How to Improve the Ambience of Your Office

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success. A key focus is Professional Development and Skills. No matter what kind of organization you’re running, managing and operating your office space is key. Your office space can impact your employee’s productivity both positively and negatively. The following contributed post is entitled, How to Improve the Ambience of Your Office.

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Your office is more than just a space to get some work done. It’s an extension of your company and plays a direct role in how well your employees are able to work. As such, it’s in your interests to cultivate a positive working environment. Not only will it make going to work more enjoyable for you and your staff, but it’ll also help to boost productivity, and help to give your visitors a positive impression of your business, too. We take a look at a few tried and tested methods for doing this below.

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Set the Tone

The ambience of the office stems from you, the boss. When you walk into an office, you can normally tell pretty quickly whether it’s a happy office or not. Whichever it is, it’ll be because of the person in charge. If you want to create a positive environment, then you’ll need to bring the positivity. The best way to do this is to work on yourself and make sure that you’re a good boss. If you’re viewing your staff as people, not robots, then you’ll be on the right path.

Hire Pleasant Employees

Of course, while you can help to create a pleasant environment, it’s worth remembering that your staff is going to have a big role in the overall atmosphere, too. You might do all you can to push it in the right direction, but if you have staff members who are not interested in bringing the positivity, then you’ll run into trouble. So how do you get around this? By hiring pleasant employees. Talent and experience do count for a lot, but they’d have to be pretty special if they’re not going to bring a cheery attitude, too. When it comes to interviewing, consider their ‘pleasant factor’ before offering the job. It really will have an impact on how nice the office can be.

Tidy and Spacious

Of course, you could hire the nicest people in the world, but if the office is dark, dingy, and dirty, then it’s not going to be a pleasant atmosphere. The people are only one component of the ambience. So take a look at making your space more enjoyable to be in by making it spacious and clean. You can add more space by getting rid of any old documents and other belongings that you don’t need (you can throw them away, or put them into storage). To keep things clean and tidy, hire a company such as Southern Cross Cleaning. They’ll ensure that your space is neat and organized, without disturbing your staff or operations.

A Touch of Color

Finally, take a look at the decor of the office. There’s nothing wrong with the old, boring grey decor, but there’s not a whole lot right with it, either. You can liven things up by adding some color to proceedings, be it through the choice of paint for the walls, works of art, or by adding plants and flowers. It’ll help to make the space especially inspiring.

Get Back to the Books

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success. Three key focuses are Career Discussions, General Education and Professional Development and Skills. Once starting a career, everyone has to eventually decide what their next steps will be. Is there the potential for promotion at your current position? Should you switch organizations? Should you go back to school? The following contributed post is entitled, Get Back to the Books.

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You might find yourself wondering from time to time what the next steps are when it comes to your career. Are you going to stick at your job and work your way up the corporate ladder or take a chance on a whole new job.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages and both carry a certain amount of risk. However, if neither of those options appeal there is a third way and that’s going back to school. We’re not talking about studying full time necessarily, there are a number of options but instead looking at ways to either boost the professional expertise of the field you’re already in or explore a new career.

In this blog we take a look at why training up might just be the right thing for you.

Professional Qualifications

If you’ve been waiting for promotion to come your way and it’s just not happening, now is the time to get proactive.

Take a look at some of the professional qualifications associated with your industry. Would taking a course and getting some more qualifications under your belt put you in a better position? Would gaining that Florida Contractors License pay off? If the answer is yes, it’s time to put yourself out there and back into the classroom.

Don’t waste your time doing qualifications just for the sake of them. Pick the ones that are recognised in your area and will allow you to leverage them for promotion or at the very least, better pay.

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Distance Learning

One of the biggest dilemmas about studying is squeezing it in around your working life. This is made particularly hard if the qualification has nothing to do with your current job. One of the best options you can consider is a distance learning course from a reputable education facility.

These courses often offer part time study that fits around your schedule. While you may need to travel to an exam centre once a year or so, that should be the only time off that you’ll need to schedule. While it often takes a little while longer to complete the course, the pressure of trying to get it all done in a short amount of time is off of your shoulders.

Consider this option a long term investment into your future.

Evening Classes

The final study option is evening classes. Use these to access higher education courses later on down the track. If you’re struggling to pay for your training, consider asking the company you work for help. If your course can, in any way, help you in your current position you may be able to persuade them to subsidise your study.

If that isn’t an option for you, you may find that many education centres offer bursaries and grants for more mature students or those studying for specific industries – nursing or education for example.

