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.

Why I Won’t Play Pokémon Go

Do you struggle to maintain concentration? Technology and its foreboding “nowhere to hide” mindset has certainly not helped. Thankfully, there are ways we can limit workplace distractions without having to abandon our smartphones.

Unlike most smartphone owners, I have not downloaded the app sensation, Pokémon Go. While I am typically first in line to consume pop culture, I’m familiar enough with my bad habits to know that the minute this game is uploaded to my phone, I would become obsessed to the point of atrophy. Case in point, I am still haunted by the wasteful Candy Crush summer of 2012.

My refusal to play Pokémon Go certainly puts me in the minority. A recent study from MFour Mobile Research, has found that a third of U.S. Android smartphone users have downloaded this game, surpassing Twitter as the most popular current mobile app. For those of you who are not familiar, Pokémon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. Players explore the real world with their smartphones, hunting for 151 different cartoon characters at grocery stores, parks, and coffees shops. Did I mention that they are also playing Pokémon Go at work, as if our team needs another distraction.

Office workers are interrupted approximately every eleven minutes, academic studies have found. Once distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California.

Another study, published by Carnegie Mellon, measured the amount of brainpower lost when someone is interrupted. Two subject groups were tasked with reading a passage and completing a test—one merely did the assignment, while the other was told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. When the second group thought they were going to be interrupted but weren’t, they were 14% less likely to answer correctly. When they were interrupted, their scores dropped another 6%.

Distractions steal our time, hurt our productivity, impede our creativity, and damage our efficiency. Even worse, many of our distractions are our own fault, making them wholly avoidable. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, states that these self-induced distractions are becoming more prevalent and difficult to manage. There is a compulsion to check email, text, social media, and games like Pokémon Go. “We might be in the middle of a meeting but if we don’t check in we start feeling anxious,” Rosen says.

To effectively manage self-inflicted interruptions, we must build our ability to concentrate and minimize distractions. Here are a few tricks that (along with discipline) may work:

  • Take tech breaks. Give yourself a pre-determined amount of time to read through social media or hunt down a Pikachu. Then, silence devices and set the timer. Until the buzzer sounds, you work on that one assignment. No flipping through emails, responding to tweets, or switching screens.
  • Be less accessible. Close your door and tape a sign saying “Do Not Disturb. Genus at Work?” Do this at a set time throughout the week to ensure you are allowing yourself time to work undisturbed.
  • Hide. If your workspace is too distracting, find somewhere else to work. Leave your phone in your desk and retreat to a less visible area.
  • Stop pop ups. On your smartphone, tablet, and laptop turn off the notifications that interrupt you throughout the day. This includes banners, sounds, vibrations, and badges.
  • Get help. If motivation is the issue, download apps like Freedom and Zero Willpower that will block alerts and social media access at the times of your choosing.

Don’t fall victim to the Pokémons lurking around each corner. They want to break your concentration and take you off task. If you can control the urge, you remain the hunter; however, if you succumb to their temptation, they are now hunting you. You and your team do not have to become prey to a bunch of pocket monsters. Fight the distractions so you can spend time on things that really matter… like Tetris.


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How to Recharge Your Workforce and Improve Productivity

Take a look around your office. How many employees are glued to their computer screens? Eating lunch at their desks? Is the breakroom empty? With so many people answering “yes” to those questions, it’s no surprise there’s a big trend sweeping across U.S. workplaces: employees are burned out and aren’t taking enough breaks to recharge.

In fact, a recent study by Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, shows employees are working longer hours (70 percent spend more than 40 hours a week at work), but taking fewer breaks than in the past. This unfortunate trend can seriously hinder productivity, increase stress levels and negatively impact wellness, morale and happiness, ultimately impacting the overall health of a business.

What’s contributing to this “always on” mentality preventing employees from taking a break? Survey results also revealed that half of employees don’t feel they can leave their desk to take a break, with one in four respondents citing guilt as the reason they don’t step away from their workspaces, and nearly 70 percent say they have too much work to do, which means aspects of workplace culture need to change.

While you can’t force employees to take a break, you can build a break friendly culture by outfitting your office with a designated place to unwind, unplug and socialize with colleagues. Outfitting vibrant break spaces with furniture employees will want to sit in, as well as a wide variety of foods and beverages, will organically attract employees to spend time there. Having a “quiet space” in the office dedicated to relaxation and introspection gives employees the freedom to recharge and refocus their energy.

What steps do employers need to take to create an inviting breakroom that people actually want to use? It’s easier than you think. Consider the following when evaluating and revamping the current break space in your office:

  • Comfort and design is a must. With employees spending more time at work than ever before, comfort and design are critical components that must be incorporated in break spaces. Furniture and design are major considerations for the overall comfort and appeal of a breakroom. Decorating with appealing colors and well-designed furniture can transform a space into the most frequented area in the office. It’s important to provide tables, flexible seating and other items that encourage employees to unwind and socialize with colleagues.
  • Provide variety in your breakroom. No two employees will have the same taste, so it’s important to offer something for everyone. Keeping a variety of snack and beverage options means that each employee will have something that appeals to them. With an uptick in employees looking for healthy snack options (65 percent feel it’s important for their company to offer healthy snacks), the breakroom can help foster a healthy work environment and promote workplace wellness. 
  • Encourage a disconnect. In this digital, “always-on” world, technology affords us greater flexibility in how we communicate, as well as where and how we work. The problem is, being connected 24/7 also makes it difficult to maintain a proper work/life balance and can impact workplace engagement and productivity. Many employees make the mistake of not disconnecting from work-related technology when taking breaks, which can decrease the quality of break time and the ability to recharge. Encourage employees to leave the technology behind when taking a break to fully take their minds off work.

If the breakroom is not part of your workplace strategy then think again! By providing employees with a place to relax, they feel appreciated and more productive throughout the day. Creating and encouraging a break culture in the workplace leads to a happier, recharged and more productive workforce.

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You’re Hired And It’s Mutual: 5 Ways Employee Culture Is Great For Leaders

In the world of work, there’s a new type of relationship agreement to be forged — a win-win built on trust between employer and employee that reflects a clear shift in workplace and social media culture. It’s mutually productive, an entirely different way of viewing work, and it should form the core of your new talent strategy. I’ve come to this conclusion based on two disparate poles in talent strategy making news: one encouraging, one discouraging. I’ve been accustomed to this wacky weekly swing lately.

On the plus side is The Alliance, the groundbreaking new book by Reid Hoffman (co-founder and CEO of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, which I like quite a bit, as it maps out this vital talent and culture retooling in a refreshingly clear way. On the minus side: Black Friday, 2014: a day marked not only by bargain frenzy, but a nationwide Walmart workers’ strike. With live Tweets, hashtags and dedicated Facebook pages, the retail giant’s taken it on the chin, and such sustained mobile coverage stains the corporate and employer brand image — from one about value for consumers to one about not valuing its workers. This is bad news for sure.

Wherever you stand, that’s a crystalline example of employer / employee relations at their worst, played out in realtime in the public eye. In this highly mobile, social networked world, such conflicts can wreak a whole new kind of negative on a company’s brand. It underscores just how much the world of work has changed.

Back to the bright side: There’s a new paradigm between leaders and staff, company and talent. With yesterday’s lifetime employee contract overtaken by downsizing and layoffs, employees need to sustain their own careers, shifting loyalty back to themselves and focusing on their own personal brand. I can’t over stress this change in workplace culture. It’s been happening for a few years now. How does a company work build and retain this talent, and continue to get the best of its employees? To borrow from AppleThink Different. For leaders and employees alike – It’s all about recognizing, celebrating, and joining this clear cultural shift. It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself – I call this culture.

Here are five steps I want all leaders, employees and all of us to grab a hold of right now:

1) It’s not a hire. It’s an alliance. Shift your vision from ladder to lateral. The companies that will come out ahead in this hyper-mobile, hyper-networked world are those that can build true alliances between leaders and employees. That means open, honest, and mutually beneficial. 

2) Retool the culture into one of trust. Like transparency, trust is a term whose buzz can obscure its clarity, but I’m talking active, tangible trust. Company leaders need to empower employees to build those personal brands and expand their professional networks — in a way that ensures that those activities also benefit the company. Make it clear: you trust them to work on their own career; they trust you to enable them to keep growing and innovating within your company. In our new workplace culture this is the glue that keeps us together.

3) Create a workplace based on cross-empowerment. The new world of work — multigenerational and globally connected — offers infinite ways to mentor. With older and younger generations all in it together, each having their own skills and experience, there are unprecedented opportunities for each to empower the other through mentoring and reverse mentoring.

4) Lead with Open Arms. A critical change in workplace culture is the definition of employee: the company-man is extinct. Free agents fill this fluid, intensely competitive talent market. Strategic advantage will be gained by those who can not only hire, but retain talent — with leadership that recognizes employee sovereignty, and can find a way to capitalize on it.

5) Make a social contract. Hoffman and his coauthors helpfully delineate LinkedIn’s own approach to hiring, which I find to be a promising talent matrix: you’re hired for a period of time — a matter of years — for a “tour of duty” with clearcut missions and goals on both sides. I’d recommend that all facets of the hire, including onboarding, work from this concept. Based on honest conversations, it’s an authentic relationship that can foster not only productivity, but also returns, as employees recall their positive experience and come back for another stint.

What’s happening now is the New World of Work, 3.0: Smart companies are innovating real solutions to attracting, managing and retaining talent that match the new workplace culture, not clash with it. It’s exactly what we need. There’s enough negativity and employee disengagement out there already. Change is good for all of us.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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#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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#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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Six Spaces Required for Effective Collaboration

What makes collaboration work? The first thought probably centers on the workplace design. Many articles have been written and offices showcased on how space can help facilitate conversations and give people the flexibility to solve problems together.

The second thought may be around culture. After all, collaboration is about people working together, and the intangibles of how individuals are incented and supported matter. The right culture raises attentiveness to what matters most and how to achieve what matters most. Collaborative efforts bring it all together.

