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Build a Strong Reputation – Communicate Minor Achievements

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 09:00
Build a strong reputation by making the most of minor achievements. In my seminars, I am fond of discussing the importance of perception. You could be the smartest, most talented individual your...

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Make Better Decisions By Conducting Pre-Mortems

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 08:30
Ever had a project flounder or outright fail and wished that you could have foreseen the obstacles you encountered from the start? This technique will help you do exactly that.  When you’re planning...

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How To Create A Project Communication Plan

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 08:30
A communication plan that will guide the messages to a project’s affected stakeholders is a critical part of any project. How well you communicate throughout the life cycle of your project can...

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How Introverts and Extroverts Can Live in Harmony at Work

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 08:30

Most work groups will have a mix of introverts and extroverts in them, and their differing work styles can cause conflict or frustration if not managed well.

Extroverts, after all, tend to engage in more social interaction at work, and often prefer or even need to talk through ideas and processes in order to be their most productive. Introverts, on the other hand, often prefer to work in relative quiet without interruptions and can have trouble focusing when there’s constant conversation around them. Extroverts can easily annoy introverts by too much noise and talking, and introverts can come across to extroverts as chilly or aloof.

These differences can affect both job satisfaction and productivity. If you’ve got a team full of extroverts and one or two introverts, those introverts can end up with nowhere quiet to focus and feeling drained by interruptions or noise around them. Alternately, if introverts dominate on your team, the extroverts who find themselves in the minority might feel isolated and have their own troubles being productive if they get more done when they’re able to talk things out and bounce ideas off of other people.

So when you’re managing a team with mixed work styles, how do you resolve conflicts between introverts’ need for quiet and focus and extroverts’ need for talking and collaboration?  Here are five compromises that will let everyone,  regardless of where they fall on the introvert/extrovert scale, be reasonably comfortable and productive.

1. Cultivate an office-wide awareness of different working styles. Openly acknowledging differing preferences along the introversion/extroversion scale is an essential step to figuring out solutions that will work. If introverts come to understand that extroverts are often more productive through conversation, and extroverts come to understand that introverts aren’t freezing them out when they put on headphones and keep their heads down, you’re more likely to find compromises people are happy with.

2. Zone your office space for different work styles. Designate some space for conversations and groups working together where people can make noise without guilt, and designate other spaces “quiet space.” If you can, let people choose where they work, and let people move from one to the other as their work needs dictate. You don’t need to revamp your entire physical space, but simply having some quiet conference rooms (and encouraging people to use them when they need quiet space to focus) can go a long way.

3. If your space is limited, encourage people to go off-site when they need quiet or interaction. If you don’t have spare conference rooms to zone for these uses, encourage people to go off-site when they need to. If their roles allow it, your introverts might be thrilled to work from home or a coffee shop when they particularly need to focus. And your extroverts might love the idea of holding a group brainstorm at the pizza shop next door.

4. Consider having set “quiet hours” each day, where any noisy activities take place in rooms with closed doors. Otherwise, introverts may end up feeling like they’re always having to flee shared space if they need to concentrate in a quiet area.  This is something you can do team-wide if people like the idea, or it might just be a solution for an otherwise mismatched pair who share an office to implement on their own.

You can balance that with “noisy hours” too if there’s a need for it!

5. Make “let’s take this to a meeting room” a standard phrase in your culture. Create a norm on your team where after a certain amount of time, a conversation is deemed a “meeting” and moves to a more appropriate location (like a conference room). This will allow extroverts to keep having the discussions they may need to work effectively, but without creating ongoing distractions for those who need a quieter space to work.

You May Also Like:
How to Keep from Being Distracted in an Open Office
How Introverts Can Succeed an Be Leaders in the Workplace
Four Tips for Getting the Most from Your Introverted Team Members


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Daniel Levitin on How to Conquer Information Overload

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 08:30

Too much information has overloaded our brains, leading us to become more forgetful and indecisive. But an expert says there are ways to think clearly and make better decisions – and never again forget where we put our wallet.

Every day millions of us search for our car keys, our smartphones and our sunglasses. We can’t remember passwords for our online banking account and lose critical emails or other bits of data important for our work.

While dealing with such stress and frustration, we’re being constantly bombarded with information from thousands of different sources. For example, in 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986, or the equivalent of 175 newspapers. Is it any wonder that we become paralyzed by the sheer volume of incoming data, causing us to have more and more brain blips?

Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, psychologist and author of “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” says that while we’re all faced with “an unprecedented amount of information to remember,” most of us are still trying to “keep track of things using the systems that were put in place in a pre-computerized era.”

For example, one of the problems is that the computer has evolved into “that big disorganized drawer everyone has in their kitchen.”

“We have files we don’t know about, others that appeared mysteriously by accident when we read an email, and multiple versions of the same document,” making it difficult to determine what is the most recent, he explains.

But he says that he’s found examples of how high achievers manage to keep things running smoothly without getting bogged down by information overload. Their systems make a “profound difference” and enable them to have time for fun and relaxation, he says.

Here are some ways Levitin – using scientific research – says that we can become better at being more focused, productive and less stressed.

  1. Just say “no.” Become your own enforcer of no email or Internet for certain periods so you can sustain your concentration. Don’t check your email every time something arrives in your in-box, but instead check your email only during certain periods. Prioritize your critical tasks for the day and then stick to the plan, learning to ignore that nagging voice that’s trying to get you to do something else (like checking out funny goat videos on YouTube.)
  2. Reach for the reset. When the brain goes into “brain wandering mode,” it is serving as a neural reset button that gives you a refreshed perspective. A 15-minute nap can provide such a reset, as can reading, walking outside, looking at art or meditating.
  3. Do an information dump. If it’s supposed to snow tomorrow while you’re at work, forget reminding yourself to bring your snow boots. Just get the boots and set them by the door. That way, he explains, the environment is going to remind you about taking the boots instead of forcing your brain to keep track of it and clutter your thoughts. If you find ways to rid your brain of so much responsibility, you can better focus your attention on what is in front of you.
  4. Buy some index cards. Putting a to-do list on a computer or smartphone may not be the best method for focusing on priorities. The problem is that you have to scroll through the whole list every time you consult it. But with index cards, you prioritize your tasks with the most important on top. (It’s a technique used by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg).
  5. Control incoming messages. In a method used by executive assistants at the White House, correspondence is sometimes put into more than one category. Reports or letters might be filed by committees and by projects, and is marked as it comes in with appropriate tags. If you have a phone conversation that you need to remember, jot down your notes and send it to yourself in an email that you can then file accordingly. You can also set up different email accounts – one for personal and one for business. That allows you to turn off your personal account when working on business and limit distractions.
  6. Purge once a year. You may procrastinate about making a decision on whether to throw something away, and before you know it your email is overflowing with thousands of emails awaiting a decision or stacks of paper teetering on your desk like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “It’s important to go through piles on a regular basis to whittle them down, trim them, or re-sort them – not everything in them remains relevant forever,” he says.
  7. Take 10. Psychiatrists work in 50-minute sessions, allowing them to jot down their notes before the next patient. So instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings, give yourself 10 minutes to write down your thoughts, what happened and what needs to be done. It’s also a good idea to give yourself 10 minutes before a meeting to review what needs to happen. “It’s good neural hygiene for your brain to give it time to switch into the mind-set of your next meeting gradually and in a relaxed way before the meeting starts,” he explains.  At the same time, if you get interrupted while working on a project, make notes so that when you return you’ll be able to resume the work more quickly.
  8. Scrutinize your junk drawer. “Our junk drawers provide a perfect metaphor for how we live our lives,” he says. Old shopping lists, broken dog collars and five screwdrivers of the same size don’t make a lot of sense, and that’s why we all need to take time to check out the “junk drawers” in our offices and computers. Is the item serving you? Does it clutter up your thinking so that you’re not open to new ideas? Is the purpose clear?

“Getting organized,” Levitan says, “can bring us to the next level in our lives.”

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3 Ways to Gauge If Your Business Needs to Make Big Changes

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 08:30

Any good business plan anticipates change and growth. But what do you do after you’ve reached those goals and benchmarks you set for yourself? Even the best-designed systems and processes are subject to a range of variables that will make them less effective or even counterproductive though the life of your business. When is it time to change what you do and how you do it?

These are a few indications that your business can use an upgrade.

1. The business has grown beyond expectations or experience.

You are no longer the plucky startup but established in the field. In fact, you’re a contender. Are you still managing like you’re working in the studio loft? Conversely, you lead a young department in a large corporate structure. Your unparalleled success has you and your team noticed by upper management. Now you’re getting more work and responsibility than you can handle. You’ve met your initial goals and expectations. Simply put, growth is ready for you. Are you ready for it?

