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Why Business Leaders Should Talk About Their Mental Health

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For those of a certain age, I’m sure that being transparent about your mental health was taboo. Take my friends’ father, who’s a boomer, as an example. He never opened up about how he was feeling until one day he lost it. The stress, and the emotional and physical toll it took on him, finally came to head. And, he just started crying. I was floored. I mean I was always told that boys don’t cry. Here is why business leaders should talk about their mental health.

There’s been a sea of change when talking about mental health, and we can all learn from the shift.

Take Gen Z. They are more likely to seek help then other generations. Unfortunately, that figure is still low with only 37% reporting that they’ve received help from a psychologist or mental health professional.

Considering that some 450 million people suffer from a mental disorder, we still have a long way to go. And, this is particularly true for those in a leadership role.

For starters, as noted by the World Health Organization, “mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.” As a consequence, this can affect people’s behaviorally, emotionally, and physically, such as:

The Link Between Mental Health and Work

Economically, mental health costs the global economy $ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity! Aetna Behavioral Health has also found that employee mental health costs rise twice as fast as other medical costs.

More specifically, mental health can be negatively affected by businesses:

What’s more, via the CDC, “Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.”

Besides impacting your bottom line, there’s another reason why you need to prioritize mental health at your company; employees demand it.

One study has found that 62% of employees want leadership to speak openly about mental health. But, other research has found this to be higher.

“Mental health is becoming the next frontier of diversity and inclusion, and employees want their companies to address it, write Kelly Greenwood, Vivek Bapat, and Mike Maughan over at HBR. “Eighty-six percent of our respondents thought that a company’s culture should support mental health.” However, it “was even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers, who have higher turnover rates and are the largest demographic in the workforce.”

“Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers had left roles in the past for mental health reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, compared with 34% of respondents overall — a finding that speaks to a generational shift in awareness,” add the authors. “It is not surprising then that providing employees with the support they need improves not only engagement but also recruitment and retention, whereas doing nothing reinforces an outdated and damaging stigma.”

How to Promote Mental Health Wellness in Your Workplace

So, yeah. Mental health needs to become a priority for your business. By being transparent and removing the stigma around mental health, you’ll improve every facet of your organization. And, to get started, here are the steps you should take.

Change the culture.

Changing the culture is a top-down process,” writes Greenwood, Bapat, and Maughan. “It starts with transforming leaders into allies. Encourage executive teams, managers, and senior employees to share their experiences (or those of close family members or friends) at all-staff meetings or in other interactions with their teams.”

“Modeling disclosure and vulnerability as strengths, not weaknesses, goes a long way toward reducing the stigma and setting the tone for transparency,” they add.

Considering that almost half of entrepreneurs have experienced at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetime, you probably already have first-hand knowledge of this struggle. The challenge is to be open up about your experience. Once you do, this will help remove the stigma and encourage others to be more open about their struggles.

Additionally, if you want to change the culture, then you need to walk the walk. That means setting an example by showing others that you are addressing your well-being. For example, take breaks throughout the day and eat a healthy lunch. Most importantly, offer suggestions on how you addressed your mental health. If you spoke with a counselor, then refer an employee to that mental health professional.

Create an employee wellness program.

If you’re unfamiliar, an employee wellness program simply encourages healthy habits within the workplace. More importantly, it helps create a culture where health and wellness is a top priority.

To get started though, Howie Jones in a previous Calendar piece suggests using a Health Risk Appraisal (HRA) to assess your needs. “This is a questionnaire that reviews lifestyle practices like smoking and exercise,” explains Howie. “You could also conduct an interest survey and have your team rank what they would want the program to include.”

With this information, you can then design a program that works best for your company. For example, if a majority of your employees have admitted to dealing with a mental illness, then you may want to select a health insurance plan that covers mental health. You could also offer gym memberships, support services, or training to help them combat stress.

Focus on early intervention/prevention.

Let’s say that your bathroom faucet has a drip. You keep ignoring it thinking that it’s no big deal. Eventually, you may have to replace your sink because of water stains. Leaky faucets may also deteriorate caulk, grout, and damage ceilings and floorboards.

In short, don’t wait to solve this problem before it gets any worse.

The same is true with mental health. Educate your team on how they can cope with stress and anxiety. Provide support services, even if it’s paying for an app like Headspace. And, don’t punish them if they need to take a mental health day or leave early to speak with a therapist.

Enforce working hours.

Promote a healthy work-life balance by establishing boundaries. For instance, limit communication outside of office hours. That means not emailing an employee at midnight asking them a question that could wait until the morning.

You should also encourage them to set an out-of-office message in their calendar. Google and Outlook calendars have this feature. And, it’s a simple way to automatically reject event invites when you’re not available.

Cultivate a healthy and positive work environment.

Besides boosting productivity, healthy and positive work environments can improve morale and decrease turnover. Best of all, it’s not all that complicated to implement if you do the following:

  • Establish organizational guidelines that prevent bullying and harassment.
  • Show your gratitude and appreciation to your team members by recognizing their hard work.
  • Invest in your team’s well-being by investing in ergonomic furniture, providing healthy snacks, and placing plants throughout the workplace.
  • Help your employees curb vices and unhealthy habits.
  • Never motivate your team using fear.
  • Celebrate milestones and have fun through games and volunteering.

Frequently check-in with your employees.

Yes. You’ve got a million things to do. But, spend quality time with each team member. Get to know them better and ask how they’re doing. You don’t want to pry into their personal lives. But, checking-in with them builds trust. That means if they do have a mental health concern, they won’t be afraid to come to you for assistance.

Grant autonomy and flexible schedules.

Don’t micromanage your employees. Even better, provide flexible schedules and working arrangements so that they have opportunities to attend to their well-being.

Help them solve their time management problems.

Finally, help your team members improve their time management. That may not sound like much. But, if they’re struggling in this area, then don’t have the time to attend to their mental health. For example, help them prioritize their time so that they aren’t taking their work home with them. In turn, they’ll have more availability to work with a mental health professional or engage in healthy habits like exercising or meditating.

Operations Team Productivity: What They Do (and How to Build and Improve Yours)

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Even with the most competitive offerings or the most capable people representing them, it’s almost impossible for companies to achieve great things without reliable operations.

Not all small and mid-sized businesses have dedicated operations support, of course. Until they grow more sustainable, smaller companies might integrate operations into other divisions instead. But the danger there is allowing your teams to work in silos. And “by denying the opportunity to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas,” says The 20 Media founder Pratik Dholakiya, “businesses contribute to their own speedy demise.”

Guess what helps reconnect those dots to keep everyone working toward the same goal? A dedicated operations team.

If you think it’s time to scale your operations workforce, you’re in the right place. In this post, you’ll learn how ops teams run businesses like well-oiled machines and the best ways to build your own.

First, the basics: What are operations, and how does this business function work?

