8 Critical Tips for Great Leadership

Everyone can benefit from brushing up his or her skills, even at the top level. After all, great leaders know everyone faces challenges and makes mistakes—even GREAT leaders, themselves.

Sometimes great leaders make the biggest mistakes. So what still makes them a great leader? A great leader works through mistakes, learns from those mistakes, and keeps moving forward!

You can read business books and advice to set up a framework, but YOU need to tailor any information to suit your business and your industry. No one knows how to run your business as well as you do. And yes, knowing what advice to follow is often the hardest part.

Most of us who have made it to the top level in a company know the essential components of leadership (or at least most of them). The challenge is in understanding how to synthesize the information and apply it to your unique situation. Easier said than done, right? Trust me, I know. I’ve been running businesses for over 30 years, and I’ve learned some hard-earned lessons along the way. (Truthfully, I’m still engaged in improving in a number of these areas).

So, here are 8 of the most critical tips for great leadership. Keep ahead of the game by refreshing your leadership skills regularly.

8 of the most critical tips for great leadership. Keep ahead of the game by refreshing your leadership skills regularly.

1. Write Great Ideas Down

So, you’ve taken your vacation time over the summer to catch up on your reading list. Now, what are you going to do with that new knowledge?!

I know too many business owners who, after choosing a book for business success and reading it cover to cover, think, “I am SO ready to go. Now!” But did you take the time to write down your business model? What about your business plan? Did you do a SWOT analysis? Did you write down your five-year plan? Have you figured out your chart of accounts, balance sheets, and financial forecast?

Or did you just read the book and now you’re hoarding all those great ideas in your head? Be honest. It’s essential you take the time to write down notes and figure out a plan for applying the great ideas and concepts to your business. You don’t have to use every piece of business advice you come across, but when you find something pertinent, don’t let it fall by the wayside—write it down!

If you don’t have your next steps down in a document to crystallize your thoughts and convey them to your team, you’re risking the success of your business.

2. Think Before You Do

Before you begin a new project, or before you work toward that next milestone, set aside a block of thinking time to be sure you’re solving the right problem.I’m sure you’re thinking, “I always think before I act.” But how many times have you hit a roadblock during a project, only to realize you could have avoided the problem with a little preliminary legwork? Before you begin a new project, or before you work toward that next milestone, set aside a block of thinking time to be sure you’re solving the right problem.

We often underestimate the power of taking time to ponder. Because we’re so focused on getting stuff accomplished, think time can feel like a waste. Don’t make the mistake of brushing it off, though. It’s crucial for you AND your team to have time to do some creative thinking.

There’s no need to sit around, fist to the chin, pondering in solitude like The Thinker—unless that works best for you. Find your think style to stimulate new perspectives, thoughts, and ideas. Draw pictures, design graphs or pie charts, scribble down notes, think out loud by yourself or use a colleague as a sounding board. But don’t forget to set a deadline on your thinking time or you’ll never get started, which brings me to the next point…

3. Get Started, Already!

Sometimes the opposite problem also occurs. Instead of diving in headfirst, maybe you’re stuck in that endless loop of the planning process. Nothing gets accomplished, and your stakeholders, your team members—everyone—are starting to get irritated.

Or you’re getting stuck in a perfection trap. There’s rarely a perfect time to get something done. The truth is, if you’re waiting for the time to “feel” right, you’re probably waiting too long. Most of us need to realize we have to act even if we don’t feel it (we may never feel like it). Sometimes you’ve got to take Nike’s advice and “just do it.”

It’s time to get started. Often, starting with a few baby steps (even if they’re leading you in the wrong direction) will change your team’s inertia and get the ball rolling. Just start!

4. Value Your Leadership

You’re the boss. You’re leading the company. People are looking to management as great leaders and examples. They also depend on you to steer the ship in the right direction.

The decisions you make directly affect the success or failure of your business, so you must trust and value your leadership. To do that, you must understand your responsibilities as a leader, and never take those responsibilities lightly.

It is your responsibility to convey the big picture to your team. It’s your responsibility to provide support for your objectives and statements. It’s also your responsibility to motivate your team to achieve success while providing a workable framework that includes accountability and monitoring. It’s your responsibility to ensure the company is successful so you can continue to provide a stable livelihood for your employees.

5. Hire Smart, Then Delegate

Great leaders know that one of the essential management skills is learning to delegateBusiness owners (especially small business owners and entrepreneurs) often want to have their hands in every pot. I like to call this falling into delegation traps. Because we want to control and manage it all, we fail to hand off the smaller tasks. This over-reach leads to failure because we can’t juggle it all (no one can).

Great leaders know that one of the essential management skills is “learning to delegate.” Hire team members you trust to handle the responsibilities in their job descriptions (slow to hire). Train them properly and set them up for success with the right tools and processes. At the same time, be ready to get rid of those people who don’t perform to the level you require (fast to fire). Sound harsh? Tough luck. You’re the leader. It’s your responsibility to make those tough decisions.

When you try to micromanage, especially when working around a poorly performing team member, YOU become the roadblock. The rest of your team will notice, and morale will suffer. You spend all your time focused on righting a sinking ship. Don’t risk losing the rest of your high-performing team members—your business success depends on your team.

6. Know Your Customers

You must understand your customers. Who are they? What do they want from your company? What is their unique problem, and how are you uniquely positioned to resolve it? Think of this as communication 101: understand your audience.

Why do customers like your company, your services, and your products? Are you listening to feedback and contacting them through the channels and methods they prefer? Regularly reassess the wants and needs of your customer base. When is the last time you met with a customer? What kind of questions did you ask, or were you afraid to ask?

Meeting the wants and needs of your customer base IS the bottom line for business success. Your target market drives ALL company projects on some level. Never lose sight of the most critical driver of your ongoing success: meeting the needs of your clientele.

7. Address the Elephant in the Office

it's time to find solutions. Think about it and then establish goals based on your real problemsAs you know, things can go wrong. Sometimes things can go very, VERY wrong. Some business owners are tempted to pretend everything is fine and dandy when the business is going down the tubes.

As Mr. Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.” We may feel like we shouldn’t talk about certain situations or address specific topics. Instead of practicing avoidance, it’s time to find solutions. Think about it and then establish goals based on your real problems.

Whether it’s team member morale, an unsatisfied customer, less-than-optimal software, or a cash flow crisis, problems must be addressed full force, immediately, and with determination and resolve. You may think you’re protecting your team by hiding the problem, but they may have the solution or offer a different perspective (besides, chances are, they already know what’s going on). Being a great leader is tough, but you must always continue to embody your values and operate in honesty. Do what you know is right, even when it’s hard.

8. Establish Accountability

The best way to hold team members accountable is to set clear expectations, standardize processes, define metrics for progress, and then follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.

Remember that micro-management isn’t the same as follow-up! Follow-up means that your team has a clear direction and concept of the ultimate goal, adequate training, and explicit knowledge of individual assignments, processes, and deadlines. The team reports on roadblocks, progress, and accomplishments. It means establishing and reviewing daily or weekly objectives and all assigned deadlines. Great leadership includes setting SMART goals and reviewing them regularly.

Accountability is about making your team understand that you care about everyone’s day-to-day performance, but without micro-management. Putting accountability and follow-up processes in place assures everyone is on board, so everything from daily operations to broader strategic initiatives plays out successfully as expected.

Great leadership is possible in any management situation. Keep your skills sharp and communicate with your team. Pay attention to your instincts and keep learning and growing each day.

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pixabay.

The Key to Effective Delegation: Clear Communication

Male and female coworkers discuss work over a laptop.

Delegating effectively can lift the performance of both you and your company. Strong delegation skills are a vital tool, offering benefits for both the person who delegates and the team member delegated to. However, not all delegation is effective. Here are the common traps and how to avoid them.

Dear CFO,
I keep trying to delegate work to my staff, but they either do it so poorly that it’s easier to do it myself or they ask so many questions that I can’t get anything else done anyway. How can I use better communication for more effective delegation?
– Overwhelmed by Workload in Washington D.C.

Build Your Effective Delegation Skills to Avoid Delegation Traps

It’s easy to fall into what I like to call delegation traps. You may think you’re handing off work with clear instructions, but it’s easy to miscommunicate. Clear communication is the key to avoiding delegation roadblocks. Remember, not all delegation is effective delegation. Part of building your delegation skills is learning how to give clear, concise instructions that set your team members up for success.

Not sure if you need to work on your effective delegation skills? Check out these common delegation traps and see if you’re falling into them.

The Most Common Delegation Traps: Communication Roadblocks

Woman standing in front of her team, moving post-it notes around on a meeting board.

1. Failure to define the project in terms of the SMART goal.

  • The problem: Instructions given are inadequate to complete the project and will likely result in lost time and energy as the project is fixed along the way. This leads to frustration for both parties.  It’s not patronizing to lay out the instructions clearly and if they aren’t clear, it should be no surprise when the team member has additional questions. A negative response from the delegator, in this case, is both demoralizing and unproductive for the team.
  • The fix: Lay out the requirements for the project in a SMART goal format. Follow up with the specifics on responsibilities, levels of authority, reporting and monitoring requirements. Engage the team member in the process and follow through for more effective delegation.

2. Only the dirty jobs get delegated.

  • The problem: You only delegate tedious jobs which are low visibility or just plain boring. The team member may get the impression you perceive these tasks as below you, leading to low morale.
  • The fix: Show the team you are not above any work by completing some of your own tedious tasks. For those delegated, explain the value of each task and recognize although it may not bring a Disney theme park ride to mind, it’s important. This will make the task more palatable for the team member. Effective delegation skills also include recognizing a job well done, team members are more likely to pitch in willingly when they perceive the value to them.

