Posts in category: Management Tips

A graduate in academic gear and mortarboard

Management Tips for better Performance

30.05.2014

May, 2014

Good news!

goodmeetings.com is now able to offer to our readers a preselected choice of

Management Tips of the Day -

practical management advice from Harvard Business Review and other sources, such as blog posts, books and newsletters.

Valuable information is to be gleaned on a regular basis in a language easy to digest!

The preambles republished on this site are distillations of articles.

No changes have been made to the original wording by goodmeetings.com

Each read-more link leads to the respective article. To enjoy all contributions in full length, please register on the host site https://email.hbr.org/preference-center and select “Management Tips of the Day”. Signing up is free of charge. Via the same link, the entire range of topics directly from the source is available as well. Header photo courtesy of Harvard Business School Publishing.

Two Ways to Leave Work Stress Behind

After a long day, it can be a struggle to leave work behind you. Too often, we take out job-related stress on our friends, children, or partners. Here are two ways to make sure your work troubles stay at the office:

Have an end-of-work habit. Signal to your brain that it’s time to go home with a ritual that helps you unwind. Take a more scenic route home, listen to music on the bus, go to the gym. Make time for this habit so you can switch gears before you get home, not as you’re walking in the door.

Create a third space. It’s easy to just shuttle back and forth — physically and emotionally — between work and home. But having a third space besides these two locations will help you decompress. It might be anything from a quiet café to a book club to a poker night. It should be a place where you explore your interests, relax, and ideally find fulfillment.

Adapted from “Don’t Take Work Stress Home with You”, by Jackie and John Coleman

 

Assess New Hires for Creativity

To build a team of creative thinkers, you need to hire people who are open to new experiences and have resilience, emotional stability, flexibility, and empathy. During interviews with potential hires, ask questions that test for these traits. For example, you might ask the candidate to come up with multiple solutions to a problem, and then see if they are able to draw connections between those solutions to find a novel approach. If you want to test a candidate’s ability for empathy, ask them to create a persona for a new product, or have them tell a story about a day in the life of a potential customer to see whether they can take on someone else’s perspective. These exercises give you valuable clues as to how well the applicant can connect with others both emotionally and intellectually.

Adapted from “A Data-Driven Approach to Group Creativity”, by Bastian Bergmann and Joe Schaeppi

 

Don’t Let Important Customers Pressure You into Giving Them a Discount

When a customer knows that you can’t afford to lose them, they’ll often try everything in their power to wring out cost savings. But don’t give into the pressure to give them a discount. Change the tenor of the conversation by focusing on the value you create for them. Ask which features or services they’d be willing to give up to get a lower price. Doing so will move the conversation away from haggling and toward a productive discussion about what they really value. And don’t get rattled if your customer goes quiet, stops returning phone calls, and ignores you. Remember, you are their preferred supplier for a reason, and there will likely be substantial switching costs if they want to change vendors. Silence is a powerful negotiation tactic; don’t let it push you into giving a revenue-destroying discount.

Adapted from “Negotiating with Clients You can’t Afford to Lose” by Reed K. Holden.

 

In a Heated Negotiation, Use Facts, Not Threats

When it comes to negotiations, let’s face it: We don’t always act rationally. And quite often a seemingly friendly discussion can turn nasty. If you and your counterpart are not seeing eye to eye, don’t try to force the other person to take your point of view by threatening them. Instead, do everything you can to share your understanding of the situation without implying that you have malicious intent. Try to frame implications as natural consequences, not calculated revenge. Rather than saying, “Cross the non-compete one inch and we’ll sue you,” say, “I want to be clear that I have an obligation to protect the firm’s interests.” You don’t need to apologize for protecting your interests, but don’t relish your power to do so. And always press for dialogue, not concession. As you share any potential natural consequences, reassure your counterpart of your wish to avoid those consequences and your willingness to continue the dialogue in search of better mutual outcomes.

Adapted from “How To Deal with the Irrational Parts of a Negotiation”, by Joseph Grenny.