The Operations Team Productivity: Roles and Responsibilities

Would you climb Mount Denali without a guide?

It’s a little easier to climb a behemoth like Denali with a trained mountaineer who can plot the course, gather all the right supplies, and plan for emergencies like bad weather.

In a company, that’s the operations team’s job.

An ops team’s #1 mission is to manage and optimize the details that keep its organization running profitably. That means delivering the resources that enable other departments to do their job – at peak efficiency and effectiveness – and cost-effectively converting their efforts into products and services that meet customers’ needs.

Phew. Let’s break that down a little. Here are a few examples of how the team supports each of the company’s stakeholders:

Employees

Operations might be responsible for keeping plenty of talent in the recruitment pipeline, promoting interdepartmental communication, supervising other teams’ activities, and figuring out how to best leverage resources to prevent and solve problems.

Executive team

Operations also lead business predictability by helping the C-Suite plan KPIs and holding them financially accountable. Some ops professionals are specifically trained to neutralize legal issues, too.

Customers

Ops teams rarely come into direct contact with customers, but it’s still their responsibility to make sure the company delivers the right products to the right customers on time. The product team relies on operations to recommend improvements, as ops are best positioned to weigh customer feedback against the company’s capacity.

Vendors

As any great ops professional will tell you, ensuring quality output means ensuring value at the source. To do this, the ops team focuses on acquiring inventory and services that maximize productivity, minimize risk and costs, and deliver on customer expectations.

You might have noticed a common thread here. For just about all activities, operations teams prioritize quality management. Not necessarily Steve Jobs-level attention to every detail of the business, but enough to:

  • Produce what needs to be produced without delays, errors, or rework.
  • Drive down failure costs, both internally and externally.
  • Find the best possible solutions to problems in any situation.
  • Ultimately inspire all stakeholders to champion the company’s value.

Before it can manage the quality of other business units, of course, operations must first manage itself. What’s the best set-up to achieve all these goals?

How to Build an Effective Operations Team

Step 1: Start from the Top Down.

A functional and well-run operations team relies on great support from the top down. Beyond the usual traits of great leaders, your ops manager will need a solid grasp of:

  • Various processes across the company, so your team can confidently coordinate and develop new methods.
  • Supply chain management, including knowledge of manufacturing, logistics, and transportation, if you’re a product-based company.
  • Problem-solving means pulling information from both an analytical and creative perspective.
  • Learning how to communicate effectively with all stakeholders.

Sure, all leaders need to communicate and solve problems. But an ops manager uses these skills on a bigger scale to unite people and processes seamlessly across the entire organization.

TIP: You can make your ops manager’s job much easier by making lines of communication easy to access. Digital channels (like project management or messaging apps) should be accessible for your ops teams to use on the go when they’re on a call, for example, while regular meetings can be a powerful way to sync up teams (as long as they’re not too regular). A written manual on communications processes can help clear up any confusion.

With those resources in place, you’re ready to think about the structure of the rest of the team.

Step 2: Organize Your Operations Team Structure.

In their book, The Practice of Cloud System Administration, three Silicon Valley-based authors describe the three sources and categories of operational work:

Sources of work

  1. Life-cycle management or the functional work — means to run a service within the company.
  2. Stakeholder interaction means meeting the needs of the people who use the service.
  3. Process improvement and automation mean the operational work needed to improve and upgrade various processes continually.
 

Categories of work

  1. Emergencies like power outages or emergency requests from other teams.
  2. Standard requests include questions about how to use a service or reports of the problems users experience.
  3. Project work, or the projects that automate and optimize team/company systems.

“It can be tempting to organize an operations team into three subteams, each focusing on one source of work or one category of work,” the authors write. But that creates those dreaded “silos of responsibility.”

Luckily, there’s a much simpler way to organize your team: Make project work the priority.

If you want to run your ops team at peak efficiency, you’ll need to focus most of its bandwidth on projects. Projects save them running from emergency to emergency until they burn out, or from slowing down to deal with interruptions (a big productivity killer).

How do you prioritize project work while responding to emergencies and requests promptly? There are two ways:

  1. Assign an emergency response team. If one person owns emergencies, and other standard requests, means that the rest of the team is free to focus all its energy on projects. TIP: Make sure the ERT emails out reports to the rest of the team, including alerts logged, action taken, trends noticed, and recommendations going forward.
  2. Take turns. Using a useful calendar management tool, you can move the team through a rotation for on-call duty (emergencies) and ticket duty (standard requests). TIP: Schedule each shift for no more than a week. Say you had a team of eight people; this would give each member a full six weeks of the cycle to focus on projects.

Depending on the size of the team’s workload, your ops manager might want to assign both on-call and ticket duty to one person or multiple people to one task. As long as they cross-train all team members, you’ll always be able to cover unexpected absences.

Bear in mind, though, that it’s best to limit each rotation to one person for a smoother hand-off to the next. Involving entire teams might lead to unnecessary meetings. It’s also good practice for the ops manager to include him- or herself in the rotation so they can keep tabs on what’s going on.

Step 3: Optimize Your Teamwork.

Congratulations: you now have a well-organized ops team.

But team-building doesn’t end there. It’s a journey – starting with every team member’s commitment to using the following six practices.

A knowledge bank

By documenting and sharing processes and templates across the team, you can streamline project management, cut time and effort wasted on reinventing the wheel, and ultimately ensure customers get the best results.

TIP: As with your communication channels, make it as quick and easy as possible for everyone to find these resources – using a tool like Box, for example.

A system of delivery

Take a standardized approach to deliver high-quality products and services by establishing bite-sized, repeatable processes in which everyone knows their role.

TIP: Projects are best accomplished in small teams. While solo projects disconnect team members and inhibit feedback, large teams face setbacks from decision-making challenges.

A system of measurement

Collect objective data on everything you do. How else can you improve your team’s output?

TIP: Google’s Objective and Key Results (OKR) is a great model to use. The aim is to set aggressive quarterly or annual targets, create incentives for your team to hit them, then stack up against your results against your forecasts.

(Keep in mind that because they’re so aggressive, you should only run 70% of your OKR goals.)

Productivity tracking.

To meet their many demands, operations teams should focus on getting the most done with as little time and resources as possible. Enter: time-tracking and productivity tools.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Team building.

Team-building activities are beneficial for many reasons, including productivity. Think of opportunities to bring the team together to take a break, reconnect, celebrate wins, and have a little fun.

Team sports are a simplified example and one of the best ways to foster teamwork and personal connections.

A safe space to vent.

Operations are one of the most complex and demanding functions of the business. That’s why it’s also the most in need of transparency.

There will be times when team members need to deliver criticism, hold others accountable, and admit their own failures to reach goals. The most important lesson they can learn, though, is that effective team performance isn’t always about hitting numbers. It’s about being agile enough to deal with missing them and confronting sensitive issues for the collective good of the team.

