Using OKR Methods To Lift Business Performance

As 2022 draws to a close, most organizations are deeply involved in planning, budgeting and forecasting for the coming year. To complete this rigorous process, leaders often invest significant time, attention and energy for weeks or even months. Yet research says more than 90% of those strategies will never be executed. How can you develop an operational plan you’ll actually use?

Today’s uncertain economic environment is prompting leaders to seek out more flexible, reliable planning tools. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. For decades, some organizations have relied on highly effective, affordable practices and tools based on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Understanding OKRs

The OKR framework is favored by fast-growing tech giants like Google, LinkedIn, and Spotify, as well as start-ups that hope to follow in their footsteps.

OKRs are a way of setting strategic goals, first at the company level. Then departments, teams and individuals align their goals with the organization in a systematic way. But this framework is much more than a simple goal format. It comes with multiple step-by-step execution best practices.

For example, consider the “check-in” step, which is usually conducted on a weekly basis. This lightweight update process keeps everyone on your team focused, informed and on-track throughout an OKR cycle. Regular check-ins also help leaders avoid becoming consumed in reactive firefighting, which is often why strategies never see daylight.

Specialized software can help make steps like check-ins faster and easier to manage. For example, with OKR tools like ZOKRI, the check-in process takes only minutes to complete.

Unlocking The Full Benefits of OKR

OKR Snakes and Ladders - Best Practices and Mistakes to AvoidThe OKR process seems simple enough. However, making the most of OKRs requires nuance. Understanding how to navigate these nuances can help you quickly move from an OKR novice to a highly skilled OKR-driven organization.

Some important nuances are outlined below and are illustrated in this OKR “Snakes and Ladders” infographic:

7 OKR Ladders (Top Tips)

To help you succeed at OKRs, here are 7 top tips from organizations that have relied on them for years to drive performance and growth:

  • Use OKR as a focal point for debating issues and opportunities that, if solved, can move the needle. You could also consider them a blueprint for team “therapy” that creates engagement and excitement.
  • Identify meaningful, measurable outcomes (“key results”) to be sure you define success effectively. Discourage vanity metrics and “to-do list” outcomes.
  • Use KPIs to measure business-as-usual performance. Reserve OKRs for more valuable performance metrics, focused on strategic initiatives.
  • Establish aspirational goals selectively to improve focus and unlock innovative ways of thinking. OKRs let you set stretch goals without creating unnecessary stress among stakeholders.
  • Keep in mind that OKRs do not have to follow your organization chart. For example, they can be used effectively with cross-functional team initiatives.
  • Use operational processes built into OKRs to ensure that information is flowing as needed and your organization develops an executional rhythm.
  • Leverage retrospectives at the end of OKR cycles by creating positive shared learning experiences that inform future plans.

7 OKR Snakes (Pitfalls)

Perhaps the greatest strength of the OKR framework is its popularity. The biggest obstacles and mistakes have already been solved many times before, so common issues like these are easy to spot and avoid:

  • Sometimes, executive teams are not prepared to lead by example. Instead, they expect others to set and update goals, but they don’t manage their own. You don’t want to be one of these leaders.
  • Goals assigned to you aren’t as effective as goals you help create. To unlock stronger performance gains, get more people involved in the process. Discover together what needs improvement and support others in achieving their goals.
  • Similarly, avoid developing team OKRs in a silo. Team OKRs are much more powerful when they’re the product of cross-team discussions.
  • Too many team or individual OKRs dilute your focus. Instead, set fewer goals, each with high potential business impact.
  • Don’t treat OKR steps as optional actions. Without mandatory check-ins, you lose a single point-of-truth and people stop taking reports and updates seriously.
  • When the risks and consequences of not achieving OKRs are perceived as high you might be tempted to low-ball, but that can undermine the process. Grading OKRs and retrospectives helps you avoid this issue.
  • Setting and forgetting OKRs opens the door for business-as-usual firefighting to take over your agenda. Clearly, this jeopardizes overall performance outcomes. It’s important to commit to the OKR cycle and not skip updates or OKR meetings.


OKR is a proven goal setting framework. It can help you structure, share and execute organizational strategy, while making it easy for individuals and teams to support those goals.

Businesses that rely on OKRs typically are high-performers with traditional organization charts and cross-functional teams. But as everyone works toward aligned goals, people are more likely to identify and solve problems. And they learn from each other faster than those without OKRs.

Adopting OKRs is more than adopting a new goal format. It means you’re embracing a new way of talking about challenges and opportunities, and tracking progress towards goals and learning from experience. The know-how and tools to implement OKRs are within reach – even for organizations with a limited budget and management resources.

Business Needs vs. Employee Needs: Finding the Happy Medium

It’s been a hard year and a half, and as the pandemic continues to fluctuate, illness and lockdowns have taken their toll. The effects extend into the workplace, too, as companies struggle to find a happy medium between employee needs and business needs.

During this time, employees reevaluated what a workplace means to them and how job satisfaction plays into their overall happiness. Many employees found that they’re happier when they don’t have to commute, dress up, or stick to prescribed business hours. Others are ready to get back to the workplace where there are fewer distractions and more in-person collaboration.

Many businesses, on the other hand, are eager to get back to an in-office model without Zoom meetings. Managers want to communicate quickly with employees at their desks, instead of via chat. It’s understandable but short-sighted for employers to try to get back to a pre-pandemic way of operating. As the health implications of COVID-19 can’t be undone, neither can the effects it’s having on the workplace, which is why the need to find a happy medium is important.

These changes create a need for HR teams to adapt to the realities of these changes. Therefore, it’s time for businesses to adapt their return-to-office plans to ensure that they are employee-centered. Now more than ever, balancing employee needs against the needs of the business is imperative.

Listening to Employees

Work-from-home employees are not shy about their preferences and pain points around remote work. Coworkers commonly talk amongst themselves about how much they like not having to dress in full business attire or commute. They also expressed frustrations around digital communications and how, since they’re online, the workday can stretch beyond regular hours.

Before putting forth a return-to-office plan, businesses must listen to what employees truly want. To avoid turnover, some employers plan to skip a return-to-office life altogether, especially since a lack of remote work options is a deal-breaker for many employees and may send them searching for a job elsewhere. Many employees have already made that step, citing lack of remote work options as the main reason for seeking other opportunities. Notably, according to a survey by ResumeBuilder, 15% of workers are planning to leave their jobs before December.

What is the best way to find out what employees need to be happy in their current positions? Ask them. Hold a company-wide meeting to discuss what they like about working remotely, what can be improved, their thoughts on returning to full-time office work, and any questions they may have.

HR teams should leverage anonymous channels like digital surveys to make sure every voice is heard. These tools are perfect for individuals who are not comfortable speaking up in a large group, or for those who worry that their opinions will reflect poorly on them. 

Company leaders should also trust employees. They know how they work best, as well as the ways working from home affects their work-life balance. HR teams know happy employees are more engaged, produce better work, and stay in their positions longer, creating positive business outcomes.

Balancing Employee Needs With Business Needs

While keeping employee needs top of mind is essential, HR professionals must also evaluate how best to serve the company. If remote work begins to negatively impact employee and company performance, that can’t be ignored. Conversely, if an organization consistently meets KPIs, is growing, and employees are engaged, there’s no need to return to the office five days a week.

Instead of assuming performances and company operations will improve in an office setting, HR teams should strive to find balance. There’s no need for extremes. Companies don’t need to decide to keep operations fully remote or shift them entirely back to the office.

Over the course of the pandemic, it’s become clear what job functions need to be performed in person versus remote. Some team members can complete all of their job functions from home, while others have duties that require in-person work.

Companies should try to strike a balance and meet their employees in the middle. Offer a schedule that accommodates working from home alongside in-person work. For example, some organizations can easily let employees work from home three days a week, while requesting in-person attendance for meetings.

Companies can also strike a balance by easing the dress code to make going into the office feel more comfortable. Additionally, they can find cost savings by allowing employees to work from home. Businesses should evaluate whether they can stagger when different staff members come in. By doing so, they can use a smaller office space, saving on rental costs and utilities, among other expenses. At the same time, employees will appreciate the flexibility of being able to choose to work from home on a regular basis.

Looking to the Future

Before implementing a return-to-office plan, HR teams must equally weigh the needs of the business against those of their employees. Therefore, it may be tempting to develop this kind of plan quickly. However, HR teams must take time to listen to employees and measure their needs alongside business goals. This will create a happier and more effective workplace for everyone.

The Practicality of Purchasing an ATS Part 2

Cost, true value and company culture

(Part two of a three-part series)

In part one of this series, I discussed how to go about conducting a gap analysis to fully understand the current state of your ATS and if shopping around for a new vendor is really what’s needed. Having a good grasp on your current business needs in addition to future needs is one of the first considerations.

Further, I shared some pitfalls to avoid when conducting your business analysis and described some areas where people can misinterpret what resources are needed, and why considering the functionality and options of a new ATS must align with your unique business plans.

How do You Determine True Value?

Current and future value for your business, value for the money paid and value for the end-users should be paramount in the decision-making process.

What to consider as the value will vary from organization to organization. It’s important to ask lots of good questions to understand how the software will mesh with your unique business demands. Ask questions specific to your company’s needs, but general questions about the cost, frequency of software updates, extent of resources needed by your organization to maintain a fully functioning application, how data storage is handled and protected, along with length and terms of the contract should, also, be asked. Additionally, you should know what training is included for the initial rollout, as well as for future updates, product refreshers, new features and training for new users, as well as software changes that address future business objectives. It’s, also, important to understand any configuration or customization you may require, to meet your initial and ongoing business processes, and their associated costs.

No software is of value if the end-users cannot use it in meaningful and productive ways. Technology should enhance the user experience not be an encumbrance, so the human engineering must be in-line with how you need the software to perform. Don’t let the vendor define your needs; it’s okay to compare product feature sets to each other, but it’s most important to compare the product functionality to your requirements to ensure you’re getting the best value for the money. If you analyzed your business at the beginning of the process, you know best as to what your business needs are.

People often over-focus on the appearance of the software. Beneficial functionality and speed are not easy to design but are the backbones of what makes for good, reliable systems. What appears flashy and sparkly in a demo doesn’t always translate into a productive real-world experience for the end-user. Flashy should not be the focus, but consider availability, functionality, and responsiveness as being what’s vital. It’s important that the end-users can use the software, sometimes all day long, without fatigue.