This is a great time for reflection. Take a careful inventory of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re headed. You’re never going to have a better time for course correction and setting the future trajectory of the company or your career. Do you want to remain small and work for a more elite clientele? Or do you want to take on the entire business world? Are you staying local or looking at the big prize of international outreach? Or is it time for your business to cash out?

Growing too quickly has challenges that even the most diligent and motivated entrepreneur may not be ready to face. Now is the time to create the values, strategy, and philosophy that are going to lead you, your employees, and your company to the next chapter.

2. Your workforce is older and more experienced.

You’ve trained a cadre of loyal, hardworking associates or employees, and your current team is a collection of individual experts who work well without supervision. How can you reward them and retain the experience you’ve invested so much time and resources in maturing? It might be time to see how they can lead and how they can grow a junior staff.

It’s time to find out what their goals are, to determine if the next step in the ladder of success is as ready for them as it is for you. It could also be an opportunity to look for new ideas and new employees, people to report directly to the more experienced staff.

The downside, of course, is that this puts you a step away from the ground level of operations. But if growth is one of your goals, this is expected and necessary. You’re also giving the people you’ve worked with the chance to manage. If that hasn’t been a goal yet, it certainly should be.

This is also a good time to ask difficult questions. Has your leadership been a component in the growth of your employees? Are the people under your direct supervision looking to you with respect…or fear? Have you instilled any of your best qualities in your people? Have you been the kind of manager you wanted to be? Building trust and encouraging your people to trust one another can make your new course correction a great moment in their lives.

Being generous with opportunity has its own rewards. Upper management is probably looking for someone who can grow to the executive level. And the people who have worked under your supervision can provide an excellent example that you’re that person to encourage progress. Great leaders don’t just build loyal staff; they build future leaders in the process.

3. You need to keep current with technology and compatibility.

You’ve just learned that the project management software or CRM you’ve been using is losing support. While the rest of the company has grown and made improvements, you’re still using computers and processes that are working piecemeal with the newer systems in order to work at all.

This is a problem whose solution usually involves money: There are organizations and individuals lining up to sell you something bigger, better, faster, and perfectly compatible. Now is the time to look at the numbers. If you have a clear trajectory of what’s ahead—greater volume, enhanced productivity, a change in focus from one product to another—the old software or older processes may now be subject to a radical change. Is your current stack of software customizable enough to grow with you?

Poll the staff who have managed the old system, and get their opinions. With their input, the transition will move more smoothly. Ask them questions about the flaws the older model had, and find out what they need to work quickly and more efficiently. The outlook of experience will be very important when you’re getting a buy-in from the people who are letting go of the old and learning how to make the new work most effectively.

A smart leader knows when it’s time to make the big changes. A skilled change leader can make them painless, exciting and even invigorating.


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What To Do When You Can’t Focus at Work

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 08:30

Ever have a day where you just can’t seem to focus on your work? Maybe it’s your coworker’s distracting phone calls, or the lure of social media, or thoughts about an upcoming vacation, but for whatever reason, we all have days where our concentration is shot. Here’s what to do when it happens to you.

1. Change your location. If your environment itself is posing an obvious distraction (like a meeting happening on the other side of your cubicle or an annoying rattle coming through the vent), changing locations will obviously help. But even if your environment isn’t at fault, sometimes simply changing venues can help reset your brain and bring back your focus. Try temporarily moving to a conference room or a coffee shop and see if your focus returns.

2. Make your work area and computer distraction-free. If changing locations isn’t an option or isn’t helping, try eliminating distractions from your immediate work area and your computer itself. For instance, shut down your email program, turn off notifications, file away those papers that are littering your desk, change your IM status to “busy,” and see if your mind feels clearer.

3. Tell yourself that you’re going to work on a project for 10 minutes and then will take a break. Committing for only 10 minutes is pretty easy, and often you’ll find that once you’ve started, you’re able to keep going. And if you need that break 10 minutes in, you’ve still made some headway that you wouldn’t have otherwise done.

4. Stop fighting it, and turn to activities that require less focus. If you try both of the above without success, your brain might just need a break right now. Rather than fighting it, see if you can use the time to do activities that don’t require intense focus, like filing, cleaning out your desk, dealing with expense reimbursements, or anything else that needs to be done at some point but which doesn’t tax you mentally.

As part of doing that, you should also…

5. Prioritize ruthlessly. It’s all well and good to spend the day on low-focus activities if nothing is pressing, but that might not be realistic for the whole day. Ask yourself what the absolute most important things are you for you to accomplish today. Are there tasks where you’d feel terrible if they were undone at the end of the day? Tell yourself that you’re going to do those now so that they’re not hanging over you, but that you won’t pressure yourself to go beyond that if your brain is rebelling.


