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4 Easy Steps to Solving Every Problem in the Workplace

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 08:00

Don’t let the pricey management consultants know it, but there’s a four-step recipe that will help you solve almost any complicated problem.

This process isn’t for everyone. But it’s extremely helpful for managers who can listen to the person with the problem as a neutral observer, ask the following questions, then hold up a mirror so he can see you’re only organizing or re-casting his thoughts.

This common-sense problem-solving strategy is unforgettable because it’s so straightforward and simple. As a manager, you can help your team with this DIY approach—and you won’t even have to call HR.

The four questions:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What have you done to solve the problem?
  3. In trying to solve the problem, what have you learned about it?
  4. What’s your action list?

As you’ll see, your most complicated step is defining the problem, which after discussing with your management and your team, you realize the definition differs from person to person—as does the solution.

How does that look in practice? Here are a couple of real-world examples.

Pro tip: Sometimes a box of tissues and a cup of tea are useful.

Problem #1:

B., a highly respected middle manager, came into the office in tears. “This company is not family-friendly!” she said. “I’m going to have to get a divorce, and it’s all because of this place!”

Step 1. To define the problem, we talked. On Saturdays, both B. and her partner worked on site to close out the week’s business, while their babysitter watched their children. Lately, though, her department was closing the week just a little bit later. Meanwhile, her partner’s responsibilities at work had grown, and she was staying later, too. But the babysitter needed to leave on time. Ultimately, we determined that job and child-care stress was negatively impacting their relationship.

Step 2. What had they done to solve the problem? Both were staying later at work, and the babysitter had to leave at the usual time. Both had tried to leave their workplaces earlier, but neither office was enthusiastic about that. They tried to switch off weeks with each other, but negotiating the switch caused fights.

Step 3. In trying to solve the problem, what did we learn? We found that changes in both partners’ jobs created stress. B.’s partner’s job seemed to be growing, perhaps surpassing her responsibilities and earning power. We also learned the couple’s stress was contagious – to the babysitter, to each other, and to their children.

Step 4. We put several potential solutions on B.’s action list. First, maybe B. needed to try to leave on time – or pass off duties to her deputy. Second, her partner could do the same. Third, the babysitter could be asked to stay an hour later regularly, or perhaps they could find a sitter who could work later. Fourth, they both might need to consider switching jobs. Fifth, either or both of them might work all or part of a shift from home on Saturdays.

Takeaway: More than one solution might technically solve the problem, but which of them will work best depends a great deal on the people involved. Keep an open mind and, if possible, try more than one to see which works out best.

Problem #2:

S., a top professional and a linchpin of his department, stopped me in the hall. “I’ve just been to employee relations. I’m filing a complaint against the company about religious discrimination.”

Step 1. As an Orthodox Jew, S. needs to be home to light candles every Friday before sunset, and with winter’s onset, the days were shorter, so he needed to leave earlier. His previous manager, who was also Orthodox, had been promoted, and his new manager criticized him for leaving early. The department had taken on new responsibilities just as business was turning down, and his colleagues felt their jobs were at risk. When he left early, he said, they whispered about him.

Step 2. Trying to work out the problem, he told several co-workers quietly that he didn’t feel comfortable with the new boss, which didn’t sit well with them. He explained that they could leave early to pick up kids from school occasionally, and he felt his religion was at least as important as their kids. He felt his job was especially at risk.

Step 3. What did he learn? Complaining to co-workers was not a winning solution. Co-workers were sympathetic, but the business downturn made everyone twitchy.

Step 4. His action list: First, he made an appointment with his old boss to ask for her advice. Second, we agreed that he needed to talk directly to his current boss and explain the scheduling issue. Third, he would offer to “make up” the time by staying late or arriving early. Fourth, if it seemed appropriate, he would emphasize that he was meeting and even exceeding his goals: He would be clear that his performance was excellent, and that performance is measured not by time in the chair, but rather by achievement of mutually agreed-upon goals.

Takeaway: Some problems aren’t always solved by one big fix, but by lots of little ones. Any or all of the action list items might help, but all of them are worth pursuing. In this specific issue, managers should be alert to the laws concerning religious discrimination; make sure your company doesn’t run afoul of them.

Problem #3:

Z., a boutique content marketing consultant, called in a panic to say her business checking account balance was down to $218.31. She told me, “I am going to have to fold my startup and go back to the office job I hate.”

Step 1: The problem is money. Z. has one big client and several small ones. The big client slow-paid every time, and this time she didn’t have enough cash on hand to cover basic expenses. This financial insecurity made her yearn for stability at work, even work she hated. She also found it hard to think when she was in a no-money panic.

Step 2: Z. needed cash to pay for hosting her website, her credit card bill, and her part-time assistant, plus recurring business software subscription. She had called the big client to collect, but the client was out of the country. She tried to gin up some other business quickly but wasn’t having much success.

Step 3: Emergencies happen, Z. learned, but if every month is an emergency, there’s a systemic problem. Businesses need budgets and cash flow. Z. had run much of her business without a strict financial plan for three-and-a-half years, with only one or two hair-raising events like this one. But it was clear that she needed more than one big-money client.

Step 4: First, she asked her husband for a $5,000 loan to get some breathing space. Second, she committed to use part of the loan to hire a bookkeeper and make a strict budget. Third, she went to sell her second-biggest client up to a bigger line of business. Fourth, she conducted a long-overdue exercise to create her goals and a five-year plan.

Takeaway: Sometimes to solve a problem you first need to mitigate it: Give yourself some much-needed breathing space so you can tackle it properly. But having bought yourself time, do not waste it by dithering—get a solid action plan together and execute it.


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Giving Thanks to Colleagues Can Help You Get Better Results

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 08:00

With Thanksgiving approaching, now is a good time to think about how you show thanks at work. Showing gratitude to colleagues can build stronger relationships and help you get better results in your work.

After all, think about times that you went out of your way to help a colleague. When they made it clear how much they appreciated your assistance, didn’t that make you feel good about the relationship – and maybe make you go out of your way for them in the future? And if you’ve had the experience of helping someone who barely acknowledged your assistance, you probably wondered if your efforts had gone unnoticed – which isn’t exactly a recipe for enthusiasm the next time they need help.

But not only does showing gratitude make people more inclined to help you in the future, it also has a real impact on the relationship itself. People tend to feel warmly and positively toward people who appreciate them. It’s a lot tougher to get irritated with someone who recently told you how much they appreciate your work. And in some cases, showing gratitude can even set you up for long-term strong bonds – bonds that can be a reward on their own, but which can also have real ramifications for things like networking, references, and your overall quality of life at work.

Why not think about the coworkers who have made your work life easier and let them know? You can do this in a few different ways:

1. Tell them face-to-face. You don’t need to issue a formal thank-you note; it’s fine to simply pop into someone’s office to issue a thank-you. For instance: “Jim, I don’t think I ever thanked you for helping me with the Miller report last month. I know you stayed late several nights to do it, and your editing made a big difference in the final product. I was so thrilled with how you pulled everything together, especially the ending section, which I know was a mess when I gave it to you. You really worked magic with the language, and I can’t thank you enough.”

(Note the specifics in there. The more specific you can be about exactly what you appreciated, the more valued your thank-you will probably be.)

2. Send a note. So few people send written notes these days, especially in informal relationships, that doing it can make a real impression. If you take the time to write out an expression of gratitude, many people will cherish it forever.

3. Send a note to your colleague’s manager (cc’ing your colleague). If someone has done great work for you, in addition to thanking them, you might consider letting their manager know as well. You can do this about their work on a specific project, or you can write to let them know how generally ___ (helpful/talented/efficient) the person is.

This can pay off in increased recognition for the person, and is the type of thing that’s often mentioned in performance reviews and even taken into account when raises and other rewards are being considered. And if nothing else, it will make the person you’re writing about feel great.

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How to Make People Management Work

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 08:00

I spoke to Mark Walsh, who writes the number two ranked management training blog, hosts the number one training YouTube Channel and is one of the most “followed” trainers on Twitter worldwide (35,000+ followers). Walsh has done coach training with several organizations and most recently graduated from Newfield Network’s “Theory and Practice of Ontological Coaching.” He is also a long-term meditator with experience running numerous retreats and training courses on meditation and mindfulness. His business training experience includes working with Unilever, The UK House of Lords, Virgin Atlantic, and The NHS.