Designing the right space for effective collaboration is needed but our view of space design needs to grow. Space in several forms all need design attention so collaboration can flourish. Champion-level collaboration produces meaningful results, and we need to significantly change our space design thoughts and actions.

Lets focus on the six spaces required for effective collaboration.

1 – Physical space. There is little doubt that well-designed space can bring people together in effective ways, and there are different types of space to design. Planning Design Research divides physical collaborative space into three types: Formal, Informal, and Remote. Each need to be thought through to find ways for individuals to work productively and collaborate effectively.

Collaborative Design Tips:

  • Arrange places to think and work. Create points of intersection in which individuals can talk and exchange ideas. Establish work spaces for people to work together, solve problems, and pursue ideas.
  • Questions to test: Can individuals work together without being disturbed? Can individuals work seamlessly, less time dealing with logistics and more time interacting? Can individuals find a location to think and work uninterrupted?

2 – Aspiration space. One of the keys to effective collaboration is clear purpose. The first level of purpose is the goal or mission of the initiative achieved or problem solved. The second level is what do different stakeholders hope to gain from tackling this project. Clarity on the aspirations of the project and the people involved lessens the process friction. More to the point, clarity of aspirations melts the politics of self-centeredness.

Collaborative Design Tips:

  • Communicate with clarity the purpose of the work to be done. Help others visualize what the change will look like when completed. Ask others what they want to gain from the work and position them to realize this experience.
  • Questions to test: Can colleagues excite their team members with the same sense of purpose? Are team members gaining their desired experience?

3 – Pursuit space. Effective collaboration enables pursuit. Pursuit is an important mix of freedom to act and honesty to accept the results. In the middle of this mix is a strong sense of responsibility to act and accountability for actions taken. The pursuit space can be messy, meaning there are times of uncertainty, mistakes, and success. Trust cleans up this space where statements of “Trust me” and “I trust you” set the right, authentic tone.

Pursuit Design Tips:

  • Develop a project or initiative charter and communicate the mission, responsibility, and accountability checks. Be specific – define who will be doing what.
  • Questions to test: How often do others swoop in to “take over” and then leave? How many meetings are required to communicate status and results (e.g., once per week or three times and three different people per week)?

4 – Think space. Collaboration contains a mix of characters yet each collaborator needs time and space to think. All talk produces mediocrity. Think time produces breakthroughs.

Some think collaboration is all about brainstorming. Get in a room with a lot of people and gain everyone’s best ideas. However, what studies have found is the opposite. More original ideas are generated when they are not interacting with others.

Think Design Tips:

  • Carve out time each day to just think. Block time on your calendar to unplug, read, consider, and evaluate. Protect this time.
  • Question to test: Does your think time remain unfettered and un-interrupted each day?

5 – Heart space. “You can’t fake passion,” says Barbara Corcoran. The reason is you have to believe in the organization, team, people, and mission being pursued. Collaboration will not succeed with a group of passionate people. Collaboration will succeed if the heart of the people engaged feel at ease in where they work and who they work with. Feeling at ease in not about comfort zones; it is about confident zones.

When respect reigns, our hearts believe we can succeed. When trust is embedded, our hearts believe we have the capability to solve challenges. Where clarity of mission and responsibility shine, our hearts put our passion to work. This is what makes up a healthy heart place for collaborating partners.

Heart Design Tips:

  • Engage in the critical conversations to ensure clarity of roles, expectations, responsibilities, and accountability.
  • Questions to test: Does the team leader spend more time engaging with the executives than with the team members? Is there a spark in the eyes of the people doing the work or is there dread and frustration?

6 – Technology space. Technology plays a role in collaboration. Technology enables. Technology extends our reach. Technology enables us to pursue in more productive ways. In collaboration, technology should not crowd any of our other four spaces. Just the opposite. Technology should reduce the clutter and support.

Technology Design Tips:

  • Identify the tools required to get the work done quickly and productively. Procure them and use them actively.
  • Questions to test: How much time is spent making things work versus working to make things happen? Are the tools closing the gaps to get the work done together?

Collaboration takes a mix of diverse and complementary spaces. All need to be designed appropriately for effective collaboration. Collaboration cannot thrive on physical space alone.

Why Expanded Space is Vital for Collaboration

Collaboration is a mix of being active and very engaged. When this alignment occurs, true collaboration is natural. The reason is all involved are at the Champion level. Some may call this full engagement, but I call Champion Collaborators.

Scaling to Champion Level Collaboration chart

Source: Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, 2015.

These five levels help guide leaders and team members to consider where they stand in terms of new project and initiatives. The question arises: What level are you participating at for a given initiative?

Level 1 Ignorant: No awareness of people or issue

Level 2 – Familiar: Passing knowledge of person or issue

Level 3 Comprehensive: Base knowledge of person or issue

Level 4 – Interactive: Conversational and on-topic; mutual interest leads to involvement in supporting a resolution to the issue or situation

Level 5 Champion: Deeply engaged with others in solving issue, resolving a situation, or pursuing a cause; close identification with issue, situation, or cause

As a team scales this curve, the individuals become more than familiar with the issue or initiative at hand. They move beyond being just conversational. What happens is they understand the true purpose behind what needs to be done. Simply stated, the team gets it and they are inspired by the work. Their heart is fully into the work and collaboration escalates to meaningful levels.

This is the leader’s challenge: Design the space to collaborate at the Champion level. Each and every space needs to be designed well. Champion level collaboration is what makes work flow and real results happen.

Millennials: Space to Collaborate and Lead

Designing a more complete space for collaboration is vital because there is also a generational shift underway. Millennials want space that is flexible and open to collaboration. Walled in offices are out and lounge areas are in. With Millennials being the largest part of the workforce now, companies are working to design more unique spaces to embrace the newest generation in the workplace and provide an environment to promote collaborative working relationships.

Much more than this, Millennials want leadership that delivers more than just conducive physical space. A recent Deloitte survey highlighted what the next generation expects from their leaders. Millennials expect the following leadership traits:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Being inspirational
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Vision
  • Passion and enthusiasm
  • Decisiveness

These traits require more expansive space designs.

David Borrelli,’s AVP of Commercial Sales for Canada, states it well:

“…if you’re a company that wants to attract the next generation of talent — read: millennials — you better have a corporate culture that knows how to be collaborative.”

Collaboration can be designed so people collide and exchange ideas and insights. However, office design alone cannot create the space for Champion-level collaboration. Other spaces need to be designed to empower problem-solving and the next generation of leaders.

Maybe this is a Millennial mindset yet we know it is much more than this. Collaboration calls us to a new way of working together across generations.

Collaboration is ready for a redesign. Champion collaboration produces greater engagement and results. Millennials are ready to shift to work that embraces all areas of collaboration, bringing together physical, aspiration, pursuit, thinking, heart, and technology spaces. When all these spaces align for collaborative work, just imagine what can be achieved!

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Hate Meetings? That’s Because You’re Doing Them Wrong

At least 30 percent of the time spent in meetings is wasted, according to 2,000 managers surveyed by Industry Week. A similar survey of executives by 3M Meeting Network put that number at up to 50 percent. Meetings have become the bane of companies across the country. They’re widely recognized as time sucks, and everyone acknowledges that meetings are usually inefficient.

Meetings aren’t inherently problematic. They’ve gotten a bad reputation because most people don’t think about why they’re meeting and what value they hope to gain. Managers often hold meetings just to get people together, rather than to make decisions. But there are better ways for productive, innovative companies to operate.

If togetherness is the goal, create informal, fluid opportunities for people to connect. Meetings tend to be formal and should be held only when you need to make key decisions or consolidate critical thought processes.

Any time you feel the urge to hold a meeting to connect with your team, go talk to them in their workspaces instead. Work alongside them, or take your team to lunch. Don’t force them to sit through a meeting when you could achieve your objective in more effective — and fun — ways.

When you truly do need to call a meeting, use these guidelines to ensure the gathering is productive and worthwhile:

  1. Don’t let your employees go into a meeting blind. A meeting should not be the first time you introduce a concept or reveal data that’s vital to the decision being made. It’s difficult to share new information at the start of a meeting and expect people to process it and come to a joint conclusion within the allotted 30 or 60 minutes.

Brief everyone on the relevant information before you meet (whether that’s in smaller group forums or via email) so you can collect your thoughts before sitting down to the discussion. Then, keep the meeting focused on decision points.

My company uses WeVue, a cloud-based platform that allows us to capture cultural information. The data we collect there tells us which topics require formal consultation. No one feels unprepared when we meet because we’ve provided access to all of the necessary information ahead of time.

  1. Involve only the most relevant players. Know the circle of influence you’re addressing and who can offer valuable input in that area. When you bring in people who don’t need to be at the meeting, you risk being sidelined by irrelevant commentary about issues you cannot control. Letting the participant list become too broad does everyone a disservice. Once you’ve gathered your key actors, appoint an unbiased facilitator who will keep everyone on task.
  1. Make the best use of your (and your staff’s) time. Identify which agenda items are top priorities. What are the decision points that must be covered in order to make progress? Establishing goals in advance ensures you make the best use of everyone’s time.
  1. Let the meeting take its natural course. Today’s business environment has us thinking all decisions must be made in 30-minute increments. If the conversation moves slower than anticipated, empower the facilitator to table the discussion. If a meeting ends sooner than expected, all the better.
  1. Model the behavior you want to inspire. Be consistent in your criteria for holding meetings, stick to the agenda, and come prepared. Meetings should be powerful: Get to the point, and then get back to work.

Productive meetings spring from productive cultures. If you encourage collaboration and open discussion, you’ll need fewer formal meetings because conversations are happening all the time. When you do call a meeting, you can draw on those dialogues and shared data to make smart, informed decisions.