 

Make Sure Your Next Big Meeting Actually Accomplishes Something

How many times have you walked out of a theoretically important meeting and thought, “What did we accomplish?” More often than not, the problem isn’t with what did or didn’t happen at the meeting — nothing got done because the meeting’s goals were never firmly established. Whether it’s a 15-person executive team meeting or a 150-person leadership conference, the first step when planning an important meeting should be to draft an initial set of goals based on the answers to these two questions:

  • What do you want to have debated, decided, or discovered at the end of this session that you and the team haven’t already debated, decided, or discovered?
  • What do you want attendees to say when their team members ask, “What happened at the meeting?”

Answering both questions will give you a high-level understanding of what the meeting needs to accomplish.

Adapted from “If You Can’t Say What Your Meeting Will Accomplish, You Shouldn’t Have It” by Bob Frisch and Cary Greene.

Focus on What You Have in Common When Working Across Cultures

When working with a person from another culture, your instinct might be to try to identify cultural differences so that you can alter your own behavior to avoid any faux pas. But focusing on differences alone won’t help you build connections. To do that, you have to focus on similarities. Perhaps it’s a hobby you have in common, a shared love of football (European or American), or the fact that both of you are trying to Skype your families back home. You can discover these commonalities in conversation, through basic research, or simply by noticing the pictures and memorabilia on the person’s desk. The possibilities are endless. By focusing on similarities, you have the power to create connections and build relationships that either supersede cultural differences or make them irrelevant. Adapted from: “To Connect Cross Cultures, Find Out What You Have In Common”, by Andy Molinsky and Sujin Jang.

 

How to Fake the Confidence You Need

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and in over your head, the best way to power through is to pretend you’ve got the confidence you need to get something done. These strategies can help you fake it ‘til you make it:

  • Think positively. The more you focus on what’s scary about the challenge, the more intimidated you’ll feel. Try framing your new team, project, or initiative not as a threat but as an opportunity to do something new.
  • Watch and learn. Observe how others lead. Pay attention to how they use humor, silence, and charisma to influence others — then tailor those tactics to your individual style.
  • Use bold body language. Take long strides. Sit up straight. Walk with your chest held high. Don’t slouch. Carrying yourself in a way that conveys power, poise, and healthy pride helps you feel more self-assured, which comes across to others.

Adapted from “How to Take it When You’re not Feeling confident”, by Rebecca Knight.

 

Avoid Fighting With Your Spouse When You Get Home From Work

The most challenging part of the day can be when you arrive home and inadvertently get into a fight with your spouse. It happens because we often forget our interpersonal skills as soon as we walk through the door. We tend to think we can just “be ourselves” without worrying about how we’ll be perceived or the impact on our partners. But people skills are just as necessary at home as they are at work. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful for couples to expect that they’ll automatically be in sync when they arrive home; different needs, different recovery times, and different experiences during the day make it more likely that you’ll be out of sync. That’s why it’s important to identify your needs as individuals and talk about them as a couple — but don’t do it right when you get home. Set aside some time to talk when you’re both feeling more relaxed.

Adapted from “How to Not Fight with Your Spouse When You get Home from Work” by Ed Batista.

The Best Leaders Question Everything

It can be difficult for leaders (especially senior ones new to their roles) to pause before acting. But when was the last time you stopped to ask, “Why are we doing it that way?” Leaders must constantly explore new ideas and seek out new thinking from those around them. You need to regularly ask uncomfortable questions and think about whether to change or abandon an existing strategy. The best leaders step back and look at the big picture every so often. They surround themselves with diverse teams and capitalize on opportunities to hear and experiment with new ideas. They give themselves time to surface divergent opinions that ultimately lead to smarter business decisions. Adapted from “When Was the Last Time You Asked ‘Why Are We Doing It This Way?’ by Hal Gregersen.

