bonuses, work spaces that invite higher levels of performance, reasonable work hours and enough paid time off to enjoy life outside of work.  Because the essential tenet for the younger generation is not ‘live to work,’ but ‘work to live.’

In today’s job market, the truly talented in the pack never have a problem finding work. Now some HR managers may  balk at that statement because of the still high unemployment rates, but through my years of job hunting, there has never been a time when I couldn’t find anything to do (and I graduated college at the height of the recession in 2008). Some of the jobs were not the most glamorous, or high paying or had the most prestigious title, but when you’re good at what you do, the work finds you. A colleague recently sent me an article titled, “Why Young Workers Should Rethink Working Long Hours for Low Pay” by Kate Rodgers. It basically states that for young adults looking for a full-time job it might make sense to accept any job offer, which probably means long hours, high stress and low salaries; an unfortunately common plight of the times, especially for the millennial generation.

A recent New York Times article quoted a hiring manager claiming companies are looking for a “22-22-22”: a 22-year-old willing to work 22 hours a day for $22,000 a year. According to the Labor Department, in the fourth quarter of 2012, workers nationally between 20 and 24 years old brought home a weekly average of $476 or $24,752 a year. During the same time period in 2000, that national age group made on average, $393 a week or $20,436 per year. But for many younger workers, the 22-22-22 paradox is extremely hard to swallow. The article suggests, and I agree, that to avoid being taken advantage of and stifling their career growth, young workers should set career goals with deadlines and if they aren’t being met, it’s time to move on and quickly. Loyalty from companies to employees and employees to companies seems to sadly be something of the past.

Today more than ever, employers need to find ways to keep their high performing workers happy, because it’s not a big deal anymore to move on to greener pastures. In fact, the average length of stay at any employer today is around two years. SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, estimates that it costs $3,500 to replace one $8.00 per hour employee when all costs — recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, reduced productivity, et cetera, were considered. Further research into the subject unveiled that it costs employers 30-50% of the annual salary of entry-level employees, 150% of middle level employees, and up to 400% for specialized, high level employees. In case you missed it, the bottom line is it costs employers a lot more to lose good workers than it would take to keep them happy in the first place.

So how can we, as managers, now just above the fold of the 22-22-22 frame ourselves, offer those developmental and career growth opportunities to help this younger generation of managers not only find enough fulfillment in the position to stick it out, but to get the necessary skills to someday break free from this lose-lose cycle? The key is recognition and teaching.

Younger people are especially hungry to both learn and to receive affirmation that they are doing a good job. And they are generally much more motivated by incremental education, skill-building and acknowledgement than they are by a modest bump in salary. Of course, the same qualities that make younger colleagues so responsive to the education and praise you offer may also make them susceptible to negative feedback, so be mindful of the context in which you offer “constructive criticism.” Be solution-based in your management style to help them evolve into the leaders of the company you want in the future.

The best managers of younger employees strive to teach, not just demand performance.  They prize helping others grow and tend to over-explain their reasoning for decisions, rather than assuming that twenty-somethings possess enough experience or perspective to read between the lines of their choices. An insightful post on Managing and Motivating Employees in Their Twenties on the Harvard Business Review site stated, “Three short minutes of explanation usually make excellent junior employees excited, since they feel the immediate benefits of gaining insight into decision-making processes. It also makes them better at working for you and your company, because it teaches them how you think.”

In my experience of being both a manager and being managed in past positions, the really excellent managers, those who became my mentors and friends long after I had moved on, were those who were inherent teachers. So I challenge all of the Better Managers out there to task yourself to not only demand greatness from your employees, but to reach into your knowledge and experience and share as much of it with your employees as you can. And then someday, smile as they move on and up to their next adventure. Because that’s the mark of a truly great manager.

Small side note: As this is my last post for Red Book Solutions I want to thank my mentor, friend and manager, Shiloh Kelly, for all of her teachings over this past year. I thank her for her grace and enthusiasm as I move forward to my next adventure.

By, Danielle Lafontaine, Marketing Communications Manager, Red Book Solutions | 5 Years – Digital & Traditional Marketing Copywriter with Ad Agency and Corporate Marketing Experience | Social Media Guru & Community Builder with B2B and B2C Chops

Don’t Let Monster Projects Consume You

projectmonsterProjects are a necessary evil for any manager. Given that project management is my life and focus, I wanted to share some saving graces that will help you when things get hectic. Let’s start with some common pain points you may be able to identify with…

Projects can play hide and seek from our radar or grow their own personality and attack. The latter is the hardest project to manage; it’s the project that takes on its own life and begins to manage you by making you work long hours, run in circles, reinvent processes for special circumstances or cause general undue stress and fatigue. It’s happened to me, so I want to share a few tips on how to help you manage your projects so they don’t manage you.