If, at all, possible implement the software you’re considering into production. If you have more than one location, install and use it at one of the sites. If not possible, at least take the time to talk to references – both power users and the managers who do the software purchasing for their business. Questions may vary, but ask the managers if they conducted a business needs analysis at the onset of the process. Ask to know if there were any hidden costs. Knowing how satisfied the end-users are with the software is valuable information. Software review sites such as TrustRadius and Capterra are also great sources of getting crowd-sourced opinions about a product, company, and its people.

It’s, also, important to ask for references from customers that are achieving success. These may be power users who will give you a fair representation of how they use the product, and with that may be able to answer questions relative to your organization.

Company Culture Matters

When evaluating vendors, assess how closely they listen, understand and respond to information about your unique business demands. If the vendor always answers, “yes,” to your questions about functionality, you should be suspicious… no off-the-shelf software will do all you want.

If the vendor is listening and advising on what’s in your company’s best interest, they are taking a customer-centric approach and not just working to meet their own sales goals. Further, ask the vendor to whom they report, is the company privately held or owned and financed by outside investors? Who does management serve, customers or shareholders/investors? What drives their innovation? Customer-driven innovation is, generally, the best because it’s like crowdsourcing. Their responses will alert you to their company structure and indicate where customers fall on the list of priorities and importance. Also, find out what the turnover is on their client roster, as well as turnover with the software vendor’s employees. See what employees are writing about them on sites like Glassdoor.

It goes without saying but understanding how the vendor defines on-going service and support is important. This will help you understand both the advantages, as well as the limitations of their solution – and their customer focus speaks volumes about their own company culture and how well they work with clients.

You need to develop a business partnership with your ATS provider, and any vendor for that matter. A compatible relationship must be built on trust, honest communication, and mutual respect.

Understanding the overall performance and service factors of the potential software system, and its compatibility with your company needs and culture are the keys to successful product selection. Ultimately, the functionality of the vendor’s software should be in-line with your expectations of success for the present and future of your business.

This article is part two in a three-part series. In the next article, I’ll address best practices for implementing your ATS and what’s needed for the care and maintenance of the new software.

Telepresence Robots: The New Look of Telecommuting

Forget video conferencing. Now there’s an even better way to telecommute—one that allows you to move, interact, and engage as if you were right in the same room as your colleagues. Perhaps even cooler—it allows you to ride a Segway from afar. Telepresence robots are the new wave of technology coming to workplaces across the country, and they’re making their way into almost every sector, from healthcare and education to art and entertainment.

I remember the first time I encountered a telepresence robot. I was visiting a local hospital, and the robot was on-hand to translate important health information to a patient who did not speak English. The idea seemed brilliant for a few reasons. First, the comfort of being able to speak in your own language with an actual human could be a huge help in the healing process. And second—from a purely business point of view—the option of using robots to deploy human translators as needed meant hospitals were no longer limited to the number of translators they could afford to hire. They could simply outsource the service to a translating company that was ready and available when needed—offering a much larger array of languages than the hospital would be able to offer on its own.

It seems translators aren’t the only ones who got the message. Now, telepresence robots are making their way into mainstream offices, allowing employees to enjoy mobility in a whole different way. Once relegated to long phone calls and teleconferences—often feeling left out and marginalized by onsite employees— “robotic” employees can speak at eye level, move alongside colleagues, and offer their insights and ideas without missing a beat. But beyond the personal and psychological benefits of being more fully “present” in the workplace, what are the business-side benefits of offering robotic telecommuting? The following are just a few:

Makes Dangerous Tasks Safer

Now, rather than sending structural engineers, rescue teams, or police forces into potentially dangerous areas, companies can send those professionals via robotic telepresence. The option allows experts to scope out the situation using their specific know how—without risking their lives.

Makes Experiential Learning Even Easier

Now, schools, colleges, and businesses no longer need to factor in airfare, hotel, bus, and food expenses into the cost of experiential learning. A type of virtual reality light, robotic telepresence allows you to visit museums, tour cities, or participate in professional conferences—all without leaving home. And you don’t even have to wear VR goggles to do it.

Allows You to Hire the Best—And Experience Them in Person

Mobility has been a huge help in allowing companies to hire the best person for the job, regardless of where they live. Now, companies can experience their insights and personality even easier, pulling them into impromptu discussions, ad hoc meetings, and even lunch outings. For the first time, remote employees can feel like a real part of the team.

Offers a More Seamless Work Experience

In the past, remote employees often missed out on group work and interaction. Now, robots can be wheeled aside for team projects, sidebar conversations, and other personal engagement that video conferencing simply doesn’t provide. It allows for a more seamless—and efficient—work experience, and allows you to benefit from the employee’s full range of talent, as well.

Cuts Down on Multi-tasking

We all know one of the likely side effects of being on a long and arduous conference call is that it allows us to catch up on emails, check our phones, and—if we’re working remotely—do the laundry. Robotic telepresence limits the ability for employees to take on those other tasks, forcing them to focus on the project—and people—at hand. That in turn makes the meetings less arduous and more productive overall.

As the world continues to move toward mobility and remote work environments, robotic telepresence offers a great way to keep our human connections as they should be—human—albeit with technology’s helping hand. The advancement is one that will surely become more common in offices around the world—and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw family members visiting our homes as robots soon, as well.

Additional Resources on This Topic:
One Goal, One Team: The Remote Workforce Conundrum
How Mobile Technology Impacts the HR Industry

Photo Credit: Janitors Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on FOW Media.

Employee Advocacy = Engaged Employees

A great work environment with happy employees is the start for creating sincere and enduring employee advocates. When people experience a wonderful culture in action and believe in the reputation of their company, they become your most effective spokespeople.

Why Does it Matter?

There is a lot of research out there that supports the direct correlation between employee satisfaction and its impact on customer satisfaction.  When employees are engaged advocates, they will go the extra mile for the customer, seeking out alternate and better ways to deliver service that amazes and delights. These employees don’t mind spending extra time with a customer to ensure their complete satisfaction, has been met, and are more likely to set achievable expectations for customer service delivery and timing.

Additionally, employee advocacy humanizes your brand. It puts a face to the brick and mortar of your business and allows people outside the company to better identify with your people-driven mission. It’s like word-of-mouth advertising… a very powerful weapon in the war for customer satisfaction and their dollars.

What’s in it for Employees?

Empowerment allows employees to become stakeholders by having them take part in decision-making processes. This empowerment enables them to take responsibility for their role and manage their behaviors and outcomes.  A culture of trust allows people to do their job, autonomously. Employees want to create their own successes, and with that find greater satisfaction in themselves and with the culture around them.

Feedback is a powerful tool in the workplace. It enables people to see how they contribute to the bigger picture of the organization. It’s important for each employee to see how her specific role impacts the organization. Show employees, directly, how their work is improving customer retention, profitability, or the metric that is most closely related to their position. This will motivate them in their jobs, in attainable goals, and increase their engagement.

Skills and knowledge training provides the growth and expansion employees need to keep improving and advancing in their careers. Challenge them to find learning opportunities that can be applied to their jobs and allow them to put this new-found knowledge to work. The empowerment and satisfaction they can reap from this experience will encourage them to look forward to future learnings to continue growing their skills and knowledge.

Collaboration across an organization opens the door to team spirit and engages people at a more root level because they believe every employee is approachable for conversation. Being able to collaborate on projects with colleagues will increase employee engagement, and make the projects more satisfying and effective allowing employees to ideate, give peers feedback and bring solutions to the forefront. In other words, to take ownership.

Why You Need Advocates

Employees who are advocates for their organization cast a wider net not only inside the organization but externally, as well. They reach a larger audience and position themselves as the voice of the organization. They will increase your brand engagement with potential new customers and employees, which from a monetary value, can save companies dollars in advertising and marketing promotions. As engaged employees, advocates are tremendous agents and defenders of your company’s reputation, again positioning themselves as a voice for their employer. Further, research has shown that employee advocates can increase the stock value of organizations by over two and a half times versus organizations that do not support employee advocacy and engagement.

Creating Advocacy

Focus on your culture to understand how employees view the company. To truly understand how successful an advocacy program will work, you first need to understand what people are thinking. If you guess you may guess wrong and that could produce a myriad of consequences. Leadership needs to have the courage to ask, “What do you like and dislike about working here?” This information is gold to the wise employer. With this in hand, set out to better understand what your employees are seeing and that may even include how they view the leadership within the organization. Be prepared to leave your ego at the door, as the feedback may be a wake-up call for management, but if the goal is to create a better workplace, recognition of what works and what is failing miserably must be addressed.

Communication is key here. Employees are inspired by leadership that is open and authentic with communications. Strong leadership that has a clear idea of the company’s direction will be viewed much more favorably than a waffling leader that is out of touch with the company’s mission. When communications flow back and forth between leadership and the employee population, the likelihood of misunderstandings and mistakes lessens.

Measure the results. Whenever possible, track the metrics that will gauge the outcomes of employee advocacy. For example, if increased customer retention is the goal, design a program to determine what a successful outcome will be. Communicate this goal to your employees, then provide them with the resources and opportunities to explore and expand on their knowledge and skills in support of the goal. By tracking the data, you can adjust how you communicate and incentivize your employee advocacy initiatives for future goals.

Trust and Opportunity

Organizations need to believe in their employees and want to help them to promote the organization, but first they need to give them good reasons. Pressuring them rather than encouraging them will not work. Advocacy needs to flow naturally for it to be believable. Leadership can, however, empower employees with knowledge and tools to promote the benefits. With a minimal amount of direction, companies can offer opportunities for employees to exercise their bragging rights in a public, social way. I know of companies that had business cards printed for each employee so if that person was interacting in a social setting and felt the opportunity was right, they could hand their business card to potential new customers and even use it as a referral card for job seekers.

Of course, having a set of “Do’s and Don’ts” is helpful so employees understand what would fall outside the parameters of advocacy. No organization can tolerate proprietary information being shared with people outside the company, so establishing parameters that address items such as this, is important.

The Dividends

Essentially, the value of having employees who act as brand advocates offers a value next to priceless. What better way to market your organization, espouse the features of your products and spread the word in a social manner that is much less expensive than traditional marketing and advertising.