How to Think About Organizational Culture

Organizational culture shapes both employee productivity and business results, but often it is ambiguous and hard to define. To help, think of culture as three layers with increasing levels of importance: Culture is seen through symbols, rituals, stories, and organizational events — the first things we experience when we join an organization. Culture is reflected in how people in the organization think, behave, and feel — in other words, it appears in individual values, team norms, and unwritten rules. Culture is the company’s identity as perceived by its best customers, representing an outside-in view. For example, Apple wants to be known for its design and simplicity; Marriott, for exceptional service; Google, for innovation. By shifting the focus on culture from symbols (#1) and values (#2) to customer expectations and company identity (#3), leaders can better create and define a culture that wins in the marketplace.

Adapted from “Your Company Culture Can’t Be Disconnected from Your Customers,” by Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank.

 

Managing the Naysayer on Your Team

Most teams have at least one “opposer” — that person who always plays the devil’s advocate. The opposer may be brilliant and driven, but their pattern of critiquing and disagreeing can wear a team down. And yet opposition is essential for effective, productive teams. So what can a manager do to welcome a naysayer’s contributions without personalizing what feels like an attack? First, understand that these people almost never have bad intentions — they are usually trying very hard to do something they see as valuable and crucial for the good of the team. Encourage everyone on the team to share an opposing view to normalize and operationalize dissenting opinions. Then really listen to, consider, and evaluate the ideas. And ask everyone to articulate when they are in agreement so their comments will be seen as balanced. Ultimately, you should try to see opposing views as a sign of team health. Adapted from “How to Handle the Naysayer on Your Team,” by Jennifer Porter.

What to Consider Before Joining a Startup

When deciding whether or not to join a startup, there’s a tendency to fantasize about the opportunity and obsess about the risk—neither of which are productive. To determine if you’re ready to take the leap, follow these steps. First, reflect on your motivations. Thinking about what you hope to get out of the experience will help you identify the right opportunity. Second, get to know the team by spending a few days onsite observing how work gets done. If possible, do a side project with the company. Next, do due diligence on the company’s financials. Find out: Is this company pre- or post-revenue? What is its burn rate? Block out the possibility that this startup is your ticket to fabulous wealth. Assume the equity is worth nothing. Finally, weigh the opportunity against all other possible uses of your time. Joining a startup is not just a job. It’s a lifestyle.

Adapted from “How to Know If Joining a Startup Is Right for You,” by Rebecca Knight

Keep Your Team from Burning Out

It’s tough enough to manage your own stress. But how can you help the members of your team handle their feelings of stress, burnout, or disengagement? One approach is to focus on your employees’ personal growth and development. Offer tools like mindfulness and resilience training. Encourage people to take time for exercise or other renewal activities, such as walking meetings. Build buffer time into deliverables schedules so that people can work flexibly and at a manageable pace. Encourage mono-tasking by defining milestones that don’t overlap, and avoid the trap of mistaking the urgent for the important. Allow time and space for people to disconnect outside of work, and be deliberate about helping people pause and recharge during down cycles. Finally, it doesn’t cost anything to be kind. Doing well at work and encouraging people to feel well isn’t just possible — it’s the foundation of a high-performance team. Adapted from “Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout,” by Rich Fernandez

Make Learning a Habit

If you want to keep growing, you need to make learning a habit. To get started, be specific about what you’re asking yourself to do. Resolutions like “read more” or “learn new things” are too vague. Your goals need to be concrete and measurable: “Spend two hours every Thursday afternoon reading all the articles I saved during the week.” Schedule the time on your calendar, and resist the temptation to do other work during that window. Monitor your behavior closely to push yourself in the right direction. If you know that some of your coworkers make on-the-job learning a habit, go out of your way to spend time with them. Studies show that we tend to pick up habits from the people around us. And the most important thing to remember? We must shape our habits to suit ourselves — our own nature, our own interests, our own strengths. When we understand ourselves, we can apply habit-forming strategies with the greatest chance of success.

Adapted from “How to Make Learning More Automatic,” by Gretchen Rubin.