Dan Schawbel: How do you manage your stress, while ensuring all of your work gets done on time?

Mark Walsh: I commit to what I can handle -matching promises with personal capacity is key. I also have a program of stress management as I teach this and try to embody what I teach – involving many embodied practices from weights, to Aikido to dance – each fulfills different functions and I mix and match like a DJ to lead my state and long-term, my disposition. Meditation is a big help – I practice various kinds form Buddhist traditions, again which can be matched to circumstances – e.g. more metta meditation when angry, more sympathetic joy when jealous, etc; supported by ethics which are the basis of peace of mind, not tricks. Having a sacred morning routine with some ritual – even if in a hotel room, no matter what, is a support I recommend, whatever your faith or lack of. Routine and habit can be friends or foes. The basics such as diet and sleep matter a lot and you can’t “cheat your system” – it’s bad bodily economics to not invest in these.

My diet is basically healthy vegetarian with low sugar and carbs but with some pure pleasure food for joy. It’s about balance, not getting too uptight. Lots of water to keep the brain working and ensuring regular breaks from sitting! Good quality and quantity sleep and naps when that’s not possible. It’s really about prioritizing these as everyone knows this. Social support is the other big one – we’re inter-resilient and making time for friendships is a foundation. I also like some stress so I make sure things don’t get too easy either – challenge is another fuel.

Schawbel: What are some of your tips for building a high performing team and for ensuring that everyone meets their objectives?

Walsh: Centre yourself – state management counts – there are many methods for this and we have some free ones on YouTube. Listen – this is the basis of good communication and teams. Objective setting is just basic management – having clear role allocation and giving doable SMART requests is the key and checking-in regularly. Understand a basic typology such as MBTI and recruit and communicate with this in mind – the same thing does not work for all people and teams need a balance of types not just photocopies of the leader! Use clear linguistics such as requests – who, what when. We use a system called the “action cycle” that comes from Chilean linguists and creates accountability – this is the key thing. On a deeper level – know that you are going to die. Really know this, and connect to what matters for you and let this motivate and kill you. Also – thank people sincerely.  And tea, tea helps.

Schawbel: How do you balance helping your direct reports with their careers, while achieving important business goals?

Walsh: There is no contradiction here. If I’m not also serving the people I work with a) what’s the point? b) I won’t meet the long term goals as they won’t be bought-in. I “unask” your question as the Zen master said to the squirrel.

Schawbel: Are all managers leaders and are all leaders managers? Why or why not?

Walsh: Language wars aren’t for me. We are all leaders and make choices if we have awareness – this is the basic “equation” of personal growth, business success and leadership. Others have covered the leader-manager distinction better than I can, I think.

Schawbel: How do you ensure that you’re always communicating properly with your team?

Walsh: The job gets done? There is some harmony and personal growth not burn-out? I guess these are “I, we and it” measures but nobody “always” communicates as they would like – it’s a hit and miss thing but we can learn to have more hits by getting feedback and learning awareness range and choice in how we communicate. Sometimes something as simple as asking, “What did I just ask you guys to do?” helps, or getting feedback on my style either directly, by asking or though videotaping myself for example – that can be an educational shock! In the embodied method I teach, we work with exercises which reveal unconscious patterns of universal communication which are very helpful. Once you learn range in this regard things get smoother and human beings are human so things will happen.

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Workplace Success – What You Need to Know This Week

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:00

Here are three stories people are talking about this week to help you be more successful at work.

1. Why some superstars struggle to bond with their teams

New research featured in the Harvard Business Review finds that even in collegial, well-run workplaces, high performers are perceived as different and can be subjected to negative behavior from their coworkers, like sniping or lack of cooperation. “Average performers worry that you’re making them look bad,” reports HBR. “If they can bring you down a notch, they can alleviate (or at least they think they can alleviate) their negative feelings by reminding you what an ‘acceptable’ level of performance looks like.”

The researchers note that “benevolent high achievers” – those who are sensitive to what’s fair for others and put others’ needs ahead of their own – don’t receive nearly as much of these negative feelings: “Practicing thoughtfulness and cooperativeness really does work to defuse your colleagues’ impulse to take you down.”

2. Having a bad boss can make you sick

Having a bad boss can make you sick, reports the Washington Post in a round-up of research demonstrating that bad bosses are linked to an increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety, overeating, and more. What’s more, the longer you work with a bad boss, the worse the health effects become. (We’re defining bad bosses here are bosses who are hypercritical, unfair, inept, hostile, or harassing.)

It’s one more reason to vet a prospective boss before taking a job, and to appreciate the good ones. And it’s further fodder for managers of other managers to make sure that the managers beneath them are managing fairly and effectively.

3. Americans are taking less vacation time than ever

Americans are taking less vacation time than at any other point in the last four decades and collectively lost a total of 169 million days of paid time off last year, surrendering $52.4 billion in benefits, according to a new report from Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association. These were vacation days that were earned but went untaken, and which couldn’t be rolled over or paid out.

Last year, American employees took an average of 16 days of vacation, compared to an average of 20.3 days in 2000.

Of course, the travel industry has an incentive to encourage workers to take more vacation time – but so do employers, who benefit from having a rested, refreshed workforce.

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Managing Fast Growth in the Solar Industry

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 13:49
Enabled by Sales Management Apps and IT Management Software from Intuit QuickBase

Solar panel installations have tripled in the past three years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, and continue to grow rapidly.

In southern California, Sullivan Solar Power is leading the solar power revolution. One of the fastest-growing solar installers in the industry, Sullivan Solar Power has grown from a scrappy startup to a $30 million company in just a few years.

Growth is good, naturally, but managing growth can be a challenge. At Sullivan Solar Power, managing an exploding volume of leads became increasingly difficult with a spreadsheet-based system, which was both inconsistent (some leads were called by multiple sales reps, others by none) and impossible to report on.

To scale with its ambitions, Sullivan Solar Power built a sales management app on Intuit QuickBase. The app helped streamline the lead-to-close process and organize key data so sales leaders can run robust reports. Best of all, Sullivan Solar Power was able to get this app up and running quickly, with no coding required.

“We’ve had very rapid growth over the past 10 years, and we certainly would not be here today without QuickBase,” says Mike Chagala, Director of IT for Sullivan Solar Power.

As it continued to grow, Sullivan Solar Power looked to expand its use of QuickBase into a platform in which all of its key applications communicate and share the same data. To help build out its solution, the company turned to Sympo, a QuickBase Solution Provider with deep experience in building process-based systems.

Within a few months, Sullivan Solar Power was powering its entire sales process from QuickBase. Leads generated online automatically populate new records in QuickBase, which are then assigned to sales reps using a “round robin” process. Data from the front-to-back process is all captured in QuickBase and can be used to generate deeply insightful reports.

“Sympo spoke our language. As soon as they came on board, things really started to happen,” says Chagala.

In the future, Chagala hopes to get even more out of QuickBase by integrating it more deeply with the company’s website — for example displaying a running counter of how many kilowatts of electricity Sullivan Solar Power’s installations have generated. It’s all part of a growing system that maximizes efficiency while minimizing waste —  something Sullivan Solar Power does best.

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How to Align a Sales Force With Strategic Goals

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 08:00

The gap between your company’s sales efforts and strategy can be a huge vulnerability, says a new book. But there are ways to link your go-to-market initiatives with strategic goals. 

If you want people in the field to understand your strategic initiatives and demonstrate behaviors that will drive profitable growth, then there must be a clear roadmap to drive that alignment, says Frank Cespedes, author of “Aligning Strategy and Sales: The Choices, Systems, and Behaviors That Drive Effective Selling.” He discusses the issue with Anita Bruzzese in this two-part interview.

AB: You note in the book that advice to managers often focuses on either selling skills or business strategy, but not both. Why is that a problem?

FC: There is no such thing as effective selling if it’s not tied to the company’s goals and economics. Selling, no matter how clever and creative, can’t generate sustained returns if it’s not linked to good strategy. And this is a big problem for many companies.