To me, employee advocacy is when employees look forward to pitching the benefits of their organization and do it because they’re excited and energized, not because they’re specifically prompted by management. What sets these advocates apart from other employees is they’re engaged with their employer and find their workplace environment a satisfying atmosphere where communication and opportunity to grow and collaborate occur with consistency.

And most importantly, organizations need to give employees a reason to advocate for the company. An engaged employee advocate is the best bet you have for increasing customer satisfaction, and to experience business prosperity in an organic manner that is natural and unprompted. And the best aspect is, it’s one of the best methods for retaining valuable talent and attracting more of the same.

Photo Credit: martinlouis2212 Flickr via Compfight cc

3 Ways Emotional Leadership Will Strengthen Your Team

Of all the professional panels you’ve attended, how many began with a hug? It may surprise you, but that’s exactly what happened at a recent SXSW session on emotional leadership.

The purpose of the hug was to remind us all that emotions in the work environment are not only OK, but also might make things better. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness,” a 2015 study at Penn State University found that people who were assigned to give or receive five hugs a day over the course of four weeks reported feeling happier than a control group without hug assignments.

It all comes down to connecting through empathy. My team at Rocksauce Studios has instituted empathy as a core value, and we take it seriously when evaluating the needs of our team — and, of course, when engaging in the hiring process.

Leading From Your Gut

Emotional leadership begins with a careful nurturing of one’s own emotional intelligence. Recognizing and managing your moods, controlling outbursts and frustration, and knowing how to manage or redirect impulses that you recognize as potentially damaging are fundamental skills that can impact every area of your life.

Being able to choose how to think, feel, and act in a given situation is critical to relationship development, enthusiasm, and persistence — all vital skills for any leader. Perhaps the most critical piece of emotional intelligence is empathy: the ability to recognize the moods and feelings of others and connect with them in a way they identify as genuine.

Emotionally intelligent leaders have the self-awareness to leverage their intuitive and empathetic skills in a way that enhances team unity and determination. We all know emotional intelligence in the workplace when we see it: the salesperson who always closes the deal because customers can sense that his caring is genuine, the manager who can diffuse the most heated situation with ease, or the leader whose connections with her staff members are so strong that she can inspire them to do almost anything.

More Than a Feeling

When you’re leading from your emotionally intelligent center, you can approach your team with increased insight, sometimes even sensing things before they have to be expressed. Connecting with your team on a deeper level can be draining, but the strength and unity that result are definitely worth the effort.

Our leaders conduct regular one-on-ones with team members so we’re better able to understand what’s going on with our teammates on an emotional level. This knowledge allows us to align their state of mind with our goals as a company.

Being emotionally keyed in to our employees builds trust within teams, which then encourages creative, independent work. We all know that our employees don’t want hovering managers, but it can be hard to let go of a project that you feel deeply about. Knowing that you carefully hired competent, skilled adults who are developing their own emotional intelligence at work can help you be more hands-off.

An effective leader is supportive rather than controlling, empowering employees by showing confidence in them. This trust-based leadership can have many benefits, from improving talent retention to providing valuable experiences for employees as they learn to work without being micromanaged.

Reaching Out by Reaching In

How do you practice emotional leadership on a day-to-day basis? Here are three steps people can take to move themselves and their teams toward a more emotionally intelligent work environment.

  1. Be where you are.

One of the panelists at SXSW, Kristi VandenBosch, acknowledged that emotional leadership can be difficult. She suggested that attendees “do things that are uncomfortable.” She added that this vulnerable state — of asking people how they’re doing and really listening to their answers — might be exhausting, but “it makes for a more emotionally connected leader.”

This type of listening requires your attention to remain fully “with” the employee or group you’re engaging at that moment. This kind of presence breeds connections and shows your team that you have their best interests in mind, enabling them to offer you the same attention and respect when you need it.

  1. Be an emotional contagion.

Anyone who’s ever smiled because someone in the room was happy knows how contagious emotions can be. Your impact in the workplace, positive or negative, can be determined by your emotional state. Particularly when you’re the boss, the emotions you carry can set the mood for everyone around you.

If you’re having a bad day or feeling overwhelmingly anxious, consider putting yourself in quarantine until you’re in a better state. On the flip side, if you recognize that you have extra positive energy, take some time to be with your team. It would be the perfect day to attend an extra meeting or check in with an employee who seems to be struggling.

  1. Be a caring coach.

Coaching your direct reports in a one-on-one style can profoundly impact your emotional connection with them. Set aside intentional meetings that allow you to work together on goal development and strategies. Every team is made up of individuals, and each individual needs to know he or she matters — both to you and to the company as a whole.

Retaining high-quality team members is an ongoing challenge for executives today. One of my team’s core values is passion: passion for creativity, passion for honesty, and passion for our team. This passion thrives in a place of emotional connection, and every leader should look forward to continuing to grow a workplace where that connection keeps his or her teammates happy at work.
Photo Credit: Recent Magazine Flickr via Compfight cc

Putting A Stake in the Ground: Purpose+ Profit = Next Generation Business

Can you imagine what is possible now? There is no other time than now! Let’s go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

The Current Reality

A growing number of people and organizations are recognizing that another person’s best practices are often not applicable to their own situation. Guidance from others is vital, but we need to gain a greater integrated understanding of our own unique situations, goals, and purpose, and then implement new approaches that fit our own specific business needs and opportunities.

A Paradigm Shift is Available to Business Pioneers

We are on the edge of a genuinely new paradigm for business. There is an urgent need to shift from leading with organizational structure and technology to leading with greater purpose. Rational structure and evolving technologies are obviously important, but they are meant to serve the higher purpose of your business, not to dominate it. We can stop bringing with us old and tired ways of working that just keep shifting the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you. Aldous Huxley

Our opportunity is not simply implement another business program or framework. It is far simpler, and yet much more challenging, than that. We need to adopt a 21st century mindset that drives our purpose and allows us to see opportunities where we bring people together to create something beautiful in the world of business. When people in an organization are connected to its deep purpose and know how to play their position, that’s when the profitability comes in. Are you ready to build the next generation business based on purpose + profit?

Feel free to contact me to talk about how we can make this happen in your organization … My new interactive workshop or keynote will help you and your team start exploring and navigating through these critical opportunities for creating your next generation business tailored for the 21st century:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What is the collective purpose of why you are in business?
  • Where is your edge?
  • How do you connect with the people—employees, customers, partners, vendors, communities—who care about what your business creates?
  • How does purpose + profit = the future of your business? What actions do you need to take? What mindsets do you need to embrace?

A version of this was first posted on

How to Prove You Have the Skills Tech Recruiters Value Most

Recruitment in any industry is a difficult process. Finding staff that are not only qualified to the role, but fit into your company (and will stay with you) is important if you want the process to be sustainable and financially prudent.

In the tech industry, there are even more considerations and pitfalls when trying to attract the best talent. To find out what recruiters in the industry were looking for (and struggling to find), tech job recruitment specialists, Modis, spoke to 500 IT decision makers. So, what do they want, and how can candidates show it?

Teamwork and interpersonal skills

31 percent of recruiters said that teamwork and interpersonal skills were the most difficult skills to find. While so-called ‘soft skills’ may not be the most obvious requirement recruiters look for in tech roles, this highlights how important these skills are. While working in tech and IT does often require a mind with the ability to focus on and complete tasks without supervision, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work with other people. When applying for roles in the industry, candidates should emphasize their ability to work harmoniously with others and give practical examples to support their claims.

Project management

While management of others is a specified role and doesn’t necessarily need to be a requirement of every tech job, the ability to manage your own projects is vital. Surprisingly, it seems to be lacking in many candidates, with 21 percent of decision makers saying it was the hardest skill to find when looking for appropriate staff. So, what do interviewers look for?

“They have to have a methodology,” Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group says. “Maybe they use software, or a book, or they just have years of experience.” Demonstrate your process when applying for roles and use real life examples when possible to give your experience a practical edge. You could even demonstrate a plan using your process with knowledge of the company you’re applying for to really show off your skills.

Security and infrastructure

You don’t have to look far in the news to find a story about hacking, leaked documents or a company’s website being compromised. So, it makes sense that recruiters see practical knowledge about security and infrastructure to be an important part of any tech recruit. However, 22 percent of those surveyed said it was still one skill area they struggled to find staff with.

Stay up to date with trends and news in the industry, mainly because this will help you do your job more effectively, and mean you can spot threats early. However, it will also demonstrate to an employer that the security of their business is a priority to you and make you seem like a safe pair of hands.

A loyal track record

A proven track record of employee loyalty is always a good sign of an employee’s intentions. Over half of recruiters surveyed (58 percent) said a candidate with five or more years at their previous post was a more attractive prospect to them. While this isn’t something job seekers can necessarily work on as a skill, it should factor in to your decision making when assessing job prospects and changes in role. If you’re thinking about changing your current role after only a short space of time, consider the reasons you’re doing it, and the ramifications of a patchy resume. Lots of short stints at different companies can appear inconsistent and ‘flighty’, so sticking out a job for a few extra months, even if it’s not your thing, can mean a stronger looking track record for the future.

There are some huge skill gaps when it comes to tech recruitment. While some of them, such as security and infrastructure, can be addressed with training, others such as social skills are often inherent. The tech industry, by its nature, does attract candidates with analytical minds. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t be analytical and social, but it means if you are, and you demonstrate loyalty and an ability to take control of project and drive it to the next level, you’ll have recruiters knocking down your door.

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Business Talent Management During Disasters

Snow storms have made their first sweep across the United States. Winter is here. And as we waited for the chill and the snow, many regions of the United States were rampaged by floods, hurricanes, and forest fires.

Natural disasters are surprise attacks that managers and business owners must pro-actively prepare to endure. Natural disasters are business killers. According to Can Your Organization Survive a Natural Disaster?, “25% of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster.” It’s a depressing and unsurprising fact.

Natural disasters can cause:

  • supply chains to slow or halt.
  • the temporary closure of the company.
  • employee (talent) injury and death.
  • employee absenteeism.
  • the inability to meet client contracts and potential loss of clients.
  • a decrease in the number of customers.
  • damage to a business’s premises and equipment.
  • regulatory fines

Each potential fallout of natural disaster can be an expense that the company cannot afford. It’s vital that companies invest in creating disaster plans to counteract the economic fallout of an unexpected natural disaster.