When you want to change your working world, think about how education might help you achieve your next goal.

Lasting lessons basketball taught me: Different things to different people

“The coaches at some of the other Yale Cup schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech!”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success”. I originally published this series on the Examiner back in 2014 and have subsequently began adding to it. As a teen I dreamt of being a basketball player just like a lot of kids – a dream for which one must have lots of ability, drive, and luck to achieve. My experience turned out to be quite the adventure, and I didn’t formally play basketball beyond high school. The lessons I learned there however, not all of them happy and pleasant, helped me as I progressed into adulthood and into my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. As mentioned, when I began reposting this series, I’ve started working on an ambitious writing project chronicling my early basketball journey in Western New York.

If I’m able to get my project published, one of the things that will be special about it is that it’s a story involving real people. The project has required me to do multiple interviews. It has been both an interesting and fun experience. As noted by well-established authors like John U. Bacon, who has written numerous books on Michigan Football, some people are open to being interviewed and being characters in book projects, while others are reluctant. Some agree and then drop out of contact, while others are difficult to contact. As a writer I now understand why some names must be changed in the final story.

I consider my breakthrough interview to be that of Jason Rowe, which led to interviews with others, and I want to thank everyone who participated; some of whom I’ve never met personally. My interview with Jason was followed by an interview with Coach Pat Monti and then his star guards, Carlos Bradberry and Tim Winn. It’s been a fun ride with at least one more big interview on the way, so stay tuned.

One of the key figures in my story is Dr. Kenneth Leon Jones, who was the Head Coach of the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team during my freshman, sophomore and junior years. Before he passed away at the end of 2018, Coach Jones told me that he was okay with being a character in my story. In my piece about his basketball camp, I discussed Coach Jones, what I learned from him and what he meant to me.

That was just my perspective though and I discovered many other points of view on Coach Jones in my research. I actually started learning of other peoples’ views of Coach Jones in my junior season where I hit some personal adversities. My struggles, in part, contributed to our team’s struggling and spiraling out of control that season. During my personal storm one classmate sought me out one day and told me that he disliked Coach Jones because he had ‘cut’ his brother years earlier. It was then that I realized that there were many backstories to Coach’s tenure at Hutch-Tech in addition to the successes he experienced my freshman year.

“Most of the time, when somebody is giving you orders and instructions, if you’re not emotionally ready – if you’ve got your mind on the wrong part, you’re not going to try as hard. You’re not going to be into it. You’re not going to absorb as much,” said a player I’ll call “Curtis” about Coach Jones in my interview with him. Curtis was the ‘engine’ that powered Coach Jones’ 1990-91 city and sectional championship team. He said a lot of powerful things during our interview, but this quote very much applies to the relationship between coaches and players, much which I experienced myself, or witnessed with teammates.

One of the cool things about working on a project where you’re interviewing multiple people is that you get to hear multiple points of view. Amazingly, my interviews for The Engineers revealed that Coach Jones was multiple things to multiple people. While there was a group of us who held him in high reverence, appreciated his teachings and the mentoring he gave us, he had several detractors as well. Again, he was multiple things to multiple people. His detractors fell into three groups, some of which might surprise you.

The first group consisted of some of the other coaches in our league called the “Yale Cup”, which was the league for all the Buffalo Public Schools. For those readers unfamiliar with the Yale Cup in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it consisted of fourteen schools. Three schools that no longer exist today are: Buffalo Traditional, Kensington and Seneca Vocational High School.

The Yale Cup was a poorly funded league which lacked a Junior Varsity (JV) program at all its schools to properly prepare its players for Varsity competition. Coach Jones and the Buffalo News called this a “feeder system”. The result was a 14-team league where all of the teams were run differently, and where all the coaches had varying levels of experience and interest. This led to drastically different levels of coaching and attention to detail. Some of the Varsity coaches (Coach Jones included), ran an informal JV program for no extra pay simply because there was a need for it.

We also played in outdated and antiquated facilities. Many of the gyms in the Yale Cup league looked like antiquated factory storage rooms with peeling paint and old industrial smells. Most of our gyms had solid white backboards without ‘break away’ rims. Only a few of the courts, like those at Grover Cleveland and McKinley for example, had ‘regulation-size’ courts with the proper dimensions. Our old little gym at Hutch-Tech was more of a small box than anything. Someone I interviewed recently jokingly said that Performing Arts’ gym resembled a bit of a bowling alley.