Is everyone on board with all six practices? Remember: Feedback makes the dream work.

Final Thoughts

By now, you should have all the ideas you need to build a capable operations team, assign smart roles, and streamline operations over time.

That leaves us with one last important question: What happens when challenges arise?

Nobody enjoys finding shortfalls in their teams or processes. But especially in operations, where one mistake sets off company-wide chains of events, it’s the name of the game. As the leader, your goal should be consistency: bringing underperformers up to standards, encouraging top performers to keep doing their very best, and keeping burnout at bay.

Does your company have a small operations team? What other best practices do you use to improve team performance? Share with us what worked for you in the comments.

8 Fall Activities Every Team Will Enjoy

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Fall is the best season of the year. The kids go back to school, and the weather cools down to a bearable level. But as workers break out their sweaters and jackets, they may need a boost before winter.

Team-building activities can provide this energy for your company. They’re a way for employees to renew their motivation and tighten the bonds of teamwork. After a summer of vacations, they glue everyone back together.

With that said, seasonal team-building events are key. Solely doing evergreen activities won’t provide the same spark. These activities are especially suited to the fall:

1. Take a camping trip.

Fall is one of the best times to go camping. You don’t have to worry about sweating so much or freezing to death. Plus, the mosquitos are gone, so the bug spray won’t be flowing heavily. 

If you take your team camping this fall, assess everyone’s comfort level. Some people may be thrilled, but others may be apprehensive. 

The good news is, camping doesn’t have to be hardcore. Cabins may be a better move than tents. The more experienced campers can always rough it on their own time.

To round out your trip, choose at least one of these outdoor activities:

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Bonfires
  • Singing
  • S’mores 

Nothing helps people unwind like getting outdoors. And there’s no better time than fall to do it.

2. Visit a corn maze.

Another delightful outdoor fall experience is a corn maze. This classic activity provides some healthy competition in a low-pressure setting. 

Employees can do their best to get out of the maze in the fastest time. For maximum team-building value, try it in teams. Assigning roles like “scout” and “navigator” reminds participants everyone has a part to play. 

While you’re there, why not have a picnic? Bring along food and drinks to unwind after everyone exits the maze. 

3. Go apple picking.

Get your baskets ready for this team-building activity. Heading to an apple orchard is yet another way to enjoy the spoils of fall. 

At an apple orchard, you can collect bushels of fruit. But there are a variety of other things you can do as well. You can shop for different products, take a hayride, and get some cider. 

This experience makes for great family fun. Encourage everyone on the team to bring their kids and spouses along for the fun. 

4. Carve some pumpkins.

Now that it’s pumpkin season, help your team get their creative juices flowing by carving up these squash. Head to a pumpkin patch, and grab a big pumpkin for each person.

For a competitive aspect, announce a caving contest. After an hour or two, get everyone together to vote on their favorites. 

Afterward, these pumpkins can make great decorations for the office. Put them beside your front door, or in a conference space where everyone can admire each others’ work. 

5. Head to an Oktoberfest celebration.

Oktoberfest occurs from late September to early October. Chances are good that there’s a celebration happening in your area. Why not take the whole team out for some hearty food and beer? 

 If you can’t find a celebration near you, you can always throw one yourself. Cook up some German favorites together, or host a cooking competition. Make it a potluck for sake of variety.

Make your Oktoberfest celebration a party by playing trivia games related to the occasion. Does anyone know when the first Oktoberfest was celebrated?

6. Rake leaves for your community.

Looking for a way to have fun while helping others at the same time? Sign up to rake leaves for local businesses or elderly community members. Doing so unites your team around a common cause while giving them some exercise.

Maybe someone in your group knows someone who needs help with the leaves. If not, you can partner with an organization oriented toward community service. Senior citizens, people with disabilities, and nonprofits could certainly use the help. 

Nothing feels better than making a difference for others. Ring in the season by doing it together.

7. Do a Halloween escape room.

Your team is full of smart cookies. Put your puzzling skills to the test by heading to an escape room. Find a Halloween-themed one to fit with the season.

Be sure to book a time around Halloween before things fill up. Work through the clues together without scaring yourselves into a tizzy. Do it in record time, and your team will earn a spot in the escape room’s record books.

8. Go to a Haunted House.

As another suspenseful activity, you can go to a haunted house this season. Even the calmest of your colleagues will have trouble holding it together. See who’s the most scared, and make memories you can laugh about for years to come. 

Don’t let the season go by without a bit of team building. It doesn’t take a lot of planning to enjoy each other’s company. And whatever your team’s preferences, fall has something fun for everyone.

12 Ways to Encourage Your Team to Speak Up

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Communication is a skill that all successful leaders need to acquire and maintain — not just in business, but also life. Having the ability to speak in a calm, concise, and clear manner will help your team be able to do likewise. Sharing your vision, goals, and expectations is only one piece of the puzzle. It takes an accomplished communicator to encourage a team to speak up. After all, excellent communication helps strengthen relationships, allows the exchange of ideas, and assists your organization in overcoming barriers. There are 12 ways to encourage your team to speak up.

Unfortunately, a study from VitalSmarts shows that “one percent of employees feel “extremely confident” when it comes to voicing their concerns in the workplace at critical moments.” Additionally, “a third of employees say their organizations do not promote or support holding crucial conversations.”

How can you change these types of statistics? Start by implementing the following 12 techniques.

1. Get to the root of the problem.

The absolute first step you need to take is identifying why people aren’t raising their hands. If you don’t know why, then how can you fix the problem? It’s like if your car doesn’t start when you leave in the morning. You can’t repair a problem unless you know precisely what’s wrong in the first place.

You could interview your team or conduct focus groups. Someone other than you should do this interviewing, as they’re probably afraid to tell you why they don’t raise their hands. You could also issue surveys to get to the bottom of what’s going on. The issue may be because they’re afraid of being criticized by others on the team, or being overlooked for a promotion. Or, they may not understand what you expect from them.

In short, you need to find out what’s holding people from voicing their opinions. Then you can find ways to correct the course.

2. Don’t overwhelm your team.

Let’s say that you have everyone gathered for a team meeting. Without even giving attendees a chance to get settled, you bombard them with way too much information. Even worse, what if the assignments you’re throwing at them are abstract, complex, or even utterly boring.

If every member of your team has their head spinning, or they’re yawning, then they’re not going to be engaged. How can they ask questions or provide input when they don’t know exactly what’s happening? Or, they don’t even have the opportunity to participate because as the CEO, manager, or boss — we’re jumping from topic to topic too quickly.

Whenever presenting information, keep it as simple as possible. Skip the jargon and only focus on the top one or two issues. Remember, you don’t need to cover everything right now. Save the less critical stuff for another time.