3. Conflicting priorities.

  • The problem: A critical, high visibility project just came up and you need to delegate. Your top team member is best for the job (this, and many others) and you shuffle their pet project to someone else.  In fact, you are always shuffling tasks around; this is damaging the attitude and productivity of your best team members.
  • The fix: Stop doing this! (Just kidding.) Make sure you establish open communication with your employees, encouraging them to bring conflicting priorities to your attention without retribution. When working as an acting Controller in a manufacturing company, I had a very good and hard-working team member who would always get the job done. I wasn’t always aware of what was on her list of priorities, so whenever I assigned or delegated a new project to her, she would simply ask what tasks on her list could get a new priority.  I accepted her process and we worked together to refine priorities and shift tasks.

Blank post-it notes on a board and a woman's hand moving one note.

4. Too little delegation.

  • The problem: You do not know what to delegate or maybe how to delegate effectively, so you keep doing tasks yourself that really should be delegated. Effective delegation skills are good for many reasons: the growth of your team, freeing up your time to help the business grow, and increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the team by finding the best person for each project.
  • The fix: Make delegation an acceptable management objective by encouraging delegation at all levels of the organization. Train everyone on best practices to develop a set of strong delegation skills in each team member. Enable teams to focus on the higher priorities with regular communication of those priorities.

5. Lack of consistent policies, procedures, and training

  • The problem: Only one person knows how to do it–whatever “it” is. Delegating is hard, even in a growth mode, if you need to start from scratch on the process each time. Up until now, all of the information related to delegation was for a specific outcome such as a project or a report. While several of the traps apply in this scenario, there is a more basic issue in the day-to-day delegation which must be addressed: How can someone step in for your Controller while she takes a vacation if there are no policies to follow? How can you shift work from your accounts payable clerk when you need her on a short project if there are no procedures for his job, nor anyone trained to do it?
  • The fix: Effective delegation skills rely on cultivating flexibility in your team culture as well as following good delegation processes. Cross-train your team members. Setting policies to allow distributed decision making will benefit the entire team.  In the company I ran, the dispatcher had the opportunity to collect past due rents before sending service. We defined what her operating perimeters (delegation) for settling accounts was and I was involved if the customer would not comply.  It eliminated a bottleneck and increased cash flow. Document procedures to assure consistent job performance, accountability and cross-training is beneficial for all jobs. 

6. Forgetting you are accountable too.

  • The problem: Team members think they can use delegation to abdicate responsibility for various policies, procedures, projects, etc. Or, you may be pursuing a big customer and lose track of the day-to-day tasks. Well-trained team members will operate efficiently and, in most cases, get the job completed.  But, it’s important to remember, you can’t delegate accountability.
  • The fix: Team members need to keep you informed whether you like it or not. Your team needs to know you require active approval of the biggest projects, significant changes in policies (those which change a risk scenario), watch financial and operational metrics and schedule regular status meetings to keep a pulse on the business.

Remember, effective delegation skills are a useful tool to strengthen any team. Building on existing skills and helping develop new ones is the key.  Delegation works best in an environment of open and clear communication where team members can give feedback, ask questions and contribute to the final results.  When delegating, remember it is a learning experience and takes practice to implement.

If you happen to fall into any of the traps, you aren’t alone. Tomorrow is a new day and the perfect time to use these tips to improve upon your delegation skills and foster a better, more productive work environment.


Building Effective Teams: How Individual Strengths Help Your Business Succeed

We've all heard there's no "I" in team, but building effective teams requires attention to individual strengths and interests.

Do you have employees or team members? Are the individual strengths and contributions of your team members recognized and fostered?

In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Building effective teams within your company requires strong leadership. After all, if sports have taught us anything, it’s that a team is only as good as the coach. The right leader can take the same players to victory or to defeat.

So, how are effective teams built? It starts with recognition, growth, and learning how to play to everyone’s strength.

Employee vs. Team Member: Semantics Count

Does anyone really like being called an employee? Everyone wants to be employed, but few people want to be an employee.

There’s a cold chill to word employee (or worse, “worker”) that can squeeze morale out of an organization. Leaders may relate to the people they oversee, but relying on the term “employee” puts distance between management and workers that’s tough to bridge.

Is there really a difference between the terms "team member" and "employee"? YES!
via Pxhere

Getting the right people in the right seats of the bus means encouraging engagement and buy-in—qualities that come from team members, not employees. The title of “team member” promotes a collaborative environment. While there are workers who prefer to punch in and punch out without a second thought, excellent employees will welcome responsibility and rise to the occasion.

As a leader, it’s important to remember that if you want workers to feel the buy-in of being team members, you must treat them as such.

Does that really mean there’s a difference between the terms “team member” and “employee”? YES!

An employee is a person. They’ve been hired to do a job, get paid, and go home. Professionalism is essential to any business, but even professional “employees” will take orders rather than taking initiative. Why? Because their success doesn’t hinge on the success of the company. They don’t have any buy-in. Companies with an “employee culture” require managers—those who are in charge—calling the shots and giving directions.

Team members, on the other hand, work together. They share goals and try to come together to bring your business to the next level. Team members have a mentality that everyone succeeds or fails as one. When a team member needs help, another team member swoops in without needing to be directed. Teams don’t require managers; they need leaders who don’t hand down orders, but rather, work alongside them. You want your business to succeed, so enlist help from people you can trust with your dreams of success.

But the truth is, building effective teams isn’t just about semantics. It’s not enough to start calling your people “team members”—you have to walk the walk, too. Identify WHY each team member has value (and make sure the entire team knows it).

Hire people who share your vision and invest in people who want to be a member of your team. It’s that valuable, shared outlook that will benefit your business, long-term. Cultivate a culture of team members, not just employees.

Do You Provide Projects or Do You Ignite Passion?

Employees receive projects, tasks, and assignments. Projects need to be completed, and while good employees will get them done, without buy-in, they won’t put forth the extra effort. Employees expect management to direct their workflow. If you don’t tell them to do it, it’s not their fault it doesn’t get finished.

Employees might care about their jobs, but they aren’t comfortable or committed enough to give suggestions for areas that need improvement. They don’t believe their opinion matters, so why share it? In an “employee culture,” there’s little passion for the projects you assign—and with that mentality, business is likely to remain stagnant, with fewer opportunities for improvement and growth.

Team members, on the other hand, seek out projects based on their passions because they’ve invested in the work they do. A well-cultivated team still has specialists and experts, but all team members count. One team member is comfortable suggesting a course of action for another without fear of encroachment or power plays. Everyone respects each other, and employee conflicts are minimal.

Passionate team members take the initiative to seek out solutions rather than waiting for a manager or a higher-up to instruct them. They know how to problem-solve.

Employees often look at themselves as parts of a greater machine. They work every day, and they’re counted on to produce, but they’re ultimately replaceable when they wear out, break, or fail to do the job efficiently. Employee loyalty can be shored up with excellent compensation and benefits, but if that’s all your company has to offer, the situation will burn people out. Even employees that start passionate and ready to contribute can feel like they don’t matter if their contributions and ideas aren’t considered. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before they start looking elsewhere for work.

Think of team members as pillars. Pillars are vital structural elements. Team members do their best to shift the weight of work as evenly as possible. When one team member gets busy, another can pull some weight back to keep stress low. Pillars may need support, but they’re irreplaceable. They matter.

Team members want to feel like what they do matters to somebody, whether it’s the team, their leaders, or the customer. When you feel like someone’s paying attention to what you’re doing, you feel as though your work matters more, and that is important for the success of the entire business. It’s that feeling of importance that ignites the passion and drive to keep achieving.

Individual Strengths for Building Effective Teams

Team members in smaller companies often have the advantage of seeing their impact on the entire company
via Pxhere

Team members in smaller companies often have the advantage of seeing their impact on the entire company. In larger corporations, each employee may feel like no more than one of many cogs in a wheel.

But no matter the size of your company, it’s crucial that job components align with individual strengths (and compensate for weaknesses). Leadership must provide support for each team member and get to know the areas where they excel and the areas they could develop.

Meet with each person frequently to identify room for growth in their performance plan. Measure individual accomplishments that not only help achieve personal growth but also help the company succeed. Offer think time or downtime for brainstorming (and even time to pursue passion projects). This downtime allows team members to think more creatively and strategically.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Dara Torres, five-time Olympian and twelve-time Olympic Medalist (the most recent at 41 years old, no less!) speak at the UWM Women Leaders Conference. Her work ethic is both inspiring and contagious. She emphasized the importance of her entire team using a dramatically different approach as they worked together to achieve a common goal. They didn’t set their sights on winning the gold medal, but instead, on helping her optimize her total performance so she could win the gold.

Your people (the small muscles) need to work with the organization (the big muscles) within a particular strategic infrastructure (the bones). Just like the body needs a variety of exercises to promote balance, so does our business physiology. Think about it: Each of those little muscles plays a vital role in creating a well-balanced team! One neglected muscle can throw the whole team out of whack.

A well-balanced team includes a variety of complementary skills. Too many managers hire employees that have similar strengths as their own, but this serves to unbalance a team. Ideally, each person’s abilities should help round out the overall skills of the group. Consider whether you’re actually nurturing those skills for each person in your company.

Also, assess whether each team member is in the best position for his interests and experience. Sometimes you place an employee in a role only to find out later that he would thrive elsewhere. Don’t hesitate to move team members around until you find the perfect fit. (This will also cut down on turnover if you’re proactively making sure your staff loves what they do.)

Pump Up the Concept of TEAM Success

Leadership should foster enthusiasm about working together collectively to achieve goals. No one should feel separate from the team, so be sure everyone understands how significant their contributions are to the team and the company at large.

Promote team spirit by communicating frequently. Set SMART goals and regularly share company progress and achievements. Give kudos to those who have given their all each week. Discuss how you can work together to reach your goals even faster.

Personal interests can improve a company, too. For example, is there a team member who loves the environment? They’ll want to help you figure out new ways your business can go green. You make your workplace better when you let team members express themselves at work. The success of the project contributes to the overall feeling of accomplishment among the entire group.

