Q. I end up doing all the talking at my staff meetings. How can I encourage my employees to participate?

Executive career coach Bill Wellstead answers: There are several methods to do this. One, prepare an agenda ahead of time with people assigned to each agenda item and give those assigned the responsibility to lead the discussion. Two, ask an open-ended question and wait for a response. When you get a response, ask others on your staff, "What is your opinion?" or "What do you think?" Your listening is key here. Your people will read your body language rather than listen to your words. Your summary of what someone says followed by "Is this correct?" is important here. "So, if I hear you right, this is the case. Is this correct?" A follow-up question, "Mary, what do you think about that?" can get other opinions. Three, ask a question and divide the staff into groups of two or three people for quick "huddle" discussions to provide a group answer. This protects individuals from embarrassment by responding as though it was their idea or that they are trying to curry favor with you as the boss.

Bill Wellstead's consulting business is called The Business Coach. He can be reached at (941) 360-9441 or [email protected]

Q. I'm adding staff to my growing business. What's the right way to formalize employee orientation?

Human resources consultant Ron Hamilton says: You are doing the right thing. Studies show that orientation programs help employees become productive more quickly and have a higher retention rate.

To get started, identify what all new employees should know about your company to succeed there-your history, company structure, operations, products and services, policies, benefits and culture (how you get things done). A tour of the facility may be appropriate. Ask some of your current employees what would have helped them get acclimated more quickly. Since new employees are often overwhelmed when starting a new position don't try to get it all done in one day.

The most effective programs help employees understand how their role fits in with the total company. Try to make it interesting. Don't just have hours worth of lecture. Create learning activities to get the new employees involved. Use visuals like flipcharts, graphs and PowerPoint. Use employees who have good presentation and/or teaching skills to conduct orientation. Assign a "buddy" to help the new person. This also helps the new employee get more comfortable socially.

Ron Hamilton is a management and human resources consultant who works with well-known national and local organizations. He can be reached at (941) 351-5501 or www.practicalhrsolutions.com.

Q. I'm chief cook and bottle washer at the small company I own, and I can't afford to hire a marketing person. What can I do to make my company more visible?

Karen Susalla, owner of Indigo Blue, LLC Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations, answers: A trap many small businesses fall into is trying to be everything to everybody. They spread themselves too thin, and the message they send is too weak to appeal to the consumer over their competition.

That's why it's so important to properly define your message and your market niche, and be consistent in applying it. Once you do, be creative about seeking low or no-cost advertising opportunities. Find existing events, community projects, or good will causes that reach the same audience and align with them. This could be anything from volunteering on a committee, donating products or services, or opening your space up to host a nonprofit event. In exchange, negotiate for exposure in their related advertising or public relations efforts. Also, write and submit your own press releases on newsworthy topics on a regular basis. (Tip: Invest in a short session with a professional to become familiar with some basic public relations "do's and don'ts" first). Network smart, not hard; limit to three community groups or your commitments and contributions to them will diminish. And enlist your existing customers to help. Provide an incentive for referrals or, for those who may have businesses of their own, try cooperative advertising or cross-promoting one another.

Karen Susalla can be reached at (941) 330-9200 or [email protected] 

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