3. Apply radical candor.

Kim Scott, a former executive at Google, coined the phrase “radical candor.” It may sound like a complex system. But, in reality, it’s merely creating a bs-free zone.

“Radical candor is clarity offered in the spirit of genuine support, where people feel it’s their responsibility to point out one another’s weaknesses to give them a hand up to the next level,” explains Grainne Forde on Teamwork.com. “Scott illustrates radical candor with an example in which her very inconsiderate boss told her she had a lousy speaking habit.

Scott was saying, ‘um’ too often. In front of the group, he told her that “um” made her sound unintelligent — and then offered to pay for a speaking coach to improve the problem.” Some would consider this a bit harsh, “her directness compelled her to take the feedback seriously and improve.”

I’ve found the degree of “radical candor,” Scott is talking about, should be saved for a one on one. Then after your “radical candor,” hand out a little extra encouragement. With one small compliment, your employee doesn’t consider you an enemy.

To achieve radical candor, both leaders and employees need to realize that feedback is constructive because it allows for growth and development. Additionally, there needs to be transparency. It’s the only way you’ll be able to assist them in working through their weaknesses.

4. Reward people for speaking up.

I vividly remember the first year I went away to a summer camp. The first couple of hours, I was fine. But, I became incredibly homesick later that night. After a couple of days, I was over my bout with homesickness and had no problem enjoying myself.

Towards the end of the week, the other kids in my group began discussing who would receive an award along the lines of, “camper of the week.” I suggested that maybe I would get nominated. This lead to the camp leading asking, “Why? You were homesick and didn’t say anything for a couple of days — and now you talk?”

Some people might think that he was out of line. But, he was right. Sure, I was engaged and did my best to be an ideal camper. But, that didn’t mean I deserved an award. At the same time, the person who did receive this award mentioned that they were proud of me. Now, that recognition was an awesome feeling.

My point is this. You don’t need to throw a party for an employee who asked a question during a meeting. But, you can still show them that you appreciate their contribution when they offer a comment. For example, if they make a high point during a meeting, genuinely thank them for participating. A genuine thank you can be two words. Thank you!

Hemant Kakkar and Subra Tangirala write in the Harvard Business Review, “[I]f you want your employees to be more vocal and contribute ideas and opinions, you should actively encourage this behavior and reward those who do it.”

5. Make meetings more engaging.

Meetings can be a serious time-waster. They can also crush productivity and morale when not when properly. However, there times when meetings are necessary. That’s why making them more effective should be a priority.

While there a multitude of ways for you to improve meetings, making sure that they’re engaging should be at the top of your list. You can achieve meetings worth showing up for, by:

  • Kicking things off with an icebreaker like telling a story or playing a fun game or activity.
  • Not using industry slang or terminology.
  • Asking invitees to leave their phones somewhere else.
  • Saving handouts until the conclusion of the event to avoid distractions.
  • Leaving time for a Q&A at the end.
  • Sending out an agenda in advance so that no one is surprised. Also, this gives invitees an opportunity to review any relevant information and prepare their questions or concerns.

6. Stop dominating the conversation and listen.

While I wouldn’t say this trait is part of all entrepreneurs — I do think that some of us have such a healthy ego that we love hearing ourselves talk. The problem is that if you’re always dominating the conversation, others won’t even bother chiming in. What’s the point when they know there’s hardly a chance to be a part of the discussion.

While there are times when you need to speak, work on talking less and listening more. It may take some practice. But, this is probably one of the most straightforward strategies to get your team to speak up more often.

7. Be aware of body language and power cues.

Body language and power cues are probably not something on the top of your mind. But, your nonverbal communication most definitely impacts the people around you. Think of it this way. How likely would you be to “willing” share your thoughts with a leader who is continuously frowning and standing there with their arms crossed? Probably very unlikely.

But, what if they smiled, made eye contact, and stood in a relaxed, upright posture? You wouldn’t feel as intimidated. A quick couple of words about mastering your body language — soften power cues. For example, leave the expensive wardrobe at home and wear something that doesn’t intimidate your employees. Consider replacing your office’s rectangle desk with an oval one so that you can sit next to them.

8. Boost teamwork.

“When employees work in teams, they actively practice sharing their thoughts and speaking up to accomplish tasks as a group,” writes Eric Friedman over at eSkill. “This gets them used to talking about their work, whether it’s sharing new ideas or concerns, and can be applied on a wider scale to the entire company.”

Fridman adds, “Teamwork also works on a psychological level by bringing employees closer together, helping them form bonds to each other and the work, which will help them feel more confident to speak their minds.”

9. Accept different types of feedback.

When you need to collect feedback, use a variety of methods to do so. Allow your team to express themselves; however, they’re most comfortable. If they have no problem speaking, then don’t force them to write down their thoughts. If they don’t want to discuss a sensitive issue out in the open, block out time for a one-on-one or place a suggestion box in the office.

10. Explain the consequences of participating.

Explaining the consequences of participating does not mean retaliating against employees whenever they share their thoughts. Nor does it indicate that you’ll punish those who aren’t contributing to the conversation. Instead, a consequence in this setting means letting your team know the importance of speaking up.

For example, what if an employee isn’t crystal clear on a task that was assigned to them during a meeting? They might be embarrassed about asking for more details in a meeting. But, by not raising their hand, they aren’t able to complete this responsibility, and likely there were a few others that didn’t get the information. As a result, this can impact not only their career, but also this action can put the rest of the team and organization in jeopardy.

11. Encourage them to take a public speaking class.

In the early days of my career, I was terrified about speaking in public. But, this was a fear I had to overcome. So, I took a public speaking class. Not only did it improve my speaking skills, but it also made me feel more at ease in front of a crowd.

If there are members of your organization, why have nightmares about public speaking, recommend that they also take such a class. It could be online, at a community college, or through an organization like Toastmasters. Here: 7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched TED Talks Speakers

12. Lead by example.

Do you think that your team will feel comfortable enough to speak their minds when you aren’t? Of course not. It may sound off a vibe that this isn’t an environment where people can openly share thoughts and ask questions.

While you should certainly listen to what others are saying, the other part of being a great communicator is clearly expressing your expectations. It’s also asking precise questions and not being shy when it comes to public speaking.

Moreover, don’t hide in your office all day. Walk around and chat with your team. Check-in with them to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can help them with. Go to lunch. These connections may not seem like a biggie, but the relationship shows that this is a workplace where people can comfortably speak up.

How to Inspire Your Team’s Creative Impulses

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Creativity is more than the ability to crack a clever joke or paint something beautiful. At work, it’s essential for growth and innovation. A team that thinks outside the box can solve difficult problems in new, cost-effective ways. 

The trouble is, genuine creativity is tough to incentivize.. Simply telling your team to be more creative certainly won’t work. But rewarding creativity can also have adverse effects. It can stifle a creative process that should be rewarding in and of itself. 