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How HR Teams Can Use Cloud Technology for a Competitive Advantage

Nothing kills a good mood like a pile of administrative paperwork—a mark of many interactions with the human resources department. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Paper-based systems for everything from onboarding to attendance to payroll are moving to the cloud using new systems that can help HR work better.

A vast majority of businesses are already using cloud technology in one way or another; in fact, one industry watcher observed that it’s quickly becoming the norm. Including HR in the transformation can automate and streamline critical functions like payroll and benefits administration—a move that can save money, improve productivity, and cut the risk of human error.

And there’s another advantage: The wealth of information collected through a cloud-based system can give you broad organizational insights and a distinct advantage over your competition.

Find (and Hold on to) Better Talent with Cloud Apps

It goes without saying that recruiting is one of HR’s biggest responsibilities. Recruiters already rely on various software and processes to find talent and assess skills—but until now, they’ve always been somewhat cumbersome and flawed.

The recruiting process has traditionally meant sifting through candidate information manually, which occupies hours of precious time. Human error, miscommunication, and disorganization are among the possible issues that can inadvertently lead to poor hiring decisions—and poor hiring decisions lead to a tremendous waste of money.

Cloud solutions have the power to change that. In the battle for top talent, HR departments can use the benefits cloud computing offers as a digital “magical charm” to stay ahead of the competition. For example, instead of an email or paper-driven process, applicants submit their resumes via the Internet and integrated analytics can assess their potential.

As another example, pre-employment testing evaluates a candidate’s personality and skills as they pertain to a particular position. Cloud-based software allows recruiters to access both passive and active candidates, storing the information in an easy-to-access database. Later, that information can be used to track, measure, and generate reports on the applicants. Plus, the whole process can be automated, reducing tedious paperwork and leaving room for more important matters.

Make Your Business More Attractive to Employees

Workplace transparency is just as important to employees as it is to employers: They want to understand their paycheck and benefits, quickly and at their convenience. Traditionally, tasks, like adjusting a W2 status or figuring out savings and spending account contributions, meant a call to HR—and more paper pushing for them. It was time-consuming, and they could only do during work hours when someone was available to help.

Today, cloud-based solutions put information directly into the hands of employees, letting them view and update it as needed. One payroll provider found that nearly 40 percent of registered mobile users access their pay information using mobile apps.

These platforms also make administrative tasks more efficient. For instance, if a worker wants to schedule time off, all they have to do is hop on the app and send a request. If they’re going to be late, they can send a message with the click of a button.

Making administrative tasks more efficient and more accessible to employees isn’t just about convenience; it streamlines HR and can be considered a company perk—which is always good for recruiting.

Mobile Technology Strengthens Your Brand and Reputation

One of the biggest benefits of cloud-based services is the ability to collect and organize a vast amount of data that can then be used to strengthen a business’s operations.

For example, many HR departments track a variety of signals to measure brand continuity and employee engagement. With cloud apps, this analysis is simplified so organizations can measure the results of their programs internally and externally.

Brand reputation is essential to business success. In fact, a recent study by Glassdoor found that 84 percent of respondents would consider leaving a job if a company with a better corporate reputation offered them one. Clearly, it’s critical for companies to ensure their brand is consistent, and cloud apps help monitor that. Whether it’s a collaboration app like Salesforce, a training app like Learnsmarter, or one of the many capital management apps available, cloud technology puts business-critical information into your hands.

HR teams who want to gain a competitive edge—whether by improving employee engagement or strengthening their recruiting efforts—should strongly consider leveraging the power of cloud apps. With so many different functions, inherent scalability, and unbeatable efficiency, these apps are the juggernauts of the corporate world—and they’re on your side.

Photo Credit: SalesBabu via Compfight cc

This article was first published on Millennial CEO on 2/22/16.

#WorkTrends Preview: Quicker & Better: The Importance of Speed & Productivity in Recruitment

During this #WorkTrends this week, we are going to address the importance of speed and productivity in the recruiting process.

In a tight labor market with high demand for top talent, speed is critical to landing the best possible talent. According to our guest, Kurt Jones with PeopleFluent, recruiting leaders need to focus on all of the areas in their control to make sure their teams are performing at peak productivity and with a constant sense of urgency.

Guest host Cyndy Trivella and Kurt Jones will discuss:

  • How much wasted time costs an organization
  • Why speed and productivity should be top priorities for recruiters
  • How to capitalize on technology to keep talent pools fresh and accessible
  • How speed positively impacts the Candidate Experience

#WorkTrends Event: Quicker & Better: The Importance of Speed & Productivity in Recruitment

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Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, March 9 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Guest Host Cyndy Trivella as she talks about the importance of speed and productivity with recruitment.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, March 9 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT

Immediately following the radio show, the team will move to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. We invite everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1. How does recruiting speed correlate with landing top talent? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question.)

Q2. In what ways can productive recruitment efforts be measured?#WorkTrends (Tweet the question.)

Q3. Is there a connection between speedy recruitment and a positive candidate experience?#WorkTrends (Tweet the question.)

Until then, we’ll keep the discussion going on 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!

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Gallup’s Profound Discovery: Engagement Is Driven By Good Managers With Rare Talent

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” ~ Schopenhauer

It’s been nearly a year since Gallup announced its stunning finding that engagement in the American workplace had fallen to crisis levels.

In what became the shot heard ‘round the world in business, the research firm revealed that 70 percent of the nation’s working population now admits to being disengaged in their jobs (i.e., content with collecting a paycheck while investing little of their hearts in their work) – and that nearly 1 in every 5 workers is so discontent that they’re perversely motivated to undermine the effectiveness of their bosses and organizations.

All of this profound unhappiness has a primary source, of course, and organizations across the land have scurried to create taskforces, introduce employee satisfaction metrics and experiment with innumerable strategies in their efforts at finding it. Like any problem decades-long in the making, however, no new programs or organization-wide themes are likely to prove effective at creating a sustainable solution.

I’ve always believed, of course, that our shared engagement problem is the direct result of ineffective – even destructive – leadership. More specifically, I’ve shown that human beings have greatly evolved what they need and want in exchange for their committed efforts at work, while our traditional managerial practices have failed to keep up.

Last fall, Gallup helped confirm this assessment when their research revealed that too many people in supervisory roles today, across all industries, lack the requisite ability to manage. Their important revelation was that employee engagement in the 21st Century is largely dependent upon having a good manager.

In a series of discussions I’ve since had with Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s Chief Research Scientist, I learned how he and his research team arrived at their conclusion – in addition to five specific talents they now believe characterize the most effective and influential workplace leaders.

The direct and immediate take-away is that some people are naturally imbued with qualities and talents that virtually preordain their leadership success. The surest way of restoring high engagement, therefore, is to only select people with these traits into all future managerial roles.

Managers, Not Organizations, Drive Engagement

“We’ve long had the understanding in business,” Harter told me, “that organizations have an overriding culture – one that’s either highly engaged or not. But when we mapped engagement data down to the team level, we started noticing that engagement – and all performance metrics – varied widely. Our discovery was that culture varies by team. When we got under the hood a little bit, it became more obvious that whatever was happening with a team was directly related to its manager and to the tone they were setting.”

Managers Are Too Often Chosen For The Wrong Reasons

It’s simply undeniable that managers directly affect people’s lives and how they feel about their jobs and organizations,” stresses Harter. “But what we’ve seen over the years is that many organizations haven’t given a lot of attention to selecting managers based on their talents, and that just means they’re left with a random distribution of engagement team-to-team.”

Gallup now estimates that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in engagement scores – a direct reminder of what’s at stake every time a new manager is chosen.   Nevertheless, people are predominantly given management positions as rewards for long tenure (often because it’s the only road to higher pay), or because they were successful in a prior job entirely unrelated to management. “I would call decisions like this one of the biggest missed opportunities since modern-day organizations have been around,” says Harter.

The Talents Required To Be A Good Manager Are Extremely Rare

The famous question of whether great leaders are made or born seems to now have a conclusive answer. Gallup believes some people come into the world pre-wired with a rare combination of talents (naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors) that enables them as managers to instinctively engage employees, build loyalty and drive high performance.

Gallup has an assessment tool that diagnoses whether someone has all of the talents required to be a great manager. Out of the 300,000 people who’ve taken it so far, only 10 percent had all five “extreme” talents:

  • They individually motivate and inspire employees to take action.
  • They assertively drive outcomes and successfully maneuver through adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships anchored by trust, full transparency and advocacy.
  • They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

The research indicates that another 20% of the population has more moderate levels of these talents. Through training and coaching, they’re also assured of attaining a very high level of performance.

If you’re wondering about the prospects of the other 70% becoming excellent managers, the news isn’t too encouraging. “While people, of course, do learn and change, without the inherent talents needed as a foundation,” Harter says, “succeeding as a manager will always be a kind of a struggle – an uphill battle.”

How These Talents Translate Into Behaviors

If you’re trying to determine whether you have the talents of a truly great manager – or want to learn how to identify one during your hiring process – you should know that they not only behave differently, they instinctively lead with both mind and heart.

Here are five ways great managers translate their talents into practices, inspiring uncommon commitment and productivity along the way.

  1. They’re Results Oriented While Concurrently Focused On Developing Every Worker

As a means of inspiring loyalty and high achievement, they demonstrate a consistent commitment to every person’s professional growth and expansion. Rather than use training opportunities as a reward – or delay them until a campaign’s goals are met – they intentionally seek to accelerate the competency and growth of every employee while simultaneously driving performance. Generous, and with an abundance mindset, they willingly share their own hard-earned expertise and know-how. They understand that by pro-actively developing people, they inherently build the self-confidence that enables them to scale new heights.

  1. They Intentionally Give Employees A Voice In Decision Making

Seeking to ensure employees feel deeply committed to the team’s mission and tactics, they take time to solicit their feedback – even guidance. Having an orientation like this requires higher levels of self-esteem, an inclination to be inclusive – not to mention an ability to manage without full command and control. But the payback from all of this pulse-taking and transparency is a soaring of engagement and trust. People feel heard and valued, and ultimately treat the success of the business as if they were owners.