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How To Document Your Current Processes In 10 Easy Steps

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 08:30

Most companies use repeatable processes to get work done. That’s a good thing. But if those processes aren’t written down, there are any number of things that could happen to cause breakdowns in the workflow and have an impact on your customers or your cash flow. That’s not a good thing.

It’s not hard to document work processes, but it does take time. The time is well worth it though because it will help you determine if the processes are efficient or if there are steps that can be eliminated or changed. And if you’re in the middle of getting ready to automate some of your work, documenting current processes are an absolute must.

Using a step-by-step method to document your processes will help you get it done quickly and efficiently. Over the years, I’ve used (and taught) a ten step method many times over with success. It can help you too.

A Quick, Ten Step Method For Documenting Business Processes

This method works best when all participants can see what’s being created by using a flip chart or white board. Make sure you have the right people in the room who know what’s involved in accomplishing the process.

Step 1 – Process Name. To get started, write the name of the process along with a description on the flip chart.

Step 2 – Process Boundaries. Identify the start and end points of the process. What triggers the process to start? How do you know when it’s done?

Step 3 – Process Outputs. Identify what’s produced by the process.

Step 4 – Process Inputs. Identify what’s needed to perform the process and where it comes from (e.g. paper, web, fax, etc.)

Step 5 – Process Activities. Brainstorm the activities (what) that need to be done to get the process from start to finish. State these in a verb / object format (e.g., approve request, sign paperwork, distribute form, etc). Don’t worry about sequencing the activities at this time, just brainstorm freely. Sticky notes can be very effective for this step. Just write one activity on each note.

Step 6 – Process Organization. Take all the brainstorm items you identified and sequence them into the process flow. Make sure you identify key decision points as you build the visual of your process.

Step 7 – Process Review. Take a look at the sequence as a first quality check. Does it look complete based on the boundaries you defined in Step 2?

Step 8 – Process Roles. Identify the roles (who) that will be completing the activities for the process. Assign a role to each activity step.

Step 9 – Transcribe Process. Place the steps into a flowcharting software program in a swim lane format.

Step 10 – Final Process Review. Get the participants together and review the process flow. Secure approval by all team members.

Put It All Together

Here’s an example of a documented process to help you see how it all comes together.

Process Name: Pay Employees

Process Boundaries: Employees work for one week and get a paycheck or check stub if on automatic deposit.

Process Outputs: Employee checks or stubs, payroll report, updated PTO records

Process Inputs: Employee time cards

Process Activities: Completed and verified employee time cards, time cards delivered to HR, PTO records updated, data entered in payroll processor, checks or stubs delivered to employees, completed payroll report generated.

Process Roles: Employee, Supervisor, HR Manager, HR Assistant

And the transcribed process in a swim lane format would look like this:


Your Next Steps

Once you have the processes documented and approved, your next step will depend on what actions you plan to take in your company. Whether you are making changes or not, it’s a good idea to take a look at each process to determine where there are opportunities to make the process more efficient.

You May Also Like:
Take the First Step in Improving Your Business Processes


Resisting Delegating Work? How to Move More to Your Team

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 08:30

If you’re like many managers, you sometimes find yourself resisting delegating a piece of work or a responsibility to someone on your team because you’re worried that it won’t be done well enough. But in most cases, if you give in to this impulse, you’re forfeiting the benefit of having a team, which is to allow you to get better results – in part by having more people doing the work, but also in part to free you up to spend your time on things that only you can do.

Here are some of the most common reasons managers resist delegating and why you should delegate anyway in these cases – along with one time when you shouldn’t.

“They won’t care about it as much as I do.”

Ever feel this way? You might worry that if someone doesn’t care about a responsibility as much as you do, they might not do it with the same sense of urgency or attention to detail. Maybe they won’t put as much energy into it as you want them to. Or maybe you don’t trust that they’ll remember to take care of it regularly if it’s an ongoing thing.

If you have the right person in the role and you’ve correctly set up the task for them (including doing things like talking through how to do it well, what could go wrong, its importance and the context for why it matters), you should be able to trust them to care as much as you do – or at least enough that the work will be well done. If you don’t, that’s a flag to figure out why. Maybe you need to prep them better for the work, or maybe you don’t have the right person in the role.