See into the future – Buying a crystal ball is not an option yet, so, we need to plan and forecast to adequately prepare for the workload and make the proper resources available to employ. Part of this is, of course, determining the overall goal of the project. My advice is to do what our team does and share the big picture of where you want to go with all the gory details. Your team will work better as a unit if their comprehension is high and their roles are clear.

Communicate – Strong communication skills are often the toughest part of project management but also the most critical. Make sure everyone on the team knows where the project is on the timeline at all times and that they are actively involved in reporting where they are. We do a daily 15 minute huddle to help organize resources and get our heads around priorities. Continuously ask questions and get feedback to orient. If you are close to missing a task, alert the team and re-prioritize accordingly. Realize that any reflow of tasks affects the next set of tasks on your schedule, so be proactive and adjust them immediately to understand the impact one change has to your entire workflow.

Be prepared – Get all your facts together and ask the right questions ahead of time. If you have the who, what, when, where and why figured out – you’ve already won half the battle. Information is power. When it’s time to get your ducks in a row, start with the project due date then work backward to create a detailed schedule (include drop dates and milestones as key indicators in tracking progress). Look closely at all the moving parts and how they work together. Once everything is scheduled you can place this alongside your other projects to paint a picture of where you are overloaded or overwhelming resources, which will undermine your success. Re-flow your project calendar to maximize effectiveness. From here you can prioritize and complete them in order. Don’t touch items that are on-going during a high stress period. Instead, leave low priority items for later when a high priority item is due first.

Remember, you can’t do it all or please everyone – It’s a fact, you can’t do it all. Only do what needs to be done and what will affect the success of the project. This goes back to prioritizing before and returning to evaluate as needed during the project. If everything is lining up, then you’re on track. If not, some unnecessary tasks should be cut to create more time for what’s really important. You have to stick to the schedule and goals/tasks that will create an overall successful outcome. So, if someone comes to you with a project that can wait, it should wait.

Don’t use a banana to hammer in a nail – Get the right tools for the right job. They don’t have to be expensive or complicated. In fact, the best ones will be the simplest to use and customizable to meet your needs. You can’t go into a project blind and expect to come out “winning”. Here at Red Book Solutions we live by the Manager’s Red Book to prepare, plan, prioritize, and execute—as do our 350,000 manager clients across the country. We base our priority items off of an Action Priority Matrix. Without this feature I’d be running without a framework, which is a recipe for disaster for project intensive managers. Other great tools for daily organization and project management include Microsoft Office Tasks,  RoboHead by Aquent and back office solutions by MacromatiX.

As always, the overall goal is to have big wins without the pounding heart rate or headaches that are common side affects of high productivity job responsibilities that come with being a manager. From us to you, go forth and prosper.

By Crystal Gardner, Marketing Production Manager at Red Book Solutions | 6 Years Marketing and Project Management Experience in Agency, Corporate and Private Institutions | University of Denver, Daniels College of Business, Office Of Communications & Marketing, Office Manager


The Delicious Side of Customer Satisfaction

This is a story about M&M’s and customer satisfaction (eventually).

On a dare, someone asked me to name three prominent books on Customer Satisfaction off the top of my head.

Here is my list:

  1. Positively Outrageous Service: How to Delight and Astound Your Customers and Win Them for Life
  2. Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison
  3. Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Them Love You, Keep You Coming Back, and Tell Everyone They Know

Yes, I know.  I didn’t list “The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World”. I think you would agree mentioning that book is just too predictable. And who wants to be predictable? After all, everyone knows that the most important question for your company’s future is, “Would you recommend us to a friend?” By simply asking your customers this powerful question you identify detractors who tarnish your reputation, and promoters who strengthen your company with positive word of mouth. This is especially valuable in the day and age of social media and millennials who can both single-handedly fuel or dry up your business.

But knowing who your promoters and detractors are is only half the battle. The other half requires a closed-loop feedback process where you contact your customers to determine their loyalty ratings, determine the next best actions to raise satisfaction and then develop appropriate responses. The result would be energized employees and delighted customers every time.

For me, it is less about the “question” than the focus on your employees being excited to serve the customer. Is it likely? I don’t know. Is it possible? You bet. Let’s find out more.

In “The Service Profit Chain,” authors Heskett, Sasser and Schlesinger spent five years researching the question – why do some firms do what they do well – year in and year out. They discovered links between company profit and growth and key relationships. One of those relationships is employee satisfaction/customer satisfaction. And they discovered that the relationship is mutually reinforcing: satisfied customers contribute to employee satisfaction, and vice-versa. But we are ahead of ourselves.

After reviewing hundreds of companies, the authors concluded that companies must manage the customer-employee “satisfaction mirror” and the customer value equation to achieve a “customer’s eye view’ of goods and services. In its simplest terms, satisfaction is mirrored in the faces of customers and the people who serve them, whether the encounter takes place face-to-face or not. This magical interaction occurs with a great deal of preparation and thought. To achieve this “satisfaction mirror” a company must produce the “employee job description, management policies, supporting technologies and rewards and recognition of the customer.”