How in-depth should the plan be? It really depends on how likely you are to experience a natural disaster. Locations prone to disasters should invest more time and money into protecting their business from natural disasters. Keep in mind: every dollar utilized for disaster prep can prevent seven dollars of economic loss down the road.

Below are a few simple ways that managers can help their company prevent economic loss down the road:

Employee Work Policies During Natural Disasters

It’s a good idea to have a general sense of whether employees will be expected to work directly before, during, and in the aftermath of a potentially dangerous weather event. Forcing employees to weather the storm to commute to and from work can be dangerous. It could lead to injuries or fatalities that could cost the employee and company long-term.

Here are a few talent management strategies and policies to enact during a disaster.

Create employee evacuation (time-off work) policies. You might consider creating a case-by-case evacuation approval policy. Even if there is not a state-wide mandatory evacuation, individuals might live in particularly dangerous locations. A written policy will ensure that employees who need to leave the area have that ability without fearing job loss.

Create a more lax ‘bad weather’ late policy. If you expect employees to work, you might consider not enforcing super strict attendance policies. Yes, employees should know to wake up earlier during bad weather to arrive at work on time, but it’s often hard to tell how much longer the commute will be until you’re on the road.

You need to ask yourself what’s better: employees arriving at work safely ten to twenty minutes late or employees arriving on time if they aren’t derailed by an accident due to risky driving.

Specialized employee safety policies. Weather, unfortunately, can slow down employee output. This is especially true for jobs that are conducted outside. Employees rushing through jobs and slipping off of slippery roofs (for example) will could cost the company more in the long run.

How can unsafe work policies hurt your business? Employee injuries could cause your workers comp insurance to be racked up, employees to be on light duty for weeks, and open the company to a potential employee lawsuits. Managers, HR, and employees should work together to create a reasonable and safe ‘bad weather’ productivity policy.

Implement an emergency remote work policy. If the job can be completed from the home, you might consider test driving a remote work policy. You could allow employees to work from home directly before, during, and after the natural disaster.

Not sure if it’s a safe bet? Don’t quite trust your employees to be productive? Currently three million Americans have the ability to work from home. That number is projected to increase by 63% over the next five years, especially as more millennials enter and change the workplace.

Companies wouldn’t be gradually introducing a remote policy if they couldn’t ensure that employees were productive. If you do it right, short-term  remote work can help the company prevent productivity loss due to absenteeism and employee injury.

You should, if you implement the policy, lay out:

  • who is eligible.
  • when the work must take place.
  • how many hours can be worked.
  • how they will and how often they must communicate with management.
  • how the company will ensure productivity standards are met.

Natural disasters, if not properly prepared for, can be catastrophic to small and medium sized businesses. Due to the threat of extreme weather events, managers and business owners should create disaster prep workplace policies. Even if small businesses cannot afford a complicated disaster prep plan, they can begin by creating disaster preparation policies that can help them ensure employee safety and productivity long-term.

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Give Employees The Gift Of Well-being

Undoubtedly, a sense of well-being is one of the precious joys of living. It’s foundational to who we are and what we do. This important underpinning sets us up for success… or failure.

As a business owner, I appreciate the well-being of my employees and understand the value of helping them stay mentally focused, for many reasons, including how well-being affects attitude which in turn affects productivity. There are a variety of ways which companies can contribute to employee well-being.

Pet-friendly Environment

I am a proponent of animal rights so with that, acknowledge the value of my pets and having them with me at work. The benefit of a pet-friendly workplace is becoming recognized by many companies, because the advantages outweigh the cons. According to researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, it was discovered that pets in the workplace actually create a buffer between stressful situations, boost employee morale and increase productivity. Further, in a separate study conducted by Central Michigan University, researchers found that when dogs were present at team meetings, people expressed a greater desire to collaborate and were motivated to find reasons to trust in their fellow collaborators. These are just two studies, there are many more that corroborate these findings.

Note, it’s also important to be sensitive to employees who have health issues or sensitivities to animals, so be cognizant of their needs before implementing a program of this nature.

Flex Hours and Remote Work

Acknowledging that your employees have a full life that includes activities outside of work is a reality smart companies recognize. For example, many people have personal obligations that may conflict with a work schedule of 8am to 5pm, but with some adjustments can still work a full day with different start and stop times.

Flex hours also accommodate individuals who may have special needs. It opens the door to people who may not otherwise have opportunity to be productive, contributing employees. As stated by Denise Tsukayama, Equal Opportunity Officer/ADA Coordinator for the City and County of Honolulu, “While flexwork / telework may be an effective reasonable accommodation for some employees with disabilities, more importantly these accommodations can broaden our efforts in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Additionally, not everyone is a “morning person” and with that may have different high productivity times of day. Undoubtedly, all companies want maximum output from their employees, so understanding that all people have a different productivity cadence can save companies millions of dollars a year by simply adjusting employee work hours to coordinate with their high-producing hours.

Some jobs and projects are very focus intensive and with that may be more costly or timely for an organization. Having your employees full attention and focus riveted at these times, can be critical to the success and ultimately to the bottom line of the company.

Work-day Breaks

Workday breaks can offer your employees a short respite to regroup and refocus their energy. Workplace specialists (i.e., ergonomic specialists and organizational psychologists) believe there is a benefit to taking a short break prior to starting a long and complex project. The break gives people a chance to mentally close the work just finished and begin a new project with a clean slate. In terms of productivity, this is a way to jump start a new effort without having a prior work project still looming in the back of the employee’s mind.

Going out to lunch is an extended work-day break with its own set of benefits. In addition to offering a change of venue, this is a great time for a vigorous workout, a leisurely walk, or even a chance to run personal errands. Lunch breaks outside of work, allow people to decompress, listen to music, chat with a fellow walker, or interact with people outside of their place of employment. Companies can help make lunch breaks extra fun by incentivising employees with rewards for their dedication to maintaining a religious schedule of exercise and other activities.

Volunteer Days 

Allowing employees the opportunity to be contributors outside their organization is a wonderful way to encourage charitable service and giving back to a community that supports their employment. Volunteering empowers people to refocus on those less fortunate than themselves, perhaps, and allows them to take great pride in their efforts. It’s immensely gratifying to give back and knowing one’s company supports this outreach speaks fathoms about the organization. It can, also, help people to forge stronger bonds with their employer by representing their organization within the community and to work alongside leadership that may not have happened within the confines of the business walls.

These are a few examples; there are many ways companies can show their human side and understanding. It’s just a matter of making the commitment to support your employees and recognize they are your greatest asset and biggest business relationship. And as with any relationship that is for the long-haul, you will reap what you sow.

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#WorkTrends Recap: How Academia and Business Support STEM

The world of education and business are at a precipice in relation to what we need to keep our economy chugging along without slowing down the advancements needed to remain an economic leader.

This week Meghan M. Biro was joined by guest Rachael Mann to discuss the intricacies around how academia and business can and should work collaboratively in supporting our growing need for more technically trained people.

They also talked about why the STEM initiative was developed and more importantly, how we can encourage female students to pursue STEM careers.

Here are a few key points that Rachael shared:

  • We need to equip teachers with the tools to prepare students for real life in STEM
  • Parents play an active role in encouraging their children to pursue STEM careers
  • If employers don’t take an active role in encouraging students to pursue STEM careers then they won’t have employees in the future

Did you miss the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here:

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here: <a

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). On Dec 7, I will be joined by Mr. Kelly Max, CEO of Haufe, to discuss the cutting-edge topic of workplace democracy.

Remember, the TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following our #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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#WorkTrends Preview: How Academia and Business Support STEM

The world of education and business are at a precipice in relation to what we need to keep our economy chugging along without slowing down the advancements needed to remain an economic leader.

This week Meghan M. Biro and guest Rachael Mann discuss the intricacies around how academia and business can and should work collaboratively in supporting our growing need for more technically trained people… and this is especially true when it comes to technically educated female students. The initiative called STEM was developed for this exact reason.

Join Meghan and Rachael on Wednesday, November 30 at 1pm EST to hear more about this important initiative and to learn more about how businesses can support the academic cause to keep this movement growing.

How Academia and Business Support STEM

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Join Rachael and me on our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Nov 30 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT.

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: How can we encourage female students to pursue technical careers? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2: What can parents and leaders do to support STEM? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3: How can business integrate STEM into their culture? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. I invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and our TalentCulture G+ community. Share your questions, ideas and opinions with our awesome community any time. See you there!

Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!


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The Real Partner Is Your Customer

Venture Capitalism. Vulture Capitalism. When I hear those words, I immediately envision business owners whose top priorities are their investors exit plans, and subsequently are serving their investors rather than their customers. I’ve been a business owner long enough to see the effects of vulture capitalism within my industry. The landscape is littered with our competitors’ corpses and lingering bad business practices. And what’s left to show for it? Customers picking up the broken pieces of a defunct service agreement. It’s sad and very recognizable to see customer service go by the wayside… and even more disheartening to see how the customer becomes the ultimate victim of it all.

What’s the Real Cost of Doing Business?

I won’t deny that making money is a good thing… actually it’s a great thing. However, with the acquisition of new customers comes a reality beyond the money. The company and consumer should fully understand the benefits of partnering and look forward to a long relationship. You both have, in a sense, invested your time, money and energy into each other so making the most of your partnership should be the goal. There’s a responsibility to onboard customers truthfully, realistically and with respect. Desired client acquisitions should be viewed as relationships that are forged for the long haul, not a one and done that satisfies the immediate need to look profitable for your investors’ exit plans.

All this said, there are times when investment money can be a savior to your business. Necessary and ongoing software development, sales and marketing, and operations can be what is desperately needed to help your business not only survive, but also endure. In these situations, investigate your options thoroughly and don’t leap before you know the extent of your potential partners’ involvement and understanding of your industry, competition, business and long-term goals. The more aligned you are with the investors, the more likely you’ll find a harmonious and successful working relationship.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Research tools are available for consumers to investigate a product or service prior to purchasing, but many people fail to use these to their advantage. It’s important to dig deep to uncover any hype or misrepresentation. As human nature goes, people will be dazzled by the shiny object. The perception being that what appears to be a duck and presumably quacks like a duck must be a duck, even if we’re not totally sure what it is. This mentality can easily happen in the minds of consumers, because they believe what is large, expensive looking, flashy, and presumably the next best thing, must be what they should have.