Selling is, by far, the biggest part of strategy implementation. U.S. firms spend more than three times on selling than they do on all consumer media advertising, more than 20 times what they spend on all online media, and more than 100 times what they currently spend on social media. Yet, studies find that, on average, companies deliver only 50-60% of the financial performance that their strategies and sales forecasts promise. You can see why investment bankers and other capital-market analysts tend to be a cynical bunch: companies regularly over-promise and under-deliver in their strategy results.

Advice that focuses on strategy or sales in isolation contributes to the problem. This should be a two-way street. Strategy provides necessary direction for sales efforts, and information from sales about customers is vital to keep strategy relevant to market realities today, not yesterday.

AB: You say that surprisingly few companies can answer the question, “who are, and are not, our customers?” Sales people are simply told to sell to anyone. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t salespeople supposed to sell as much as they can?

FC: When you look at sales compensation plans—and you should, because sales people look closely at how they are paid–you find that most tie bonuses and other monetary incentives to volume sales metrics. In effect, the plan is saying to salespeople, “Go forth and multiply!” That’s what those sales reps do. They sell to anyone and, in the process, fragment the company’s resources and brand across an often incoherent portfolio of accounts.

Companies make most investment decisions in order to attract and retain customers. Then, as customers buy and use their products, companies modify their products and processes in the directions generated by those selling activities. Soon, it really doesn’t matter what the strategic planning documents say. The real “strategy” of the company is the aggregate allocation of assets driven by that essentially ad hoc sales process.

Every customer is not a good customer. Every firm can serve some customers better or worse than others. Customer selection is crucial: it affects the seller’s value proposition, required sales tasks, and internal capabilities. In a competitive market, if you don’t choose, others will eventually choose for you: either competitors or, in voting with their feet, current and prospective customers.

AB: How can leaders drive effective sales behavior that supports the organization’s strategy?

FC: The basic idea is this: In business, value is created or destroyed in the marketplace with customers. The market includes the industry you compete in, the customer segments where you choose to play, and the buying processes at customers that you sell and service. Those factors should inform a strategy and its sales tasks—what salespeople must be good at to deliver value and implement that strategy effectively.

Then, assuming a coherent strategy, the issue is aligning actual selling behaviors with the required tasks. Managers basically have three levers to do that:

  • People:  Who are your salespeople? What do they know? How do you hire and develop their skills so they can execute your strategy’s tasks? Are you relying on generic selling methodology or what they learned at another firm that made a different set of strategic choices?
  • Control systems:  This is performance management practices, including sales compensation, incentives, and the metrics used to measure sales effectiveness.
  • Sales environment: This is the wider company context in which sales initiatives get developed and executed, how communication works (or not) across organizational boundaries and how sales managers (not just sales reps) are selected and developed.

Selling effectiveness is an outcome of these factors, not only the result of heroic efforts in the field. And this has very practical implications. If you’re a sales manager, this way of thinking can change how you select and use available resources, how you develop and allocate sales people, and how you look at your own career and development. And if you’re a CEO, board member or some other leader evaluating sales numbers, it can help you to avoid being a sucker for glib generalizations and outright stereotypes about selling—and, believe me, as someone who has worked with lots of companies and served on boards, it happens.

AB: You’ve said that organizations must recognize that aligning strategy and sales is a leadership issue and that “a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” Can you explain?

FC: The quote is from a John le Carre novel, and it should be on a plaque on every executive’s desk. This is a leadership issue for numerous reasons.

One reason is that strategic planning in firms often generates a disconnect that damages effective implementation and profitable growth. About two-thirds of companies treat planning as an annual event, typically as part of the capital-budgeting process. Companies tend to do plans by business unit or P&L unit, even when sales sells across those units. The average corporate planning process takes an estimated 4-5 months per year. While this is going on, the market does what the market will do, and sales must respond issue by issue and account by account. In other words, even if the output of planning is a great strategy (clearly, a big if), the process itself often makes it irrelevant to sales executives.

Another reason is the fundamental role that sales plays in the value of an enterprise—and I mean things like stock price and valuation. For example, executives know that cost of capital is important, but most don’t connect that driver of value and their company’s selling efforts. Financing needs in most firms are driven by the cash on hand and the working capital required for conducting and growing the business. Most often the single biggest driver of cash-out and cash-in is the selling cycle. Accounts payables are accumulated during selling, and accounts receivables are largely determined by what’s sold, how fast, and at what price. That’s why customer selection, increasing close rates, and accelerating sales cycles are strategic issues and not only sales tasks.

Interactions with customers affect all elements of enterprise value creation and, in many firms, the sales force is the sum of those interactions. Strategy, growth, or attempts to increase the stock price without attention to this fact are at best limited and, at worst, going down the wrong path.

But many executives, years removed from customer contact, are often unaware of these links. That’s why C-Suite leaders must regularly get into the field. If they don’t, then I guarantee that, no matter how many consulting projects or big-data initiatives they fund, they are unaware of important factors driving their business.

The second part of this interview will look at how to hire sales people who are better aligned with strategy and sales.


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Why Some Projects Will Always Fail

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 08:00

Accomplished project managers understand that it’s not always smart to play it safe.

Most people with project management experience are familiar with Cobb’s Paradox. The term was coined when Canadian Martin Cobb was serving as secretary of the treasury board in the mid-90s and famously asked the question:

“If we know why projects fail and we know how to prevent their failure, why do they still fail?”

In his recent article for, director of Risk Doctor and Partners David Hillson commented:

“This sounds good, but is it really possible? And is it even desirable? Do we want to limit the scope and ambition of our projects to only those that we are certain can succeed? Or will this reduce innovation, creativity and appropriate risk-taking? A spectator at a recent Cirque de Soleil performance was heard to say: ‘I want to see them do things that they can only do half the time.’ Isn’t this what every project sponsor or portfolio manager should be saying?

In fact, this is exactly what I’ve always claimed about true innovators. They throw a bunch of ideas against the wall and watch to see if one sticks. They fully expect that most of their projects will never see the light of day – it’s just part of the process. But then when one does stick, it’s wildly successful, so it’s worth all the failures it took to get there.

Hillson said that understanding how to prevent failure cannot and should not prevent it from happening. In addition to the innovation argument, he mentions several rationales that I’ve paraphrased here:

All projects are risky

Uncertainty is built into every project because each one is unique and complex, based on assumptions and dependencies, and involves fallible human beings. Although the degree of risk might vary, the zero-risk project does not exist. This means that the probability of success for any project is less than 100 percent.

Most projects include unmanageable risk

We aim to manage risk in our projects, but risk management can never be 100 percent effective. As a result, some unmanageable risks will occur on every project, challenging our ability to meet schedules, budgets or performance requirements. While obviously not the ideal scenario, on some projects, the effect of unmanaged risk will be so significant that these projects will fail.

Projects should exist in a risk-balanced portfolio

The concept of risk efficiency should be built into each project portfolio, with a balance between risk and reward. A balanced portfolio will include some high-risk/high-reward projects as well as projects that are nearly guaranteed to succeed. It’s natural that projects in the former group do not always deliver the hoped-for results.

Failure to learn

Human beings are adept at repeating our mistakes. We don’t examine past failures to learn lessons for future projects, and so we fail again for the same reasons. The level of comprehension regarding why a project failed may vary, but what’s consistent is human unwillingness to dig under the surface.

As many executives are familiar with Cobb’s Paradox and prepared to wield it against project managers from whom they expect bulletproof results, PMs should be on guard.

As usual, communication is your most effective weapon. At the start of every project, manage expectations. Help your sponsor and other stakeholders understand that all projects carry risk, and that your goal to deliver the best return on investment may increase that risk. Tell them that you will do your best to make decisions to minimize the risk as much as possible, but just like in life, nothing in project management is certain.


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What to Do When Your Team Disagrees With Your Decision

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 08:00

You’ve gathered input and heard people out, and then made the ultimate decision  –  but now you’ve got a team of unhappy staff members who wish it had gone a different way. How do you get them on board so that you’re all working in the same direction?

Four of our workplace experts have weighed in on this question to give you four points of view. 