  1. They Ensure People Feel Connected And Know How Their Work Contributes To The Team And Organization.

When workers become deeply disengaged and dispirited in their jobs, one consistent contributing factor is the belief that the work they do every day has no real meaning. But highly effective managers fully understand that all human beings need to know that their work matters and has significance. Consequently, they make a practice of reminding employees of the importance of their work and how it directly connects to the teams’ and organization’s success. Their goal is to ensure no one goes home at the end of the week without knowing that all of their efforts and contributions truly made a difference.

  1. They Routinely Make People Feel Valued And Appreciated – Even Nurtured

Feeling valued is essential to the well-being of all people and to the spirit which motivates performance. Many managers, to their detriment, often disregard how important this is to people, how it inspires and why it’s so essential to sustaining high performance. Because it’s human nature to want to do more of anything that gets acknowledged and appreciated, the best managers set aside time at regular and known intervals to thank and praise their people for all performance that meets or exceeds expectations. 

  1. They’re Deeply Caring About The Well-Being Of Every Person They Lead

One characteristic of great managers that accentuates their inherent uniqueness is their motivation to make a meaningful difference in their employees’ lives. They authentically care about seeing their people thrive and succeed, and get to know and understand them individually. They learn their personal stories – and are deeply motivated to ensure their unique needs and aspirations are met. They also seem to intuitively understand the truth in the late poet Maya Angelou’s insight: “A leader sees greatness in other people. You can’t be a great leader if all you see is yourself.”


If it’s not already apparent, the most effective managers seek to influence employees in ways we’ve traditionally believed were soft and even weak in business. They build personal relationships with their people, advocate for their growth – and routinely ensure they feel valued, respected and cared for. Just the idea that they want to make a difference in other people’s lives is a colossal change in our shared leadership paradigm.

Were you to ask any of the people known-to-be disengaged in their jobs today (70% of our society) what they felt was missing at work, it’s almost assured to be some if not all of the things I just mentioned.

So, just imagine what it would be like if every manager in the American workplace shared these same traits and talents. Just think how much greater human potential could be released. One sure hint to the outcome: Gallup has confirmed that great managers contribute 48 percent higher profits than average ones.

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How to get better employees (without replacing them)

It is far more desirable to upgrade your current employees than replace them. Financially, it’s a no-brainer: you will avoid the expenses that come with recruiting and training. But the benefits go far beyond saving money. Upgrading your current staff can also ensure employee retention and nurture a happy office environment with boosted morale.

According to Daniel H Pinks Drive the core principles needed for effective and happy employees are mastery, purpose and autonomy. Incorporating these elements into your workforce doesn’t have to come at a great cost.

Train your employees in essential business and soft skills

Showing your employees that you’re invested in them by enrolling them in training courses can create a great company culture and atmosphere.

Training courses are a form of incentives. If an employee completes a management course and clearly demonstrates those new skills, this could lead to a promotion to a managerial position.

There are many course options available, from soft skills like time management to Microsoft Office or Photoshop. There’s also a choice to be made between e-learning and classroom training.

E-learning can be more flexible for employees. However a classroom experience is likely to give you far more. It has been argued that employees do not get as much out of an e-learning experience. As mentioned by Activia Training, the classroom training experience is likely to result in more focus and thus bigger rewards than a digital course.

Digital roles are becoming ever more specialised and hard to find. Daniel Patel, the SAP delivery director at SAP recruitment agency Eursap, has said that the job market has become saturated and competition is growing. Bearing this in mind, investing in specific training courses for employees who already show an aptitude for the required skills could be extremely convenient and cost-effective.

A pleasant, productive and purposeful office environment

Having highly skilled employees doesn’t guarantee superior productivity. Morale and employee relationships are also essential aspects of the office dynamic to consider when trying to get the most out of people.

You can even improve the morale of your office by updating the surroundings. For example, the use of lighting can affect productivity, and bad lighting can even heighten absenteeism, according to office design experts, Open Workspace Design. So if your office doesn’t get a lot of natural light, improving the lighting can help tremendously.

Having a mission statement for your business or various departments can help give employees purpose. You can synchronise this with the environment by having reminders of the mission statement visible to employees. Ro-Am Posters say that 65 percent of us are visual learners and thus having printed materials around the office or on the walls can be a great way to get that message of purpose across.

Being flexible can improve focus

Serviced office providers i2Office have discussed the benefits of giving your employees a certain amount of autonomy. Giving employees more autonomy is said to improve job satisfaction by encouraging responsibility.

Employees that are able to approach their hours with more flexibility are generally deemed to work much harder. Many offices have employed flexi hours but arguably not enough to satiate the British workforce.

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4 Ways To Cure Meeting Nausea

In terms of talent management, the term “meeting” may be the antidote to all the things we’re trying to improve. I’m talking about engagement, retention, productivity, ownership, collaboration. Is there even one of us who hasn’t been reduced to a state of what a waste of my time in at least one meeting in the past month? An MIT study on meetings found that we hold some 11 million meetings during one typical workday in the U.S. alone. And the next time you’re doing that surreptitious under-the-desk Googling on your smartphone, search for the annual “time wasted at work” survey. In 2014, 24% of respondents said that they felt like they wasted time in too many meetings and conference calls. And we’re all sick of it.

From a talent perspective, the problem is that meetings are doubly terrible when they’re bad. Not only are they a waste of the company’s time, they’re a waste of the employee’s time, and they have a pernicious way of up-ending our sense of shared mission into a sense of shared suffering. Witness the ritual great escape: we’re all sitting there, silently acknowledging our tacit acceptance of the utter lack of productiveness of the hour (or three) when, finally, the facilitator says, Great, so I think we’re done here. Suddenly, everyone in the room lights up. Ergo, stampede.

We have more tools and toys at our fingertips than ever to fix this, but how do we choose a meeting format for this new era that drives engagement and supports mission and transparency? Take a look at these tips:

Make it agile. Whatever platform you’re shopping for, make sure it enables flexibility. If using a mobile or shared network, the design should be informal and friendly in terms of tone, but not saccharine. It should allow for straying from the agenda when necessary — for creative brainstorming, or quick fact-finding or pulse-taking, but still have a way to re-anchor back into the schedule and punchlist. There is nothing more antithetical to spontaneous creativity than the phrase, “we’ll get back to that.”

Make the friendlies count. We’re become a bit brusque in this day and age: we’re used to rushing into conference rooms or chat rooms, hopping from bullet point to bullet point, dispensing with niceties. Particularly in the culture of the new workplace, where we’re working in text-time with lightning fast responses, there’s little time for small talk. But that’s a facet that alienates, not engages: you’re just waiting for your turn to offer your piece, and then when it’s over, you tune back out. Let’s borrow some etiquette from China, where they spend time making small talk deliberately, shifting into business gradually, and only when everyone has gotten the chance to smile and say something trivial.

Prevent collaborative dissonance. The key here: the bigger the symphony, the longer the coda. Make sure there is a substantial wrap-up component in the meeting that reinforces everything that’s been discussed and all strategies and directions. It’s too easy to walk away from a meeting, virtual or not, in which we don’t have a clear sense of tasking and purview. Also, everyone who contributed should be acknowledged so everyone feels ownership. That’s key to maintaining the spirit of collaborative engagement created in the meeting — and channeling it into productive, innovative follow-through.

Make the space safe. Physical space or virtual space, the same conditions apply. This one has enormous ramifications as well: if attendees are sitting on their hands rather than bringing up an issue, it’s not really a meeting. This is a matter of psychology, not technology, but it’s critical — or can be. It also speaks to transparency and the expectations that millennials and the coming younger generations have of their employer. And let’s face it: nothing says, “faking it” more than shutting down dissent or tricky questions in a meeting.

Meetings are certainly the canary in the coalmine: in an authentically transparent company, they reflect everything about that company, including its message and mission. So let’s make them count and we’ll all feel much better.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 10/30/15.

Being a Remote Worker is No Day At the Beach!

There was a time when I used to dream about becoming a remote worker. The thought usually arose while stuck in rush hour traffic on the 405 (note: rush hour is approximately 7am to 7pm in Southern California). I pictured myself on an outdoor chaise lounge, tropical drink in hand, as client after client called to tell me they were ready to sign on the dotted line. Pineapple slice? Don’t mind if I do.

Fast forward a couple years. I am now a remote worker, thanks in part to my wife taking a teaching job on the opposite coast, and our house is literally one block from the beach. And though we do own a chaise lounge, it gets virtually no weekday use, and nothing is quite as I pictured it (example: I still wear pants every day). Being a remote worker is not as easy I thought it would be.

According to the NY Times, the number of telecommuters rose 79% from 2005 to 2012. There’s a variety of reasons one might choose to work remotely: geographical limitations, family situation, the desire to become one’s own boss. In some respects, there’s never been a better time to work remotely. Fast internet and myriad communication tools help us to overcome the everyday inconvenience of a lack of facetime.

But there are drawbacks too. Working out of a home office can be distracting, as family (and pets) compete for your attention. Being a remote worker is psychologically taxing, as you can sometimes feel isolated and miss out on the social gatherings an office affords. On the productivity side, access to critical data and company updates are often stymied by a breakdown in the communication process.

Having experienced the highs and lows of transitioning from cubicle dweller to master of his own home office, I thought I’d share three important lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Schedule your day tightly (and stick to that schedule)

In an office, the most important items on your to-do list are often dictated by outside forces (“Can you follow up on this lead?”, “Can you help me find a reference client?”, “We need you in this meeting”). You likely would have a schedule, but there was some fluidity to account for the needs of other team members.

As a remote employee, you must create a strict schedule for yourself and stick to it. You have to be incredibly proactive and not easily distracted. And you can’t wait for others to do things for you. It’s not exactly “out of sight, out of mind”, but it’s a lot harder to be the squeaky wheel when the oil is 3000 miles away. (side note: your mixed metaphors get less appreciation when you’re remote)

Repetition is also an important part of scheduling. For instance, I have a call with one particular client every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12:30. I can schedule the rest of my calls and tasks around that one particular anchor task.