Peeling back the layers and looking deeper into our perceptions often reveals the truth and accuracy of what we believe to be real, and with that a clearer picture of what is actually in front of us, is revealed. Consumers don’t want to be misled and certainly don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on a bill of goods, but when companies invest large amounts of money on marketing that causes misdirection, consumers can be made to believe in brands that will not or cannot deliver on their claims.

It’s important to vet out all brands and fully investigate their worth. Look beyond the pretty pictures. Ask tough questions. Dig for the truth and do not settle for being misdirected. It’s easy to settle, but ultimately when you do that, you have conceded control of your money and fate, along with opening yourself up to the disappointment of poor service, payment for an over-rated product and years of frustration trying to divest yourself of the albatross around your neck.

Reputation Management

In today’s world where nothing and no one can hide, apathetic interests are quickly identified and exposed. Companies that continue to practice a narcissistic philosophy, are myopic at best. To live today without worry of tomorrow is tantamount to extinction. This form of self-centered thinking holds customers in low regard with businesses believing buyers are not the reason the doors stay open and lights remain on… after all, they have millions from their investors for that purpose.

Areas that should never be overlooked or neglected are customer referrals and authenticated product reviews. Both of these speak fathoms about your business’s reputation and matter to any organization that is consumer-oriented. Further, they’re likely a critical part of the customer pipeline. When consumers review sites such as Angie’s List, Home Advisor, TrustRadius and Capterra they should be looking for feedback from other people’s experience to guide their decision making.

And most importantly, take time to think about the type of pipeline you’re developing. Attempting to bring on new clients by whatever means necessary, especially when done to satisfy investors, is a house of cards that will eventually collapse with calamitous results for the customer.  If you’re paying your customers to refer business to you or to write unsubstantiated reviews, you’re building a pipeline of business under false pretenses; this is a dishonest practice and a conflict of interest, and it will backfire with negative results. Having brand ambassadors who have a vested interest in the success of your organization because they realize the mutual benefit of using your product or service is more valuable to you, in the long run, than false reviews or paid referrals for new customers.

Take a Lesson

There are a lot of great business leaders in this country. Some of which conduct business with the highest of moral standards. They see the value in a win-win situation and recognize the long-term benefits of ensuring everyone with a seat at the table is well served.

Ben and Jerry’s is a fine example of this. The core mission of their business aims to create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to their business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors alike. They know that when these stakeholders win, they win too. This philosophy creates enduring and satisfying results for everyone involved. Partnerships that are structured in this manner make doing business with each other a joy, and less likely to dissolve due to unfair or deceitful business practices.

When it comes time to consider your potential partners’ business philosophies, consider their history of doing business with other companies. Do they have a reputation to churn and burn? Yes, this partnership may infuse money into your business, but keep this in mind, their exit plan is the end goal and always top of mind in a churn and burn situation.

At the End of the Day

I like to believe that “good guys” can finish first in business. Good business people are those who are not self-serving, but are people who understand who it is that they serve, and they serve them well. This understanding is important because it puts motivation into context and gets priorities straight. Everybody wins in this situation. Companies make money. Customers get what they want and hopefully, return to buy more. Companies that conduct business with their customers in mind, will in turn, be top-of-mind to their customers.

I don’t profess to tell other companies how to conduct business, however for my company inviting in capital investors has never been an option. I choose to work with people who believe in the mission, vision and values we’ve set forth as a company. Capital investors are more concerned with how their exit plan will manifest and are not focused on the endurance and critical needs of the organization as a customer satisfaction machine. This should not be where your attention is focused. Your customer is the true partner.

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Communications and Negotiations

Contrary to the belief of many, negotiations actually serve as a stepping stone to a potentially long-term, mutually beneficial alliance. Fair-minded negotiations are not the one-and-done actions played out by those who lack the skills and temperament to look beyond the moment, but are in fact, an interaction to ignite a satisfying, enduring relationship. In business it typically means that the people negotiating have come to an equitable agreement on terms for the outcome and where the “win-win situation” happens. For example, this could be product delivery, cost, quality, warrantees, and follow-up service… really anything one or more parties want to provide or to purchase. Creating relationships that are conducive to “everyone’s a winner” can be done, but is not always easy.

The Unbalanced Negotiation

The best outcome of a negotiation is when the end-result is mutually beneficial for all parties, but what happens if that is not a sentiment felt by everyone involved? You may be faced with a situation where a negotiation is, simply, not worth your time and effort. When one party’s demands create a “win-lose” scenario, it will hurt both parties in the long-run. When you concede more than you can realistically provide it may potentially diminish your ability to deliver on what you agree upon. In this instance, both you and the demanding party will lose. This can happen when a negotiator’s focus is unilateral with disregard to the other parties involved. This type of interaction should send up a red flag and alert you to the tenure of the negotiation which you can either walk away from, or re-steer to focus on what will create an equitable outcome.

Keep in mind, you have arrived prepared to discuss your points and substantiate your position. If you allow another party to dictate your negotiating posture, you’ve in essence relinquished control of your position and allowed the other party’s tactics to control the outcome. It’s fine to be flexible, and to a certain extent you should expect to be, but you need to do this without compromising your position and losing sight of what you envision to be an equitable outcome. Balanced negotiations set the stage for a win-win outcome and open the door to compromise and communication without anyone being affronted in, both, the short and long-term.

Negotiating Up

There will always be instances when negotiations are not conducted on a level playing field. We have all been in discussions with someone whose position, power or financial resources intimated or out-classed us. This is going to happen and sometimes our first experience at negotiating up begins at an early age (i.e., children negotiating for a higher allowance.) In a business situation, this doesn’t mean you should expect a negative outcome, but it does mean, you need to be better prepared and remain confident in your strategy. Research and preparation are two critical keys when presenting a solid case, but not just when negotiating up; these two practices should be present in all negotiations.

And always keep in mind, you are in the midst of a negotiation because you belong there. The value of your contributions has been recognized and you’ve been given the opportunity to put your complement of listening and speaking skills to use.

Can You Hear Me Now

The communications do not need to be hostile, but obviously opinions will differ or be contradictory in nature during conversations about how everyone can come out a winner. In large respect, this is a form of negotiation and negotiating with skill is not a science, but an art.

As with most interactions, becoming angry and loud is not as effective as remaining calm and deliberate in your delivery. Professors at Stanford University conducted a study to determine the effects of how anger can enhance or harm someone’s delivery during times of negotiation. What they found was, the presence of someone being non-temperamental, but pointed in her argument, was much more effective than when anger was used as a negotiating tactic. The feedback from the participants revealed that outbursts of anger were viewed as ineffective rather than a calculated use of language and guile. On the other hand, coming across as an automaton is not a recommended approach, either. It’s fine to show bridled emotions to tactically accentuate a point or to gain and give better understanding. Of course, timing will be a factor when using emotions as a tactic, so be sure to understand how this comes across both audibly and through your body language.

It’s Not Rocket Science

Maintaining a level-head, being confident and focusing on what you want to gain by the end of the negotiation will help you stay on track. Simple techniques such as: being prepared with facts and figures to support your comments and rebuttals, having a checklist to stay organized, compartmentalizing each of the items to be discussed to add applicable value to each discussion point at the correct time, deciding upfront what you ideally want at a minimum and what you are willing to relinquish (remember, negotiations are a give and take), as well as remaining patient, calm, and even finding humor in the discussion will help ease a potentially tough interaction.

#WorkTrends Recap: Maintaining Productivity in a Distracting Work Environment

There is a massive trend right now in the enterprise toward open office environments, and understanding how that trend impacts employees is important. IT should understand the distraction challenges that employees face in different environments. In addition, mobile workforces now face distractions in a wide variety of other environments.

On this week’s #WorkTrends show we were joined by Jennifer Adams, Head of Global Collaboration Markets for Plantronics. We discussed devices, such as noise canceling headphones, and other emerging technologies that are having a positive impact on productivity, careers, and quality of life.

Here are a few key points Jen shared:

  • Managers often don’t realize there is a noise problem in the workplace
  • Employees reported noise as one of the biggest distractions at work
  • Technology has allowed us to build better work environments with areas designated for collaboration and quiet

Missed the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here.

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). Next week, on Aug 17, host Meghan M. Biro will be joined by Christopher Cumby, author and successful sales consultant to discuss how to build a rich and happy life.

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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Pay Inequity

“People don’t care who they hurt or beat. For the love of money.” excerpt from the song “For the Love of Money,” by The O’Jays

Pay inequity. This is a well-worn topic that has been getting a lot of attention, especially over the past few years. Pay inequity is an insidious practice felt by many and one that knows no boundaries. Undeniably, it’s more targeted at certain people based on their gender, age, occupation, education, race, religion, and geography. There are even people in the Hollywood spotlight who have spoken out against this transgressive bias, as even these privileged few have felt the wrath of pay inequity’s duplicitous effects.

Albeit the United States Supreme Court has laws in place to counteract the negative effects of pay inequity, it’s still an all-to-common occurrence, because these laws are not properly enforced with assurances of stringent consequences to the offenders.

You’ve Not Come A Long Way Baby

From 1974 through 2014 the organization, American Association of Women, conducted a research study that found female workers in the United States were garnering salaries (depending on the state) that range from ten percent to thirty-five percent less than their male counterparts doing the same job with the same number of years’ experience. This same organization predicts that based on the current salary trend, it will take another 100 years for this pay gap to close. Further, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is one of the more egregious countries when it comes to the blatant practice of pay inequity in the gender pay gap.

The topic of pay inequity is not just a matter of gender and race bias, however women, especially those of color, tend to be at the bottom of the pay scale. According to an article in The New York Times, a 2016 research study uncovered the harsh reality of how businesses view work performed by women. The study found that duties completed by women are not perceived as being a value-add in the workplace. Further, some researchers suggest that society places pressure on women to pursue historically lower paying female-oriented jobs versus seeking jobs that men have traditionally held. The conclusion here is that women succumbing to these pressures are being suppressed by a society that is not ready to view women as equals to men in the workplace and beyond. But women are not the only people suffering from this bias.

Other Casualties

The topic of pay inequity goes beyond targeting women; it similarly affects both women and men of color. Valerie Wilson, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, determined that the pay discrepancy between white households and black households in the United States, has widened since 1979. Further the National Women’s Law Center found that the average Latin male and female employee would have to work 73 years longer to collect the same pay as their white male counterparts.