Because of this, some take an “either you have it or you don’t” approach to creativity. But creativity can be cultivated, just like sales or leadership skills can be. 

With the right leadership and culture, creativity can flourish. Here’s how to be that leader for your team:

1. Diversify your team.

There are plenty of reasons to be inclusive at work, but there’s no question diverse teams are more creative. If everyone on your team comes from a similar background, you’ll likely approach issues the same way. That may make coming to a consensus easier, but challenges are necessary to refine ideas. 

Diversifying your staff involves bringing people from different cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds together. Gender, sexuality, and age are also important axes to consider. 

To deepen your team’s diversity, bring in a broad range of personality types, values, and abilities. This approach helps you appreciate the perspectives of a full person rather than a single demographic component.  

2. Empower fresh faces.

When people first start out at your company, they’re still getting used to your processes and culture. That doesn’t mean their perspective isn’t valuable, though. 

In fact, someone who isn’t fully integrated into your organization may be more valuable, creatively speaking. They can bring fresh ideas that aren’t hindered by the baggage that seasoned employees may have. 

Ask for their input during meetings. Run proposals and innovation ideas by them. Better yet, give them a project of their own to lead. 

A new employee’s creativity can also fuel the creative impulses of senior team members. In this case, a little competition can be healthy: Let employees of different tenures push each other to come up with new ideas and ways of working. 

3. Promote fictional media consumption.

The media we consume impacts us immensely. Fictional media, whether it be books, film, or television, positively impacts our creativity

Why? Because fictional narratives engage us in scenarios that aren’t found in the real world. They allow us to think through unfamiliar possibilities. Non-fiction and journalistic media simply can’t do that. 

The good news is, your employees are probably already watching TV and movies on their own. Encourage them to think critically about what they’re viewing. Consider following a series or franchise together and discussing it. Another option is to start a book club at the office to promote fiction reading. 

4. Support risk-taking efforts.

A primary reason people shy away from taking risks is they fear the consequences of failure. However, risk-taking is inherent to creativity. You can’t have one without the other. 

Ease the pressure of risk-taking for your team. Compliment people who are willing to take risks. And if an effort fails, don’t punish the people who gave it a shot. In fact, throw a party for the “biggest fail” each month.

A supported team is a risk-taking team. The more confident you can make people feel in themselves and their actions, the more willing they’ll be to try new things.

5. Don’t lead with limitations. 

When embarking on a new goal or plan, some leaders kill creativity by starting with the negative. Before the first dollar has been spent, they worry about costs. With no reason to worry about the team’s commitment, they wonder whether contributors are up to the task.

Don’t stifle your team’s imaginations. Give people the resources they need, empower them to try new things, and express confidence in them.

What if roadblocks come up? Worry about them at that time. When you set expectations around a project, what matters most is opening space for people to articulate their vision. Ground these ideas in practicalities later.

6. Visualize data. 

Words and numbers on a page can only do so much. Being more creative with how you construct and communicate data creates a flywheel effect, spurring more creativity. 

Mindmapping, flowcharts, diagrams, and hierarchical charts are great ways to represent information. They spark creativity by showing the relationships between sets of data and illuminating nuances.

Invest in a data visualization tool that even non-technical team members can use, like Tableau. Challenge people to come up with their own intriguing visualizations.

7. Enhance your office environment. 

A drab, depressing office environment doesn’t exactly encourage creativity. An inspiring office space feels fresh, exciting, and joyful. 

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be expensive. Paint the walls a lively color. Bring in some plants and natural light. Hang your favorite art pieces up, and decorate your desk. 

While you’re at it, give employees more creative control over their personal space. Autonomy breeds creativity, which you can tap for work tasks. 

Creativity isn’t just for people in the arts. Just about everyone has a creative impulse that can be valuable to a team. The key is to invest in those impulses and bring them out whenever you can.

5 Ways to Create Constructive Competition at Work

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Competition can tear people apart. Whether it’s friends fighting over their love interests or disputes over money, the wrong kind of competition can sour even the strongest relationship.

But not all competition is bad. In a business environment, it can motivate workers to perform at a higher level. Across a company, it can create camaraderie, build culture, and boost focus.

What’s the difference? The first sort is destructive; the right kind is constructive. 

How can you get the good parts of competition without risking the bad? It’s all about context. Here’s how to get your team members to butt heads in ways that build your business:

1. Be open about your expectations.

Whether it’s a sales competition or a summer fun run, it’s critical that you tell participants what you expect from them. Remind everyone that, regardless of who wins, you’re one team. That means no disparaging comments, dirty tricks, or hard feelings afterward.

There may be periods when your upfront spiel isn’t enough. When that happens, simply bring everyone together for an open dialogue. Left unchecked, excessive competition can lead employees to overwork themselves to the point where productivity actually drops. 

If you do need to have a heart-to-heart with your team, realize it doesn’t necessarily mean you failed to create the right environment. Competition can get out of control on even the closest team. What counts is whether and how the team comes back together.

2. Put employees in teams or pairs.

One danger of an overly competitive work environment is that it isolates workers from one another. In that context, even the smallest mistake or shortcoming can be demoralizing. The result can be frustration, aggression, and ultimately, employee turnover. 

To combat this, put employees in pairs or teams. Having even one other person on your side can stave off a sense that everyone is out to get you. Be sure to move people around periodically to fight the formation of cliques.

If you’re not sure how to pair people up, try personality types. Not only does it reduce the risk employees think you’re playing favorites, but different types can shore up each other’s shortcomings. 

3. Start with the fun stuff. 

Words have a way of tripping people up. The word “competition” can be upsetting or scary for some people. Words like “game” or “contest” have more positive connotations. 

But don’t just use the word “game” and think it’s enough. Before setting up things like client service competitions, get employees used to fun contests. Favorites include:

  • Fitness challenges

Get everyone moving, especially if you run a desk-based business. You’ll cut your health insurance costs while reducing absenteeism.

  • Cook-offs and potlucks

Who can cook up the tastiest chili? Do the bakers on your team have a favorite cookie? 

  • Trivia contests

Who knows the most about British rock bands of the ‘60s? What about Civil War generals?

  • Intramural sports

Is your agency or the one down the street better at baseball? Who’s got game when it comes to basketball?

Once everyone is comfortable playing games together, graduate to work competitions. The healthy competition you’ve built should translate seamlessly. 

4. Emphasize self-competition.

Constantly comparing yourself to others is anxiety-inducing. It’s much more fulfilling to compare yourself to your own accomplishments.

Encourage employees to set their own goals. Maybe your email marketer’s goal is to boost her clickthrough rate by 5% next month. Perhaps your engineers have a per-feature development time to beat.

The key is to redefine winning. Remind your team: When you’re competing against yourself, it doesn’t matter how anyone else performs. All that counts is whether or not you can post a personal best.