  1. You must be succinct and direct in your communication

In an office, you can iterate often. The logo is off-centered, pop over to the graphic designer’s desk. Now the logo’s too large, head on back. You wanted burnt sienna not burnt orange, one more trip.

You don’t have that luxury as a remote employee. You only get attention sporadically, so you have to be very specific in what you want. And definitely don’t be shy. If you don’t ask for something, you don’t get it.

You also must be succinct – if you write a long rambling email, you’re going to lose your audience halfway through. Plus, you want to place emphasis on only that which is important, something easier in-person via dialogue, because you don’t want your fellow employees to focus on the wrong area.

  1. Take advantage of online collaboration tools

The internet can be a huge time suck (thanks, Twitter). But it can also make you more effective and connected with other employees.

There are a number of different online collaboration tools out there. One company I consult with,, has a productivity suite that includes cloud-based document management, project management, and database apps. Some of the other indispensable solutions I’ve used recently: Skype, Trello, Hipchat, and

Solely relying on email can lead to information overload – plus it’s hard searching through 1000s of emails – so seek out more efficient solutions. If you use an online collaboration tool, you can effectively work with teammates while being geographically disperse. I’m able to work collaboratively with colleagues in the UK and India often without having to pick up the phone. Plus, building out these online collaboration portals helps bring new remote employees up to speed quicker after hiring.

I must confess, there’s a lot of things I miss about working in an office: lunchtime basketball, high fives, saying “goodnight” to friends/colleagues. But one thing that hasn’t changed is my productivity. Don’t let the realities of being a remote worker derail your career. Just because you’re remote doesn’t mean you have to be distant.

An Execution Framework for Achieving Ambitious Goals

While annual planning and performance reviews are very structured processes, most organizations don’t have structured models for managing execution and goal achievement between plan and review. How are your planned outcomes versus actuals monitored week over week and how much does your approach vary over the course of the year? Loosely structured con calls, staff meetings that don’t address goals, confusion on work ownership, and changing deliverables lists with little accountability are signs that execution is too ad hoc. Without a consistent execution framework, it’s easy to lose time and hard to achieve ambitious goals. For high velocity goal achievement, try a more explicit and structured execution methodology:

1.  Get the Goals Right
Set explicit, quantifiable and material goals for business outcomes such as revenue target, market share gain, profit margin or other quantifiable result. Don’t confuse activity with outcomes and resist the temptation to set motion-based goals. (It’s not the number of swings that matter, but scoring more runs than the opponent.) Focus goal setting on end-state or end-point outcomes and make sure everyone on the team understands them. Create the one-page dashboard you will use to track progression against goals over the quarter – what are the metrics and meters that matter?

2.  Plan the Work Required to Achieve The Goals
Define the streams of work and identify the key deliverables within each stream. Map the key metrics from your dashboard to the workstreams. All the deliverables should be defined by the explicit outcome expected and a due date. Analyze the work plan to ensure that the deliverables and their outcomes do add up to the results needed! Every deliverable on the plan should be assigned to a single owner, and every member of the team should have clarity on how his or her deliverables impact goal achievement. Next, add measurement for deliverable completion to your dashboard.

3.  Work The Plan
Now work the plan rigorously and relentlessly! Meet with staff members at the beginning of each week to review the week’s deliverables list, then ask for a status report on results against this list at the end of the week. This is the single most effective way to achieve the plan; working and reporting against the same list concentrates effort and action where they’re needed. The deliverables list and status report form the agenda of the following week’s one on one meeting and drive execution consistency and accountability. Use the status reports with weekly outcomes to update your dashboard.

This higher cadence monitoring of plan vs actual will help you more quickly identify execution gaps that threaten goal achievement or where the plans need to be revised. Team members will have confidence they’re working on the right things and that their work matters. See what the team can achieve with a consistent, outcome-focused execution framework.

Tools like Workboard are a great way to communicate goals, define workstreams, assign deliverables, and automate status reporting – you’ll have a structured execution model and real transparency with less effort from everyone.  You can try it for free or learn more here.

Photo credit: Bigstock

Virtual Assistant Industry is Expanding: Are You Open To It?

The internet has given rise to plenty of jobs with its ability to connect workers from all over the world with employers located just about anywhere. Hence, it is not a surprise that organizations from all over the world are now looking to employ people who would be able to work remotely and be able to stay in touch online with simple and fast online meeting tools that make working remotely a cinch. The number of such workers has increased exponentially over the last half of a decade or so as more and more talented individuals have noticed that the rewards for working as a virtual assistant are considerable. Here are some of the reasons why you should consider a career in this field:

  1. Working Independently

Everyone wants to work in an environment in which he is himself the master of his own time. When you work as a virtual assistant, it is possible to achieve this goal. In this position, you have the ability to be employed by more than one company, working as a contractor on a variety of tasks depending on your skills and ability to manage your time. The days when the virtual assistant was only supposed to fill up spread sheets with data are long gone. Nowadays, a virtual assistant can work in a variety of fields including content creation, internet marketing, and accounting or even social media management. The freedom to choose from amongst a large variety of tasks is indeed a huge incentive for any professional; in addition, the freedom to change employers without any hassles whatsoever is another large advantage.

  1. Potential for Growth

Every employee wants to know what their growth potential is at any given company. In this regard, it must be said that the career of a virtual assistant offers excellent long-term growth opportunities both financially and professionally. According to market research agencies, the virtual assistant industry is set to grow rapidly in the next few years and the projected valuation of the industry in five years’ time is approximately $5 billion dollars. It is a huge industry that is going to explode in the next few years and now is the time to get into it so that you can reap the benefits that are to come.  Additionally, if you are employed by several companies and if the volume of work continues to increase, you may also have the ability to hire people in order to start your own virtual assistance company, furthering your success in the industry as a whole.

  1. Using the Best Tools to Work With

Working remotely and online gives independent contractors access to some of the best tools available in the industry today. This helps to improve the entire experience of the employee, but also helps him to build his skills, making him more valuable overall. Let’s take example of few tools available for this purpose:

UberConferenceIt is a powerful and advanced cloud-based conferencing system. This web conferencing tool include features like online data management, shared calendar programs, shared files, and the ability to stay in contact no matter the distance between the employee and employer. It is built on WebRTC in order to allow real-time call control, across a variety of carriers on one side and the browsers on the other side.

BasecampIt is popular web based project management tools. Easy to use, this tool provides 60 days free trials. This tool helps us to manage, store, and share files. You can use it for task management and time tracking.

DropboxThis popular tool is used in day to day virtual assistant business. This excellent cloud storage solution provides instant file synchronization. When you hire your VA, you can sync a folder or file from your computer and share it with your VA. This free app makes file sharing and work collaboration quite easy.

Tiny TakeThis tool is extensively used for taking screen shots, capture webcam videos and capture videos. It is free and easy to use tool.

Over the past few years, companies who employ virtual assistants have developed some of the best software applications in the world for a variety of purposes like inventory, ERP, workforce management tools or data entry operations and the usage of these tools makes the employee far more efficient in his line of work.

The types of skills that are learned and used by the virtual assistant keeps him in good standing for the rest of his life, making it easy to switch careers at any given point. This is a valuable tool for any employee as it provides a bit of job security now and in the future, even if the work with the current employer does not pan out.

  1. Chance to Work with the Biggest Corporations

Over the years the biggest corporations in the world have recognized the importance of employing a virtual workforce and have recruited quite aggressively over the past few years. Most of these companies employ virtual assistants from all over the world and hence there is an opportunity for talented individuals to work for some of the biggest names in global business. These companies are only going to increase the number of virtual assistants in the years to come and that is something that will certainly boost the overall growth of the industry as a whole.

The job of a virtual assistant is dynamic, rewarding and offers the sort of variety in duties that can be exciting for absolutely anyone. In addition to that, the sort of growth that the industry has seen in the recent past makes it an excellent option for anyone who is just starting out as a professional or a veteran who is looking for a change in career path.

Tips to start business as a virtual assistant

I am sure after reading these reasons you will start wondering how to start a business as a virtual assistant. Don’t worry! Following 11 tips will help you to start your business as a virtual assistant:

  1. First decide which type of services you want to provide, and analyze your background in order to ensure you have ample experience.
  2. Always determine your business niche by specializing in just two to three services.
  3. Find out how much energy and time you have to commit to your venture. Do you want to full time or work part?
  4. Conduct in-depth research work of industry in order to determine a need for your services in your local area
  5. After that outline your clients, and all the related information such as where they are and how to access them
  6. Do a thorough analysis of market and find out the needs for your niche. Focus on how you will apply that to your business.
  7. Understand your monetary constraints i.e. expected income, projected expenses, and how long you can “float” until your business is running successfully.
  8. Carefully prepare a plan for your business and review it often in order to manage change and growth
  9. Thoroughly examine your software, equipment and work space in order to ensure they cater to client needs.
  10. Wrap up all financial and legal aspects of startup before securing first client
  11. If possible, market your services 24X7. Merely making website or placing an ad in the Yellow Pages does not attract the clients.

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Want to Be More Successful? Set Goals.

People with goals achieve more and are more successful — a lot more successful — than peers without them, whether they’re scientists, students, or corporate execs. Organizations whose employees are actively engaged in goal achievement have 3x greater operating margins in any given year than companies with lower engagement levels.

If you’re not in the habit of setting and measuring goals for your team, then doing so can seem like added complexity. In fact, just the opposite is true. Goals simplify and clarify what your team should do and provide a common definition of success.

Instead of trying to read your mind, members of your organization know what to focus on and how they’re measured; their decision quality improves and managers spend less time reacting and recovering from ill-informed choices.