While every team member wants to succeed on their own, they also want to feel like they’re part of something more substantial. Building effective teams means fostering both a positive team environment and highlighting opportunities for individual growth. Make sure each group or team has a mix of different personalities and different strengths.

When you have the right teams in place (the right fit for your company culture), leverage your tools to help individuals succeed for the benefit of the whole team.

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

Multiple Offices: How to Lead Multiple Teams in Different Locations

Managing multiple teams in different locations? It’s not as difficult as you think. Thanks to these tools and tips, you’ll lead from anywhere!
Dear CFO,
Our small business is growing and we’ve expanded to a second location across the state. It’s my job to manage the accounting and operations teams in both offices. How would you recommend I lead multiple teams in different locations?
Dividing My Time in Dallas, TX

Managing across multiple offices is a challenge I’m very familiar with! Overseeing multiple teams in different offices feels like getting split in two. Managing people who you don’t see every day is tough. It becomes harder to establish credibility when you don’t work in the office regularly.

Not only is your authority on the line, but it’s also challenging to build rapport, as well as to hold people accountable. Building your effective delegation skills and creating clear, standard processes for each task will help. Clear instructions prevent miscommunication and ambiguity about expectations.

The key to leading multiple teams in different locations is to encourage cooperation and collaboration. Working together is easiest when you, as a leader:

  • Establish big-picture, common goals.
  • Develop ground rules for how everyone will work together.
  • Determine lines of authority.
  • Get buy-in from executives and subject matter experts.
  • Find ways to hold team members accountable for their actions and job responsibilities.

Leveraging Communication Tools and Technology

it’s easy to share information across multiple channels and multiple locations with project management tools
via Pxhere

So, how do you communicate clearly and lead effectively when half your team is across the state? Fortunately, technology offers us the answer. These days, it’s easy to share information across multiple channels and multiple locations.

Start with the right tools and tech. Tools to optimize your Microsoft experience include Exchange, OneNote, and Office 365. Also, there are many tools proven effective in managing specific objectives in single-office settings that provide even more value to multi-office teams. While you don’t need to employ every technology tool out there, explore your options to find the most effective solutions for your unique situation.

Communication Tools

Finding useful communication software will help your team connect. Depending on your needs, there are several communication tools out there you might find helpful.

  • GoToMeeting: Collaborative online meeting space.
  • Skype: Internet-based video and voice calls.
  • JoinMe: Screen-sharing, online meetings, and web conferencing.
  • Slack: Inter-office instant messaging and chat.

Project Management Tools

Project management tools are abundant out there. Some tools are industry-specific, which may be helpful for your office. Other tools are universal, connecting any office across multiple locations. These products function as a storage tool, a place to assign and track tasks, and a way to communicate project status. Compare the options to find the one that aligns with your company’s needs.

File Sharing and Storage Tools

Cloud-based storage options ensure essential documents and media are accessible by your entire team, whenever they’re needed. From photos to documents to videos, store files safely in the cloud and get them to your team in any location.

The best mix of tools for businesses with multiple teams in different locations include:

  1. Software that makes it easy to hold meetings regardless of location.
  2. Project management tools that give everyone the same access point for assignments and files.
  3. Online document management systems.

Some businesses also prefer to host their proprietary information on a “home” server, so all team members are accessing the same, up-to-date information. A server gives everyone access to ALL the information they might need. However, with the availability of cloud-based storage, you may find no need for a traditional server for your business.

But no matter what tools your team uses, it’s essential they understand the value of using them. You’ve got to address the adage, ‘What’s in it for me?’ The importance of buy-in can’t be understated.

Individually, each team member tends to focus only on what they do. After all, most employees want their job to be easier. Your role as a manager is to enable their success. Use tools that contribute to the achievement of your ultimate company objectives as well as your big-picture business goals. So, while each employee’s focus is on himself, it’s your job as a leader to pull all team members together.

Building and Growing a Great Team

to build a great team, have a mix of personalities and strengths within your team, spread evenly across your multiple locations
via Pxhere

It’s important to have a mix of personalities and strengths within your team, spread evenly across your multiple locations, whenever possible. Different people will bring diverse talents and insights to the table. Foster a company culture where everyone has a valued voice.

When working across multiple locations, every team member must feel they’re not just a cog in the wheel. In a small business, each person is important. You must help each person understand their role and how they contribute to and impact the company. Show them how they influence the outcomes of your big-picture company goals.

To avoid the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality across multiple locations, “force” communication between the teams as much as possible. You should structure your day-to-day processes so your teams are working together and communicating to offer the best your company can provide to your customers. Your backup duties should cross geographies as well. For example, if your A/R person is in one location, put your backup/overflow/secondary A/R person in another area.

When you use the right tools and provide clear guidelines and processes, your team should have no problems working across multiple locations.

When Personalities Clash

While tools are available for almost anything you choose to do, PEOPLE are still PEOPLE, and everyone isn’t always going to communicate effectively or get along. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to deal with miscommunication and simple personality conflicts that tend to arise when a group of employees works closely together. While you can’t force everyone to get along, you can encourage in line with both team goals as well as objectives for the company as a whole.

Tools like DiSC, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and Strengths Profile ensure people fit into their roles. But it’s also best practice to discuss results as a group, so you better understand how to communicate with the different personalities within your company.

I can’t stress it enough: communication is the baseline for almost everything you do in an organization. You must help your team define the best way to communicate (both through those tools as well as well-established processes, regular meetings, and emails).

Address issues as soon as they arise to avoid creating more significant long-term problems. Provide constructive feedback rather than criticism, but above all, stay positive and straightforward.

Our natural tendencies are to spot elements of danger. This idea of diligence is reinforced in school, where we’re taught to notice problems and correct them. Often, people focus on the negative, and not the positive. This mentality doesn’t always benefit the team or the company—so, instead, pay attention to the effort put forth by your team and acknowledge victories, big and small. Giant accomplishments aren’t the only work worthy of praise; the day-to-day stuff matters too.

Lead by Example

your team members look to management for cues about how to communicate, especially when geographically distant from one another
via Pxhere

No matter which office your team members work out of, they’ll look to management for cues about how to communicate, especially when geographically distant from one another. When you want others to use your style, you must show them by doing. Nudge your email-loving team to utilize face-to-face communication tools like Skype more often, by being the first one to make calls using this tool.

Be present as much as possible in each office your team spans. If you’re overseeing teams at two locations, your presence will significantly impact the teams’ abilities to work together. Even if it doesn’t seem obvious to you, building a rapport and connection between the two offices will keep everyone on the same page. Be a consistent factor for your teams.

Avoid having a “favorite” location, so all team members feel they’re on equal footing with you. Staying objective is especially challenging if you’re leading a new team at a new location. If possible, schedule extra time at the new site, so you engage with the new team members. We all tend to favor our home team but divide your time fairly, in a way that suits the workload.

As a leader of multiple teams in different locations, you must stay on top of what’s happening with each team member and facilitate better communication across the board. Prepare to jump in and troubleshoot, especially during the initial setup and transition. Once both locations are up and thriving, you’ll be surprised at how modern technology enables teamwork from almost anywhere.

Best of luck to you as you manage this transition to leading multiple teams in different locations. With careful planning, the endeavor will be a success.

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

Strategic Hiring and Building Your Team: Replace, Reuse, or Redefine?

Every business owner has faced the dreaded moment when a treasured employee offers up their resignation. It rarely happens at a convenient time. No matter how well you perform as a leader, you can’t control everything; this extends to your employee turnover.

But, as they say, when one door closes another one opens.

Turnover presents you with an opportunity to engage in strategic hiring; not only to hire the right people with the right qualifications but also to define positions and attract the best possible candidates.

How to Find an Opportunity in a Stressful Situation

Shift your mindset to view employee turnover as an opportunity to strengthen your team instead of a problem.
via Pxhere

When an employee quits or gives two weeks’ notice, you may consider the “easy route”—take their old job description, post it online, and wait to see who answers. But is that the best method for strategic hiring?

Shift your mindset to view employee turnover as an opportunity instead of a problem. For example, you might lament the loss of your accountant who stuck with you for the last five years. While it’s hard to lose a good accountant, the situation presents an opportunity to redefine the Controller position. You could bring more worth to the role, and thus, attract a qualified and engaged employee.

After all, good employees are hard to find and even harder to keep! Employee engagement and buy-in are often vital components of employee retention. Employees will leave due to extenuating circumstances, of course, but happy, engaged, and appreciated employees are much more likely to stick with you long-term.

Use the departure of one employee as an opportunity to tighten up the positions and responsibilities of the rest of your team to deter a mass exodus.

In smaller companies, a position opening provides the opportunity to reevaluate important aspects like company culture, position necessity, and even cross-functionality. It’s an essential time to check-in with your team. Request the input from those in the “trenches.” Often, they’re able to identify gaps and pinpoint areas where coverage is lacking.

Don’t Rush It: Strategic Hiring Takes Time

You may feel like you need to rush to get a body into the empty chair so you and the rest of the company can continue with business as usual. Unfortunately, “replacing” an employee without consideration may lead to a missed opportunity to improve your team.

When a team member leaves your company, there is an immediate need to ensure the tasks they were responsible for will still get completed every day. Whether everyone in the business pitches in or a few select employees must absorb additional duties, consider what’s best for everyone in the long-term. Spread the work around, so no one burns out.

Smaller companies tend to feel more of a pinch in these situations. If you’re missing clear procedures, company-wide cross-training, and a team attitude of willing helpfulness from day one, it will be particularly hard.

Now is the time to boost morale and strengthen your company culture. Improving engagement may mean merely acknowledging your employees’ extra effort with a donut day or lunch. Often, employees just want to be recognized for their efforts. Spread the appreciation amply around, especially when a particular group or employee is picking up the slack.