Your Next Presentation Needs a Villain and a Hero

Make your next presentation more compelling by focusing on its three main actors: the villain, the victim, and the hero. In software, the villain might be slow or unreliable programs, the victims are frustrated users, and the hero is new or updated technology that works correctly and efficiently. In manufacturing, the villain might be expensive or defective products, the victims are the consumers paying for them, and the hero is safe merchandise that performs as promised. When you’re telling a story, paint a colorful picture of your customers’ difficulties while displaying ample sympathy for their plight. If you depict the consumer’s predicament in gritty, sympathetic terms, then the “virtue” of your company should resonate with customers, colleagues, and media alike.

Adapted from “For Better Presentations, Start with a Villain”, by Greg Stone.

 

Turn Conference Introductions into Ongoing

Connections

After your next conference, social media tools can help you follow up with the people you really want to make a part of your professional network. Try these strategies:

  • Install a business-card-processing app on your smartphone that can scan cards with a camera and convert them to contact information.
  • If you meet someone and hit it off, connect right away. Send your pal a tweet from your smartphone right then and there.
  • At the end of each trip, make a “keeper” pile of business cards for people you want to stay in touch with, then use your business card app to capture them.
  • Use your business card app’s social networking function to send each person a LinkedIn connection invitation.
  • Send your “keepers” a personal e-mail saying how much you enjoyed meeting them and suggesting when or how
  • you’ll follow up.

Adapted from “What to Do with All the Business Cards from Your Last Conference”, by Alexandra Samuel  

Use Conferences to Inspire, not Stress Yourself Out

Going to conferences can be a terrific perk, but it can make you feel that you have to prove your attendance was worth the time and money. Some people try to bring back as much knowledge and as many contacts as possible; others spend hours writing up a conference report for their boss and colleagues. But if you’re too focused on proving the conference was a good investment, you may forget to make the most of it in the first place. So instead of trying to be a “super attender,” simply focus on learning something new and meeting a few people you wouldn’t have otherwise. The point of getting out of the office is to recharge your batteries. Use your time to explore things that excite you and to attend the panels and talks that you’re interested in — even if they aren’t necessarily the ones you “should” attend.

Adapted from “It’s OK If Going to a Conference Doesn’t Feel Like Real Work,” by Karen Dillon

Ease the Transition for an Employee You’re Letting Go

All companies need different kinds of talent at different points in their life cycles. Sometimes you have to part ways with collegial, talented employees who just aren’t the right fit anymore. Here’s how to help ease their transition out of your organization:

  • Don’t wait to say what isn’t working. When you have to give someone negative feedback, ask them if they see the same performance gaps that you see. Be respectful and compassionate, and get them talking so they don’t shut down.
  • Once you decide someone isn’t a long-term fit, tell them. Don’t fire them on the spot; give them as much time as possible to figure out their next move. Help them think through their strengths and where they might go from here.
  • Don’t forget the survivors. After helping the employee exit with grace, focus on your remaining team. Be clear about what’s happening, and spell out what success looks like going forward.

Adapted from “Letting Good People Go When It’s Time,” by Pat Wadors

Learn How to Manage Your Inner Critic

Self-doubt can have a tremendous negative impact. If you’re hampered by a harsh inner critic, you’re likely to talk yourself out of sharing your ideas and insights, which hurts you, your team, and the company. One of the most powerful ways you can deal with your inner critic is to develop a toolkit for managing self-doubt. To start, first understand that your inner critic isn’t driven by logic, so arguing with it is a waste of time. Instead of arguing, ask yourself where the self-criticism is coming from. Inner critics often stem from inflated fears about vulnerability and failure. Then learn to manage the inner critic. Notice when you hear the voice and what it’s criticizing. Are there certain situations or issues that trigger it? Remind yourself that what you’re hearing is unfounded criticism — then decide that you simply won’t take direction from it.