5. Offer the right rewards.

Rewarding employees for their growth is critical.  To figure out the right rewards, it’s important to know what your employees value.

In some contexts, bragging rights might be enough to get people going. In other situations, a bonus at the end of a quarter would make more sense. 

The good news is, rewards don’t have to break the bank. You could offer winners:

  • A physical trophy 
  • Extra time off work
  • A prime parking spot
  • Free lunch on the company
  • An office or desk location of their choice
  • Gift cards to local retailers or restaurants

The key is to align the prize with the effort required. Offer too small a prize, and people might not feel motivated to work for it. Make it too big, and the competition could become cutthroat. 

The key to office competitions boil down to one word: healthy. It’s a balancing act: You don’t want to create tension on the team, but you also don’t want people to feel like it’s OK to coast.

You know your team best. Pair people thoughtfully. Offer prizes they’ll actually appreciate. Dip your toes before diving straight into revenue- and cost-related competitions. Interteam competition is valuable, but only when it’s done right.

6 Team Reads That Are Perfect for COVID-19

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Finding time to read is tough. One silver lining of COVID-19 is that many of us are spending more time at home — the perfect excuse to crack a book. 

Between that and remote work’s cultural challenges, an office book club might be just what your team needs right now. Reading a book together is both a bonding opportunity and a recipe for team-wide continuing education. 

With all the books out there, though, settling on one can be overwhelming. Narrow it down by suggesting the following options to your team:

1. “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Live in a Busy World” by Cal Newport 

In a world of constant updates and notifications, it’s easy to get distracted. That’s why a book like “Digital Minimalism” is so important: Not only does it bring awareness to digital time-wasters, but it suggests strategies for breaking free from them. 

Newport goes beyond the typical tech-detox advice. Instead, he argues for a complete rethinking of how we interact with digital technology. Especially on a remote team, it’s a topic worth talking about. 

Distractions destroy productivity. Use this read to get your team talking about what a more focused digital life might look like for each of them. 

2. “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo

For good reason, leaders are taking a hard look right now at racial biases and tensions that might be affecting their team. Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” is an unapologetic look at how and why those things often get swept under the rug. 

DiAngelo comes from the world of corporate diversity programs. Throughout her book, she refers to that experience when explaining why white people struggle to talk about racism.

Your team needs to read things that challenge and inspire them. Use “White Fragility” as a jumping-off point for a heart-to-heart chat about how inclusive your company really is. Having a book to refer to can open space for people to acknowledge others’ experiences and right wrongs.

3. “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

At times, the pandemic can feel positively apocalyptic. Why not lean into that? Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” offers a lot of parallels.

A finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, “Station Eleven” tells the story of a traveling group of performers twenty years after a devastating flu pandemic destroys the world. After making their home in an abandoned airport, the group tries to reconnect with what’s left of humanity. 

“Station Eleven” bucks the myth that only nonfiction books are valuable team reads. In fact, reading fiction can sharpen employees’ emotional intelligence and creativity. Plus, they tend to be engaging, fast reads. 

4. “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me” by Charlamagne Tha God 

For a great book about mental health, look no further than “Shook One.” This memoir by Charlamagne Tha God traces his emotional challenges as an adult, as well as his success in media, to the traumas he experienced as a child. 

To add depth to Charlamagne Tha God’s story, the book also includes insights from Dr. Ish Major, a clinical psychologist. These sections provide a professional edge and tips for managing anxiety to the radio star’s story. 

Why read this one with your team? Because mental illness is still stigmatized in many workplaces. Maybe it could encourage someone on your team to ask for help in these trying times. 

5. “Acting with Power: Why We Are More Powerful Than We Believe” by Deborah Gruenfeld 

COVID-19 has made many of us feel powerless. Fight that sense on your team by reading Deborah Gruenfeld’s “Acting With Power.” Gruenfeld manages to be radically positive in a way that’s authentic and original. 

The best part about Gruenfeld’s book is that it’s steeped in her own research. By analyzing the techniques of actors, she redefines personal power as the part you play in someone else’s story. “Acting With Power” encourages the meek to embrace their power by adopting an actor’s mindset.

6. “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker 

At risk of repeating a worn-out joke, this book will put you to sleep in all the right ways. That’s because many of us could benefit from getting some more sleep. 

Sleep is one of the most underestimated and least understood parts of life, but it’s also one of the most important. In “Why We Sleep,” Walker explores the things that sleep does for our bodies and our brains. After reading it, you’ll definitely think twice before staying up past a reasonable bedtime. 

These books touch on different concerns and topics. Put your team’s heads together, and decide what you need most right now. And if the one you’re interested in isn’t chosen, remember: There’s always another read down the road. 

Don’t Let Vacation Season Dampen Team Productivity

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With summer on its way, you’re likely receiving more requests for time off. While you want your team to enjoy the season, you’re also worried: How will all the vacations affect productivity?

Even with a strong PTO policy, this can be difficult to manage. And as workers will point out, vacations can boost individual productivity. The wrinkle is, missing hands can slow down the rest of the team.

But before you deny those requests, beware: You don’t want to create a company culture in which people are afraid to take time off. Workers are already taking fewer days off out of fear of appearing “replaceable.”

You need to strike the right balance. Here’s how to keep your team strong while ensuring everyone gets a taste of summer:

1. Preview the season’s work.

Setting expectations before summer takes off is a great way to get team members to think about timing. If they know a major project will be due in early July, then you shouldn’t see a flood of PTO requests for the week before.

This is the kind of discussion to have at a team meeting. Plot out upcoming campaigns and talk through how much work each will take. Revisit the company’s mission, and explain how each campaign connects to it. 

If employees know what’s coming and why, they’ll plan ahead. There may be phases of a project that involve them less than others, during which workers can squeeze in a summer camping trip. 

2. Review your PTO policy.

During the same meeting when you preview the summer, bring up your company’s PTO policy. Often, violations occur when workers simply forget the rules. 

Explain how many consecutive days they can request off. Also, discuss how much prior notice employees must provide beforehand in order to get approval.

Be transparent about the approval process. There are a number of ways to decide who gets to take time off if requests conflict:

  • On a first-come, first-serve basis
  • A rotating vacation schedule
  • Based on seniority
  • Based on who took time off least recently

If you do have to deny someone’s request, work with them. Perhaps they get first dibs over another desirable slot, such as Labor Day weekend. 

3. Create a company vacation calendar.

A calendar that shows who’s taking time off when is an important organization tool. This can help cut down on overlapping vacations.

Make sure you have a system to separate pending from approved requests. Consider color-coding them, or perhaps you simply reply “Maybe” to requests you’ve seen but have yet to approve. That way, workers can be courteous of others’ vacations and rearrange their own schedules to stay productive.