Carry Out a 360-Degree Assessment

Look at hiring a new team member as an opportunity to assess and strengthen your company
via Pxhere

When an employee leaves, there are several areas you should consider. Look at this time as an opportunity to assess and strengthen your company:

  • Review the immediate impact of the team member loss on others in the organization as far as tasks and responsibilities.
  • Hold a team meeting to distribute the day-to-day workload to maintain customer service immediately.
  • Review performance plans and become more knowledgeable about the needs and interests of other team members; for example, is there the opportunity to promote someone from within?
  • Review the ‘who does what’ aspect of your business model. List current procedures to see if there is redundancy or overlap you could eliminate.
  • Analyze the areas in which the former team member was successful and where they fell short of the mark.
  • If you decide to hire a new team member, determine the skillset you need and the experience necessary for success, then create a job description.

Redefining a new position may look very similar to replacing an old one, but that doesn’t mean there’s no difference. Every time you face a change, you are, in essence, defining a new position.

Gathering Input from Your Team

Before you start your search for the right job candidate, meet with stakeholders and relevant team members to gather their input. Pertinent questions to review when you encounter an opportunity to build your team:

  • Should we replace the position with another person?
  • Can we offer growth to another team member by moving elements of the position?
  • Does the job description accurately describe what the position entails?
  • What does the workload of other team members look like? Are they able to absorb some or all of the responsibilities?
  • Is there an under-utilized team member with a unique skillset?
  • Are we looking for additional responsibilities to add to the position that the former team member couldn’t provide?
  • How much experience are we looking for in this position? Evaluate experience needs vs. experience wants against the expense of training.

Once you’ve completed a full assessment of the situation, you’ll have plenty of material to assist you and your HR department. You can begin crafting a dynamic employee ad, recruiting the right candidate, and conducting the interviewing and screening process.

Finding the Right Person for the Position

Instead of searching for the “perfect employee” (who doesn’t exist!) look for a candidate who’s a good fit. The right person, at the right time, for the right job, on the right team.

To find the best possible candidate for your vacant position, carefully define the specific skills you require for the job. During your discussions with your SME’s and team leaders, review and expand the relevant skills. Technical candidates such as engineers, architects, accountants, or chemists should possess the requirements like degrees or specific certifications accurately matching your job descriptions.

For non-technical candidates, evaluate the specific skills you’re looking for. Think about what types of people were successful in the role in the past. What made them successful and WHY? At this point, an actual written list is helpful; integrate your discoveries into interview questions later.

Once you’ve put out your ad and the responses start pouring in, you face the task of narrowing down your options. Here’s the million-dollar question: How do I pick the right person for the job?

Strategic hiring is considered one of the most challenging issues surrounding business success and management today. Narrowing down a pool of high-quality candidates may seem like a pretty daunting task. Rely on the information you’ve compiled on the role. Assess the potential candidates against your definitions.

The more clearly you define your needs for the position, the more productive the interview process (and ultimately the hiring process) will be.

Preparing for Interviews

what information will you seek from your job candidate in the interview?
via Pxhere

I want to add the quick disclaimer here; this post doesn’t cover the legal issues surrounding what you can and can’t ask a candidate in an interview. You should consult a lawyer if you’re unsure about the legality of the interview process.

Ask yourself: what information will you seek in the interview? Your answers may vary based on the position and level of experience required. Remember, you’re determining if the candidate can perform the job function and if they’ll fit with your team.

How many interviews you conduct with a specific candidate will often depend on the size of your business, the number of high-quality candidates, and the level of the job. For most roles and positions in many small businesses, three to four interviewees will suffice.

Before you interview…

  • Each interviewer should have a complete list of interview questions to work from and room to document the answers provided. These questions should be open-ended, and several interview questions should repeat among the interviewers.
  • Audio taping the interview is an excellent way to ensure you don’t miss anything or misquote the interviewee.
  • Look into the different styles and types of interviews to see which fits your business best.
  • Include a rating system to rate the overall performance of the interviewee at the end.
  • Don’t forget to discuss impressions with your interviewers. Sometimes, the overall impression of a person after an interview is a red flag for a less-than-great candidate.
  • Weigh each candidate against the criteria you’ve outlined in your strategic hiring discussions with your team. You’ve defined the position, now find the candidate best aligned with your needs.

As the business owner, president, or general manager, are you expected to conduct each interview yourself? NO! Ensure each interviewer has a list of questions pertinent to the position and you’re all on the same page about what it is you seek in a great candidate.

Keep in mind that the interview process is often fraught with uncertainty. None of us can predict the future or know how an employee will perform when the rubber hits the road. However, we can set ourselves up to be as strategic as possible in the hiring process.

After the interviews, compare the candidates and make a choice. If you’ve carried out your due diligence, rest easy knowing you’ve positioned yourself well. No matter how well you integrate a new team member, or how skilled a new employee is, a new hire impacts your entire team.

Bruce Tuckman developed the concept of four stages high-performing teams inevitably go through in the process of becoming more efficient. It starts with forming and continues into the storming phase. Then, the norming stage follows as a hierarchy is established. Finally, the performing stage is the last phase in which all the hard work pays off.

The better fit your new employee is for the position and the company culture, the faster the four stages of high performance will run their course. Take steps during onboarding to train and integrate the new hire thoroughly. Document procedures and policies as you move forward to shore up any gaps in your system.

Strategic hiring of the right people for the right positions is one of the best ways to ensure the health and continued success of your company. Use the opportunity of a departure to increase the performance and engagement of your team.

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Pxhere.

Finding and Attracting the Best Job Candidates for Your Team

Dear CFO,
Our department is hiring. I’ve been asked to write an ad and assist HR as they narrow down the resumes. How do I write an ad that will get noticed? Attracting the best job candidates and finding the right fit for the role is critical to our small team. Help me write an employee ad that sells!
Hiring in Harrisburg, PA

So, your company is in a position to hire? That’s terrific! Business growth is all about getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. You’ll want to attract team players who fit with your company culture, bring fresh ideas, and help shoulder the work.

Easier said than done, right? Strategic hiring begins by attracting the best job candidates, and attracting the best candidates starts with a great ad.

Odds are you know how to sell your company to a prospective client pretty darn well. When it comes to attracting the best job candidates, you may not use the same words or even the same tone. However, you still want to achieve the same objective: You want to sell the prospect on the idea of your company before they experience the product or service for themselves.

How to Sell Your Company to Potential New Hires

When a team member leaves or employment is terminated, the owner (or manager) has a choice. Should the newly open position be replaced, or do you need to redefine the role? If your company is starting to grow, you may also be in the position to hire, as is your case.

When you’re ready to hire, you’ll want to know where to source high-quality candidates to build your pool of potential employees.

Before you find your dream candidate, you need to know how to seek them out. Step number one is to write an employee advertisement that sells the candidate on your company before they ever step foot in your office.

How do you expect to sell your company and the job opening to your prospective employee? From my extensive hiring experience, the old fashioned process of “post the job description along with the minimum qualifications and hope for the best” doesn’t draw the best and brightest. So, how DO you go about attracting the best job candidates?

In the book You’re Not The Person I Hired!, the three hiring-expert authors suggest a creative plan:

  • Envision the ad as a sales tool. How will you appeal to the candidate you seek?
  • Consider the job posting a marketing effort from your company to the potential candidate; with that in mind, direct the ad to your target audience.
  • Use words to entice and interest. (How about the personal ads in Jimmy Buffett’s If You Like Pina Coladas?) Get creative!

Comparing Employee Advertisements: Old vs. New

How do you go about hiring the best job candidates?
via Pxhere

When writing your employee ad, keep in mind that filling a technical position may look different than filling a sales position. Here are two example ads, before and after considering the opportunity to market both the company and the sales position.

What’s the difference between these two headings?

  • Account Executive
  • Are you looking for a rewarding sales position with a great company?

Which headline draws your attention? Which company sounds more exciting to work for?

Now check out the full ads…

Both of the descriptions below give a real sense of what the job entails, but which would entice you more? Which position would you rather explore?

Original Version:

The Account Executive reports to the Vice President and is primarily responsible for the maintenance and growth of existing business and the development of new business. The selected candidate has demonstrated the ability to effectively call on low- to high-level decision-makers, identify potential opportunities, and secure business in a timely fashion. Additionally, candidates will possess the following:

A sound understanding of features and benefits along with basic sales practices and procedures used to generate and secure new contract business.

Effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential for both personal and team success.

  • Must be a team-oriented person motivated by money and success.
  • Strong customer support skills.
  • Solid sales experience with a proven track record of success.
  • Strong business development and closing skills.

REVISED Version:

The right person for this Sales Opportunity will desire income growth and career advancement potential in a dynamic organization. The ideal candidate will want to capitalize on existing customers and business partner relationships and will readily achieve their personal and financial goals.

If you:

  • View yourself as a Sales Professional, and not just a ‘salesperson,’
  • Want unlimited earning potential,
  • Take ownership of customer satisfaction,
  • Know how to question the customer into “Yes, I’ll buy,”
  • Want to be part of a fun and flexible work environment, and
  • Can mine a significant existing book of business…

…Then YOU are the person we’re seeking! In this position, you will have direct access to the President and report to the Vice President of Sales and Distribution while managing a local territory. This opportunity is not about putting in the time; it’s about achieving goals.

You can see the difference between the two ads. One offers the details and one “sells” the idea of the position. Creating an interest in your business and position requires creativity. Not all roles are “sexy” or easy-to-sell on the surface.

Think of the differentiators that set your office apart, such as a team environment, flexible scheduling, or dedication to your customers. What’s your unique selling point and how will YOU attract the ideal job candidate?

Where to Find the Perfect Employee

The concept of a “perfect employee” is an oxymoron when you think about it. Why? Because we’re all human! Perfection is impossible. What your team needs is a new hire who’s a good fit for your unique situation; this requires a careful approach.

Let’s be honest. There are many ways to fill a position. You may have heard “hire slow, fire fast” or “hire for attitude, teach skills.”