Alison Green says:

Well, first, you did the right thing by gathering input from your team before making the decision. Too often, managers make decisions that will affect team members without first giving people a chance to weigh in, and that increases the chances that you’ll get push-back. So it’s good that you consulted with people from the start.

However, now that you’ve chosen a different direction than they would have preferred, make sure that you’re being transparent about why. Explain the factors that you weighed and why you ultimately came out where you did, being specific about acknowledging the input that you considered. For instance, you might say, “I considered Jay’s point about X but ultimately felt it was outweighed by Y because …”  And, “I heard you, Sarah, about the importance of X, but my bigger concern was Y because…” The point is to make sure people feel you truly did hear them and that your soliciting their input wasn’t just lip service.

From there, assuming you’re still sure that your decision is the right one, you’ve got to all move forward as one team. Decisions won’t always go everyone’s way, and that’s okay; what matters is that people feel heard (covered above) and that they’re willing to try to help make the decision a success. That’s what you want to convey now. You might also say something like, “Let’s see how this plays out in the coming months. We can revisit it down the road if we need to, but for now I’d like us all to move forward with this.” If you’ve built a strong team and done a solid job leading it, you should have the credibility and respect with your staff that they’ll be willing to move forward with you, even though the decision didn’t go their way.

Alexandra Levit says:

I suppose my first question to you is: do you still believe you made the right decision? If so, then you want to give your team members an infusion of motivation so that they will trust your direction and be more productive carrying it out.

Passion is an important element here. The best leaders are enthusiastic – they’re out in front evangelizing the need for change. They are able to describe in detail why the change is in the best interest of the organization and its employees.  They counter fear by portraying a desirable future state that team members will want to go above and beyond to realize. It’s hard to be critical of someone who is earnest and excited in the quest for positive change, and your team members’ anger should gradually dissipate.

Communication is the second key ingredient.  It’s your job as the leader to explain to each team member why and how their role is essential to overcoming the hurdles inherent in the decision. Empower them by challenging them to come up with unique and efficient ways to meet the challenges associated with the change. Tell them you understand their frustration that things haven’t gone as they wanted/expected, and make it clear that you do value their feedback and consider it seriously. Team members should continue to feel comfortable approaching you about prospective changes, and should know that their efforts to improve operations are not for naught.

If you think you may have made a mistake, passion and communication are still important, but so are honesty and vulnerability. Your team members will respect you admitting that perhaps your decision wasn’t the best. Emphasize that you made the best call based on the information available to you at the time, and that you’ll need their support and collaboration to move forward. Maintain your composure even if the situation seems dire – if you have a “life goes on” attitude, your team will follow suit.

Eva Rykrsmith says:

You are doing the right thing by getting buy-in up front. Resolving this now will save time, resources, and help avoid delays and conflicts down the road. Though you’ve sought out different perspectives, it sounds like you are still missing alignment. There might be several reasons for this:

(1)    Black and white thinking: My way is right; the other way is wrong.

(2)    Though your team feels their opinion was heard, they perceive they were not fully understood.

(3)    There are unresolved needs, wants, or issues. The decision may be threatening in some way.

To get the team fully on board, go back and open the lines of communication again. Maintain respect for a difference in opinion and from a place of curiosity, try to understand why they are seeing things differently. Isolate the specific area that is causing consternation.

Courses of action from there might be compromise and negotiation. Each individual needs to want to be on board. However, if this is a recurring pattern for your team, it may be more than simply task-associated disagreement, and a broader issue of disrespect and relationship troubles. In that case, there may be an alternative root cause—the steps to resolution are to invest in your own leadership development.

Most of all, look at this as an opportunity. You may still have missing information. The team may intuitively know of obstacles you will face, but may not have a way of articulating them. Working through this tension, asking insightful questions, and patiently listening can bring new ideas or strategies that lead to a greater success.

Anita Bruzzese says: 

Gather your team together and explain that you valued their input, but based upon X, Y and Z, you made your decision. Keep your explanation simple, but friendly. You don’t have to go into long-winded reasoning, but do let them know that you listened carefully to what they had to say. Then, move into the benefits of your decision. For example, maybe you ran the numbers and discovered that your decision will save money in the long run, allowing you room in the budget to give across-the-board raises next year. Or, maybe it will make your unit more productive, and help avoid layoffs. Finally, meet individually with the influencers on your team, and work to understand their concerns and areas where you may be able to agree and move forward. This will help you capitalize on any consensus and make it easier to persuade them to see the value in your decision – and help others do the same. Above all, keep communicating with your team. This is the time to make sure you are approachable and don’t alienate them with a “do-it-because-I-said-so” attitude.


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Boost Movember Participation at Your Office with QuickBase

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 07:30

You may notice a few more mustaches than usual around the neighborhood or office this time of year. Could it be a drop in razor sales? More likely it’s due to the fact Movember has become a global initiative and has been growing (no pun intended) more popular every year. Much like people wear pink in October to support breast cancer awareness, Movember encourages its participants to grow a mustache to raise awareness and raise funds for testicular cancer, prostate cancer and men’s health awareness. It’s become a very popular cause for offices to create a Movember team and participate as a fun way to get people involved in a unique charity event.

Last year, there were a few people interested in the QuickBase Cambridge office, so we started to build our team. We Care and Give Back is one of Intuit’s key operating values, so engaging charity events are a big part of our culture here. To help build the buzz and get people involved, I turned to QuickBase as a tool that could help me out. I ended up making a very simple app, where employees could nominate a colleague to participate and pledge to donate money if they follow through. The app was as simple as possible, asking for a name and dollar amount, then used notifications to inform the nominee to sign up and a few reports of our results on the dashboard.

“I look terrible with a mustache” is one of the common objections to participating in Movember, but the truth is that your new facial hair is meant to prompt questions which allow for the awareness part of the campaign to take place. It gives you a chance to talk about the Charity and what you are doing and why you are participating. Because growing a mustache can be a difficult or uncomfortable decision, the nomination process and support from colleagues was very helpful in getting those that were on the fence to participate. This QuickBase app really caught on, turned out to be a lot of fun, and shot our participation numbers through the roof. Our Cambridge office ended up raising more money than any other of the 15 participating Intuit sites. After Intuit matching our donations, we raised just under $15,000 for the Movember charity.

This year, we’re back at it again. The Mustache growing started on November 1st and the donations are starting to come in. The QuickBase Movember app has been rolled out globally to other Intuit sites, from Bangalore to Mountain View, and the app is also available in the QuickBase Exchange. This year, the Intuit Network has 341 total participants, and some of the money has already started to roll in. Movember is starting to become an Intuit tradition, and we were very excited when our CEO Brad Smith decided to join the fun this year, and maybe next year you will too.


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QuickBase Boston Customer Event 2014 – Meet the Trainers

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 16:30

On November 19th, Intuit QuickBase is hosting a user training event in Boston. The training offers two tracks created for our beginner and advanced users. The day also provides a great opportunity for our customers to network with local users and the QuickBase team.

While this event is sold out, we will be offering future training events around the country, so be sure to get on our Event Mailing List to receive first access.

Meet some of our QuickBase instructors for this event that we’ll cover live on Twitter using hashtag #QuickBaseBOS:

Benjamin Buday, Sales Engineer

Training Session: Diagramming Your New QuickBase App

What I’ll be covering:  All good apps start with good planning. By learning to create visual diagrams for new app ideas, you’ll cut down on app-building time, create more efficient and delightful apps, and will learn faster how to implement your ideas in QuickBase.

My favorite thing about QuickBase:  That you can do anything with it. I use it to manage my band, and I just used it to plan a successful journey through Iceland, as you can see in my photo!


Marykate Gass: Sales Engineer

Training Session: Customizing Forms and Dashboards

What I’ll be covering: How to create and customize awesome app home pages and forms first hand!

My favorite thing about QuickBase: All the different options and tools it gives people to build their own solution. As a Sales Engineer, I get the chance to see many of our customers’ applications. I enjoy seeing how people choose to leverage the QuickBase features to solve their problems. Some apps are elegant while others are eccentric but all apps are ultimately addressing a problem. It is always impressive to me to see how customers, with very similar problems, choose very different solutions. There are so many ways to use QuickBase!