Adapted from “Helping an Employee Overcome Their Self-Doubt,” by Tara Mohr

Ease the Transition to Managing Former Peers

Being promoted into a manager position is exciting, but it can be awkward if your new team is made up of your former peers. When you’re promoted over people who have always been friends (or rivals), the power relationship is inevitably altered. Here’s how to ease the transition:

  • Meet with each team member one-on-one. Individual meetings let you personalize your message and be more candid than a group setting allows. Talk to each person about what they do and how you can help them.
  • Hold a team meeting. Using some ideas from the one-on-ones, discuss the purpose of the team, what should change, and what should stay the same. Explain how you like to operate and how you want your team to work together.
  • Deal swiftly with challenges to your authority. If someone resists your leadership or goes behind your back, state your displeasure firmly and ask what’s causing their dissent.

Adapted from “What to Do First When Managing Former Peers,” by Liane Davey

Stop Good Ideas from Going Nowhere

Anyone who’s worked inside a large company can name a few reasons why good ideas die: conflict with existing businesses, naysayers, insufficient resources, and so on. Yet when companies decide to “get more innovative,” they typically forget to address the things that kill promising ideas. Here’s how to change that:

  • Start with a survey. Ask your innovation MVPs about the company dynamics that strangle new ideas — then take action on their answers.
  • Get external validation. Selling an idea is easier when customers know about it and can express their desire for it.
  • Invest real money. Ideas can’t succeed unless companies allocate sufficient resources for them to do so.
  • Reward decision makers who back winning ideas. But make sure that backing losing ones isn’t a career-ending move.
  • Think weekly, not quarterly. Moving slowly kills ideas and demoralizes investors. Looks for ways to speed up the building process.

Adapted from “6 Ways to Keep Good Ideas from Dying at Your Company,” by Scott Kirsner

Change How You Think About Presentations

Many of us have to give presentations, and many of us feel anxious or stressed in the days leading up to them. Shifting the way you think about your presentation can help you feel less stressed about it. Here are some ways to change your mind-set:
  • Bless, don’t impress. Instead of worrying what people will think of you, focus on what they’ll get out of your talk.
  • Rehearse, but don’t obsess. Practice three times: Once you’ve prepared the talk, the day before you give it, and a few hours before you go on.
  • Create rest stops. Presenting for 180 minutes is a huge task. Think of your talk as a series of 10-minute chunks instead.
  • Breathe. There’s nothing innately stressful about presenting – the stress comes from us. Breathe deeply and slowly and use a power pose to calm your last-minute jitters.

Adapted from “6 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Presenting,” by Joseph Grenny.

 

Micromanagement Limits Your Team’s Growth

If you’re a micromanager, you need to change your ways. You may think you just like being kept in the loop, but micromanaging hurts morale, establishes a tone of mistrust, and limits your team’s growth. Here’s how to break the habit:
  • Understand why you do it. Micromanaging often comes from a place of insecurity. To help, think about the reasons you shouldn’t micromanage instead.
  • Prioritize what actually matters. Determine which tasks truly need to be done by you. The real work of leaders is to think strategically, not to do their team’s jobs for them.
  • Talk to your team. Be clear about when you want updates on their work, so they can help ease your anxiety. Ask them how you can change your behavior to better support them.
  • Step back slowly. Tell your employees you trust them to make decisions. And try not to overreact when things don’t go exactly as you’d like.

Adapted from “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team,” by Rebecca Knight.

Don’t Be Afraid of Managing People Who Are Smarter Than You

The best managers hire smart people to work for them. But what if your direct reports are smarter than you? How do you manage people who have more experience or knowledge?
  • Consider whether your fears are based in reality. Insecurity can affect your interactions with your team, so don’t ignore feelings of self-doubt.
  • Reach out to other managers for advice. Share your concerns and ask how they’ve handled similar situations.
  • Give, and take, feedback. Don’t try to evaluate your direct reports on areas where you have no knowledge – stick to areas where you have authority. And tell your employees that you’re comfortable receiving feedback from them.
  • Empower your employees. Use your skills to support them in their goals, and give them room to do what they do best.
  • Project confidence, but not too much. Be calm, respectful, and take yourself and others seriously.

Adapted from “How to Manage People Who Are Smarter than You,” by Rebecca Knight.