The National Bureau of Economic Research economists, Carruthers and Wanamaker, conducted an investigation to unearth wage discrepancies against black men during the 1940’s. One thing they uncovered was certain localized laws from the 20th century and earlier (mostly practiced in the southern area of the United States) set a precedence where segregated, oppressed black citizens were only allowed access to public schools where very little money was endowed and with that, adequate education was lacking to advance and support post-school employment to better paying jobs. The sad truth is this oppression is still felt and imposed on black working Americans decades later.

Additionally, a combination of age, inexperience and gender can, also, come into play when pay inequity is suspected. As employers are evaluating people entering the workforce and considering their universally under-developed skills, instances of young females being paid less has been reported when compared to males in the same age group.

How Can We Solve This Problem?

As a society, we need to re-examine certain perceptions and traditions, however if we cannot come to a consensus, we will never move the needle forward to solve the problem of pay inequity. To begin, better wide-spread education and public awareness are a must. People need to know where their money is going and how it is being spent. There are many suggested solutions from varying pundits to remedy the pay inequity problem, but they need to see a follow-through on execution. Three such ideas are:

  • Cap CEO pay
  • Increase taxes on the super-rich
  • Penalize companies for shipping jobs abroad

Clearly when it comes to these ideas, we need an aggressive plan of action. Capping CEO salaries, can be done but certain considerations need to be identified first. Who will be the oversight to enforce this? How will the appropriate consequences be determined and how will the policy be imposed? Which CEOs fall into the capped salary structure? Obviously, publically traded companies must disclose their financials, so they’re the obvious choice, but are there other companies which should be considered? Also, setting a limit on CEO exit plans, where all too often, the golden parachute is a ridiculous amount of money. Increasing taxes on the 0.00001 percent of the population that are billionaires is certainly worth a long look. As one solution, a structured plan can be imposed with proper tax levying based on capital gains within identifiable tax brackets. Penalizing companies for sending work abroad is a good idea, but companies need to be properly incentivized to want to keep work here. If companies choose not to observe, then imposing penalties such as paying tariffs, along with increased income tax for business conducted here may need to go into effect. Also, as part of keeping consumers informed, boycotting the company’s products and services may be used as a message to companies that do not comply.

These three options are just a few in a long list of other proposed solutions that have many layers of complexity to consider. With thorough consideration they can work, but a better understanding of the consequences and benefits needs to be carefully weighed first. We need a workable solution with quantifiable outcomes and accountability that incentivizes companies to do the right things and a system in place that oversees the follow-through on execution of the policies. Conjecture is not going to get us to where we need to be. Caring, listening, talking, resolving and taking the appropriate steps to stop pay bias is the right thing to do… of this, I am sure.


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#WorkTrends Preview: Maintaining Productivity in a Distracting Work Environment

There is a massive trend right now in the enterprise toward open office environments, and understanding how that trend impacts employees is important. IT should understand the distraction challenges that employees face in different environments. In addition, mobile workforces now face distractions in a wide variety of other environments.

On next week’s #WorkTrends show we will be joined by Jennifer Adams, Head of Global Collaboration Markets for Plantronics. We will discuss devices, such as noise canceling headphones, and other emerging technologies that are having a positive impact on productivity, careers, and quality of life.

Jen will also help us unpack who should manage these issues, the IT impacts, and much more.

Maintaining Productivity in a Distracting Work Environment

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Aug 10 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Host Meghan M. Biro and guest Jennifer Adams as they discuss how to overcome distractions and remain productive.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, Aug 10 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1. What are some ways to lessen distractions in the workplace? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2. How can new technologies improve work environments? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3. How can a mobile workforce improve or complicate productivity? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

See you there!

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#WorkTrends Recap: Transforming Businesses into Digital Dragons

As we get farther into the digital transformation, more businesses are turning into digital dragons.

So, what’s a dragon, you ask? It’s an agile company fit to adapt, innovate and thrive even in disruptive times. The ever-popular unicorn tends to rely on risky and experimental business models. Dragons, however, are established companies that continue to leverage their original startup mentality to systematically innovate their way to profitability.

Built on purposeful reinvention, scalable market dominance, and a commitment to long-term success, dragons are increasing in popularity.

During this week’s #WorkTrends show, we were joined by author and CEO Daniel Newman, who recently co-wrote the popular business book, “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy.” Dan helped us explore and understand what it takes to turn a business into a digital dragon.

Here are a few key points Dan shared:

  • Small innovations can make a difference too
  • Culture and people need to come first
  • To have a culture of innovation you need people who believe in your business

Missed the show? You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our Blog Talk Radio channel here.

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Didn’t make it to this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the podcast and chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). Next week, on Aug 10, host Meghan M. Biro will be joined by Jennifer Adams, head of global collaboration markets for Plantronics.

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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#WorkTrends Preview: Transforming Businesses into Dragons

So, what’s a dragon, you ask? It’s an agile company fit to adapt, innovate and thrive even in disruptive times. The ever-popular unicorn tends to rely on risky and experimental business models. Dragons, however, are established companies that continue to leverage their original startup mentality to systematically innovate their way to profitability.

Built on purposeful reinvention, scalable market dominance, and a commitment to long-term success, dragons are increasing in popularity. Come learn more about what it takes to be a dragon from author Daniel Newman, who recently co-wrote the popular business book, “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy.”

Transforming Businesses into Dragons

#WorkTrends Logo Design

Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, Aug 3 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Host Meghan M. Biro and guest Daniel Newman as they discuss what it takes to be a dragon in the age of digital transformation.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, Aud 3 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1. What are some key ways for companies to stay innovative as they grow? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q2. What technologies allow businesses to stay competitive? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Q3. What are the most important qualities of a dragon? #WorkTrends (Tweet this question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. We invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community, LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. Feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!

Join Our Social Community & Stay Up-to-Date!


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Entrepreneurship 101

In The Beginning

There are many reasons why someone desires to be an entrepreneur. There is, however, a commonality most often found among entrepreneurs… the entrepreneurial spirit. This trait is the driving force behind why people start their own business. It is a strong desire to create, coupled with a vision to succeed.

Various life experiences combined with someone’s own personal drive and vision can set the wheels in motion when considering livelihood as an entrepreneur. Undeniably, some of the biggest and best companies started in garages and basements by people with a vision to create. So what happens once the vision becomes a reality and you have a bona fide business? Hopefully, you have done all the preparation needed to get to this point and have a plan of action to keep your business heading in the right direction.

All too often, people with great ideas begin their entrepreneurial journey without having performed the due diligence needed on the front end. The business plan needs to be rock solid, your finances stable to sustain you, and your determination and endurance to keep moving the needle forward, fully charged. Understanding that a flexible mindset will help you make adjustments, as needed, is important and they shouldn’t be looked upon as setbacks.

In regards to finances, it’s important to consider options for your business throughout its lifespan. What does your business plan outline for the present, near and far future in regards to growth and what are the finances you’ll need to keep your business buoyant? When will you need to hire people, if at all? What type of capital purchases will be needed and is it better to buy versus lease? How will you anticipate and off-set your operating costs? There are many more questions you need to consider, but inevitably it will always come back to finances. For business owners seeking financial options, there are outside sources that may be beneficial, but understand these sources come with other types of “hidden costs” that may not be appealing, and I’ll address that later in this article.

Playing The Money Game

You need to be aware that obtaining investor money is not an easy task and one that many entrepreneurs will be denied due to the number of available investment opportunities. Generally, early start-ups are considered the least desirable by capital investors but can be attractive to an angel investor, who generally invests smaller amounts of money knowing there is a greater risk. Capital investors prefer to invest in businesses that have a track record of success and longevity thus increasing the odds of a big payout on their investment.

Is it wrong to seek out venture capital investments? Some people might say, it’s just the good ole’ American way of doing business. In reality, it provides opportunities for investors seeking great ideas, products and services that have come from the sweat equity of entrepreneurs. On the other-hand there are individuals who enter into entrepreneurship and start businesses with the intention of being invested in or purchased outright.

Serial entrepreneurs like Reid Hoffman make starting, quickly growing and acquiring large infusions of capital investments, their actual business model. I liken them to people who buy and flip houses. The emotional attachment to the property is in knowing there is no attachment beyond how attractive it appears to outside investors or buyers. This doesn’t mean the serial entrepreneur doesn’t care about his business; it simply means the end-goal is not for longevity.

For some entrepreneurs, an infusion of money from an outside source comes with a side of other, more significant changes. With venture capital comes the attractive infusion of money that not only helps relieve entrepreneurs of the financial burden of managing a business, but also helps divest them from the emotional attachment and control of the business they started.

These business owners have in essence agreed to take on partners with a lot of power and influence over how the business will be managed. The investors will assume the position of stakeholder and to whom the business owner will report. Since the goal of capital investors is to purchase at a price that leaves a great margin for profitability and opportunity to sell at a higher price down the road, the actions and decisions may not align between the investors and the business owner. This is a mindset business owners need to understand and adjust to quickly if they want the money. If relinquishing control of one’s business is something a person can mentally manage, then the transaction shouldn’t present any problems with the repositioning of authority. However, it will, likely, change many things about the company’s business model. Rest assured, venture capitalism is always this: self-serving to the investors.

At The End Of The Day

I don’t profess to tell other companies how to conduct business, however for my company inviting in outside investors has never been an option. I choose to work with people who believe in the mission, vision, values and culture we’ve set forth as a company. Capital investors are more concerned with how their exit plan will manifest and not focused on the efficacy of the organization as a customer engagement machine.

I like to believe that “good guys” can finish first in business. Good business people are those who are not self-serving, but are people who understand who it is that they serve, and they serve them well. This understanding is important for any business owner to know, because it puts motivation into context and gets priorities straight. Everybody wins in this situation. Companies make money. Consumers get what they want, and hopefully return to buy more. Companies that conduct business with their customers in mind, will in turn, be top-of-mind to their customers.

Knowing yourself and what motivates you, understanding what it will take to build your business and who you want to help make your organization successful are considerations never to be taken lightly.

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Entrepreneurship Is A Sweet Deal

The topic of entrepreneurship fascinates me. I often wonder what makes one person seek out entrepreneurial opportunities while others are content to be employees. I believe for some people the real and perceived risks of business ownership is too overwhelming for them to fathom. For others, there’s the immense commitment of time and resources and not to mention the financial implications. Being an entrepreneur or an employee both have their risks, it’s just a matter of which setting is more comfortable for you and where you see yourself fit.