Kirk Trachy, Enterprise Sales Engineer

Training Session: Cross App Relationships and Table to Table Imports

What I’ll be covering: In this session we will discuss how to move data between applications and tables. This is more than a standard table to table relationship, we will explore the tables connected to tables of other applications. Join us while we work with these options in “live” QuickBase.

My favorite thing about QuickBase: QuickBase is the most fun you can have. Every day there is a new customer idea and need. Customer’s ask questions and we collaborate on possible solutions. “Fun-fun-fun!” I am fond of saying, “If you can say it, you can do it.”


Marsha Jacobs: Sales Engineer

Training Session: Core Features: Reports and Roles

What I’ll be covering: This session will show how to create many different types of Reports and how to manage Roles and permissions. I’ll being highlighting how you can segment and present your data in a meaningful way to many different users of your system.

My favorite things about QuickBase: How customizable it is!


Marketing Management from Cars to Clients with Scott Monty

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 08:00

I spoke to Scott Monty, who was ranked by The Economist as one of the top 5 of the 25 Social Business Leaders and by Forbes as one of the top 10 influencers in social media. He has been called “an unstoppable force of nature” and Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company, called him “a visionary.” As Executive Vice President of Strategy at SHIFT Communications, Scott contributes to the firm’s thought leadership while developing new agency services, offering strategic counsel to clients, publicly representing SHIFT at events, and widening the firm’s partnership opportunities. From 2008-2014, Scott headed the social media function at Ford Motor Company and held the title Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager. In the following brief interview, Monty talks about how marketing works in large companies, how he manages his time, working with teams, and how marketing is every employees responsibility.

Dan Schawbel: How does marketing, especially social media marketing, work in a big organization like Ford and how does it change at a smaller firm like SHIFT?

Scott Monty: Marketing is fundamentally the same no matter what size of organization you work for.  The difference really comes in scale and in coordination. As you can imagine, there are all sorts of difficulties in coordinating across multiple departments within marketing at a large organization, and certainly across the world. The benefit of a large multinational marketing organization is that you have the experience, expertise and regional pilot programs from all over the world that can benefit the entire organization. This includes relationships with large platforms and networks whose sales, marketing and development teams will regularly work with large marketers.

A smaller company can be more nimble and more responsive to market changes. In addition, a small company might have the  ability to try to execute a number of pilot programs in a very short period of time, while a larger company is still trying to gain momentum.

Schawbel: What does a typical day look like for you now and how do you best manage your time?

Monty: Well my commute is certainly a lot shorter! Typically my day starts with checking headlines, news sites, blogs and other sources to inform me. Obviously email is an important part of the day, as is instant messaging. And then the schedule will vary by day, with internal meetings, networking events, lunches with industry contacts, etc. but it’s important to keep in touch with the industry as a whole and certainly with each of our offices.

Schawbel: You’ve worked with several teams in your career, from startups to big brands. What are some of your best team management tips?

Monty: Everyone has a different style, so find the strengths of each of the members of your team and play to the strengths. Don’t try to shore up weaknesses, but rather focus on those strengths. Feedback is critical when something is going on. The best way to approach this is simply to ask someone, “Can I give you some feedback?” Then you have license to share with someone what happens when they do something and to offer a suggestion to correct it.

And no matter what size team you have, building relationships with your team is absolutely critical. One of the best ways to go about this is to hold weekly one-on-one meetings with each one of your direct reports.  These regular times to touch base will help build that relationship.

Schawbel: When deciding whom to hire, or fire, what attributes do you look for in employees?

Monty: I always look for someone who is smarter than me. I want people who are skilled, motivated and most importantly, curious. Dorothy Parker once said “Curiosity is the cure for boredom. There is no cure for curiosity.”

Schawbel: Do you feel that marketing is every employees responsibility? How can employees best use social media to support their company?

Monty: To a certain degree, yes. You wouldn’t have gone to work for a company if you didn’t believe in what they do. And when you explain to people – relatives, friends, people you meet at networking events – what you do and what your company is about, that’s a form of marketing. Using social media to help amplify that and to help tell your company story is simply an extension. And employees who have an aptitude for social should be encouraged and supported, with assets that can help them become more successful.

The challenge that many brands have right now is that they’re finding that social is hard to scale without a paid component. But if you have employee advocates, then you have the ability to scale with more than just using paid media. And frankly most people would rather engage with other human beings. There’s not a lot of desire out there to engage with a faceless brand.


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How to Do a Great Job on a Stretch Assignment

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 08:00

What do you do when you’re assigned a project that feels like a real stretch and where you don’t have experience?

If you’ve been handed a new responsibility and are nervous about your ability to deliver, here are four steps to help you tackle a stretch assignment without a crisis of confidence or a major disaster.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Just because you’re the one leading the project doesn’t meant that you have to go it alone. Top performers are often top performers because they’re not afraid to ask for help and advice. Reach out to people who have done similar work before (or who have seen it done well) and ask for advice. What do they wish they knew the first time they were in your shoes? What insight and guidance can they offer? What are the pitfalls you should watch out for? Most people are delighted to be asked for advice. (Remember, you’re not asking them to do the work for you; you’re asking them to share their insights, which is generally flattering.)

2. Check in with your manager more frequently than usual. Don’t assume that you’re on your own until the work is completed. Check in with your manager regularly to make sure that you’re on track and to get the benefit of her input while there’s still time to course correct if needed. You don’t want to overly lean on her, of course, but it’s perfectly reasonable to do things like run your initial plan by her, check in about particular challenges that crop up, and report back periodically on what results you’re starting to get. Ideally your manager would check in on her own, but you don’t need to wait for that to happen, and if she’s busy, it might not happen if you sit back and wait. (If you feel weird about doing this, try saying at the outset, “Since this is new for me, is it okay if I check in with you at key points during the work?”)

3. Think about what could go wrong, and put a plan in place to guard against those possibilities. Having a vague sense of worry and trepidation won’t serve you well at all. But figuring out specifically what could go wrong can serve you very well indeed, because it allows you to come up with a plan to either prevent those things from happening in the first place or to handle them if they do. So spend some time thinking through what could stand in the way of your project’s success, and then figure out what to do about those possibilities. And –in keeping with steps #1 and #2 – don’t be afraid to enlist your manager or others with expertise in helping you plan for those contingencies.

4. Remember that pushing past your comfort zone is how you learn new skills. If you never took on anything new or anything that made you a little uncomfortable, your skills would stagnate and you’d never grow professionally. Plus, your manager probably trusted you with this work for a reason and sees in you the skill and ability to get it done. It might not go absolutely perfectly, but that’s a normal part of learning something new. But you only have to do something once for it not to be brand new to you anymore, and that’s how you learn.

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5 Ways to Keep a Team Focused on What Really Matters

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 08:00

One of the most frustrating things for managers is to discover a team is focused on the wrong things. Such wasted efforts can be demoralizing for the team, stressful for management and detrimental to an organization’s bottom line. But research shows how to make the changes that will keep a team focused on what truly matters.

When you have a critical deadline approaching on a big project, as a manager you are hyper-focused on doing everything you can to ensure your team meets it.

Then it happens. Your worst nightmare.

You arrive for work one day expecting to get a status update that shows progress being made on systems and key details, but you instead discover:

After reaching for your jumbo-sized bottle of Maalox you keep in your desk drawer, it’s time to assess why your team can never seem to focus on what matters. Why do they always seem to be confused about what they’re supposed to be doing and why?

Haven’t you written them a million emails? Sat in meetings for hours outlining what’s to be done and when?

Well, yes, you probably have. But that may be part of the problem. It could be that your teamisn’t focused on what matters because you’re not presenting a compelling enough message and leaving them on auto-pilot for too long.

If you want to get your team better focused (and quit the Maalox habit), here’s what you need to do:

  • Change the way you deliver a message. Those “Zen” presentations where you present a metaphorical image with a few words? The photographs, bullet-point presentations and other messages you convey to your team via PowerPoint? Not as effective as good old whiteboard visuals, finds research by Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Zakary Tormala. In an experiment, he found that participants were more engaged by a whiteboard presentation and retained more of the information later than other methods. An added bonus: the participants found the person giving the whiteboard presentation to be more credible than if the same person gave a PowerPoint or Zen presentation.
  • Craft a better narrative. While you may put a lot of thought into a big presentation to bosses or customers, you may just wing it when it comes to passing information to your team. After all, they’re paid to listen to you, so what more do they want? According to Zach Friend, a former spokesman for the Obama campaign and a communications expert, they need to feel an emotional connection to your message. In other words, while you’re presenting facts about a project (when it’s due, key components, etc.) you also need to frame it so that it strikes a chord with your team. For example, you may explain that your customer is a David versus Goliath story, and the team’s efforts will enable a small business to survive and help people keep their jobs.