Two Ways to Grow at Work Without a Promotion

If you’re feeling stalled in your career but a promotion isn’t on the table, you can find other ways to grow. Lateral moves within your organization, for example, can be a great way to build new skills and relationships and get exposure to different products or services. You can explore new internal opportunities by conducting internal informational interviews with leaders of other divisions, taking on assignments involving other business units, or volunteering to move to a staff function that transcends units, such as finance, HR, or operations. You can also reshape your role as a way to grow without a formal promotion. Consider what’s on your supervisor’s plate (Does she have responsibilities you’re willing to take on?) and what’s been said in employee and customer surveys (Are there needs the organization isn’t meeting that you have the skills to respond to?) to find opportunities.
Adapted from “You Don’t Need a Promotion to Grow at Work,” by Jordan Stark and Katie Smith Milway.

Beware of Humblebragging About Yourself

 We all want to make a good impression on other people, whether it’s during a job interview, a meeting with a new client, or a first date. But our intuition about what creates a positive impression is often wrong. For example, “humblebragging” is a common way to respond to interview questions such as “What’s your greatest weakness?” (“I’m bad at saying no, so I end up helping other people too often.”) But researchers have found that humblebraggers are viewed as less likeable than people who straightforwardly brag or even people who complain. When someone humblebrags, he sounds inauthentic, like he’s saying something strategic instead of something honest. We evaluate other people more positively when they try to be themselves, so the best strategy is just to be honest about yourself – even if what you’re being honest about is how great you are.
Adapted from “The Right Way to Brag About Yourself,” by Francesca Gino.

Influence Others Even If You’re Not an Expert

One of the most powerful forms of influence is authority, especially when it comes from your expertise. If you have 20 years of experience or you write for a certain publication, you have an increased ability to influence others. But how do you influence people if you don’t have those credentials? The first step is to borrow others’ expertise. If you’re a thoughtful curator of the best ideas in your field, people will turn to you for guidance. Another technique is to find commonalities with your audience. Having something in common can create a powerful psychological bond. It’s also important to be strategic with your persuasion. If you can’t directly contact the person you’re trying to influence, try talking to someone close to them instead. Finally, create original content. Choose a platform that makes sense for you, then share about the issues in your field to build your reputation.

Make Networking Events Easier

The benefits of networking—meeting new people and learning interesting new ideas—are invaluable. But if you, like many others, hate having to initiate awkward conversations with strangers, find an approach that makes you comfortable. Try:
  • Bringing a friend. When you have a “wingman” to help highlight your accomplishments at events, it can give you the confidence you need to approach others. Just avoid spending the entire evening talking to that person
  • Preparing a few opening lines. Develop a few questions to help you kickstart a dialogue. What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now? How do you spend most of your time? How did you hear about the event?
  • Researching in advance. It’s easier to talk to someone if they don’t feel like a stranger. Looking up speakers and attendees ahead of time will help you come up with topics of conversation.

Adapted from “Networking When You Hate Talking to Strangers,” by Dorie Clark.

Avoid the Pitfalls of Emotions in Email

We all struggle with how to communicate emotion over email. Without normal cues like tone of voice or facial expressions, miscommunication can happen easily. These recommendations can help:
  • People overestimate their ability to convey emotions in email. The simplest way to avoid confusion is to explicitly state the emotion you want to relay. For example, “I’m very happy with this…” or “I’m confused…”
  • People also read and interpret emotions differently. Prevent misunderstandings by imagining how your email will sound to the recipient.
  • We tend to trust those who act like us. Mimicking the style of the person you’re emailing, whether through emoticons, exclamation points, or slang, can help you come across the way you intend.
  • It’s easy to appear fake or ungenuine over email. Sometimes, making an intentional typo can help you seem warmer and more authentic, especially when you’re in a position of power.

Adapted from “The Dos and Don’ts of Work Email, from Emojis to Typos,” by Andrew Brodsky.