When it comes to hiring a new employee, everyone seems to offer different advice. But it isn’t about waiting for perfection to stride through the door. It’s more about grabbing the attention of as many qualified candidates as possible (by writing an appealing ad) and then choosing wisely from a high-quality pool.

Now that you’ve written your ad, you may be wondering, “Where’s the pool?”

Post your dynamic, eye-catching ad in the spots most relevant to your industry. School and college job boards, as well as alumni networks, are fantastic for finding entry-level recruits. Higher-level searches may require the assistance of an executive search firm or recruitment agency.

Keep in mind, most employment agencies charge a significant fee for their services. That said, they offer valuable insight, vetting, and screening assistance as well as access to a vast network of potential recruits. This reach makes an agency a fitting choice for multiple hires or specialized industries.

Consider where you’ve hired employees before. Where did your top talent come from? Don’t underestimate your network, either. LinkedIn and other professional connections may put you in touch with excellent referrals.

Online job boards are also an option to consider. Post job ads on websites directed toward specific geographies, technical expertise, or niche groups. Most online job boards charge a fee, but it’s worth the investment to find the best job candidates.

Narrowing Down the Pool

To effectively narrow your high-quality candidate pool, start by reviewing each candidate’s resume
via Pxhere

You’ve written an ad that SELLS your company to prospective employees. You’ve identified superb candidates by networking and looking in the right places. Now you’re wondering, “what’s the best approach to narrowing down the worthy candidate pool?”

In my own experience (over 30 years in management in multiple industries), narrowing the field and finding the best possible candidate fit for an open position is a challenge. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Inevitably, some candidates look great on paper, but may completely blow their interviews. On the other hand, there are those whose resumes don’t look so hot, but they’ll really wow the interviewer in person. Occasionally you get a candidate with a good resume and an excellent interview performance, but when you hire them –  End of story! You’ll find yourself wondering what the heck you were thinking as you’re whipping up the termination paperwork.

What a waste of time and energy! I bet you’re wondering how you could avoid hiring mistakes.

I wish I could give you a magic hiring key, but on a serious note, there’s no foolproof method for finding the right person. HOWEVER, there are a few ways to lessen your chances of hiring the WRONG person and making a costly mistake.

The Key to Vetting a Resume

To effectively narrow your high-quality candidate pool, start by reviewing each candidate’s resume.

  • Does the resume make sense?
  • Do the timelines align?
  • Are there explanations for gaps in employment?
  • Does their experience match the requirements of the position?
  • Is the layout clean, and free of careless errors?
  • Are there easy-to-avoid grammatical mistakes?
  • Have you checked their social media profiles?

Most businesses—especially small businesses—look for people who figure problems out on their own, put two and two together, or stretch to complete the job. If a candidate doesn’t provide a top-notch resume, you may not want to talk to them. Take the hint: The type of person who hands in a shoddy resume is likely the type of person to hand in shoddy work. If a candidate can’t locate a sample resume online and ask a friend to proofread, how good of a job do you think they’ll do once hired?

Once you’ve narrowed the candidate pool down to 3 or 4 candidates, it’s time to start the interviewing process. You’ve carefully written the ad and taken the time to review the resumes. Rest assured you’ve carried out your due diligence to hire the best job candidates possible.

Best of luck as you prepare to on-board the new team member in your department!

Featured image and post image licensed for use via Pxhere.

Resolving Conflict at Work to Strengthen Your Team

Is your team falling apart due to conflict at work? Here are the most common workplace conflicts, resolutions, and ways to build your team
Dear CFO.
As the Head of Accounting, it’s my job to keep our team productive, focused, and on-task. Lately, there’s been a lot of conflict at work amongst our department. It seems like there are personality differences, petty arguments, and bad feelings everywhere. What would you recommend I do to smooth things over and build a stronger (more cohesive) team?
Conflict in Camden, NJ

Conflict at work wreaks havoc on moral! No one wants to be part of a team that’s falling apart. I sympathize with your problem—personality clashes and petty arguments are tough to resolve but addressing the conflict and building a stronger team will help.

As much as we’d all like to avoid conflict at work, conflicts are sure to arise between coworkers from time to time; it’s human nature. When conflict is ignored or poorly managed, resentment and mistrust build until productivity is compromised.

In any business with more than one employee, success depends on teamwork. As Vince Lombardi said, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

In business (and in football), a team is held together by great leadership. Resolving conflict—or better yet, avoiding it altogether—requires clear communication and a conflict management strategy to deal with situations as they arise.

“It’s All Your Fault!”

One of the most common conflicts at work stems from a lack of accountability (in other words, the blame game). Conflicts often spring up between departments or coworkers who depend on each other to complete tasks. Every link in the chain, from marketing, sales, service, and delivery, is critical to good customer relations. If one link fails, the entire process collapses.

Conflict at work between coworkers will only hinder communication and team strength
via Burst

Finger-pointing is common between coworkers and departments when a situation goes awry. After all, no one wants to shoulder the blame for a misstep, especially if they can pass the buck onto someone else. If you notice every problem is someone else’s fault, it’s a sign your business is desperately in need of conflict management.

To help your teamwork through the issue, start with the basics: identify the source of the problem. Where did the link break? How do you ensure the issue is resolved for the long term? Running a trouble-free business environment requires strategic thinking, trouble-shooting, and organization. Address problems at the source and lead the team to a permanent solution. The biggest mistake is one you don’t recognize as a learning and growing opportunity.

While a lack of accountability seems to lead to the most frustration, there are many other common conflicts at work as well:

  • Breached agreements and broken promises. Team members not completing work as promised (also related to accountability).
  • The wrong skillset. Because of a lack of cross-training or mistakes during onboarding, someone lacks the right skills. This results in other team members picking up the slack.
  • Lack of information or misunderstanding. While this is often a highly resolvable conflict at work, it’s a common issue. Tasks and deadlines should be clearly defined and reasonable. The process should be in place with the information necessary to complete tasks.
  • High-stakes competition. While a little friendly competition is healthy, cutthroat practices that pit departments or coworkers against each other are destructive.
  • Discrimination, bullying, or harassment. A corporate culture that doesn’t prevent and explicitly forbids illegal harassment is toxic to business.
  • Competition for resources. When departments are reduced to scrabbling over resources due to a strained budget and cash flow issues, conflict is inevitable.

Leadership Sets the Bar: Resolving Conflict at Work and Building Your Team

Team building and communication are the keys to nipping potential conflict in the bud and ensuring greater harmony down the road. It’s vital to promote an atmosphere and company culture where everyone has a voice. Encourage workers to come forward with concerns before they become problems. Different types of conflict may require different handling.

Individual Conflicts

There are times when conflict will arise because someone isn’t following a process. These conflicts are easy enough to head off, but if left unchecked, it can lead to the blame game, breached agreements, and broken promises.

Resolution of individual employee conflict may require individual action
via Burst

Resolution of individual missteps may require retraining, setting limits and deadlines, or making job expectations clear and straightforward. Start by meeting with the worker to discuss the process and why it is beneficial to the rest of the team. You may discover a reasonable explanation of why a person is not following the protocol; for example, they may not fully understand a new responsibility. In that case, additional training may turn the situation around.

Flexibility resolves most minor transgressions. Is an employee late to work due to family obligations? Could you resolve the situation with a more forgiving schedule, say a 15-minute leeway in the morning, shaved off a one-hour lunch? Small concessions increase employee satisfaction, reduce the level of stress in the office, and impact retention rates and productivity. Remember, everyone is human with lives outside of the 9-5.

Conflict Between Two People

It’s unfortunate but common—most conflict exists between two people. One person doesn’t get along with the other. Someone offended or hurt someone else. One team member feels put-upon, while the other has his or her head in the clouds.

Resolving a conflict between two people is a big job for team leaders. Skillful resolution requires negotiation skills and diplomacy. If it’s practical, bring the parties together to talk it out and find an answer. Clarify the facts of the situation and give each person time to talk without interruption. You may find the company policies and procedures offer a solution. You may also find company policies are lacking in this area and need an amendment. Remember, if it happens once, there’s a strong chance it will happen again.

Conflict arises when someone oversteps a peer’s boundaries. To resolve this kind of dispute, clarify what those boundaries are and give your team a verbal signal to let teammates know when they are crossing the line. Encourage everyone to take a moment and cool off before re-engaging. In my company, we had a code word that people could use when someone was getting close to boundaries. The word “paperwork” signaled that we didn’t want things to go any further as it would then require formal paperwork.

Some conflicts are rooted in personality differences. These are often the most challenging to resolve. Different people use varying styles of communication. They may clash with others, or they may prefer an independent work environment. Communication is truly the key to personality differences. While coworkers may never become best friends, they can learn to communicate with each other respectfully and effectively, no matter their style. We used DiSC to identify personality communication styles and keep top of mind awareness allowing the “S” to let the “D” know what communication works best for them.

In the workplace, as in the population, some people are unpleasant, unreasonable, demanding, or mentally unstable. If the situation is beyond your control because a person involved is beyond rational discussion or decision making, you may need to call in an HR consultant. Sometimes the only answer is to remove negative influences from the team before they drag the whole team down.

Conflict Between Departments

Occasionally, “team spirit” ends up segmenting the office into different parties pitted against each other. This type of conflict is especially common in environments with high-stakes competitions or a lack of resources. Departments and teams become competitive and cutthroat.

The resolution to workplace conflict is encouraging collaboration between departments.
via Burst

Any time there’s a dip in sales, marketing loves to blame sales and sales loves to blame marketing; this is a universal truth in business. The resolution to this workplace conflict is encouraging collaboration between departments. Keeping departments separate and secretive—or worse, in direct competition—can cause a breakdown in productivity. Again, communication is critical.

The best advice for resolving conflict is to avoid it in the first place. Stable company protocols, clear expectations of performance, and open lines of communication will help you keep your workplace humming along in perfect harmony. Building your team up and encouraging them to work together as a cohesive unit keeps conflict down. Engaging team members from multiple departments in any significant company change brings a better understanding of both the “why” and the “how”.