“The coaches at the other schools thought I had an unfair competitive advantage because of the intramural program I started at Hutch-Tech,” Coach Jones said during one of our interviews. He shared a lot of things with me that I didn’t know as a teen and probably wouldn’t have understood. There were so many layers – so many things happening at once surrounding the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team in plain sight and behind the scenes. The same is true for Coach Jones’ two immediate successors who I’ll keep anonymous at this time.

One of the hallmarks of Coach Jones’ tenure at Hutch-Tech was his intramural program. The program was for all the boys in the school so that everyone could get taste of competition and where a champion was crowned. More specifically, it allowed Coach Jones to scout the talent in each class. It wasn’t something he was doing for extra pay, but instead it was something for the students and for the school.

“Some of Jones’ players played angry,” a former player also from Coach Jones’ city and sectional championship team who I’ll call “Pep”, said jokingly. My interview with Pep might be my favorite of all of the interviews I’ve done simply because I could hear that he was having so much fun talking about his playing days. In any case, Coach Jones’ second group of detractors were surprisingly on some of his rosters.

Before getting to Hutch-Tech, the program looked like a utopia from the outside. My research though revealed that there were several conflicts and perpetually hurt feelings involving some of Coach Jones’ players. In some instances, there were personality conflicts. In other instances, there were players who felt they had to prove themselves repeatedly and in general felt unappreciated. Some players felt that they didn’t play enough, and others didn’t play at all though they were given roster spots.

The third group of detractors were outside of the team, but in the student body. The individual who stands out the most for this group is the classmate described above, but there were others. The reality in life is that there are winners and losers, and there usually isn’t enough of everything to go around. This particularly applies to a basketball team where a coach can realistically keep up to 18 players, while only being able to play 8-10 regularly.

In short, not every kid at my school who wanted a roster spot got one, and there are any number of reasons for that. I may write another teaser-piece just on the criteria Coach Jones presented on his ‘invite list’. That’s right, during his tenure, you couldn’t just come out for the basketball team, you had to be invited. This cut a lot of kids out of the picture from the start even before having a chance to show him they could dribble the ball, make baskets, play defense or even run one of his offenses.

Why does this all matter? Like the entire story, it was a sample of what was to come throughout the rest of my life in college and then in the adult world. For some of us who earned roster spots and submitted to his coaching, Coach was father figure, a mentor and a leader. Others on his teams felt like his whipping boys and even underappreciated. Other students didn’t feel like they were given a fair chance to play. Some didn’t like his fundamentals-based way of teaching the game. Some of the other coaches in our Yale Cup league thought he was cheating.

This is why interscholastic sports are good teachers going forward in life. Two of the things you learn about in addition to your sport, are people and leadership – neither of which are easy aspects to manage. As a leader, whether it’s a coach, a college professor, a clergyman or a supervisor, not everyone sees you the same way. Depending on our backgrounds, our values, our individual natures, and where our minds are in seasons of our lives, our experiences with that person will vary, and in many instances, vary greatly. It’s also true that because we may see a given person differently, our truths may be different.

Whether it was the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team, my research lab in graduate school, or now within the government agency I work in everyday, there were always individuals charged with leading larger groups or teams. Some people within those teams possess different levels and proficiencies at their crafts. All possess different levels of emotional intelligence. Some are better communicators than others, and some are just better team players than others.

“If I could go back, I would be just as demanding, but more understanding,” Coach Jones said to me several times during our talks. He knew that he drove his players hard and demanded a lot from us. He also concluded that he could’ve been a little more understanding of each player and what they were going through as each of us came from different homes and had different life struggles in our teens.

“If you look at that team that almost made it to Glens Falls, Coach Jones let that team do a lot, but that was all earned. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll let you shoot a three-pointer or a long jump shot outside the offense because I know that we’re playing good enough defense that we’re going to get a possession back,” said a former teammate named “Chris” who played under Coach Jones for four years. Chris was a captain on our team in my sophomore year and a true leader. Some of Coach Jones’ critics thought he was too restrictive and controlling of his teams, particularly on offense.

“When I went to college, I played Division III at the Coast Guard Academy. I didn’t play Varsity, but instead played on the equivalent of our JV squad. We played against a bunch of junior colleges and prep schools. I’ll say that I was able to shoot the ball a lot more,” Chris said. “I look back though, and I think if we were able to play defense like we did in high school, we would’ve been able to keep up with a bunch of those teams. So, shooting the ball wasn’t always the best policy.”