4. Ask people to work ahead.

There’s no substitute for working ahead. Not only does it help the team member on vacation keep their mind off work, but it also minimizes dependencies. Otherwise, the rest of the team may have to wait for the worker to return. 

Before they go on vacation, help employees outline what they’ll accomplish before they leave. Encourage them to get a jump start on a project they’ll be expected to contribute to when they return.

Remember, this applies to leaders as well: If you were expecting their help on a project during their week off, you may have to put together the brief ahead of schedule. Model the behavior you want to see from your team.

5. Over-communicate.

It’s critical that nobody on the team is caught off guard by a vacation. A vacation calendar identifies who’ll be out when, but it’s not enough.

Before someone’s time off begins, initiate a conversation: What’s been done, and what’s left to do on projects that span the out-of-office period? That way, team members can plan to work around the missing person’s portion or pick up the slack when necessary.

If you need to cross-train an employee to handle the work, touch base with them before the other worker leaves. Encourage them to shadow the vacationer for a day to see how he or she works.

6. Promote working at peak vacation times. 

If you get an overwhelming number of requests at similar times — say, around the Fourth of July — consider rewarding employees who hold down the fort. Doing so can give those who really need a vacation more space while showing appreciation to the rest of the team.

Great ways to incentive working at peak times include:

  • Bonus pay
  • Gift cards
  • Additional time off to be used later
  • Free snacks or meals

Don’t buy them a yacht, but don’t worry too much about how much those incentives cost. A fully functional team is more than worth a catered lunch or a few Starbucks gift cards. 

Vacation season doesn’t have to mean making new hires or sacrificing productivity. If you plan ahead and prepare your team, everyone can enjoy the summer. You might even be able to take a vacation of your own. 

How to Empower Your Team Through Data

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Empowerment defined is the “authority or power given to someone to do something.” The explanation may not sound all that important. But, for your team, empowerment is vital. Here is how to empower your team through data.

As noted by The Wharton School, empowering your team creates a toxic-free environment where micromanagement is discouraged. It also encourages ownership, keeps everyone satisfied, boosts engagement, and frees-up your valuable time.

While you can do this by not always looking over your team’s shoulders, you can also use data to empower your team. But, first, let’s go over the benefits that your organization will experience after they have data at their fingertips.

Provides access to information promptly.

The main benefit is that your team will have fast and easy access to information that can help them become more effective and efficient. For example, if your team uses a tool like Calendar. Each person can track their time to see the time they’re spending in specific meetings, or at certain places. Knowing the specifics of their behavior, they can alter their schedules so that they’re devoting the right amount of time to the right things.

What’s more, this data can be used to pin-down performance metrics. In turn, this can boost productivity, agility, morale, and it keeps everyone on the same page. And, as an additional bonus, timely access to information can speed up workflows and the decision-making process. That may not sound overly important. But, as found in a report from Boston University, 47% of professionals stated that slow access to information impedes their ability to make decisions.

Improves your team’s performance, engagement, and motivation.

Every leader should make this a priority. After all, when you’re able to improve your team’s performance, engagement, and motivation, your team will be more productive and satisfied. And, thanks to data, this has never been easier.

In case you didn’t get the memo, money isn’t an effective way to motivate your team. They want to know that their work has purpose and meaning. And, yes, data can help you achieve this. For instance, you could display KPIs and employee goals so that your team can see the purpose and progress of their work. As a result, you’ll be less likely to micromanage them. And, this will grant them ownership, which will keep them happy and productive.

Helps you identify your top and bottom performers.

With data easily at your disposal, you can track each of your team members’ progress. That means you can quickly identify who your top performers are and then reward them accordingly. For example, let’s say a team member had completed a project ahead of schedule or made progress towards a goal. You could acknowledge their hard work and offer an incentive that they care about.

Additionally, you can also use this information to discover who your weakest links are. That doesn’t mean you have to let them go. But, this may allow you to meet with them and attempt to get to the root problem. Maybe they haven’t been able to make progress on a goal because they don’t possess time management skills, or they have too much on their plate. As such, you could redistribute tasks or help them solve their time management problems so that they can become a top performer.

Still not convinced? Well, other benefits include operational optimization and forecasting, streamlined procurement processing, customer analysis, and behavioral prediction, and cost optimization.

Using Data to Empower Your Team

Hopefully, you’re sold on the benefits of embracing business. Now, it’s time to learn how actually to empower your team using data.

Provide the right training and tools.

Training is essential when you’re introducing new technology, strategies, or concepts. Even if your team members are familiar with data, you still want to share with them the latest developments. Most importantly, you need to align business intel with their work.

In conjunction with training, you also need to arm them with the right tools. An example of this would be giving your sales the latest AI-powered sales app so that they have real-time insights about leads and customers on their phones.

Encourage communication and collaboration.

How can you empower your team if you’re keeping the data to yourself? That’s just counterproductive and poor use of data. Instead, share this information with everyone within your organization so that they’re up-to-date and on the same page.

Moreover, provide opportunities for your team to discuss and dig into the data. It’s a simple way to see how it’s impacting their performance. But, it also is a great way to get them more involved. As noted in a Forbes article, managers can “increase task identity by involving employees in more aspects of work by having them participate in the planning, reporting, and evaluation of projects rather than just the doing.”

Make the data more engaging.

Don’t bore your team with figures and numbers. Have a little fun with the data by making it more exciting and engaging by utilizing dashboards.

Dashboards, explains the folks over at Phocas “allow you to set the business indicators that are important to your business.” But, what makes for an excellent dashboard? At the minimum, it should “provide a visual, fact-driven overview of the indicators most important to your team, enabling them to see at a glance how the team is performing.”

Your dashboard will allow your team “to dive into the underlying data in the lightning-fast grid that sits behind the dashboard.” What about you, non-technical people? Well, they can “quickly build an interactive, customized dashboard, so your team can collaborate, revise, and print on the spot without help from IT.”

Use visuals and gamification as well.

Another way to accomplish this is by providing visuals. As Calendar founder John Rampton explained in a previous article, data visualization is the key to team productivity since visual learning is more efficient. It also helps you focus on what’s most important, advances AI and machine learning, and enhances communication and collaboration.

Just remember that to get the most out of data visualization, you should:

  • Understand the data you’re trying to visualize, such as the size and uniqueness.
  • Determine the data you want to visualize and what needs to be communicated.
  • Know your audience and their learning preferences.
  • Use visuals that present the information as briefly and simply as possible.
  • Use the right visual for the right situation. For instance, Gantt charts are ideal for updating the status of a project. On the flipside, Fishbone diagrams are better suited for finding defects in a process.

And, the Phocas team also suggests that you gamify your data. “By providing your team with an immersive and gamified experience, using data becomes engaging. If your team can manipulate data quickly and easily, they are driven to improve their performance through feedback.”

“By introducing gamification, you can present a fun and competitive way for your team to detect every opportunity to increase revenue and overall productivity.” And, ultimately, this can cultivate collaboration and motivate individual team members.

