5 Ways to Make Your Internship Program a Win-win for You and Your Intern

You’ve hired your summer interns, but are you doing your best to ensure that they and your organization are getting the most out of the experience?

There is no doubt that internships should be a mutually beneficial experience for the employer and the intern. Too often, I hear about disappointing internships where an intern’s primary responsibilities were relegated solely to making copies, answering phones, organizing online files or making frequent coffee runs.

While students should embark onto an internship experience knowing there will be a fair amount of clerical (aka grunt) work, the point of an internship is that it provides a real educational opportunity for students to receive hands-on, real-life training in the field of their major. Many former interns will admit that their internship experience was far more valuable in their decision to pursue their career than anything they learned from textbooks and classroom lectures.

I understand that you are a busy executive and that you don’t have the time (and possibly the patience) to hover over an intern all day. I don’t think you should have to, but I do firmly believe that as well-established experts in our field, we have an obligation to guide our industry’s future leaders, just as our mentors did for us.

In order to prevent any daily hand-holding sessions, employers can adhere to a few tricks of the trade I’ve acquired over my years overseeing various agency internship programs.

What Employers Can Do

1. Make a job description and stick to it
Doing this lets the intern understand the required duties but also lets your team know the boundaries of what they can and can’t ask of an intern. Once you get to know your intern’s capabilities and skill set, you may be able to add some specific tasks to the job description.

2. Have a program/timeline in place
Interns need structure. Don’t expect your intern to wait enthusiastically each day for you to decide what projects to give him or her. Understanding that you can’t anticipate every scenario, at lease have some structure and consistency in the program/schedule (e.g., Every Thursday is a “Lunch and Learn” session where the intern(s) brown bag their lunch and listen to company experts talk about their job and provide career advice)

3. Make the internship an enriching experience.
It’s typically understood that interns will be given a fair amount of grunt work, but make sure you allow them to have access to real business experiences. A client conference call may not seem like an exciting activity for you, but it can be a great learning experience for an intern.

4. Be a mentor
I know you are a very busy person, but as I stated earlier, I believe we professionals owe it to those interested in our field to provide them with an accurate glimpse into the field they would like to enter and the skill set needed. Make it a weekly habit to monitor your intern and give them feedback – whether it’s positive or negative – since it’s part of the learning process that lectures and textbooks can’t teach. Lead by example.

5. Don’t’ burn bridges.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been burned by a bad intern experience. As much as you’re ready to boot them out the door or vow never to have another one again, remember that the interns are still very young and don’t have much finesse in professional settings. And, though it’s hard to imagine, you never know how your paths might meet again (your intern’s aunt might be the contact you’ve been wooing for new business for years).

Best wishes for a great internship partnership this summer. If you have any additional tips to how you make internships an all-around success, please feel free to share them.

Are Rampant and Unproductive Meetings Killing Your Company’s Bottom Line?

 7 Tips to Decrease “Meeting Waste”          Meetings image final

Do you ever feel as though you’re on the meeting hamster wheel?  Well, you’re not alone.  According to a joint research study by Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics, executives typically spend more than 18 hours per week in meetings – that’s about a third of their work time.

Not only is the number of meetings being held increasing from past years, many meetings are deemed by participants as unnecessary and not productive at all.   A 2012 Salary.com survey found that “too many meetings” was the #1 complaint as the biggest time-waster in the office, up from #3 in 2008.

Moreover, a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered that unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately $37 billion each year.  Most leaders don’t even know the cost of their meeting waste.

Meeting costs take into account the salaries of those involved adding in their benefits [healthcare, 401(k), etc.] in addition to meeting room, equipment and furniture costs.  Then add the price for lost productivity and meeting costs can soar.  A one hour meeting with six high-level attendees could easily cost upwards of $2,000.  If you’d like to check your company’s meeting cost, there’s a great meeting-time calculator available that shows the cost of every minute that goes by in your meeting (http://www.bringtim.com/meeting-cost-calculator.html).

On the plus side, meetings serve many purposes including keeping staff informed, understanding client’s goals more clearly as well as facilitating collaboration and problem-solving. You shouldn’t declare a moratorium on meetings, but you should encourage your staff to take some necessary steps to ensure that their meetings are efficient and productive:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is a meeting really necessary?” – Oftentimes, people are on auto pilot that defaults to mindlessly scheduling a meeting.  Determine what you need to accomplish and assess if there are more effective ways to communicate or collaborate such as face-to-face meetings or group emails.
  2. Invite only the necessary participants – During my agency life, it wasn’t unusual to have more than eight people in a meetings, sometimes 3 people from one department.  I realize that sometimes office politics and egos prevent us from limiting invitees, but whenever possible, make sure there isn’t redundancy on your list.
  3. Be prepared – Don’t be that annoying colleague who pulls together a rushed meeting just because she had a call five minutes ago with a client who only asked a hypothetical question.  This will happen, but a meeting is more effective when you are able to provide the answers to anticipated questions from participants.
  4. Create an agenda – Meetings do run much more smoothly when participants are informed of the sequence of discussion topics.  Having an agenda also helps reign in everyone when a topic goes off tangent.  Additionally, it lends more credibility to the meeting organizer who is perceived as being on the ball and efficient.
  5. Be the master of your meeting – As the organizer, you need to take the reins and facilitate the meeting with aplomb.  Be in control of your meeting so that you keep the group on task and on time.  If a key person is late, I don’t like to waste everyone else’s precious time waiting 15 minutes for one continuously tardy peer. Let everyone have a turn at speaking and be respectful of participants’ time – watch the clock and don’t go over the meeting’s scheduled time.
  6. Always end the meeting with action steps – The takeaway from the meeting should be a consensus on project direction as well as making sure everyone understands their roles and applicable next steps.  You can also plan your next meeting while you have everyone in the room.
  7. Write a meeting recap – I know it seems like more work and a bit of overkill, but it truly saves you time and money in the long run when you provide a quick email recap as to what occurred in the meeting and lay out the next steps and roles of everyone who attended.  This helps eliminate misunderstandings and is beneficial for an attendee who had to pull out of the meeting at the last minute.