To craft a good narrative, Friend, author of “On Message,” suggests:

  1. Grabbing your team’s attention with a challenge or compelling question.
  2. Giving your team an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or finding the answer to the opening question. In other words, allow each listener to put himself or herself at the center of the narrative.
  3. Galvanize your listeners’ response with a resolution that calls them to action. 
  • Touch base often.  Managers must remember that no matter how much they may wish it to be so, teams don’t operate on automatic pilot. Without frequent communications, they can quickly go off course, finds research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory. 

Pentland explains that his research shows that in a typical team, about 12 communication exchanges per working hour may be about optimum, but more or less than that can cause the team performance to decline. In addition, everyone needs to be given a chance to talk, as dominant motor-mouth team members can lead to low team performance. 

Further, the best teams spend about half their time communicating outside formal meetings or “asides” during team meetings. This increase of informal communication tends to increase team performance, he says. 

  • Explain your thinking. Research by Heidi K. Gardner, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, finds that the discord among team members can be averted if leaders explain their rationale behind a decision, such as when divvying up part of a presentation to a client. 

“Making your thinking clear lowers the potential for conflict that could otherwise arise if someone feels slighted. Being explicit also forces you to specify your own rationale, making it easier to see if you’re making any unwarranted assumptions,” she says

  • Consider a cheetah team. When something goes wrong, the whole team can unravel and resemble a pack of do-do birds running off a cliff. To keep the team moving and focused – but also deal with a critical problem – consider forming a “cheetah team.” This is a small team composed of experienced and top-notch team members who are brought in to specifically get a key component on track as soon as possible. Other team members continue to work on the main project. The key to success, researchers find, is that this team is brought in only for a short time to work full time on a specific task, disbands when the task if finished and is supported by top management.

You May Also Find this Valuable:
10 Ways You’re Making Your Employees Less Productive
How to Create a Team Charter for Success


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8 Ways to Start Your New Hire Off On the Right Foot

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 08:00

Congratulations on your new hire. But if you thought the recruiting process ended with the acceptance of the job offer, think again. You’re now in charge of a recruit so green she comes with a fresh car smell.

Lucky for you, we know how to smooth out those rough edges in no time. Here’s how to turn the “new guy” into the “old pro.”

Introduce her to everyone they’re likely to interact with

Obviously, your new hire needs to meet her colleagues and learn their job descriptions, as well as determine how their jobs impact hers. But you also need to introduce her to others in the organization—particularly team leads, the senior manager of the group, and key players in neighboring teams.

This has two benefits: 1) It gives her a better picture of how her team works with others in the organization as a whole. 2) No team is an island, and a new hire is an excellent excuse to improve relations across the company.

Assign a mentor

A mentor isn’t just useful for untangling the work-related snarls that always seem to entrap a newbie. A mentor can also introduce her to the culture of your team. Considering every job has both good and bad aspects to its culture, a mentor can assure that she encounters only the best aspects off the bat, as well as cut off cultural problems before they demotivate her.

Task the mentor to encourage the new hire to ask questions, just in case she’s shy about speaking out.

Give her simple tasks…

Throwing a new employee in at the deep end is a great way to demoralize her and encourage her to quit. Don’t place the person who still has to prove her worth into a sink-or-swim situation, because it strongly suggests you don’t know how to manage. And who wants to work in a team like that?

Give the new employee simpler—not trivial—tasks to start with, to ensure that she is not overwhelmed. This will also let you set expectations and have a measurable way to assess progress.

…but important ones

At the same time, don’t give new hires the simple but tedious jobs nobody else wants to do: That’s another good way to encourage her to quit. Make sure she’s doing something relevant, and delivering it is actually important. This way, the rest of the team can see she’s not just here to fill a quota.

Later, when she is properly integrated, you might not need to oversee her. But to start with, it will help you monitor her progress and give the employee a clear sense of what is and isn’t expected of her.

Keep her options open

Try to expose the rookie to what the rest of the team is doing, so she can appreciate the full range of the team’s responsibilities. If she shows interest in another aspect, you might find she’s a better fit for a slightly different role than the one you’d originally had in mind.

Interested employees are happier and more productive, so being flexible may net you bigger gains than simply slotting them into a role when they walk in the door.

Make sure she takes advantage of training

If your company offers training courses, make sure they are aware of them, and perhaps even require she joins in—even if it’s not directly beneficial to her role. Many recently hired employees are anxious to show their worth and reluctant to spend time that might appear to be “goofing off.” Setting this mandate can help the neophyte take advantage of the company’s efforts to improve employees’ skills.

If your company doesn’t offer any training for new employees, you likely have retention problems. And if you think taking training is goofing off, you have bigger problems.

Schedule a daily/weekly/monthly checkup

While your team lead and mentor are taking care of the onboarding of your new hire on an informal ongoing basis, don’t overlook the value of a formal checkup to see how she’s doing. It will give her a clear opportunity to voice concerns and give you the chance to feed back any performance issues or suggestions.

Putting this meeting on the calendar will also allow her to plan what she might want to say in advance, while at the same time keep her receptive to feedback. More importantly, it reminds your new hire that her onboarding process is considered to be important to the company.

Show her the coffee machine

Because caffeine is the most important meal of the working day.

You May Also Like:
Onboarding – Making New Employees More Effective Faster


4 Awesome Tools to Help You Manage Your Week Better

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 08:00

While technology is supposed to make our lives easier, at times it can feel like it’s made our work lives far more complicated (hello, email overload). But here are four techy tools that will truly help you manage your work life more smoothly. Take a look and see if there are some here you don’t know about!

1. Mailbox: Take more control over your email

“While we can’t get away from email,” say the makers of the app Mailbox, “we can change how we interact with it. We can put email in its place.” The app – available for OSX, iPhone, iPad, and Android – lets you postpone email messages to deal with later. If you receive an email that you want to reply to at some point but can’t answer immediately, you can swipe to the left and schedule a time for the email to pop back up in your inbox – keeping your focus on the messages that are important now, while ensuring you don’t forget about the others. This functionality means that you can easily delay that email from your mom until tonight or have a message from your boss that you receive late on Friday pop up at the top of your inbox Monday morning.

2. Boomerang: Even more control over how you use email

Ever wished that you could write an email but schedule it to send at some later time? Or wish for a  magical assistant to remind you when you’ve neglected to get back to someone or when you still haven’t heard back about a request you’ve sent? If so, you’ll love Boomerang, which is a Firefox/Chrome browser plugin for Gmail or Google Apps accounts. (There’s also a paid version for Outlook.)

Boomerang lets you schedule emails to send at a later date and time; schedule a time for an email to bump back up to the top of your inbox to remind you to follow up or take other action; and even set it to remind you when you send an email and don’t hear back.

3. Cut down on scheduling back-and-forth

If you spend too much time dealing with back and forth while trying to schedule meetings, consider using a self-scheduling program like Timestamp or Acuity. Both let you save time by having others book time with you from a Web interface that syncs with your calendar, shows what time you do and don’t have available, and gets it all confirmed for you. Acuity also includes features like limiting the number of appointments booked in a single day and automatically emailing reminders ahead of time.

4. Easily make quick screencasts

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone in another office and been frustrated that you couldn’t show them your computer screen? Enter Jing, another free tool for quickly making screencasts that you can then share with colleagues. You can record up to five minutes of all or part of your computer screen, and share the video when it’s complete. You can even add arrows or highlight parts of the screen. It’s super useful if you want to demonstrate how to use software or help troubleshoot a technical issue.

And of course, don’t forget about QuickBase, our own cloud workspace to utilize existing, or create your own, custom business applications for solving all kinds of project, workflow and data management problems without writing code.