“They won’t do it the same way I would do it.”

This might be true! And it might end up being to your benefit. Part of the advantage of having a staff is that you’re getting multiple brains to work on a problem and figure out the best way to approach it. Assuming you don’t think that no one will ever have a better, more creative idea than you (you don’t think that, right?), your best bet here is to encourage people to look for better ways to do things, even if they’re different from yours. Your role is to ensure that the outcome is what you need, but it’s often okay if someone takes a different path to get there (as long as they’re not sacrificing things like accuracy, final quality, or service to customers along the way).

“They can’t do it as fast as I can.”

This might be true too! But if you let them try their hand at it, they’ll probably start getting faster over time.  But even if they don’t, it’s still often going to save your time, which can be better spent on work that only you can do.

“They can’t do it as well as I can.”

Another one that might be true! But if you want to make full use of your team – which will help you get better results in the long-term – you’re going to need to give people opportunities to develop their skills so that they can make larger contributions to the work. That doesn’t mean that you should delegate everything, of course, but it does mean that you should be vigilant about spending your time in the areas where it will pay off the most, not just in the areas where you might be a bit better than a staff member.

Otherwise, you could easily spend most of your days on small things where you add some value and never get to the work where you add the most value – and the latter is what will most powerfully drive your work forward.

“I really enjoy doing it.”

If you truly enjoy a particular task and find it fulfilling, it’s not crazy to hold on to it, as long as it doesn’t drain your energy or keep you away very long from more important work. If something energizes you and makes you like your job more, it can make sense to continue doing it yourself, traditional delegation advice notwithstanding. (But if you find yourself saying that about multiple tasks you should otherwise delegate, that’s a flag to do a gut-check.)


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Why a Team in Conflict Can Be a Good Thing

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 09:00

Can’t we all just get along? It seems that when it comes to teams, that’s a plea often made by managers. But research shows that conflict among team members may deliver the best business results.

One of the biggest headaches for a manager is when members of a team don’t really like working together.

This dislike can range from snotty comments muttered during meetings to outright confrontations among team members. A manager is put in the unenviable position of taking on the role of playground supervisor/negotiator/drill sergeant as he or she tries to get results from a team that needs to function as a cohesive unit.

But could it be that friction among team members is a good thing and managers should learn to appreciate it?

Recently a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University of a large U.S. professional services firm found that men and women don’t really like working together on teams. Individual workers reported they were more satisfied with their jobs when they were on teams filled mostly with those of their own gender.

“People are more comfortable around people who are like them,” says Sara Fisher Ellison, a co-author at MIT.

Interestingly, however, business results were shown to be much better when men and women worked together.

Ellison explains that could be because teams filled with similar individuals “socialize more and work less,” and various perspectives and skills may help teams function at a higher level. Researchers say that moving all female teams or all male teams to coed teams would boost revenue by 41%.

Further, she suggests that companies may need to do more to help team members embrace differences instead of seeing them as a point of contention.

Other research has found that instead of managers dreading some team conflict, they should learn to harness its power.

“[T]he mere presence of diversity you can see, such as a person’s race or gender, actually cues a team in that there’s likely to be differences of opinion. That cuing turns out to enhance the team’s ability to handle conflict, because members expect it and are not surprised when it surfaces,” says Margaret A. Neale, a management professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who focuses on negotiation and team performance. “A more homogeneous team, in contrast, won’t handle conflict as well because the team doesn’t expect it.”

Additional research backs up the benefit of diverse teams, as Neale found that while senior team members reported greater satisfaction with new members who were similar to them, better results were actually achieved when the new members were more diverse.

Still, while teams that have conflict are more likely to be innovative, it’s still going to be a headache for the manager if that conflict is personal and not just intellectual. The best course of action is to already have conflict resolution management procedures in place. If you don’t, then experts recommend:

  1. Acting quickly. Don’t hang back, hoping the conflict will resolve itself. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be to resolve and get the team back on track.
  2. Being respectful. Leaders cannot appear to take sides in a dispute, so show respect for each side and fully hear each side of the story.
  3. Keeping goals a priority. Remind the group of why it was formed and its purpose. Pointing out the things a team agrees upon is important to keep it focused on how to move forward.
  4. Going for a win. Try to find a simple task that will be easy for the team to accomplish together. This helps re-establish the success of the group and show they can work together.

As a leader, it’s important to keep in mind that there is always going to be conflict, but learning to direct that energy into something positive is possible. As Thomas Payne noted: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

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