Getting in the habit of enlisting your staff to follow these steps before sending out that meeting invite will help you whittle down the financial drain of meetings, and more importantly, help to ensure that meetings are run efficiently and effectively in order to achieve the goal(s) at hand.

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Tips for Preparing Your Organization for a Crisis

Typically, when we think of companies that absolutely should have crisis plans in place, those such as pharmaceutical, airline and oil companies come to mind, since even the slightest misstep could lead to massive loss of lives.  It’s a given that big corporations invoke the help of stellar public relations teams  to help management map out various crisis scenarios and plan appropriate processes, procedures and communication to address those potential situations.  Crisis 3

However, small and mid-sized companies need solid crisis plans too.  After all, it’s  not usually the original crisis that typically brings down a brand, but rather how that company responds to that crisis that determines if the company’s or brand’s reputation is irreparably damaged or not.  And, with social media playing a larger role in the communicative landscape today, companies need to be more prepared than ever.

Many executives at small and medium-sized businesses think they don’t need a crisis plan; they believe that they are nimble enough to handle a mishap and will be able to get their arms around the situation as it comes.  What they don’t realize is that in the chaos of crisis, being prepared is the best and only way to really help take control (as much as you can) of the situation and to not make it worse.  Most recently, the Carnival Cruise Triumph crisis comes to mind.  Not only was the loss of power, rationing of food and the passengers’ exposure to raw sewage a crisis, it was compounded by Carnival’s lack of transparency and immediate response to its passengers and the public.  The company is still in damage control mode from that mess.

And, if you think that your company doesn’t need a plan because it isn’t public-facing, you are mistaken. Unfortunately, natural disasters or disgruntled employees waging violence can descend at any time upon your workplace, as can fire damage or even personal scandals.  What many business leaders don’t realize is that it behooves any company to have a solid plan in place.

Here are few steps to take in helping ensure that your organization is prepared for a crisis:

Prepare in advance
The onset of a situation is no time to determine your plan of action.  Knowing your business as well as you do, begin to address all of various the types of scenarios that would create a crisis for your company (from on-site accidents to natural disasters).  Knowing those potential situations in advance can help your team better determine the appropriate response and focus on the next steps to help manage the crisis.

Organize a crisis response team
Choose individuals who will comprise of your crisis management team.  This can include the CEO, communications and public relations managers, legal counsel, HR, and other appropriate officers of the company.   The team will decide who is responsible for what roles in a crisis situation, especially in determining who the spokesperson will be and how the team will communicate with each other.  Everyone should know his or her role so that he or she may act accordingly in a seamless and responsive manner.

Let employees know the crisis policy basics
With social media being so pivotal in spreading news these days, especially within the epicenter of a crisis, you need to make sure all employees know what they can and cannot do in a possible scenario.  Of course they don’t necessarily need to know all the response details of the team, but certainly the crucial ones such as no tweeting or posting about it.  Many times, the media will call an employee and try to find out what they can from them.  You can avoid more confusion and headaches if you let employees know in advance that they are never to speak with the media as well as to whom on staff they must notify if they are approached.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Make sure the crisis response team does some actual test runs of the plan so that roles are clear and communication is quick and nimble.  Just as you might have on-site fire drills, you need to ensure that your crisis team has practiced scenarios so that if they do happen to occur, everyone is well-prepared.  I have a friend who interned at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo one summer.  He was excited about the time he got to play the escaped animal (a polar bear in this case) in an emergency practice drill.   He had a certain amount of time (minutes) to hide anywhere in the entire zoo until emergency personnel became aware and could find him.  Of course, he was no match for the well-rehearsed response team and was found within minutes cowering in the shrubs near the waterfowl exhibit.   Luckily, they didn’t shoot him with the tranquilizer gun!

In summary, while taking these steps can be challenging since they takes time away from your business at hand, they are truly essential in helping to ensure that your brand navigates as successfully as possible through a crisis situation.  For more information on crisis management, please email me directly at slvaselaney@slvpr.com.