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What You Need to Know About Change Management

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 08:00

I spoke to Mike Morrison, who is an established interim manager, coach, business adviser, mentor instructional designer and trainer, on occasions he writes, blogs, and twitters. Morrison has over 20 years experience in HR/OD and a proven track record of providing pragmatic business solutions. In the last 10 years, Mike has been designing and delivering training programs for clients, as a consultant, interim and employee providing third party services. Before founding RapidBI, he worked as a Management Development Adviser with Business Link for London and prior to that as a Training Manager for a large private hospital where he developed training for a wide range of staff, managers and coaches.  In the following brief interview, Morrison talks about how he handles change management, training employees, teamwork and selecting the right people for the job.

Dan Schawbel: How do you handle change management and what are some of the issues as you transition projects from one state to the next?

Mike Morrison: Change management is rarely the same twice. Even in a global training project such as the current one I am involved in, each of the 50+ countries has different issues and challenges. There are 3 principles that my team and I work to… communicate, communicate…communicate. This in conjunction with sharing responsibility for implementation, and creating as much local involvement is critical. If people feel their view has been listened to and some of that taken on-board, then change resistance is reduced.

The change initially needs to be managed differently from the change or transition to “business as usual” after the training team have departed.

Schawbel: How does change management impact individuals, their projects and forming a successful team?

Morrison: Quite simply if you don’t recognize the need for some form of “change management,” then everything is an uphill battle. Every change to what a person is doing has an impact. That impact may be productivity, social or emotional. Of course not all change is negative and resisted, and in my experience, it is about using these positive changes as tools when a change is perceived as negative.  Change management needs to cover both the processes you want/need changing, and to realise the psychological changes and adjustments required for success. Sometimes you need to operate with flexible timelines to allow for this. Let your team set the deadlines where practical.

Then when you really need something in a certain time frame, tell them and they will usually back you up and deliver.

I believe that it is about working with the individual, in order to build the team. This can often mean not communicating to one, but all. Keeping communications as transparent as possible. If one person appears to have a passion or interest in a factor, then let them lead, even if the direction changes slightly. If they own it and you show them trust, then it reinforces the team spirit.

What is fundamental (IMHO) is that your team respect you. They may not like you, but respect and trust is critical. As a leader you need people to follow you, not blindly, but because they believe in the “vision” or direction in which you are guiding them.

Schawbel: How do you go about training other people so they are confident that they can deliver on various projects? What issues tend to arise when you’re training others?

Morrison: By building on successes. Sounds simple, but most “train the trainer” approaches focus on weaknesses. We focused on strengths. It was important for people to know their weaknesses, but not to focus on them, or to let these become distractions. In my case I was training trainers, to train super users to train others. Focusing on success was critical. The added challenge of working across languages and cultures was an additional complication.

Our goal was to show people that they could do things… not to highlight that they could not. For success breeds success. Of course no-one is perfect, so its about celebrating success, and recognizing development opportunities.

Schawbel: How do you go about getting a team to work most effectively together? When do teams usually not work out well?

Morrison: Teams do not “work out well” when there is lack of clarity or conflicting objectives. My team consisted of 15 people, each based in different countries, often in very different time zones. I re-ignited a social collaboration platform that was available internally but not really used. Rather than email, we used this for communications, and kept 95% of all communications open between the whole team. The team either volunteered or nominated each other as champions for various projects or changes we needed to apply, and that champion became the lead interface to the specialists in the business. Active collaboration was encouraged at every step, and this helped people build relationships whilst in different countries. When the team changed, I was able to bring the new and existing team members together for a “train the trainer” workshop lasting 3 weeks. Team building and team working was the prime focus of that intervention. This accelerated the collaboration effort that has so far lasted over 12 months.

Most teams are not teams at all, just a group of people working on loosely related tasks. A team really shows its value, when they drop their own individual priorities and deliver on behalf of the team. I have been fortunate to have that happen many times over the last 12 months

Schawbel: What is your process for selecting the right people to work on the right projects and then ensuring that everything gets done on time?

Morrison: In my most recent assignment, we seconded people from around the business. Generally speaking, we agreed to take resources from certain regions, and those regions proposed a number of people. I interviewed them, but for this project I asked but a few short questions:

1)      Working in a global context, with people from different countries, how will you approach a person who says “they don’t understand?”

2)      What factors might be taking place when a person:

a.       Will not ask a question?

b.      Asks very challenging questions at every stage

3)      What problems do you anticipate not being home much for the next 12 months?

The biggest problem we had with previous people was their lack of cultural awareness, being flexible and open minded meant they were open to development, and were less likely to be stressed by the challenges they faced.

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I Don’t Have the Right Person to Delegate Work To

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 08:00

You need to delegate a project but no one on your team is precisely equipped to handle it. But the work needs to get done, and you don’t have time (or skills) to do it yourself. How do you proceed? 

When you don’t have the right person to delegate work to, here are six questions to ask yourself.

1. Can you outsource it – either to another department or a vendor? That might not be an ideal solution, but sometimes it’s the only solution. Don’t be afraid to explore how you might get the work done using someone who isn’t officially on your team.

2. Does the work really match up with your team’s goals? Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – when there’s no obvious choice to delegate work to, it’s because the work actually isn’t squarely in line with your goals. When that’s the case, it’s worth taking a step back and reassessing whether it’s work that you should be doing at all.

3. Is the issue that you don’t trust anyone on your team to do the work as well as you would? If so, do a gut-check about whether you have a pattern of wanting to do work yourself rather than delegating it. If you do (and many, many managers do), you might need to start working on letting go! To get the best results as a manager, you do have to delegate work to others; you can’t do it all yourself.

4. Could you equip a staff member to do the work well – or well enough – with a small investment of training time up-front? If so, would that be worth it to get the work done? It might turn out that you have an employee who’s eager to learn the skill.

5. Is this an ongoing problem? If you’re continually fielding projects that don’t naturally fall to anyone, it might be a flag that there’s a skills gap or capacity issue on your team and you need a bigger picture solution, like bringing on new staff.

6. Is there a staff member who you should theoretically delegate the work to, but who you just don’t trust to do it well? If that’s the case, then you’re probably looking at a performance problem, not a delegation problem. That’s something you’d need to tackle head-on; it’s a signal of real trouble on your team.


A New Agile Management System for Opportunistic Growth

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 08:00

There are a lot of business people losing sleep these days as they contemplate during the wee hours of the night how they are going to stay competitive in a business landscape that seems to accelerate daily – if not by the hour.

Will they miss the next big opportunity? Will their strategy bog them down? How can they get change to happen quickly when they need it?

The answer may in a new book by John P. Kotter, “Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World.” Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, advocates a new framework that can help companies thrive in a time of constant change.

Contrary to others who say the only way to survive the new business challenges is to blow up traditional hierarchies, Kotter says companies should keep them in place because they are one of the “most amazing innovations of the 20th century” and they are “absolutely necessary to make organizations work.”

Still, he admits there are some downsides to such management structures, such as policies that inhibit speed and a short-term focus on quarterly results.

That’s why Kotter says that the solution is a dual-operating system.

Under this system, a network-like structure is formed that is more agile and free of bureaucratic labors and runs alongside the traditional hierarchy. The driving force behind the structure is a “volunteer army” of people who are enthusiastic about the vision and strategy.

Such a system allows companies to keep the bottom line healthy, but react more quickly to strategic opportunities and challenges, he says.

“You create this sense of urgency that is less focused on ‘Oh, my God! We’re going to sink!’ to focusing on how there is opportunity in crisis,” Kotter explains. “It’s been proven that once the big opportunity is clear to them, then it becomes rational and compelling and the panic evaporates. “

Kotter explains that the “big opportunity” can be a new market or new demands on a company because of competition, but it can lead to great outcomes if the possibility “is exploited well enough and fast enough.”

But how?

One key is that you must appeal to the heart and the mind, Kotter says.

“Passion – or whatever you want to call it – is an incredibly powerful source of energy,” he says.

As the windows of opportunity open and close more quickly than ever before, it’s critical that leaders be able to clearly explain why that window is opening and why they should be excited to jump through it.