I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Elisabeth Vezzani, the Co-founder and CEO of Sugarwish. During an inspirational conversation we talked about the gratifying aspects, along with work-life balance issues entrepreneurs face as a business owner.

Ms. Vezzani, like many people, gained her experience from years in a corporate environment, specifically the staffing industry. During this time, she noticed a gap in the corporate gift market and created a company called Sugarwish, a startup that brings a revolutionary and sweet approach to gifting.

While working in the staffing industry, she sought out clever and unique gifting services to satisfy her own business needs and was disappointed with what was available. She recognized the need and from there decided on a type of gift that appeals to most people and envisioned how these gifts of recognition and thanks could be easy and fun to give and get. According to Elisabeth, “It all started as a conversation I was having with a friend about the lack of clever gifts that were available. I wanted to be able to give a gift that I would want to receive.”

Creating something to satisfy personal need then building it out to offer to others makes a lot of sense to me and one of the elements in the “secret sauce.” You have an idea. However, the change of moving from a position where a consistent source of income coupled with benefits and work that you enjoy doing, is still a big leap over to entrepreneurship.

Still desiring to know more about what differences someone experiences, I asked Elisabeth about the biggest adjustments she encounters between her corporate leadership position and self-employment. As with most entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with, her comments were not surprising. “The biggest difference with self-employment is that there’s no “off button.” states Elisabeth, “Much of it is my total love for Sugarwish… and my inability to stop thinking about what we can do better, or what we can do next. I want to be sure we are making Sugarwish all that it can be, and see it reach its full potential.” 

Ah, the “off button.” This comment makes something come to mind. I see entrepreneurship much as I view parenthood. A full-time, no holds barred, in-for-a-penny in-for-a-pound commitment. Another element of the “secret sauce.” But wait… this sounds like work-life imbalance more than symmetry. According to Elisabeth, “The balance is a little tricky, because that separation line is really blurred. Sugarwish fits into both my work and life categories. There is no “leaving it at the office”. There just can’t be. Keeping balance (and my sanity) requires a little more juggling, a little more understanding from family and friends… and a whole lot less sleeping.” There it is! There’s no separation from personal to business, because for an entrepreneur, their business is personal and so meaningful to them.

But surely, something is a driving force for people bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. They must get more out of the experience than what meets the eye. I can understand the self-satisfaction of “building” something and watching it grow, much like how people who love to garden enjoy seeing the fruits of their efforts develop. The gratification appears to run deep, but understanding the particulars of what is most impactful is probably personal. When I asked Elisabeth about her perspective on the gratification return on investment, she was adamant.

“One of the most gratifying aspects of my job is being able to watch Sugarwish continue to grow,” states Elisabeth, “and seeing it develop from a conversation, to an idea, to an initial website, to a thriving company has been unbelievably satisfying and inspiring. Another, is knowing that what we originally set out to do, specifically, delivering happiness, is working. We get to see how kind, thoughtful, generous and just generally awesome people are to each other… each and every day. All we hear is the good stuff and it never, ever gets old. It is literally the best job in the world.”

Question answered. I appreciate her impassioned response and obvious love of what she does for work. The most important element in the “secret sauce” revealed… a passion for what one does for work.

This desire for independent creativity and drive doesn’t need to be as an entrepreneur. Many people don’t build an empire, yet they still find happiness in what they do and look forward to doing it… every day. In Elisabeth’s case, she found her passion, built her business and set high bars to improve its performance to deliver more gratification, not only for herself, but for the people who interact with her company. For her entrepreneurship is a sweet deal with plenty of cowbell.

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Be The Influencer You Admire

“You can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your child’s. The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Influencer. This is a word bandied about quite a bit. It’s usually associated with someone in a leadership, management or pop culture position. Being labeled an influencer has a positive connotation and it’s a compliment. It means the person with this brand has earned his/her stripes and is now being recognized for their knowledge and strengths, but along with this acknowledgment comes a huge responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility lies in how someone wields this position.

Not exactly the opposite of influencer, but different in subtle and meaningful ways, is the manipulator. Many people define this person as someone who acts to gain an advantage for the sole benefit of him/herself. When comparing the two, influencers, elicit a profoundly more positive opinion. In a business setting, influencers are likely, people in a leadership role with oversight of other individuals. However, there are plenty of situations where someone wasn’t a member of leadership, initially anyway, but through dedication to his/her cause rose to the influencer distinction (and more).

Two such people are Crystal Lee Sutton a.k.a. “Norma Rae” and Lech Walesa. So what did these people do that brands them an influencer rather than manipulator? They used their voice and actions to find a better way for the many.

Influencing For The Good

In the case of Ms. Sutton, she fought for the rights of herself and fellow co-workers who endured hard work and long hours for very low wages that were not in keeping with the labor laws at that period of time. She symbolically became the voice of the people within her organization, and with that she galvanized her co-workers to unite and fight for the rights due them.

For Lech Walesa, he fought for the rights of skilled labor in communist Poland. He rallied his co-workers to unite and deny the factions that set out to deny their labor rights and benefits. He used his influence to gain advantages for the disenfranchised and for that he was later recognized and elected the President of Poland.

Ms. Sutton and Lech Walesa are two people who bridled their motivation and used their influence for the betterment of many.

Thinking back to recent history, there are many stories about influencers who used their voice and actions to advance mankind or simply to advance the mission of their organization. Often times, these people were in leadership roles and because of this, could gather an audience by request.

One person who stands out this way is Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, who uses his notoriety and influence to create programs for veterans suffering from PTSD and young adults in need of a job. As Shultz states, “Success is best when it’s shared.”

Not Always In The Spotlight

The people I mention have all done great things to advance improvements in their particular situations, but what about the people who have not gained fame for their ability to influence positively? Through my own business dealings I know many. They’re not the people you read about on The Huffington Post or in Time, but they are people who use their influence carefully, skillfully and with intent to do good rather than harm.

Be Mindful

Being able to reach people through the spoken word or with actions is a very powerful statement, and as I mentioned, it comes with tremendous responsibility. Often times, the best way to inspire is to live beyond the spoken word and influence by example.

Organizing your strategy and clarifying intentions is helpful before you take action. It’s important to recognize the difference between intentional manipulation and stalwart influencing. Next time you’re in a position to use your influence, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I doing this for my gain or the betterment of other people, or my organization?
  • How will everyone benefit from my words and actions?
  • Have I thought this through carefully?
  • Will anyone/thing be harmed by the outcome?
  • What approach will be most effective without intimidating people?

By addressing these questions, you’ve examined your own intentions. People who want to, truly, cast influence without the effect of manipulation, consider it second nature to contemplate this before taking action. People who influence responsibly are not instilling guilt, being confrontational, withdrawing support, or making people feel “on guard” or trapped to acquiesce. Responsible influencers prefer to provide substantive information to help build their case and implement reasoning to help people understand. Though the end-result may benefit the influencer, others will, also, benefit and gain from listening and choosing to take the suggested path.

Everyone has the ability to influence, and utilizing your emotional intelligence can be very helpful in steering your approach and guiding your moral compass. Just be the influencer you respect. If you see the good, others will likely, as well.

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Influencer Marketing Gone Wrong—Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes

Are you responsible for managing campaigns to roll out a new product or service? Or are you one of the essential cogs in the HR machine with a job that includes finding top talent? In either scenario (and in many others) influencer marketing may be exactly what you’re looking for.

As I’ve said before, I am a brand champion for talent, and I think it’s important to understand how influencer marketing is reshaping the way businesses market and sell their products.

I also think it’s important to understand what to and what NOT to do when you’re considering working with an influencer to speak on your brand’s behalf.

Influencer marketing is one of the hottest (and cost-effective) forms of marketing today, and it works. But—and this is a big but—only when it’s done right. Problems with influencer marketing happen when brands “hear the buzzword,” and jump right in without developing a strategy and foundation for their program.

All too often, this approach to influencer marketing ends in failure. Or worse, damage to the brand’s reputation.

It’s no secret that this type of marketing can be one of the best ways to build brand awareness. Studies have found that influencer marketing, which is basically highly targeted and strategized word-of-mouth marketing, generates two times more sales than paid advertising. Better yet, customers gained through this kind of marketing have a 37 percent higher chance of becoming loyal customers.

Influencer marketing can also have a very high ROI: Businesses make an average of $6.50 per dollar spent. No wonder so many marketers are scrambling to give it a try. However, there’s just one major problem: Too many brands do it wrong. Here are some common mistakes and tips so you can avoid making them.

Mistake #1: Not Treating Influencers Like Real People

Lack of authenticity is often one of the biggest issues in influencer marketing campaigns. Influencers are people—they may be people who’ve branded themselves well and have created an impressive online or offline reputation, but they’re still people. Many brands seem to forget this; they approach influencers like another faceless brand or company and neglect to treat them like real human beings.

Don’t Make This Mistake

Influencer marketing is about establishing and building relationships—real connections with real people. Here are some ground rules:

  • Approach influencers like you would a co-worker or industry professional you admire.
  • Write them a personalized message, and avoid anything that sounds automated or cliché.
  • Pay them an authentic compliment.
  • Give them a little creative freedom when they do agree to share their feelings about your brand.

The point of influencer marketing is, well, their opinions. That’s why you’ve done your research and chosen the best ones for your company or brand (see below about choosing incorrectly!). Don’t box them in by telling them exactly what to say or how to say it.

Influencers have feelings too—treat them like the people they are.

Mistake #2: Approaching the Wrong Influencer for Your Campaign

Finding the right influencer–someone who resonates with the audience you’re marketing to—is essential for the success of your campaign. Choosing someone based only on the number of their online friends or followers can misfire. If the person you’ve chosen doesn’t jive with your brand’s personality, marketing through them will never get the response you want, no matter how many followers they have. Your chosen influencers should have a lot in common with your brand: Interests, target audiences, expertise, and even aesthetics.

Don’t Make This Mistake

How do you choose the right influencers? Think of your organization’s hiring process: When you’re considering a potential employee, you screen them to make sure they fit the company culture, right? The concept is the same.