The “process” of managing starts with goal setting; when goals are missing or forgotten, disproportionate time is spent on execution triage and the whole team does more work yet experiences less satisfaction.

Want To Achieve Your Goals? Use These 8 Tactics

Goal setting is both art and science; goal achievement results from inspiring and aligning the efforts of others and diligent management. These 8 tactics can improve how you set and how often you achieve your goals:

Difficulty Scale 8 (out of 10): Set goals that require stretch and growth, but are within the realm of possibilities. Science suggests that people make less effort to achieve easy goals, which can undermine achievement. Worse, goals that are perceived as impossible inspire even less effort and demoralize people.

Inspire To Aspire: Use language that inspires people to want to achieve the goals. “Triple revenues” doesn’t inspire nor speak to the heart (except for maybe the CEO and shareholders!). Use aspirational “change the world” language, the equivalent of morning coffee for your organization – energize the team and provide the jolt of progress.

Less Is More: More goals don’t result in more achievement. Limit the number of goals to concentrate action on what really matters, and you’ll achieve your goals more often. Goals should focus efforts and enable people to optimize time and decisions.

Quantify Success: Define the timeline for achievement (a 6-8 week period can be most effective for dynamic organizations) and quantify what success looks like. To help your team map the “change the world” goal to their work and get the right work done, quantify several success metrics for each goal. These might include bug clearance rates, response or consumption targets, revenue or growth targets, quality or customer satisfaction targets.

Plan To Achieve The Plan: The odds of goal achievement increase to 90% when the goals and committed actions are written down. Break the goals down into action and consistently hold people accountable for delivering on those actions – something half of your peers fail to do.

3 Second Rule: Your team should be able to find the goals and see progress against them in 3 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to focus on the last message in their inbox – which is your goal’s competition for their time and focus.

Don’t Drive Blind: Implement a real-time dashboard that shows your goals, metrics, key actions and their status, and make it visible to yourself, your team and your upline manager. You’ll be able to triage priorities to reduce risk and improve achievement velocity. (If you’re the manager, this is essential to your job and success.)

Celebrate Progress: To achieve truly hard goals, science shows it’s often better to focus on how much progress has been made rather than the distance yet to go. Seeing what’s possible and what’s been achieved renews and reinvigorates teams for continuing challenge. Recognizing individual’s contribution pays off even more – 83% of employees rank recognition more valuable than compensation.

Check out this fun goals infographic, get Workboard free to nail the 3 second rule, and go achieve great things!

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Change Agents: Know Thy Audience

Change agents and their ideas are the life force of organizations.

Innovation of all kinds is essential for organizations to grow and thrive; in fact, organizations that can more easily respond to new facts and conditions have a great advantage. In their book Super-Flexibility for Knowledge Enterprises, UC Berkeley’s Dr. Homa Bahrami and Carnegie Mellon’s Dr. Stuart Evans tell us that super flexible organizations are the most successful. These organizations have strong “circulatory systems” that foster idea flow, and they execute more dynamically. “Targeted experiments, openness to new data, fact-based assessment, and swift revisions” enable them to succeed while organizations that resist, ignore or are slower to respond to new ideas and conditions fail.

While organizations thrive on change, not all employees do — communication is key.

People don’t embrace change at the same pace (and some never will). How you communicate new ideas plays a huge role in how well they’re received and how quickly they’re adopted. If you’re a change agent and innovator, it’s tempting to think that conveying your enthusiasm and excitement will accelerate others’ acceptance — turns out, that won’t work most of the time.

What’s compelling to innovators and change agents isn’t compelling to more pragmatic and conservative people; innovators are often in the small minority. Effectively communicating the need or reason to change is an important skill and a big factor in innovation velocity.

Understand why and when someone would change to better communicate why they should change.

To communicate with greater impact, focus on your audience as much as your idea. Tune in to where your audience is coming from before you try to persuade them where you want them to go — their starting point is as important as your destination.

Use these 5 questions to prepare and communicate your vision for change:

1. How does your audience react to change?
What excites change agents and visionaries rarely motivates conservatives and skeptics. Knowing what motivates your audience helps you make your message relevant to them.

Geoffrey Moore and Roger Everett brilliantly characterized the “adoption curve” to illustrate different responses to new ideas and the pace of their adoption. As an innovator, you are the exception rather than the norm. You generate ideas, see few risks and are excited by advancement. Pragmatics, on the other hand, are more analytical; they manage risk and are motivated by solving problems. Conservatives are more cautious, don’t like risks and are motivated by certainty. Skeptics reject or doubt most things, highlight risks and are difficult to motivate.

2. What’s their professional focus?
The concerns of senior executives and front-line practitioners are rarely the same, so map the scope and level of detail to your audience’s professional focus. Executives tend to watch metrics and focus on performance outcomes and results. Directors typically focus on process and are concerned with its reliability and predictability, while managers look at actions and focus on execution and priorities. Practitioners look at the details of their job and care about the steps and quality of the work. Talking to executives about detailed actions and sub-steps isn’t persuasive, and neither is talking to practitioners about metrics without the detail that applies to them.

3. Are they a captive audience?
If the audience reports to you, they’re watching what you do to decide how they feel about what you say. Make sure you’re modeling and demonstrating the behavior you’re asking for from them. Because they won’t all adopt at the same pace as you, persistence and consistency over time are required — an innovator mistake is to give up before slower adopters ever had time to change.

4. What’s in it for them?
Tune your message to people’s personal motivators and professional perspectives to increase momentum and engagement. Create “what’s in it for you” slides or talking points designed for each audience so individuals can quickly understand why change is good for them — from their perspective of course. Sometimes four separate conversations with stakeholders can save four weeks of resistance from poorly-crafted general communications.

Check out this companion infographic and handy table to help you frame your audience and talking points to your audience’s perspective.

5. How will you operationalize and achieve your vision or goals?
Ideas are easy, but execution is hard. Even when you convince people to change, driving the actions needed to realize the full vision requires sustained communications, coordination, management discipline, results focus and follow through. The credibility of your future ideas and strategies rests heavily on how past ideas panned out in execution, so make sure you have an execution framework that is as well thought as your idea. Apps like Workboard help leaders keep goals, priorities, people and actions aligned on outcomes across locations and divisions.

The ability to imagine and envision change is a talent crucial to company success. When you frame what’s good about your idea or vision in terms that make it most relevant to your audience, you’ll gain support much faster and your impact over a year or a career will be much greater. Now go change your world!

4 Ways to Increase Your Goal Achievement

The formula for achieving goals is straightforward: apply team, time and budget to the specific work needed to reach the right results. Very successful people achieve goals faster and with fewer resources than peers; their execution velocity is high, which raises their career velocity. Their capacity to execute is focused on achieving clear goals so they need less time or resources to get from point A to point B; great business and career results follow. Stellar team members gravitate toward these managers, so their teams — and results — get stronger over time.

Our capacity is almost always constrained, so how we manage that capacity is a crucial factor in goal achievement and it’s one of the biggest challenges managers face. Goals face intense competition from incoming emails and daily dramas, which tend to erase all memory of the original goals. Keeping people aligned and working toward the goal is hard, but losing even a day a week is a 20% capacity hit.

Without clear goals, operational transparency and capacity focused on goal achievement, even awesome teams end up moving the wrong mountain. These four disciplines can help increase your velocity to goal:

1. Know Your Point B.

Make sure the team knows the specific goals and the metrics for success. Keep them present and visible day-to-day to counter rising environmental noise. With clear goals, people make better decisions and waste no time trying to figure out what matters. As importantly, they have a continuing understanding of how their efforts contribute to group achievement. Without that clarity, time and goodwill are lost redoing work and achievement is pure luck.

2. Know Your Point A.

To define the actions and investments necessary to get from where you are to goal, be rigorous about operational transparency. While the goal shouldn’t move much, current state changes constantly. Set your transparency threshold by the cost of time — if losing five days will undermine goal achievement, then it’s too long to wait for execution facts. Tell your team that you value facts (even when they are not happy facts) and why those facts are essential to success. Real-time transparency maximizes your ability to recover quickly by optimizing your resources as facts change.

3. Concentrate Resources On Goal Achievement.

When goals and current facts are opaque, the team’s capacity goes everywhere except goal achievement. Your velocity to goal is a function of how much friction and distraction there is on your path from point A to B. Make sure your full capacity is laser focused on goal achievement. Hold yourself and the team accountable for where time and effort are spent — these are your most valued assets. Deciding what not to work on is hard but necessary; use team meetings to rule out distractions and lower priority work so goals can be achieved.

4. Make Transparency A Constant.

Define dashboards for transparency on goals, actions, progress and team efforts then automate them so they don’t take time away from goal achievement. Most organizations can recoup 25% – 40% of people’s time by making goals and facts clear and eliminating endless status meetings and reporting. These resources and transparency improve velocity — in fact, they’re an opportunity to achieve goals with fewer resources and speed than peers. And because no member of the team enjoys status meetings, read outs and reworking bad decisions, stellar team members will gravitate to your team where they can spend more time doing great work, achieving goals and building their own career velocity.

While productivity often refers to doing more every minute, increasing velocity to goal means deciding where not to spend time and resources. You’ll cover the path to goal in less time and with less effort. It’s not more work, it’s just more achievement.

Tools like Workboard provide dashboards and transparency on goals, actions, progress and effort and automates status reporting. It enables everyone on the team to make better decisions, stay goal aligned and increase their velocity — it’s free for managers and their teams.

Invest Your Intelligence Where It Matters

In a particularly creative working session with a young product designer, we arrived at what seemed like a terrific idea with a novel implementation. We’d had one of those brainstorms where ideas built naturally on each other and with them, momentum to a conclusion. We quickly “locked and loaded” on our result and she set off to detail it for development. Luckily, it was a Friday and the weekend created a natural simmering period.

By Monday, it was clear we’d overlooked several important things. It was equally clear that time had ripened and enhanced a fundamentally sound idea; what we handed off to development on Wednesday was indeed a smart, novel feature.