Make Public Speaking Less Scary

Public speaking is scary: it’s a chance to mess up in front of other people, and the stress can trigger an evolutionary fight-or-flee reaction. But there are ways to conquer your nerves. Before your next big presentation:
  • Prepare thoroughly. Research your topic, anticipate tough questions, and practice your delivery.
  • Imagine giving the presentation. How will it feel? How will you begin? What will the audience look like?
  • Stay calm and loose. In most cases, people can’t tell that you’re nervous. If you stumble, act as though it didn’t happen.
  • Get used to looking at blank faces. When you’re talking to someone one-on-one, they give physical and verbal cues that they’re listening. Groups of people don’t always do that.
  • Get comfortable with uncertainty. At a certain point you have to trust that you’ve done all you can to prepare. Remember: the likelihood that your worst fears will come true is slim.

Adapted from “Conquer Your Nerves Before Your Presentation,” by Nancy Duarte.

Get the Credit You Deserve

There’s nothing more infuriating than when someone takes credit for your work or introduces your idea in a meeting. But it’s important to avoid making a scene. Not every piece of work has to have your name on it. Ask yourself: How much does this really matter? Will it negatively impact my career? And instead of making accusations, ask your colleague why he took ownership. Maybe the person will acknowledge his mistake and make things right by emailing the group to give you credit. But if you feel like you’re being systematically undermined, talk to your boss. Rather than complaining, frame it as an effort to create a better working relationship. And next time, be proactive. Lay out who will present ideas to coworkers, who will field questions, and who will email the senior team. Clearly outlining your duties will make sure you get the credit you deserve.

Know When It’s Time to Start Looking for a New Job

 We’re wired to avoid change — even when we are unhappy. That’s why it’s so difficult to leave a job, no matter how uninspiring or monotonous it may be. But sometimes a career switch is in your best interest. A few key signs can help you decide to make a move:

  • You’re not learning. Studies have shown that the happiest progression to old age involves work that stimulates the mind into continuous learning.
  • You’re underperforming. If you could do your job in your sleep, you’re almost certainly underperforming. Sooner or later, this will harm your résumé and employability. You’re better off finding a job that entices you to perform at your highest level.
  • You feel undervalued. You won’t enjoy your work unless you feel appreciated, especially by your manager. And feeling undervalued makes you more likely to burn out and engage in counterproductive work behaviors, like absenteeism and sabotage.

Adapted from “5 Signs It’s Time for a New Job,” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

Meetings Need a Clear Decision-Making Process

 The more prep you do before a meeting, the more productive it will be. That’s why we’re careful to identify a meeting’s purpose (do you need to make a decision, solve a problem, rally the troops, etc.), create an agenda, and invite the right people. But there’s another important step that many forget: identifying the decision-making process. Choosing a method ahead of time helps ensure that you leave with a clear outcome. Here are some options:

  • A majority vote lets every voice be heard, though some people might not be comfortable declaring their opinion publicly.
  • Group consensus allows participants to share their expertise and enhances the chance for buy-in from all parties.
  • Leader’s choice is usually the fastest approach, so you’d opt for this during appropriate in a crisis, for example. But you may need to work harder to get skeptics on board.

Adapted from “A Checklist for Planning Your Next Big Meeting,” by Harvard Business Review Staff.

Follow the 8-18-1800 Rule for Meetings

For a meeting to be useful, you have to have the right people – and only the right people – in the room. With too many attendees, you’ll have trouble focusing everyone’s time and attention and accomplishing anything; with too few, you might not have the right decision makers or stakeholders in the room. Before your next meeting, think about the 8-18-1800 rule:

  • If you want to solve a problem or make a decision, invite no more than 8 people.
  • If you want to brainstorm, you can go up to 18 people.
  • If the purpose of the meeting is for you to provide updates, invite however many people need to hear those updates. But if everyone will be giving updates, limit the number of participants to no more than 18.
  • If the purpose of the meeting is for you to rally the troops, go for 1,800 – or more.
Adapted from “How to Know If There Are Too Many People in Your Meeting,” by Harvard Business Review Staff.