For an organization to have satisfied employees, the authors recommend The Cycle of Capability:

  • Careful Employee Selection (and self-selection)
  • High-Quality Training
  • Well-Designed Support Systems (Information & Facilities)
  • Greater Latitude to Meet Customer Needs
  • Clear Limit on , and Expectations of, Employees
  • Appropriate Rewards and Frequent Recognition
  • Satisfied Employees
  • Employee Referrals of Potential Candidates

Outrageous stories about good service leading to customer satisfaction and fanatic loyalty abound.  A favorite of mine is Nordstrom’s, # 88 in Fortunes’ Best Companies to Work For in 2013.  Yes, I am a customer who, with a Tory Burch skirt in hand, needed the rest of the ensemble.  And with a simple question of “what department would you suggest I go to to find a top” I was accompanied for the next 30 minutes by an employee who walked me through every department, picked several tops and waited to weigh in on my choices as I tried them on. Wow! And Nordstrom is doing well financially.

Mars was #95 in favorite places to work this year. Let’s talk M&M’s. 192 million M&M’s in 25 colors are made every 8 hours.  2% are rejected for quality. Mars revenues have doubled in recent years – the customers are clearly happy. And the 1,230 Martians (yes that is what they are called) “adore coming to work”. That’s because the company believes in the “Five Principles of Mars” – quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom. Fortune reported that some unnamed employees are known to eat 1 ½ pounds of free M&M’s a day.

Now that is a cool “satisfaction mirror”!

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

WANTED: Franchisee and Franchisor Common Grounds NOT Battle Grounds

   It is rare enough to be an idea generator, and even rarer to be an innovator—one who actually turns those ideas into reality. For those of us who are entrepreneurs, this is the birth of a business concept. Exciting stuff.

Success flows as others want more and more of what you’re providing. You’re out growing yourself rapidly and the demand has warranted expanding into multiple locations. Stupendous.

Your purpose is so wonderfully niche yet appeals to the masses that you’re approached by others who share the same passion. They want to help, and they want a piece of the pie. Let’s franchise away.

A herculean effort now rests on your shoulders. You know it’s death to lose focus on what made you great in the first place. That is your brand. You’ve already proven it’s what the market wants. Now you need the drive of others to make it bigger, better. But with that things change. Others own a part of you, are within the fabric of your brand, are in charge of delivering your vision, and are directly creating your customers’ experiences…. And some are going rogue.

What I heard over and over again at the International Franchise  Association show was the exhausting concern around ensuring the standards that grow brand equity are shared well with the people running each location in a way that empowers them to improve their investment.

Franchisors are guardians of the brand and see franchisees as their number one customer. They support franchisees to fully realize and employ all that the brand stands for. Franchisors have a responsibility to all of their investors (franchisees) to protect the brand by administering standards, which in turn protects their constituents’ investments. If one franchisee does not support the basic standards it lowers the value of their sister franchisees and devalues everyone’s share of the system. The brand is put at risk.

Franchisees made a personal investment—they are owners of the brand not paid help. They bought into their particular franchise concept for a reason. They believe in it and are there to make a living. Franchisees are entrepreneurs through and through, but they also like the foundational and supporting structure the franchise system brings. They know how to run their business as they are on the ground each day doing just that. Thy have their own ideas on what will bring success that may differ from that of corporate headquarters.

Common ground exists for franchisors and franchisees when it comes to their dedication to the brand promise. They also agree that replicable standards are required in order to deliver the consistent quality experience expected by their customers when they interact with any aspect of the brand.  A question from the IFA member crowd was, “How do we make a standard truly a standard? HOW!?!”

Three points came out loud and clear in our group effort to find ways to create more common ground and fewer battlegrounds:

FIRST | Set your standards clearly throughout every turn of your system. (Franchise tool standardization: Franchise Agreements, Operation Manuals, Employee Handbooks, Training Programs, Manager’s Red Books, Internal Communication Channels, Hiring, Back Office Systems, Workforce )

SECONDLY | Communicate and explain the “why” behind the standards. Show and share the value that is gained when adopted and executed effectively.

FINALLY | Develop robust, easy-to-use tools and resources to help execute the standards easily and consistently.

Finding equilibrium in the throes of a franchisor and franchisee relationship is not simple. Yet being a team that is all on the same page, connecting in spirit and action, has the promise of being an American Dream experience like no other. And when you realize that franchising provides 1 in 8 jobs in the United States the pride in making what we do the best it can be… is just one more reason to be that much better.

By, Shiloh Kelly, Vice President of Marketing, Red Book Solutions | 20 years Cross Industry Experience | Corporate Marketing and National Sustainability Lead, BlueLinx |Chief Strategic and Creative Officer, Limelight Advertising | Strategic Marketing Manager, Vail Resorts