Integrate analytics into every aspect of your business.

At first, this may be intimidating. But. as Roman Stanek, the Founder and CEO of GoodData writes in Forbes, “companies who have recognized value from analytics have gone beyond their competitors to become empowered analytical organizations.” What that means is that they have “successfully integrated analytics into every part of their business to drive everyday business decisions and deliver substantial returns.”

The four attributes needed to assimilate data into your business.

  • Solve for business problems. “The first step to using data to drive decisions is to look at a business process that requires more clarity or one that has an easy-to-define workflow or apparent objectives for improvement,” writes Stanek. “Preferably, it’s an area that can easily measure improvements in tangible, metric-driven ways.”
  • Recognize that it’s an ongoing process. To deliver tangible results, you need to make a serious time and financial commitment “on the strategy, talent, and business plan.”
  • Embed analytics into all areas of the business. “Analytics has value for every layer of the organization, not just the c-suite or data scientists,” adds Stanek. Because of this, “the only way to get closer to the return on investment you’re looking for is to deploy analytics to as many people as possible to improve everyone’s decision making” and showing your team how data can help them solve problems.
  • Make sure executives do their part. “For a company to successfully transition to an empowered analytical organization, leadership will need consensus around the analytics project, and to truly understand why the IT budget will need to shift to support the kind of transformation expected,” explains Stanek. “They’ll also need to routinely participate in identifying key business processes that are ripe for improvement and encourage continuous learning and additional investment.”

What Do You Do When You Don’t Have a Team to Delegate To?

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How to Make Your Company Vision Resonate With Employees

One of my cousins recently reached out to me for advice. He wants to start his own photography business. For the time being, it has to be a side hustle until the business takes off on its own. So far, so good, I told him. Here is what to do when you don’t have a team to delegate to.

The problem with my cousin is that he doesn’t have the time or resources right now for all for administrative tasks and content marketing. You know. The important parts of starting and growing a self-sustaining business that is often delegated to someone else.

I can totally emphasize with him. When I was just starting out, this was also a problem. Since I didn’t have a team yet, it was my responsibility to take care of these tedious tasks. Suffice to say, I was putting in a lot of hours and feeling extremely overwhelmed.

Thankfully, I learned some tricks to get out of this dilemma along my own entrepreneurial journey. I didn’t hesitate to share these options with my cousin. And, now, I want to pass them along to you, and anyone who is starting up a business on their own.

Everything is not a priority.

My first suggestion was to come to the realization that not everything is a top priority. I know. Easier said than done. But, my Calendar co-founder John Hall has previously explained how to achieve this in a Calendar blog post.

Before doing anything else, clear your head by taking a deep breath. Next, “think, compose a list or look at your calendar to see everything that’s on your plate.” Sure. These items may be important, but “they don’t all deserve equal treatment.”

“Instead of believing that everything needs to be done right now, determine which actions indeed are your priorities,” adds John. “Ideally, these should be the tasks that move you closer to achieving your goals. Other factors include urgency, due dates, ROI, or the consequences of not completing the task or project.”

Now, in most cases, you could create a priority matric, like the popular Eisenhower, to help you separate the urgent from important. However, that usually still involves delegating less important tasks to someone else. So, an alternative would be to “triage.”

“If you’re somewhat with the medical industry, then you’ve probably heard of the term triage,” John explains. “If you’re not, triage determining which patients need immediate treatment. For instance, if you went to the ER because of the flu, you would be seen after the older adult who is in cardiac arrest.”

When it comes to prioritizing your work, you can use triaging to identify what you need to do right now by placing them into the immediate category. For the “non-life threatening” tasks, schedule them for later or remove them from your list or calendar.

Done is better than perfect.

Sometimes good is enough. That doesn’t mean phoning it in or deliver subpar work. It just means that you shouldn’t obsess over being perfect.

For example, my cousin needs to get a website up to display his portfolio. My advice is to just get a domain and set-up a standard WordPress site with a theme geared towards photography. The site doesn’t have to be “perfect” just yet. It can tinker with his site until it’s more to his liking.

But, for the time being, he needs to get a site up and running. It’s all about taking that first step, enjoying the process, and setting the bar at “good enough.”

Negotiate your time.

Look, when it comes to your time, some things are non-negotiable. Usually, these are your priorities that you’ve already added to your calendar. For example, if my cousin already committed to a photography gig, then he can’t accept another job on the same date and time.

But, what if this request doesn’t have an exact timeframe? He may be able to find an alternative. Let’s say someone asked him to snap pictures for their LinkedIn profile on the same day that he’s already working a wedding. The wedding is non-negotiable. But, my cousin is free the following day so this other job then.

Or, depending on his niche, he may recommend certain jobs to someone else. My cousin may not have the time or equipment to do travel photography. So, he may recommend this job to a photographer who specializes in this area.

However, if he doesn’t have the availability or the job isn’t worth the time or money, then he needs to get comfortable saying “no.”

Use technology to your advantage.

Thanks to AI and machine learning, there is plenty of technology at your fingertips that can handle repetitive tasks. For example, my cousin could use scheduling software like Calendar to take care of all of their scheduling needs. He could simply share his calendar on his site or through an email. The client then sees when he’s available and books him. It’s a simple way to eliminate those back and forth communications.

A business owner can also use tools to automate his emails, social media accounts, marketing, and sales. If he can’t find a free option, most are affordable enough that they’re within his budget. And, while he’ll still need to put in the occasional human touch, it can help reduce the number of recurring tasks he’s responsible for.

Ask for help or outsource.

What about the things that he can’t automate? Well, he could ask for volunteers or outsource them.

When I launched my own business, I asked family members for help. My wife assisted with administrative tasks, while my sibling produced content for me. All startups can learn to barter with other people. My cousin found he could work a wedding for his accountant’s daughter in exchange for preparing his taxes.

If that’s not an option, you can find low-cost outsourcing alternatives. Like my cousin could go on Fiverr and find freelancers to optimize his website or promote his business on social media at a reasonable price. Know when you should outsource.

Know when to hire team members.

Depending on your business, this will vary. I doubt that my cousin would need a full-time PR agent. But, at some point, he may decide to hire a Virtual Assistant to handle things like scheduling and billing.

But, when should he does this? Well, Neil Patel writes in a previous Entrepreneur article that you shouldn’t hire because you’re desperate or don’t have “a defined set of responsibilities and expectations for your new hire.” Instead, it should be when they can either make or save money for your business. Most importantly, they should have specific skillsets that you don’t possess.

After you’ve begun hiring team members, delegating work to them should be straightforward. I mean if you hired a developer, then you know that those tasks go through them. However, you still need to learn how to delegate, like clearly explaining expectations and outcomes. And, you need to be willing to give up some control and grant them ownership.

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