Remember, it’s much easier to miscommunicate when you’re barely speaking. While it’s essential to give your team plenty of individual work time and think time, it’s also good to encourage team-building as well.

Understanding Your Role in Team Building

A strong team is the counterfoil to conflict. Productive team meetings, clear protocols, a strong company culture, and open communication are all critical to creating an organization that works together. It’s your role as a leader to foster this collaborative environment.

Management promotes team harmony in two ways:

  • Building trust among team members.
  • Holding each team member accountable for commitments.

Not only do these two elements prevent and address most areas of conflict, but they intertwine entirely. Without trust, it’s challenging to hold your team members accountable for their responsibilities, and if you don’t keep them accountable, they can’t build trust with you and their cohorts.

Trust is essential for a successful team. As management, your role revolves around fostering open dialogue about every topic (even the ugly issues and work conflicts). You also need to continually work to engage those subject matter experts on your team to proactively solve problems as they arise.

Trust comes when your team is confident that sharing concerns with you will result in action. It’s one thing to say you have an open-door policy, but as many jaded employees know, it doesn’t always mean you’re open to hearing criticism or are involved enough to change for the better. Trust also comes with more open communication among the team members. Everyone’s opinion should weigh equally, and their feelings taken into account. People feel valued when they feel heard. Keep in mind that you can’t please all the people all the time. Sometimes getting everyone on the same page is virtually impossible–don’t sweat it, if you have good relationships, the occasional “just do it” is acceptable.

As I said, accountability fosters trust and vice versa. Accountability means management:

  • Holds everyone to the same standard. Clearly defined expectations, deadlines, and processes set the stage for accountability.
  • Follows through on commitments. Team members depend on one another to perform as expected, thus feeding their success.

These areas are a struggle for many leaders, including myself. In the past, I’ve held on to underperforming team members in the hopes their performance would improve through my encouragement. While encouragement and offering second (and third) chances aren’t bad, I was inadvertently sending the rest of my team mixed signals. I was paying attention to the underperforming employee while neglecting everyone else.

Avoid conflict at work by keeping clear expectations and accountability between team members
via Burst

Too little accountability leads to unclear expectations, leading to a trickledown effect on team managers and others. Excellent performance isn’t rewarded, and problem areas aren’t addressed. Accountability means setting up measurable and clear expectations.

When one employee needs too much hand-holding, you’re only hurting the rest of your team. When everyone else is working hard without reward or acknowledgment (because you’re too focused on boosting up one underperforming employee), their spirits get down, and it damages your employees’ ability to work together.

The other component to team building (and counteracting conflict) is bringing everyone together often. Sometimes it takes getting out of the office to enhance your team’s trust and encourage teamwork. Consider scheduling a retreat—anything from a few hours to a full weekend—where individuals learn to work collectively to problem solve through targeted exercises.

In planning a retreat, consider what specific skills you would like your team to build. If problem-solving is weak, build in activities to strengthen skills for your organization. If communication is ineffective, focus on building it. Don’t consider yourself separate from the team on the retreat; it’s crucial your team members see you as a team player.

If a full department retreat isn’t in the cards, team socials, luncheons, or happy hours give everyone a chance to bond and connect. While it may seem counterintuitive to socialize when there’s work to be done, your team will be more dedicated when they get along. This means recognizing and respecting each other as individuals. A little “getting to know you” goes a long way.

Resolving conflict amongst your team is a big job, but if you open the lines of communication, set clear expectations, and engage in team building, you’ll be well on your way to a strong, collaborative department!

Featured image and post images licensed for use via Burst.

SMART Goal Setting Strategies to Hit Your Targets

Do your best practices include strong goal setting strategies? If you want to continue the success of your business, get SMART about goal setting.

Have you brushed up on your goal setting strategies lately? I know it may sound like basic business advice, but time and time again, I work with business owners who are struggling with setting and sticking to goals.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know how critical it is to set goals regularly, but chances are, you either aren’t sure how to prioritize those goals once they’re set or don’t know how to avoid getting overwhelmed (or bogged down) by all that’s on your plate.

Good goal setting strategies begin with self-assessment. Start by asking yourself a few questions (and being honest with your answers):

  • Do I regularly set attainable goals?
  • Do I review my goals to measure my success?
  • Do I set goals to complete projects within my business?

Most business owners will honestly answer NO to at least one of these questions, but most would like to say they could answer YES to all. It happens to all of us; even if you write down a goal list, you may end up putting it away and never looking at it again. Tucked in the desk drawer of every business owner is a long list of goals they may (or may not) complete.

So how do you successfully set better business goals and, by doing so, achieve them?

Don’t Make a Wish, Set a Goal

Often when business owners set a goal, it looks something like this: Grow my Business.

Business woman looking at a business growth goals chart on a tablet
via Pixabay

On paper, this looks like a great goal, right? It’s what every business owner wants to do. Business growth is critical to your success…but what are the steps you’re going to take to reach this goal? How do you plan to define and measure “growth”? Moreover, how will you know you’ve achieved this goal? Well, you won’t.

This goal is what I call a “business wish.” Yes, we all would like to see our businesses grow, but our true focus should be directed toward the action items and strategic plan. Better goal setting strategies mean outlining the steps required to make your wishes happen.

Think of setting your goals like creating a shopping list. When the cupboard is bare, you start jotting down a list: milk, eggs, bread. Now imagine you show up at the grocery store, pull out your list, and all it says is Go Shopping. The thought is laughable, right? You’d wander around the store trying to remember what you need to buy. If you’re like me, you’d forget half of the items you were supposed to buy and then run to the store again, hours later when your kids are asking for a glass of milk.

Setting a goal like “Go Shopping” is precisely the same as a goal like “Grow my Business”—it doesn’t mean anything without an action plan. Setting a generic goal of any sort wastes time and money, hindering your success. You’re running to the store over and over, and still turning up empty-handed.

Get SMART with Your Goals

You probably didn’t get this far in the business world without a grasp on the concept of SMART goals. Even though many of us are familiar with the SMART goal-setting concept, it bears reviewing—especially if you’re realizing your goal setting strategies need improvement.

SMART is such a commonly used goal-setting tactic because it actually works. In case you can’t recall the acronym, it stands for:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound

Setting SMART goals means coming up with new ideas and strategies to achieve them
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Setting strong, achievable goals means following this strategy (literally) to the letter. It’s wise because it works. Every goal you set should contain all five of these crucial characteristics. Miss one? You’ll struggle to be successful.

Playing off our example above, here’s how to turn “Grow my Business” into a SMART goal. Most goals need to be broken down into several SMART goals; each mini goal is a step toward your overall objective to grow your business.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. I’m not going to lie; this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Keep in mind the cautions of goal setting—don’t overextend yourself. Keep your goals attainable and specific. Your aim here is to be realistic, so you’re going to want to set goals that are easily broken down into prioritized, actionable items that align your entire team. A true confession here, I have trouble with over-commitment and often think I can do more than time allows. Be cautious.

Target Your Targets

Start at the top with your long-term targets and work your way down (or backward, if you prefer to think of it that way). You should set no more than 5 big, long-term targets, each projecting out about 3 to 5 years. These targets are the HUGE stretch goals (yes, sometimes they feel like your wishlist, but they should still be specific).

Perhaps one of your long-term targets for growing your business is to hit $5 million in sales by 2025. This goal is a great business growth target, but now it’s time to work your way down and break it into small steps.

Take the big target stretch goals and come up with 3-5 SMART goals to take you through this year. So, assuming your sales were $1 million this year, if you want to hit your target, your goal might be to double your sales over the next 12 months, increasing to $2 million by next year. Now, how do you get there? Break it down further.

Setting Clear Annual Priorities

Weekly planning is a positive goal setting strategy for business success
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List out the steps you need to take over the next 12 months to successfully complete your goal. Is your team positioned to meet the goal? Does your sales team use a KPI dashboard to track performance? Can you use tools like gamification to motivate your team? Are the proper systems in place to support your goals? What about cash flow?

Look at the health of your entire business today. Where does it need to be in one year for you to complete your goal successfully?

Perhaps you need to update your web content. Do you need to hire more sales associates? Turn these steps into SMART goals as well:

  • Clean up the customer database with a new CRM system by Q2 of this year.
  • Hire a marketing team member, onboard and train by May.
  • Vet content marketing firms and update the website by October.

Set no more than 5 of your annual priorities/initiatives to drive your team’s success in meeting each of your SMART goals. Those goals are then further broken down into quarterly, monthly, and even weekly targets. What should happen this week to put you on track for your timeline? It’s much easier to adjust your path week-to-week when you hit a bump in the road than to panic mid-December when you’re closing your books for the year.

In “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” Verne Harnish says your goal setting strategy is as simple as asking, “What do I need to accomplish today to keep this company moving towards its plans at the speed the market demands?”

A quick note about the “speed” element: each industry has a speed at which it must adapt to the market. Apple adapts at a different speed than a mom and pop restaurant, for example. Keep the speed of your industry in mind as you set your pace.

Enlist Your Team

Once you’ve set up your solid annual SMART goals and sketched out your steps, it’s time to enlist the brainpower of your team. Gather your management team (if you’re a larger corporation) or your team of individuals (if you’re a small business). Get your SME’s (Subject Matter Experts) to give their input. As boots on the ground, they’ll offer a great deal of insight into snags you may not anticipate.

Your team will help you identify additional problem areas and potential solutions to fill out those larger annual goals. Maybe improving your credit and collections processes will help you meet long-term cash objectives. Translated into a SMART goal, this looks like “Reduce average A/R days outstanding to 60 days or less for all active customers by Q3.”