I’ll probably write another teaser-piece just talking about the program Coach Jones created at Hutch-Tech, but for now I’ll just say that if done right, while it can be rewarding, coaching isn’t easy. You must not only have to know your sport and its evolving nuances, but you must also assemble a team of players, develop them and get them to buy into a common goal. That isn’t easy as coaches must also play psychologist, in addition to a quasi-parent in some instances, especially for kids who don’t have fathers or who come from tumultuous homes.

This piece isn’t unique to Coach Jones. He was my coach. If you read my interview with Jason Rowe, Jason stated that while his Coach, Joe Cardinal, was highly scrutinized, his players loved him. Ironically, even though Coach Cardinal was highly criticized, his Bulls coincidentally made deep runs in the post-season play most years. The same is true for Coach Pat Monti who led the LaSalle basketball dynasty. During his 10-year run of dominance leading the LaSalle Explorers, there were numerous critiques about him and his program from the outside. Talking to him and his players on the inside was completely different though.

The first picture used for this post is the schedule for the 1989-90 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pepsi-Cola of Western New York used to create cardboard schedules for the area high school teams in addition to hosting the Al Pastor Memorial Basketball Tournament for a select number of schools. It was Coach Jones’ second season at Hutch-Tech. I was an eighth grader looking to go into high school and was learning about Coach and his teams through my brother Amahl who was a sophomore that year and his Hutch-Tech yearbooks.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Jason Rowe discusses Buffalo Traditional Basketball, the Yale Cup and State Tournaments
Niagara Falls basketball legend, Tim Winn, discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls basketball legend, Carlos Bradberry, discusses playing in the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Niagara Falls coaching legend, Pat Monti, discusses building, and leading the LaSalle basketball dynasty part one
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it will benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled Big Discussions76. Lastly, follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Why You Should Always Respect Your Employees

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success. Three key focuses Business/Entrepreneurship, Career Discussions and Professional Development and Skills. No matter what kind of organization or business you’re in, respecting your employees is critical. Your employees are doing work on the ground level and your operations can falter if they aren’t giving it their all. The following contributed post is entitled, Why You Should Always Respect Your Employees.

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Image source Pixabay – CC0 Licence

Being respectful of your employees is vital if you are to maintain a cohesive team that buys into your business vision in order to help your startup thrive. Without a team with high morale, you may walk into the office every morning to view a sea of yawning faces and twiddling thumbs. You need to ensure that your staff are happy, positive and that there is a purposeful buzz in the office. As an employer, it is up to you to facilitate this. Mutual respect between boss and employee is crucial. Take a look at how you can foster a productive working relationship with your employees.

Training

It’s important that you invest in your team. By putting up some money and helping them improve their professional skill set, you are showing them how much you value them. Conduct professional development meetings with each staff member and construct a career plan. This may mean that they eventually leave your company to move to pastures new. This is natural. However, while they are your employee you can ensure that they are skilled up and apply this knowledge to your company. This means that you have the best staff working for you. Being valued means that your staff will feel more committed to your business vision because they will care more about your venture.

Environment

As a boss, you need to create a great environment in which to work. You may find that your newly leased office is a little drab, the beige carpet tiles are uninspiring and the walls are scuffed. In this sort of environment, your employees will lack the motivation to work. Whip out the white paint, get some local artwork on the walls, and add a splash of greenery to your workplace. This brings the outside in and can lift the mood of your team. Get rid of the old school desktop booths and swap these for collaborative meeting pods. Banish the tower computers, and allow your team to enjoy the luxury of neoprene sleeves for a swanky new set of high powered laptops. Giving your staff the equipment and tools to be productive as well as the environment in which to thrive will benefit the reputation of your business.

Communicate

Don’t be one of those elusive employers who is never seen in the office. Get out on the metaphorical shop floor and converse with your staff. Have a weekly briefing every Monday to discuss goals for the week and to allow your team to air their views. Ask their opinions on issues and act on great ideas. Send out a Friday email every week to celebrate successes and to namecheck those individuals who have gone the extra mile. This positive praise shows your team that you value them. Use a reward system of extra days off and meals out to incentivize your team.

Making the transition from employee to employer is tough. However, by following this guide, you can ensure that you get the most out of your team by fostering an environment of mutual respect.

Beating Confidence Troubles When You’re The Boss

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success. Three key focuses are Business/Entrepreneurship, Career Discussions and Professional Development and Skills. There are many ways to be the boss whether you’ve started your own business or you’re working in an organization. Being the boss can be a daunting task for many people but there are keys to mastering it. The following contributed post is entitled, Beating Confidence Troubles When You’re The Boss.