Do some research into your prospective influencer’s background:

  • How do they behave with their friends and followers?
  • Are they engaging with other brands? Which ones?
  • What is their reputation?
  • What material are they sharing and how is it resonating with the people you hope to reach?
  • Are they active in the same forums the people you hope to reach are?

Take a look at your potential influencer’s followers.

  • What are they discussing?
  • What do they like or dislike?
  • What do they share online?
  • Do they resemble any of your customer profiles, or seem like people who might use your product or service or tell others about them?

Understanding an influencer’s personal brand will help you decide whether they mesh with your company culture. It will also help you approach them with a more personal touch—a win-win effort.

Mistake #3: Being Disorganized—or Too Strict

Disorganization and a lack of communication will kill any relationship—business or otherwise. Chances are, you pour a lot of resources into your other marketing campaigns, so plan to do the same for any influencer marketing campaigns you manage.

Influencer marketing campaigns should be just as organized as your other campaigns. Trust me, the influencer will thank you. Nothing is worse than agreeing to help out a brand only to find out they don’t even know what they want or need from you.

Having said that, be open to their suggestions. For example, I mentioned giving influencers a little freedom when it comes to spreading the news about your brand. They’re an influencer—give them the trust they have earned by reaching that status.

Don’t Make This Mistake

Start with an outline of how your campaign will work. You’ll need some sort of editorial calendar and an idea of how you want to have your brand portrayed. Keeping with your brand voice, give your influencer a basic outline of what you expect from them but be flexible. Again, keep an open mind, and listen to them. Leave room for feedback and adjustment.

However, make very sure your influencer understands the Federal Trade Commission’s (FCC) Endorsement Guide—and plans to follow it. When it comes to the use of endorsements and testimonials, the FTC has set out some guiding principles, which you and your influencer must adhere to. For example, influencers must disclose their connections to a brand when they are making recommendations or endorsements.

Figure out how you will answer the following:

  • Who will be monitoring and managing the campaign and the influencer’s work?
  • What are the terms of employment or the contract?
  • How will you compensate your influencer?
  • How will you know the campaign has been successful?
  • What happens after the campaign ends?

Taking the time to answer these and other questions and to plan thoughtfully will make your (and the influencer’s) life easier in the long run.

Give Your Business the Care It Deserves

You’ve worked hard to build your business—you should work just as hard to market it well. Whether you’re on the hunt for new employees or pitching a new product, influencers have the ability to help you tremendously, and you want to approach them in a way that makes them feel excited to lend a hand. Influencer marketing is about fostering a relationship with the influencer, and by extension, his or her followers. If your heart is in it, the influencer’s will be, too. And great things can happen!

This post was first published on first published on V3Broadsuite on 3/30/16.

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Social Learning Leadership: A New Panacea For Ignorance?

A dear friend’s TWINS (yes all caps) just entered a prestigious New England university. They are bright, driven, focused students and they’ll do well. They’d better, because it will cost my friend north of $100K a year to keep them in New England college splendor. Smiles.

It would have been more costly at Harvard, which in 2012-2013 provided cost guidelines for undergraduates in excess of $62,000. Of course a recent graduate, if he or she were fortunate enough to find a full-time job (almost half are not so lucky, according to a recent study) might expect to receive an annual salary of $42,000. Not much when you add in an apartment, or a car, or an IRA, or student loan repayments. No wonder so many college graduates still live at home (spoiler career alert – they’ll need that IRA?) Heaven help you if your student holds a degree in fine arts or journalism. Don’t say no one warned you on this career move these days. Always a risky proposition so do your homework please.

Perhaps as leaders we need to re-examine the learning business or the business of learning. On the job, in your career, which part of your studies contributes to success? I’m betting the semester in Prague has yet to pay dividends, and the minor degree in psychology, while it may enable you to pop-diagnose personality disorders in co-workers, hasn’t helped you get a report done, contributed to critical thinking skills necessary to problem-solve, or helped when you needed a Word or Excel shortcut.

In short, classroom learning – what the experts call formal learning – has limits. I’m a believer in the value of an education but it has limits and our system is in need of care and social innovation. Anyone who’s slogged through 12 years plus in the classroom will agree. Then there’s informal learning – stuff you do on your own, for the most part. Read any good business books lately? Ah, no, ok then.

Finally, **queue social learning** like so much else today it’s an outgrowth of social media. I’ve been living the social learning lifestyle online for a few solid years now (plus actually – I’m in denial). I host two chats on Twitter that are dedicated to the World of Work and HR Technology = Social Learning Leadership in ACTION.

The good news: it turns out companies are looking at social learning, and many are opting away from classroom, which they can control but which costs money – part-time classes at Harvard run around $5K per class per semester, for example – and also forgoing informal learning, where they tell an employee they’d better read a certain book and be prepared for the pop quiz. These days everything is social, so why not social learning?

Who knew all that time at Starbucks was finally going to pay off?

Social learning, as my friend Sharlyn Lauby points out, happens pretty much anywhere, with or without social (media) tools. Remember when you started a job at a tech company, tried to query a database, and had no idea what MySQL was? Bet someone helped you, gave you just enough info to get the job done without worrying about making you an expert. Then you passed that skill on at an all-hands meeting. Voila, social learning!

Social learning takes the relaxed nature of informal learning and the expertise and rigor of classroom learning to make something more suited to today’s on-the-job learners. It adds the context of the workplace, subtracts the expense of the classroom, and informs the experience with the social element so necessary in today’s interactions.

Bingo, as they say. I’m a big fan of Twitter as a classroom for social learners.

So Let’s Celebrate Five Advantages of Social Learning Leadership:

1) Social learning advantages millennials while also benefitting other age cohorts. It’s a multi-generational party! Let’s face it, if you run a company, HR or internal training, you need to manage all the generational populations, but you’re probably biased to the needs of the millennials, the generation inheriting the jobs and wisdom of Boomers. Very little downside here – you’re covering the entire employee population, at a lower price point than classroom learning.

2) Social learning is not time-constrained. No need to call a two-day training that takes out 75 percent of the department. Make it social, create many entry points and create a rewards system to ensure most employees participate. Don’t worry about the hold-outs – they will, in time, pick up the knowledge gained by those who took the class (see informal training.)

3) Social learning encompasses an explicit and visible rewards system for those who participate. Everyone wants the gold star, real or virtual. Making the award visible across the employee population, using social media, is common sense.

4) Links to business value must be explicit. People need to know their contributions are valued by the organization. Social leaning is no exception. You will need to construct a value-investment chain; many organizations, free or fee, can help.

5) Social learning is strategic, not tactical. Sure it’s a tactical benefit when someone learns to code a spreadsheet formula without taking a three-day class. But look for strategic value: an employee who attends Edward Tufte’s visual presentation of data seminar has enormous value. His or her ability to present quantitative information in a visually appealing form will reinvigorate employees who can’t go to the seminar but are bored to death with PowerPoint or Prezi. Invest in social learning in such a way that all learning becomes social, even when it begins in the classroom. Make it creative and engaging to your audience.

Finally, remember that creating a learning environment is an exercise in smart workplace culture, and an investment in creating competitive advantage for your company or your community.

Social is the how, not the why. Focus on the how, and social learning will make sense.

A version of this post was first published on on 9/11/12

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5 Reasons To Kill The Work-Life Balance Myth

Work or life? Nope. There’s no such thing as either/or. The work-life duality is a fallacy. One way or another, we all know, deep down, that it’s simply not a functional construct, particularly in 2016. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Passion is seamless

If we’re engaged in our work, we’re working from our passion — and passion is a key driver of success. It also means you don’t want to disconnect from what’s on your mind. Imposing a line of demarcation and isolating your work into a compartment can stifle your own creativity, as well as limit connection, opportunities and new ideas. The leaders we admire don’t separate one from the other — they are their work, and their work is who they are. And we expect that.

  1. A different business culture

Unwittingly or not, the culture of business has evolved into a new paradigm — which supports a different human paradigm. Purposeful integration is a vital thru-line; when organizational message, mission and method are integrated, each supports the other and converges into an authentic and transparent company brand. Moreover, an employee brand that does not acknowledge the human-ness of its employees (similarly to a brand that does not acknowledge the lives of its consumers) is not nearly as compelling or engaging — or sticky — as one that does.

  1. Purpose drives performance

We know this: according to the recent Workplace Purpose Index, (by Imperative and New York University), 28% of the workforce is driven by purpose. They know who they are as whole people, not just staffers, and they link their own purpose to the purpose of the organization where they work. This is a model of functional clarity by choice; the opposite of the company-man trope. Purpose-driven folks know the work they want to do in the world; and the study’s revelation uncovered that they outperform the rest of us in terms of money, advancement and competition.

  1. Recruitment is competitive

From an employer’s point of view, if you want the high performers, you’d best get your candidate experience in line. Studies of candidate experience show that even the first active contact with a prospective employer acts as a pivot either towards or away from engagement. Make sure it reflects the organization authentically. Lack of transparency is a sign that an employee’s human-ness is going to be devalued. For someone already clear on their purpose, they’re not going to waste their time with that kind of disconnect.

  1. We’re already past that

The zeitgeist approach is that once an idea takes hold, you can’t turn back — and we’ve reached that point in terms of work and life. There are already a number of different approaches on the issue of life and work. LIFEworking, for instance, affirms that it’s the individual and not the organization that defines what success means — and that boldness of choice, which goes into true innovation — has to do with the fearlessness of being genuinely self-aware. And even if you haven’t yet landed on the phrase that crystallizes it for you, the workforce itself has changed the context already. We are a contingency / consultancy / career not company / culture, assuming professional trajectories that accumulates skills and experience as opposed to jobs. We work in a more blended and disparate workforce than ever before.

If even the mobile, social, global, multigenerational, etcetera environment we live and work in supports this new idea of realistic and optimistic integration, perhaps it’s not as simple as choosing the right app, but it’s close. Flatter organizational structures, recalibrated views of parental leave, multiple platforms — all play a role in debunking the monolithic barrier of work standing in front of our life.

We’ve never been more prepared for the change. The fact is that work and life are seamless. It’s the quality of how they intersect that we have to attend to.

Are you interested in talking more about the “Work-Life Balance” myth? Join us for The TalentCulture #WorkTrends Show on Wednesday, February 17, 2016, from 1-2 pm ET (10-11 am PT).

A version of this post was first published on on February 12, 2016

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