There are endless areas and parameters to define your SMART goals. Practically any data point can be used to help measure outcomes. These may include:

  • Inventory days
  • Revenue per employee
  • Liquidity
  • Margins
  • Profitability
  • Customer retention
  • Lead generation
  • Customer complaints
  • Error rates
  • The list goes on…
Enlist your team to help determine metrics to track the success of your goal setting strategies
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The most important factor is measurability. Your team may offer other ideas of metrics to assess the success of your goal outcomes. That’s why getting them involved is so helpful. They know the impediments, and their perspective is valuable. Involving your team will also help you effectively delegate the tasks and action items as you work toward your goal.

Don’t forget: Any action plan you develop must matter to your customer base and needs to drive competitive differentiation. As you gain knowledge and experience in goal-setting strategies, the process will become easier.

It’s also important you aren’t bogged down with analysis paralysis! Use daily/weekly/monthly metrics and quarterly reviews to track success; adjustments can be made as time goes on. Most of these adjustments will involve tweaking and won’t require taking an entirely new direction. However, never ignore significant unexpected changes in the business, industry, or economy. If this occurs, address the problem(s) and re-direct as quickly as possible.

Another word of caution: if you’re in a tenuous financial position, it’s better to plan quick, very low-risk, very high-value victories. Set your SMART goals to match your current fiscal state.

The SMART goal formula can be used company-wide as a project management tool. How often do we rush headfirst into a project without defining our intended outcome? When you run a business, your day-to-day operations are hectic—but think about the time and money you’ll save if you sit down and hash out the details before you get started.

That’s the bottom line: SMART goals save time and money across your business operations, short-term and long-term. You work hard, so work smart with SMART goals.

Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere and Pixabay.

Too Many Boring Meetings? How to Lead Better Team Meetings

Is your schedule packed with team meetings? Boring meetings? Meetings where everyone on your team talks in circles? How on earth do you lead better team meetings?

It turns out too many meetings are harmful to your overall business success and productivity. It may seem counterintuitive, but meetings are one of the most common productivity killers in the workplace.

In fact, according to the career website Muse, middle management spends about 35% of their time in meetings. Upper management spends a whopping 50% of their work time in meetings. 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings and the number grows every year. Worse yet, executives report feeling that more than half of their meeting time is wasted (67%).

Unfortunately, meetings are also necessary in today’s workplace. The planning for many tasks is based on communication. Many business leaders (particularly small business owners and entrepreneurs) realize project planning is often a company-wide event steeped in a collaborative environment. After all, bits of the project plan will be assigned to and/or affect most of the team members in your company or department.

So, how do you boost meeting productivity? How do you know when a meeting is necessary or when solitude is the best answer? Here’s how to lead better meetings (and cut out the timewasting ones).

Is Groupwork Bad for Creativity?

You want each team member to contribute to the creative process, from the overall project planning down to the actionable to-do list. If you want to establish the best initiatives to achieve company goals, you must appreciate each employee’s need for think time. How many times have you heard, “This great idea came to me in the shower”? Plain and simple: people need time to think!

Group work isn't always the best way to produce creative ideas or the answer to better team meetingsGroup interactions may stifle creativity, no matter how energetic you are or how balanced your team may be. It’s important for leaders to know how many meetings, group brainstorming, or collaboration time is too much. (Hint: you need a lot less meeting time than you think.)

Research dating back to the 1950s, along with more recent studies, found that big groups don’t do anything to increase the flow of creativity. In fact, group work may result in negative outcomes including bullying, opinion mimicking, passing the buck, and plain old laziness. People simply act differently from Group A to Group B. It all depends on the company culture, how the group is generated, and who is involved in a particular group. This is called “group dynamics” and it’s a simple fact of life.

In his book, Moving Mountains Every Day: Lessons for Business Leaders, Dan Steininger notes that neuroscientist Gregory Berns found dissension from the group activates a “fear of rejection” reaction at the core of the dissenter’s brain (in the amygdala). Berns refers to this reaction as “the pain of independence.” Steininger goes on to illustrate the benefits of solitude using Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein as benchmarks for individual creativity.

Now, it doesn’t mean you should avoid meetings altogether, but it does mean lowering your expectations for immediate meeting outcomes (and shortening the meetings themselves). Keep meetings moving along steadily and focus on the topic at hand.

Don’t let your meeting time encroach on your employees’ think time, either. Offering employees space and freedom to troubleshoot and problem solve will often result in a better outcome than an endless strategy session or two-hour team meeting going nowhere.

Leading Better Team Meetings: How to Keep the Meeting Productive

Now, there are plenty of times when a meeting is necessary and even important. It’s the onus of the leader to ensure meetings are worthwhile. As with most situations in business (and in life), the secret to success is making a plan. Leading better team meetings is no exception. It’s vital to go into each meeting with a plan and stick to it. Always determine the reason for the meeting—if it isn’t important, don’t hold it. Period.

Remember, the head of the company need not lead in every meeting (or attend) but every meeting should follow the company standards and best practices. Here are the important steps meeting leaders (whether yourself or a team/department leader) should adopt to make each necessary meeting more productive.

1. Set the Standard and Expectation of Preparedness

To have better, more productive team meetings, everyone should come prepared with objectivesWell before your team meeting, provide each attendee with a list of meeting goals (aligned to your company goals). Whenever possible, assign goals to a point person to lead the charge. When given the time to think and formulate ideas individually and beforehand, you’ll find your team members will bring a lot more to the table.

Request each person bring at least three approaches/initiatives that contribute to accomplishing their assigned goal, plus any other ideas for the other goals on the list. Each person must contribute, right brain and left brain, and add depth to the initiatives.

Don’t attempt to save time by combining meetings with different goals or agendas (i.e., combining an organizational meeting and a creative meeting). We’ve all been in meetings where half the agenda didn’t apply to our area of expertise. What happens? We zone out. Keep the meeting singularly focused.

2. Keep Time

Set the ground rules and timeframe for each topic on the agenda and stick to the plan. You may even wish to set a timer or ask someone to keep time.

Always start on time, end on time, and if someone is late, let them catch what they missed on their own after the meeting (and without disruption). This ground rule should be established well before the meeting happens. Don’t stall the meeting to bring people up to speed as they wander in.

On the same note, keep meetings short and sweet. As leadership, you set the tone. If you believe time is money, don’t pull people away from their work needlessly. Remember, the less time spent away from their desks, the more they get accomplished.

3. Keep the Conversation Rolling

Avoid rehashing info during the meeting and stay on task. If people get bogged down in a discussion, don’t hesitate to table it. Assign the appropriate team members to work the issue out later and bring the conclusion back to the next meeting. Set the resolution as an action item.

For big meetings, you may even consider bringing in a facilitator or mediator. A good facilitator creates a productive meeting environment, drawing out ALL ideas and encouraging equal input and participation. As an “outsider,” a professional facilitator is inherently more aware of the pitfalls of group dynamics, so he or she will better regulate the tempo and pace of the meeting to benefit everyone present. Require the meeting facilitator to present you with a summary (aligned with those predetermined expectations) after the meeting is over.

4. Shorten the Invite List

Invite the fewest number of people possible to your meetings. While some “team meetings” are necessary, there’s an even greater impetus to keep full staff meetings short and sweet. Depending on the size of your company, it may be very rare to hold a full staff meeting.

For most team meetings, only those involved need to attend. This means those who are directly related to the input/output. Everyone not directly involved will get all the information they need from the meeting minutes. Research suggests the most efficient number of attendees for a meeting is about five. Whenever possible, aim for an odd number of attendees to limit bickering over majority-rule decisions. Greater numbers will result in lengthier (and nitpicky) discussions over even the most minor issues.

5. Give Everyone a Voice

The best team meetings allow everyone to voice their opinions, ideas, and thoughtsIf you’ve followed steps 1-4, your meeting will already be focused, short, and direct. All attendees are vital to the meeting and thus, will offer important contributions. This means it’s imperative to ensure each person has the floor when needed. Assuming each agenda item is assigned to a point person, it makes sense to yield the floor to the key person during their timeframe.

At the meeting, establish an environment of openness and collaboration. Be sure each team member attending the meeting has a voice and is allowed to speak. Move through initiatives per the agenda rather than brainstorming by yelling over each other. (However, sometimes shouting out ideas at random is really the best way to jump into a project.) Your meeting style depends upon your team and what you need to accomplish.

6. Listen More Than Talk

Entrepreneurs and business owners are often too committed to their own ideas, pushing the team in one direction without even realizing it. While this is great if you want to exist in an echo chamber of your own ideas, it doesn’t work for problem-solving (or generating creative approaches to tasks).

You know your approach (and comfort with yielding the floor). If you tend to talk over others, it may be best to assign an objective meeting facilitator, allowing you (the boss) to duck out of the meeting entirely. Your participation in the meeting comes as an outside influence. Before the meeting, be sure the facilitator and the team have clearly defined expectations as far as meeting structure, participation, and meeting outcomes are concerned (see step 1).

If your team is timid, allow individuals to submit additional ideas anonymously before and/or after the meeting. After all, the more ideas generated, the better. Why not present your team with as many idea-generating opportunities as possible?

7. Take Detailed Minutes

team meetings are more effective and beneficial for the whole team if meeting minutes are takenIf a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? If a meeting occurs without minutes, did it even matter? Meeting minutes are vital, especially to prevent circular conversations and arguments after the fact. Assign someone to take thorough notes for each meeting. Meeting minutes should include everything discussed and all decisions made. Document problems and resolutions discussed, including those tabled.

Set action items at the end of the minutes. Outline a list of tasks or solutions for each participant to prepare for the next meeting. As appropriate, distribute the minutes to the wider team or company. Someone who didn’t attend the meeting may have a great idea or a solution to a problem. You never know.

8. Ban Chairs

This is the one tip for better team meetings that strikes fear in the heart of every leader who loves to wax on. Why? Because it works. If people have to stand, they are less inclined to filibuster. (Disclaimer: does not apply to Congress.) One way to ensure no one (including management) pontificates during the meeting is to take away their chairs.