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Do you own your own business? Maybe you’re a manager at a branch owned by someone else? Either way, there’s a good chance you feel unsure of yourself from time to time. You’ve got a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, and a lot of power in your hands, and it can be hard to manage the both of them at once!

Which is why it’s key to remember that being the boss doesn’t automatically mean you feel confident enough to be one! You’re allowed to doubt yourself, and feel awkward about the decisions you make; you’re only human, after all. But because of that, we’ve listed a few tips for you below, to make sure you start feeling a bit more secure in your role. You’re doing a lot of hard work, and you deserve to have the confidence to show for it.

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There’s Advice Out There

And it’s more accessible than you may realise! After all, we have the internet to thank for instant connectivity, and that means you can go in search of a business leadership podcast with little to no trouble at all.

When you’re a burgeoning business leader, in search of information that’s going to put the pep back in your step, listening to the words of corporate founders and various self made people might just be the key.

And advice for someone like you exists in quite a few forms. You might want to make it your mission to soak up as many different types of medium as you can find, just to be sure you’re getting as much influence and advice as possible. You never know where you’re going to find the one piece of advice that’ll change your life, but we do have a good place for you to start!

Manage Your Expectations

Of course, you’re going to need to manage your expectations. You’re going to need to stay down to earth with what you’re thinking of achieving, or what projects you know you’re going to be able to take on. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to be able to turn around an organisation in the next 3 to 6 months, so don’t put that kind of stress on your shoulders from the get go.

Instead, aim a little lower, for something you know you can achieve. Bringing more skills into the business? Check. Cutting down costs? Check. And on and on the list can go, creating a very workable step by step guide for you to follow. Now doesn’t that sound easier?

Focus Your Network

And finally, be sure to focus your network on people like you. Try to reach out and connect with fellow managers, or first time entrepreneurs, to remind yourself you’re not alone. Use sites like LinkedIn to make a search like this easier. It might be a small point, but it’s a very important one to remember!

As the boss, you don’t have to keep second guessing yourself. You can learn confidence!

Five Stages Of Project Management

The first principle of my blog is Creating Ecosystems of Success and a key focus is Professional Development and Skills. No matter what kind of organization you’re in, a key skill to have is project management. The ability to effectively manage projects will assure that your operations continue to run smoothly it will likely assure that you’ll advance in your career. The following contributed post is entitled, Five Stages Of Project Management.

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When it comes to getting your project just right, there are a few phases that you will need to be aware of. Project management isn’t just about managing people – it is about all of the details too. You use tools, skills, people, and techniques in your specialty to bring the project to life.

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Here are the five stages of project management.

Initiation

The start of the project can often be messy, but the goals will now be defined at a broad level. There will be a lot of research to decide if the project is actually possible. There will be some feasibility testing done here too.

All of the critical decisions makers like stakeholders and board members will do their own due diligence to decide if the project will go ahead too. If everything seems to be okay, then there will be a project initiation document drawn up that will outline the purpose and requirements.

Project Planning

Many project managers find this to be an enjoyable stage. Developing a roadmap for critical players to follow. There are a few options that project managers will consider the best goal setting methods. SMART and CLEAR. Here is a breakdown:

SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely
CLEAR – Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, Refinable

The full scope of the project is now clear. The roles and responsibilities are noted, and everyone will not be accountable for their parts. The scope statement, Work Breakdown Schedule, Milestones, TimeLine, Communication Plan, Risk Management Plan will all need to be written up.

Execution

The deliverables are now developed and completed. These will be a lot happening in this phase, many meetings, status updates, performance updates. There are a lot of moving parts in this phase. Here are a few:

Develop a team: if you need to hire in contractors here is where you will do it. Depending on the project, you’ll need designers, government contractors like Salt3, extra assistants, and other skilled workers.

● Resources being assigned
● Execute the project management plans
● Procurement if required
● Tracking
● Status meetings
● Continuous updates of the project status

The execution phase and the performance phases will begin to overlap.

Performance

This will have been running for a short while by now, and it is time to take note of the progression and the performance. This phase will have a heavy focus on the KPIs that were outlined in the first stages. There are several ways to check on project performance, here are a few:

Quality deliverables
● Project Performance
● Effort and Cost tracking
● Project Objectives

There may be some minor (or major) adjustments to the schedules, and some movement of the resources were required to keep things on track.

Closure

This phase is pretty much what it says on the tin. Contractors who have been hired will now be terminated. The key players in completion will be recognised and celebrated in most cases. There will be an evaluation about what went well, what didn’t, and where there is room for improvement for further projects. A project manager will now also create a plan for the company to follow, a final budget and final report too.