Kotter emphasizes that the big opportunity is not a vision, but is more specific. He suggests using a statement such as: “Because of contextual factor X and our special capability Y, we have a very real and exciting opportunity to offer service Z and substantially grow our revenues and profits starting in this year and continuing on for at least five years, with unprecedented benefits flowing from the top of the firm to the bottom.”

Why talk about opportunity and not just state a vision? Because in traditional hierarchies, talking about the future can trigger fears that silos are about to be affected, and that can prompt people to become territorial and protective of their turf. They will become resistant. But when you talk about opportunity, it’s more likely people don’t see their future as being threatened, Kotter explains.

He also warns that a big opportunity should also not be considered a strategy in any way, shape or form.

“A strategy is just a more analytical way of describing a vision,” he says. “If you start with strategies or strategic initiatives to create aligned urgency, more often than not you will be using statements that are emotionally barren: all head and no heart.”

He says that his experience shows that organizations can get 75% of large employee populations to grasp and be excited by a good big opportunity statement in ways that just don’t happen with strategy or vision statements.

In his book, Kotter writes that the most effective big opportunity statements have characteristics such as:

  • Being concise. It can be written on less than a page, often just a quarter of a page. Keeping it shorter makes it easier to share with others and helps create a sense of urgency around it among large groups of people.
  • Making sense. Based on real happenings inside and outside the organization, the big opportunity statement doesn’t sound like fantasy. It’s based on reality. A good statement will address what, why, why us, why now and why bother.
  • Being compelling. It appeals not just to the head, but to the heart of all relevant audiences – not just to the people at the bottom of the hierarchy or the top, to some silos and not others.
  • Sounding positive. It’s about an opportunity and isn’t designed to scare anyone. It’s more like a statement of a “burning desire.”
  • Feeling real. This isn’t just a feel-good message to rally the troops. Senior leaders genuinely believe in it and are excited about it.
  • Being clear. If you don’t want people rushing off in non-aligned directions, ensure your statement is clear so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Staying aligned. This statement must be aligned with any existing similar statements at higher levels of the organization. For example, you cannot be at odds with strategic plans or it will lead to stress and problems.

Finally, Kotter says that the most successful statements are created by the executive team of the unit that wants a strategy accelerated immediately, or wants a new way of operating to win in the new business landscape – or both.

“We have no evidence that consultants or task forces can write this sort of statement for people who actually run the relevant unit,” he writes in the book.


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WebEx WebOffice Replacement – Extended Offer from Intuit QuickBase

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 15:55

On November 30, 2014, end-of-life for Cisco WebEx WebOffice comes to fruition. Intuit QuickBase has been working hard for many of the 350,000 WebOffice worldwide users who were originally notified of the End-of-Life (EOL) process for WebEx WebOffice (“WebExOne”) and Workspace services in December of 2013. These users have been relying on WebEx WebOffice to run their businesses on the Web and have welcomed Intuit’s fast action to make the transition to its more modern and feature-rich cloud-based database platform.

Intuit QuickBase is extending its 25% discount offer for the first year to WebEx WebOffice customers. And as always, support is free.

For all WebEx WebOffice customers who may need to quickly find a replacement database platform for their applications – QuickBase is a cloud workspace for customizable business apps that fit your process exactly. Teams work smarter by collaborating on centralized data, automating tasks and workflows and delivering instant insights through interactive reports.

We welcome WebEx WebOffice users to take advantage of this Special WebEx WebOffice to QuickBase Offer by starting a free 30-day trial today.

Transitioning from WebEx WebOffice to Intuit QuickBase was extremely easy. I immediately felt at home in QuickBase and understood how it worked. It felt like upgrading from an old, slow car to a new, faster car with that familiar feeling, only with more features and capabilities. Moving to QuickBase from WebOffice was a big, yet simple upgrade. We now run our business on QuickBase and are extremely happy with our decision and experience to date.” - Ian Greig, Group Technical Manager, Run Energy

More than 500,000 users and thousands of companies from small to Fortune 100 have been using QuickBase to solve a wide range of business problems. To date, over 3 million apps have been built in QuickBase. As a customer, you’d be in good company with American Greetings, eBay, Google, Kayak, P&G and more businesses of all sizes running their projects, operations or business on QuickBase.

 Why QuickBase?

  • Custom Tracking: Track all kinds of things to resolution, from projects to people to budgets without writing a single line of code
  • Interactive Reporting: Make an impact with graphical dashboards and interactive reports created with just a few clicks
  • All in one place: Collaborate safely by sharing the right data with the right people, inside or outside your company, from one central place
  • Automated tasks & workflows: Get more done and reduce errors by automating tasks and workflows
  • Documents – Attach different types of documents and share with selected team members
  • Security & compliance – Businesses and consumers across the globe entrust their financial information to Intuit’s state-of-the-art data centers
  • Getting started: Get a head start with one of the hundreds of ready-made business apps built, used and reviewed by your peers
  • Support: Find answers in no time utilizing our remarkable customer care team, live help community, and online help center.

Contact sales directly or start your free trial.


Photo Credit © Cisco WebEx WebOffice

The Project Management Vampire – How to Protect Your Team

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 07:00

Vampires in popular culture range from Bela Lugosi’s campy Count Dracula, to the sparkly Edward Cullen, to Charlaine Harris’ True Blood vampires who seek peaceful (although sometimes violent) co-existence with humans, to the truly scary Nosferatu and Van Helsing’s Prince of Darkness. Many different qualities and traits have been attributed to the undead, but there are some commonalities: vampires can fly, they avoid daylight, they suck unsuspecting humans dry of blood and energy, they create more vampires, and they can bend others to their will. Oh, and fangs.

Project managers need to be on the lookout for vampires, too. A project vampire can quickly derail progress with tactics that steal the life out of your team and scare them into inactivity. You may have heard the term energy vampire, which refers to appliances and electronics that consume energy in standby mode, even when not being used. Energy vampires waste money and resources. The same is true of project vampires. You may not be aware of them, but they are working behind the scenes to derail your project, and not just on Halloween.

Here are some project vampire indicators that should signal you to get the wooden stakes and garlic ready:

  • Project resources are bled dry. When resources and employees are not used efficiently, not only can budget overruns occur, but resources may run out before a successful outcome is achieved. Ensuring a commitment to have necessary resources available and careful management of resources with good project management software can help avoid resource blood-letting.
  • Taking flight, vampire-style. You have a room full of brilliant planners with different ideas and diverse goals. In the excitement of getting the project off the ground, things may start moving before the project has good definition. Your project will quickly be out of control and flying off in the wrong direction. Spend enough time at the front end, and don’t mobilize until your team has a cohesive plan and understanding of the desired outcome.
  • Avoiding daylight. When a project encounters difficulties, teams can get caught up in the blame game and pointing at reasons for failure. Even worse, problems are ignored and faults or mistakes are hidden. Your project falters as soon as daylight is shone on potential weaknesses because you haven’t accounted for the possibility or owned up to the problem.
  • The vampire bite creates vampire children. So do indecisive or vague customers. Trying to please a customer who moves project phases around, changes orders, and keeps altering expectations is like trying to manage dozens of brand-new baby vampires. They are all single-minded, hungry and ready to drag your project off into their distant lair. Managing customer expectations means setting firm goals and schedules and referring back to your outcome plan regularly when indecisiveness threatens.
  • Bend to vampire will. This may actually be a vampire strategy good managers can mimic to their benefit. Weak leadership and a lack of clearly defined project objectives can kill project success when scope creep comes along. If multiple requests come in for changes and tweaks, each one demanding accommodation, the project manager can exert his Count Dracula force of will and yell: “Children of the night, shut up!” (Love at First Bite, 1979)
  • The invisible vampire. Unforeseen occurrences can impact your outcomes and schedule in a big way. For example, if your product release date coincides with the debut of Edward and Bella’s baby in the latest Twilight Saga sequel, you may have a problem generating interest. Perhaps the best way to protect your project and your team against the unexpected is to perform a good risk assessment. As good vampire boy scouts always say: be prepared.

Finally, a word about fangs. A number of practical vampire proponents have acknowledged that one of the drawbacks to vampire fangs is “fang thpeak.” In other words, fangs interfere with clear speech. Lack of clear communication is perhaps the biggest project killer of them all.

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