Ironically, it’s hard to spend time on product or strategic thinking, but easy to spend too much time thinking about regrets or fears.

The things we should simmer slowly get shut off too soon and the things we shouldn’t simmer at all, stew until they boil! The comparison presents a perfect opportunity for self awareness — we can choose what to think about, how deeply and for how long.

Being clear and intentional about where you will invest intellect and time improves strategies, products and relationships. It aligns your actions with your aspirations. This isn’t an argument for moving slowly, but rather for managers and leaders to think and act more intentionally. To quote Diane Hamilton, “an impulse is not an imperative”. But recognizing your impulse is an imperative to managing it.

Simmer Well: Product ideas, market messaging and business strategy

Don’t rush to closure too soon on these activities. They benefit from exploration, debate, and iterative consideration. According to McKinsey, it’s important that executives and teams take time to frame issues and to question early conclusions because of natural bias from prior conclusions and perceptions; time helps leaders and managers better “identify the real choices and constraints facing their organizations” and results in far better strategy. Teams rush the process because they believe the answer is self evident or doesn’t require deeper consideration. Managers and executives short cut because they feel they don’t have time to devote yet it’s among the most important uses of their time. (McKinsey and Blue Ocean Leadership, a terrific assessment of where managers should spend their time.)

Product direction, market messages and business strategy are expensive to put in play and far more expensive to reverse – a loss of both capital and time in market that cedes ground to more effective competitors. Before committing to execution, allocate enough time to explore and expand thinking commensurate with the importance of the decision. If your team is making strategic business decisions, fulsome exploration and healthy debate are essential; McKinsey reports strategies debated with vigor and even outright tension produce better business results. Without adequate time to think and reflect deeply, the variables that determine success and the range of potential outcomes aren’t well enough understood — key ingredients to good strategic decisions (See Deciding How to Decide for more on good, timely decision making).

If you’re making important product or market decisions alone without benefit of debate to challenge entrenched conclusions, give yourself breathing room to see the unseen. Try an hour or more of your favorite endurance sport at your highest intensity level to create space for a different quality of thinking – the combination of air, effort, and time for uninterrupted consideration do wonders. (Cycling works for me — I’ve pulled off the road to capture more than one breakthrough idea!)

Never Simmer: Regrets, defeats and fear

These things and other ruminations on the past or perceived wrongs don’t improve with simmering. When you find yourself building a case against someone (or yourself) in your head, stop. Simmering negative thoughts reinforces them and makes things worse — it’s bad for your health and it diminishes the energy and quality thinking you could give to more value-creating activities, reports Travis Bradberry.

To turn off the burner on negative thoughts, look directly at the essence of the grievance or fear, acknowledge that it’s there and make a conscious decision to move past it. This is a decision to invest your intellect in things that are better for you. Knowing your priorities and actions needed to execute strategic plans creates a ready replacement for the negative thought cascade, and enables a faster shift of that intellectual energy to aspiration and achievement. This is a skill that requires real and sustained practice!

Some leaders use meditation, yoga or other mindfulness techniques to improve this skill; I started about five years ago. It increased my capacity to extract the wisdom that comes with fear, for example, and drop the anxiety it produces more quickly. CEO Tony Hsieh, Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of the Huffington Post, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, CEO Marc Benioff, and former CEOs and chairmen of Hartford and Medtronic. These techniques bring attention to the present rather than past events or forecasts of future problems. Tech giant Google even offers its staff classes and has a company mindfulness leader.

Four Tactics to Take Away

Try a more thoughtful approach to thinking with these four tactics:

  1. Move thoughtfully from strategy conclusions or product ideas to action.
  2. Move quickly to cut off negative thoughts from becoming conclusions or undermining your actions.
  3. Maintain clarity on strategies, priorities and actions that require your intellect
  4. Design time into your process for deep thinking commensurate with the significance of the decision or conclusion

Deepen good thinking and avoid wasting energy on negative thinking. You’ll be more successful and happy — but self-awareness is essential.

What do you think? (No pun intended :)


Bright Shiny Objects And Their Effect on Innovation and Technology

Innovation and technology have become cornerstones of our society. Whether we are the innovators of the creation or the end-users, we thrive and demand more of what we want and keep pursuing it to an attained end result. So how do we understand the difference between valuable and enduring innovations versus what appears to be the next best thing, but really isn’t?

As humans, we gravitate toward the innovations that are believed to move humankind forward. However, as evidenced by history, we often believed in a new and shiny object that appeared to have potential, but fell woefully short on delivering the expected results.

Objects du jour are a fact of life. Introduction to new, and what we all must have, is a constant in our society, but how do we distinguish and evaluate what is really valuable and what’s a fad? For the consumer, what’s important is knowing that their time and money are being used wisely. Likewise, the innovators are interested in the profitability of their creation and appeal it holds for the consumer. The irony here is that the innovations which don’t fade into oblivion can be difficult to identify as having merit to many consumers.

Putting A Price On Value

Many people believe the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” In some instances this is true, but it’s not a blanket statement we should use to explain the differences between reality and perception. Reality is when technology is tried and true by a number of people and there is a consistency to the outcome. Perception is like folklore. We want to believe it. We try to believe it, but regardless of what we want, the fact-of-the-matter is, we can’t wish something into being what it is not. In the face of perception, myth and reality become one. This juncture is where logical cognition withdraws, and belief in what we so desperately want, takes control.

In a society driven to deliver the “next best thing since sliced bread,” endurance, testing, user feedback and real-life use can be overlooked. The laws of supply and demand can supersede what is a realistic invention and what is simply the perception of what people believe they want and need. Even companies that are known as being innovators of desirable technology can slip up from time-to-time and launch a consumer lemon.

The Cost Of Perception

In the early 1990’s, Apple created a device called Newton. Newton was introduced to the public as the answer for having a mobile, personal desk assistant (PDA.) Newton was not inexpensive. At its launch in 1993, Newton cost $800 for a device and was so well-received at the time of its introduction at a MacWorld convention, it reportedly sold out within minutes. Expectations were high. End-users were eager to believe Newton would be an answer to their needs. Within the span of the next 12 months, consumers found that Newton was not what it was perceived to be. Users reported that Newton was functionally a disaster along with sporting a host of other technological failures, such as lacking sufficient handwriting recognition and poor systems memory. Newton was a flash in the pan. Albeit, some hardware and software developers, today, believe Newton paved the way for future mobile technology by introducing the modern-day smart phone.

For all the faults and failures of Newton, it did trigger interest in future opportunities, suspected possibilities and potential uses. It wasn’t a useful device in its time, but through present-day ingenuity and creative thinking, Newton may have laid the foundation to innovative thinking about the technology that spawned its functionality.

Lessons Learned

The saying, “What goes around, comes around,” is commonly heard. Look around your office, home, and car. Consider each item in those spaces. Chances are you’ll see the off-spring to a lesser known, now defunct predecessor that outlived its usefulness. This is the cycle of innovation… taking what once was and giving it a more useful modern-day purpose. When considering the cycle of innovation and the effect it has on business, there are two paths to choose.

The brands with a long history of innovation understand the options when selecting a path. These organizations keep striving to create the next generation of their brain child and learn better ways to appeal to consumer demand. One big take-away is that these enduring companies listen to their customers. They take end-user feedback and investigate ways in which they can retool their creation to keep it relevant and useful. A common marketing tactic, some organizations employ, is simply making what’s old seem new again. They do this by repackaging their goods to appease the current-day consumer. This action addresses the power and significance of public perception in the innovation cycle.

Brands that attempt to pursue business, without regard for current demands and user feedback, have a long, hard road to travel. Often, these companies are phased out for a better, easier-to-use and more cost-effective product or service, as in the case of Apple’s Newton. The cycle of innovation still applies here as nature’s way of eliminating the irrelevant with more useful advancements.

So where does your brand fall in the consumer spectrum of value innovation? The answer to this question is something every company and organization should continually assess. To not critique your brand value is otherwise inviting obsolescence and impending failure into your business model.

Help Managers Be More Effective Leaders

There is a tremendous engagement and execution gap in companies today. According toGallup, only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work ; 60% of employees don’t understand their organization’s goals and priorities and just 10% of executives sustainably achieve those goals according to Bain & Company’s Chris Zook. In fact, disengaged employees may actively undermine the value created and customers acquired by their more engaged peers – whom they far outnumber.

Experts at Gallup and Harvard Business Review agree that the cause of the problem and its $500 billion annual cost is managers at all levels and how they spend their time. In fact, Harvard Business Review article “Blue Ocean Leadership” posits that the bulk of that time is consumed by low-impact tasks like getting facts and preparing and reviewing status reports. This leaves little time for leadership activities that drive positive engagement and performance, such as setting strategy, communicating goals, empowering teams to execute, coaching and creating learning environments.

To compound matters, frontline managers receive the least training of all roles and are least prepared to be great at the job of managing and leading, according to McKinsey — yet that’s whom employees engage with the most. Middle managers have the highest potential impact on the bottom line according to Wharton, but may lack the authority to execute for impact (and are an easy target of blame from both above and below).

Business has gotten far more complex and teams more global, but the tools for communicating and linking goals, actions, status and feedback haven’t improved in 20 years. PowerPoint dashboards hand created week after week with progress against goals, dozens of versions of Excel spreadsheets with the list of deliverables, SharePoint and Connections sites with the documents detached from the status of the deliverable and abandoned comments, infinite emails that only 30% of the team takes time to file neatly away and status meetings and read outs are still the time-sucking methods of communicating goals, actions, status and feedback for most managers.

It’s no wonder managers have little capacity left to engage their teams or lead to their full potential! And of course no one upline is letting them off the accountability hook and few high performing managers believe they can achieve their career goals without measuring team goals and execution progress. My own experience as a highly motivated senior manager at IBM, an organization with over 400,000 people globally, is days are very long if you try to cover essential management tasks, vital leadership activities and maintain or build expertise in a domain. Something has got to give if we are to increase leadership capacity and it isn’t the 24-hour day.