Stand-up meetings are popular in tech companies, and with good reason. Researchers at Washington University determined the benefits to standing meetings: Standing up is more physically dynamic and has a similar psychological effect. It leads to more enthusiasm, higher creativity, and facilitates better collaboration on ideas. As they say, a body in motion stays in motion. If you want your team members to leave the meeting ready to go, then a standing meeting is your answer.

9. Timing is Everything

Picking the right time for important meetings is critical. Typically, the least effective days are Monday and Friday, when some people are more invested in planning for or recovering from the weekend, and some are out on a long weekend. Avoid scheduling meetings right after lunch when everyone is half asleep. If you want honest answers on moral or ethical subjects, better stick to the morning. Harvard and the University of Utah researchers found people are significantly shadier in the afternoons. They called it the “morning morality effect.”

What’s expected of the participants is an important consideration when scheduling meetings as well. If you need sharp decision-making skills, the morning is best. Bear in mind, mornings are also the time when your people are most productive. Informational meetings that don’t require sharp analytic thinking can be scheduled in the afternoon when people are at their least busy and least productive. Oddly enough, this is also a better time for creative problem-solving.

10. Appreciate Different Perspectives

Each employee sees your organization from a different vantage point. In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott likens each team member to a different stripe on a beach ball. While everyone is part of the same ball, each person’s reality is different. Seeing as none of us know what we don’t know, it’s important not to underestimate the value in multiple perspectives.

Einstein suggested, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” And while you may feel your organization isn’t bursting with Einsteins—don’t sell your team short. You simply need to give each individual the opportunity to explore his or her own imagination and ideas. To give your people the opportunity to bring the BEST initiatives, always expect the best. Your team will generally perform to your level of expectation, assuming those expectations are clear. Remind each individual that everyone brings a unique perspective to the company.

The best team meetings always have several commonalities: they’re focused, interesting, and of interest to everyone in the room. They move along quickly because each attendee has vital insight to contribute and the facilitator keeps the conversation moving. When a great meeting is over, everyone walks out with more knowledge than they came in with, new tasks to accomplish, and ideas to consider.

While team meetings aren’t the solution to every problem, they are a necessary piece of a productive team. Lead your way to better team meetings and you’ll see increased productivity throughout your office.

Featured image and post images licensed via Pxhere.

How to Motivate Your Team to Get More Done at Work

Dear CFO,
Our company’s owner just handed me a long list of quarterly priorities for the department that I lead.  I would like to implement some of my own priorities as well this quarter, to help our department run more efficiently. How can I motivate my team to get more done at work? I want to accomplish both sets of priorities, and still get the day-to-day work done. My fellow team members don’t have much extra time and our department doesn’t have room in the budget for outside help. How can I achieve more so we hit our targets?
Trying to Meet Objectives in Boston

As I read your question, my first thought is, “I’ve been there!”

Often it feels as though company priorities are set in a vacuum; totally ignoring the day-to-day reality of staffing and the allocation of other resources. In my experience, while it often feels that way at the department level, it’s not usually the case. My guess is that your company owner is prioritizing a dizzying array of objectives for both the long-term benefit of the company and to meet short-term constraints, such as cash flow.

Unfortunately, the onus is on the department heads to ensure their team stays productive. You may feel like you don’t have a clear path to get more done at work but are still facing constant pressure to make it happen. Team members need buy-in and engagement in the work they do, including company and department priorities (unless you run a department of cyborgs). This engagement is critical for fueling motivation.

While I agree in principle with the best practice that says every goal for every individual and department should align with the top goals of the company, the truth is, it’s not always realistic.

Individual team members will have day-to-day aggravations, roadblocks, or impediments that they feel need to be a quarterly priority as well. While the direct correlation with an individual’s goal and a company goal may not be evident, addressing these challenges (and helping your team address them) will be reflected in employee performance and retention. Therefore, I believe that employees can have priorities not directly tracked to the company goals that will still contribute to effectiveness, efficiency, and overall job satisfaction.

How to Accomplish Company Priorities

Fostering employee engagement is the number one way to improve team productivity and satisfaction
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The big (not-so) secret to getting more done at work is fostering employee engagement and buy-in. The question then becomes how do you get the buy-in from your team, so you can keep your boss happy and satisfied with your department?

First, to build employee buy-in, focus on the many ways the company priorities benefit your department. Underscore the importance and the impact of proposed priority projects on the individual members of the team, the department as a whole, and of course, the company.

It’s often hard for individuals in the company to see the bigger picture (and feel that it indeed justifies additional effort), so it is important you understand the benefit of each objective and can exuberantly support them. If there is not a direct benefit to workers, it’s important for team leaders and department heads to convey the overall importance to the company just as exuberantly. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your team’s objections or frustrations, but rather that you should prepare to address them directly.

Being prepared to speak to team members’ objections requires you to think and empathize with the individuals in your department. Like all of us, team members have a unique perspective, viewed from their own lens of experience. Therefore, it’s helpful to address the goals in terms of each perspective (and each concern). This means answering the big question WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?!”). Candid honesty is the best policy to address concerns. If there is truly no direct benefit to team members, say so, but within the context of “why” the priority exists.

Address direct impacts of the company priorities such as:

  • Changes in department workflow – for example, expense reports may now be verified in your department.
  • Changes in department staffing – for example, headcount getting cut due to the automation of a process.
  • Changes in department priorities – for example, new computer upgrades are getting fast-tracked.
  • Changes in individual roles and/or responsibilities – such as increased involvement in the expense reporting function requires training for additional processing.
  • Need for additional hours – for example, when training on a new system adds time to the workday, necessitating overtime.
  • Changes in scheduling – for example, a new system implementation requires weekend work from your team.

No matter the scenario, changes should be explained and concerns addressed clearly. Ambiguity is often demotivating. Team members can’t see the benefit or rationale for the actions of the “man behind the curtain.” This leads to distrust and frustration.

Instead, operating with transparency (even when it’s not the greatest news) will help your team get more done at work. They’ll feel engaged and appreciated. Even if a task is difficult or challenging, understanding the greater “why” helps justify the effort.

How to Accomplish Department & Team Priorities

Much the same as setting company priorities, department priorities should be set using specific criteria.

When it comes to setting department priorities, filtering ideas through what Stephen Covey referred to as the “Four Quadrants” will help. For those unfamiliar, each priority and idea can be filtered from the team based on their sense of urgency and importance.

The decision-making matrix that Stephen Covey espoused was also based on the Eisenhower Matrix

Quadrant 1: Urgent/Important

Quadrant 2: Important/Not Urgent

Quadrant 3: Not Important/Urgent

Quadrant 4: Not Important/Not Urgent.

Most priorities for the team to address should come from quadrants 1 and 2. Keep in mind, the sense of urgency and importance of the team members’ ideas may be different from your own, so it’s important to work together to set goals. Some goals may also differ from what the company would deem as quadrant 1 or 2 goals. Yet team members may need to accomplish some of their own objectives to even make it possible to achieve the company goals. (For example, accounts payable might have some ideas to quicken their process, enabling them to take on the new expense report processing without adding staff.)

In my experience, there are a few specific best practices that have helped me get more done at work, accomplishing priorities in both levels—company and team/department. The biggest is encouraging employees to take ownership of the various objectives and priorities. This means assigning a leader.

We all know if a task is everybody’s job, it quickly becomes nobody’s job. As the parable, “Who’s Job Is It Anyway” goes:

There are four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

Assigning ownership increases buy-in and engagement. From there, accomplishing the team priorities and company priorities entail:

    • Vetting the capabilities of each team member and aligning them to tasks. Ensure a clear project plan, milestones, and specific outcomes and align them to specific members of the team (the most closely aligned should ideally be the project lead/owner).
    • Allowing team members to suggest improvements and processes, even if they affect other roles. However, the team members work under the rule, “you can’t make your job easier if it makes my job harder.” When a conflict arises, the team should agree to change the process (ultimately making both jobs more efficient) or to agree upon the transfer and even disbursement of work, based on the overall benefit.
    • Fully cross-training team members to take on additional roles for an agreed-upon time, so a fellow team member can work on a priority. This not only keeps the cross-trained skills fresh but also encourages team building.
    • Providing team members with quiet time. Interruption after interruption punctuates the day-to-day work. Whether interruptions come in the form of outside phone calls, social media, Slack, or email, the costs of constant interruptions are high. Giving team members a ½-day of quiet, focused work time per week will greatly improve productivity. This allows your team to get work done, either in the performance of daily tasks to free up time for the quarterly objectives or establishing the quiet time to work on the quarterly priorities themselves.
    • Providing guidelines for following the process of priorities as well as the level of review and oversight team members should expect. Whether you are using EOS (Entrepreneur Operating System), SMART goals, or other management tools, make sure your team knows the expectations and the timeline for performing them. Transparency and clarity will motivate them along the way.
    • Keeping an Idea Register with SWAG (“Sophisticated Wild @SS Guesses,” for those of you who are not familiar with the term) estimates of time to complete each task. A Micro-project may be <10 hours and could easily fit into the schedule, whereas a macro project >250 hours generally requires coordinated efforts between departments, higher approval, and a full evaluation of cost/benefit, etc. The idea register keeps visibility on great ideas as they pop up and provides the ability to review the ideas as departmental and company objectives are set.

Since you mentioned the need to follow budget constraints, another option to justify the cost of outside help could come from a good cost/benefit analysis. I recently justified the benefit of a temp because the work she picked up would free my controller and that would take work off my plate (and I am an hourly CFO).

via Burst

It’s certainly possible to get more done at work and to motivate your team with strategic planning and by fostering engagement. Remember, cracking the whip and pushing your team to accomplish more and more, without transparency or buy-in, becomes demotivating. Get everyone on the same page.

Accomplishing company (and department) priorities requires inter-departmental cooperation, great leadership, appropriate delegation, and independence…along with good processes to manage the projects. If you have been providing good leadership to your department and you have an engaged team, I am sure that you can accomplish both the company goals as well as the departmental.

Featured image and post images licensed via Burst.