To improve engagement and execution, managers need an efficiency breakthrough before they can increase their leadership capacity. Blaming the execution gap on managers or suggesting it’s as simple as using their time wisely isn’t helpful – they need the means to create more time and capacity. Here are four elements of higher effectiveness and efficiency:

1. Make communicating goals and priorities a priority: Your time is well spent communicating goals, objectives and priorities to the team. They can’t achieve them if they don’t know what they are; repetition of goals pays off when they encounter a lot of data, noise and distraction every day.

2. Be clear and specific on the work to achieve goals: Doubt about ownership and the actions needed to achieve goals wastes a ton of time. Make sure everyone knows what’s required to achieve your goals, hand offs within the team are smooth, ownership is clear and people feel accountable for execution.

3. Be hyper-efficient in getting status from your team: Track a consistent list of the actions needed for goal achievement and current status to ensure people don’t waste time on immaterial work and you have transparency on the progress of important work. Avoid reconstituting the actions list or status framework each week – it makes facts harder to get or trust. Set an interval to check status rather than doing it haphazardly throughout the day.

4. Give immediate and real feedback to the team: Be consistent in giving feedback to all your team members (not just the super stars). Link the feedback to actions and goals for the biggest impact. Both positive and negative feedback are essential to engaging your team and achieving your execution goals – so don’t short change this part of the management job.

The Psychologies Behind Motivation

Rewarding and recognizing employees doesn’t just feel good – it motivates the behaviors that you want to encourage. Of course, motivation comes from within just as much as it’s influenced by external factors. It’s hard-wired in the brain, reinforced through childhood, influenced by employers, and toyed with in games.

The intricacies of any psychology are almost always overwhelming at a glance, but organizing the science into several focused, graspable concepts helps to turn jargon into actionable information. With some basic understanding of how the brain processes appreciation and implements positive motivational behavior, we can tweak our everyday conduct in a way that increases productivity within the home or workplace.

Synthesizing Motivation

Our journey begins in the brain’s most important reward channel: the mesolimbic dopamine system. This system lights up the brain’s memory centers to gather information for future use about a rewarding experience and also tells you to repeat those behaviors that prompt rewards.

Want a quick fix for motivation? Set many small goals instead of a few large ones – this way you’ll trigger dopamine more often and can ride the tubular chemical wave.

Your Childhood

The fixed mindset says that your qualities are unchanging, even over time. These are the people who constantly need to prove themselves with tasks that showcase how smart they are and who avoid any areas where they may fail. (After all, the thought process is this: if you have an innate ability, you shouldn’t have to exert effort.) Setbacks for these people are more likely to discourage them from ever trying again.

“In the fixed mindset it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You have to be pretty much flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.”

What if you’re not flawless? The growth mindset is much more forgiving.

In this mindset,  intellectual ability is something you can develop through practice. Without worrying about how smart they seem to others, people with this mentality willingly take on challenges to hone their skills.

Employee Appreciation

Mindset is also developed during childhood by family, friends, and educators in a way you might not imagine: praise.

Studies show that praising students for their intelligence drives them towards a fixed mindset whereas praise for effort drives them into the growth mindset. Students are then told that they can choose from two tasks: either challenging or easy. Not surprisingly, those praised for intelligence opt for the easy task that won’t hurt their pride and those praised for effort prefer to take on the more challenging task because it provides a learning opportunity. As soon as the fixed mindset students start to struggle, they lose both their self-confidence and enjoyment of the task at hand. They still do poorly when the problems are made easier. Meanwhile, the students with a growth mindset perform well despite setbacks.

Best Practices For Motivating Your Employees

Knowing the ins and outs of motivation is one thing, but making this knowledge actionable is another. Below are some best practices for keeping your employees motivated in the workplace through recognition and rewards.


  • The most important strategy when rewarding and recognizing employees is making sure that the behavior being honored is in line with specific company values and goals. Give employees concrete feedback on what they did right. In other words, give process-oriented praise.

Employee Involvement

  • Peer-to-peer recognition can be more effective than what can be seen as politically-motivated top-down recognition. Plus, making other people feel good makes you feel good.

Keep It Simple

  • Make recognition a breeze so that people are encouraged to recognize others often.


  • If B.F. Skinner has taught us anything, it’s to reinforce desired behavior immediately so the reward is intimately linked to the action that led to it. To establish a behavior, reward employees every time they perform an action for the first handful of instances. To maintain it, continue rewarding employees but only once every 5 to 7 instances.


  • Sincere praise is more likely to “stick” with employees and personalizing reinforcement is key because it imbues the reward with meaning to the employee. Furthermore, the size of the reward should be relative to the importance of the behavior.


  • Reward employees for showing initiative and inventiveness. Companies succeed when they stay ahead of the curve, and it’s the employees that drive innovation. Plus, rewards of this type get right at the heart of the autonomy, mastery, and purpose trifecta.

A paycheck is not a sufficient method for recognizing employees — it’s actually required of employers by law. Go above and beyond your requirements as an employer and try implementing these tips and practices to keep your employees committed to producing great work and contributing to a healthy, positive workplace environment.

Perfectionism At Work: Avoiding Burnout

It’s not unusual for employees to be driven to succeed, especially in a company which is striving for success and prides itself on hiring highly motivated staff. But, according to new research, reaching for perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

While you might think that perfectionism is a personality trait that would be productive, you would be mistaken. Studies conducted by York St John University and the University of Bath have shown that perfectionism can be a destructive force.

Perfectionism Is A One-Way Ticket To Burnout

Extremely high personal standards and goals? Your own worst critic? If that sounds familiar, then perfectionism may be an issue. In the workplace, perfectionists tend to be those putting themselves under immense pressure to reach goals that others perceive to be close to unattainable. In doing so they may spend copious amounts of time working on a task and going into meticulous detail.

There’s no arguing that in the short term, perfectionism could achieve excellent results here and there. Unfortunately, in the long-term, it’s a very dangerous personality trait. Perfectionism is very closely linked to burnouts, which happens when stress levels hit the roof leading to fatigue and withdrawal.

Perfectionism And The Workplace

Employers have to take some responsibility for the perfectionism epidemic. Modern workplaces are often highly focused on performance outcomes and employee performance is closely monitored. Highly charged work environments are counter-productive. While they may be striving for better results, perfectionism and work stress produces poorer performance.

Dr Thomas Curran, who co-authored the research, said “We suggest its [perfectionism’s] effects can be managed and organisations must be clear that perfection is not a criteria of success. Instead, diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities.”

Don’t Burn Out, Take Time Out

Perfectionism may be part of a person’s make up, but it can be exacerbated by employers who are results driven and have high expectations of staff. Innovative companies, just like Google, can look at ways to achieve results by decreasing workplace stress.

1) Take Time Out – Asking employees to work overtime isn’t good for productivity or performance. The most productive employees are those that have time to take a break. Encourage staff to take their annual leave and recharge their batteries, and never keep them late in the office, and you’ll see an improvement in productivity.

2) Depressurize Work Environments – Look for alternative work environments to take away some of the stress. This can be as simple as changing office lighting, to bigger moves towards remote working and flexible working hours. Flexible working arrangements can boost workplace productivity by 71%, not a figure to be sniffed at.

3) Take Failures on the Chin – Instead of chasing results by micromanaging and reacting negatively to missed deadlines, encourage employees to take charge of their own work and use failures as an opportunity for improvement, not as an excuse for loading on more pressure. Use failures to your advantage and work on strategies to avoid them in the future.
Bearing these three points in mind could be the solution to mitigating the negative consequences of high pressure work spaces and perfectionism on the part of management and employees.


Why Company Culture Is Crucial for SMEs

Having a shared sense of culture among employees is important for businesses, especially for fledgling businesses for whom it is crucial. SMEs need all the help they can get to hold their own against larger players, and because creating a company culture among a smaller numbers of employees is easier, it’s something to take advantage of from day one.

Keeping Company-Wide Goals And Objectives Is important

Businesses run best when everyone is moving in the same direction towards the same goals. This clarifies employee responsibilities, encouraging productivity and initiative. If a worker knows their role and end goal then they won’t need as much instruction as a worker who can only see as far as the next task.

It also encourages communication and collaboration between workers. If all goals are clear, everyone has some idea of what others are working on. That means if they have an idea, question or suggestion they know exactly who to go to. It’s worth remembering that everyone can have some worthwhile input outside their specific remit. Just because someone works in development doesn’t mean they can’t have some great marketing suggestions too.

It makes It All more Efficient

When advertising a position well-qualified and experienced applicants are obviously welcome, but it’s also important to get people that are a good fit for the company. If their views and style are completely at odds with everyone else then they probably won’t last long. Lower the risk of this happening so time and money aren’t wasted. Having a good recruitment process is a good start, but having an established company culture is better.

Knowing what the business is about will not only help craft a job ad that attracts the right people, but will also mean aims and culture are clear and communicated in the early stages of recruitment.

Employees Become More Invested

Having workers actually care for the business and whether it succeeds is obviously important. Forcing employees to make sacrifices or take on extra hours is damaging to morale, so when employees are willing to volunteer it shows the workforce is committed.

By instilling company culture workers can show dedication and energy as they’ll be on board with business objectives. If they agree with what the company is doing they’ll be much more valuable, and this positive culture will permeate through to new employees. In other words, employees should see their jobs as personally fulfilling rather than just a pay cheque.

Lapses In Security Are Less Likely

Another positive of having employees sharing company culture is that they’ll make fewer mistakes. One of the biggest areas of business where this is important is with security. Aside from keeping on top of the issue, there are many ways for a worker to lapse with this, including failing to adhere to data protection laws, accidental loss or sharing of sensitive data, and even failing to lock up the office at the end of the day.

A strong company culture can include security to prevent any lapses and reinforce proper procedures central to how the company does business.


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