Be a Less Autocratic Leader

Trying to lead a seasoned, highly skilled team through command-and-control won’t work. These groups need leaders who are emotionally and intellectually agile, and able to modulate styles as needed. To be less autocratic, try shifting:

  • From self-awareness to social awareness. It’s not enough to know your own strengths and weaknesses. You have to know how your behavior affects people. Ask: What is the impact of your management style on others? How do you know what others are feeling?
  • From directive to inquisitive. When you’re trying to foster creativity, you need to be less declarative and more curious. Ask: How much time do you spend listening rather than speaking? How do you leverage diverse perspectives?
  • From power over to power with. When you flaunt authority, people will often shut down or hide, and the team loses momentum. Ask: How do you stimulate the best thinking from your team? How often do team members make decisions?

Adapted from “Learn to Become a Less Autocratic Manager,” by Jeffrey W. Hull.

Get Better at Remembering People’s Names

It’s a problem many of us have experienced: You meet someone new and two seconds later you can’t remember his or her name. This is hugely important in building business connections, so here are a few tips:

  • Get it right the first time. If you’re introduced to someone and don’t catch her name right away, ask her to say it again. If it’s a name you don’t recognize, ask about its origin or how it’s spelled.
  • Use it right away. “It’s nice to meet you, John.” Don’t overdo it, but try to work the name into the conversation a few times as you start talking.
  • Ask for a business card. Don’t just stick it in your pocket. Take a look at it and comment on the logo or something else while you focus on the name.
  • Connect the name to something familiar. This will help you remember it later.

Adapted from “How to Remember a Name,” by Diane Darling.

Turn Your Business Case into a Compelling Story

The business cases that win funding tell compelling and memorable stories. That’s the best way to capture decision makers’ imaginations and make your idea stand out. Think of your business case as a concise adventure novel, with your company as the protagonist. The narrative involves your company solving a business need or seizing an opportunity by acting on your idea. To build that story, first identify the strategic need or opportunity you want to address. Then map out how your idea supports that important strategic or organizational objective. Once you’ve done your homework, you can outline your project approach and explain how your idea will be implemented. Finally, describe the benefits your project will deliver if it’s funded. Avoid vague goals like “improve customer satisfaction,” “cut costs,” or “drive sales.” Get specific: “We’ll reduce product returns by 10%, saving $300,000.”

Know When It’s Time to Kill a Project

Zombie projects are the ones that fail to fulfill their promise and yet keep shuffling along, sucking up resources. They happen because shutting a project down can be very emotional, and people often struggle to acknowledge when something just doesn’t work. To make people view the process more rationally, create clear and simple guidelines for when to continue — or kill — a project. Consider these questions: Is there a real market need? Can we fulfill that need better than competitors? Can we meet our financial objectives? If it’s still hard to make a final decision, bring in objective outsiders, such as someone from a different division or even outside the company, to weigh in. You can also help people accept a project’s conclusion by emphasizing what was learned along the way. Hold action-after reviews to capture lessons learned, and create a database to store and share them.

Adapted from “Zombie Projects: How to Find Them and Kill Them,” by Scott Anthony, David Duncan, and Pontus M.A. Siren.

Use the Right Pronouns When Trying to Calm Your Nerves

When you’re dealing with a difficult or stressful task, the way you silently talk to yourself can make a difference on the outcome. Researchers found that when people reflected on intense emotional experiences using their names and non-first-person pronouns (e.g., “you,” “he,” “she”), they were more able to control their feelings and behaviors. People who silently referred to themselves in the second or third person or used their own names while preparing for a five-minute speech were calmer and more confident and performed better on the task than those who referred to themselves using “I” or “me.” They also felt better about their performance once it was over: they experienced less shame and ruminated about it less. Next time you’re trying to psyche yourself up for a presentation or negotiation, substitute “you” or your name for “I.” The results may surprise you.
Adapted from “Pronouns Matter when Psyching Yourself Up” by Ozlem Ayduk and Ethan Kross.

Don’t Let Searching for More Evidence Delay a Decision

Something that often gets in the way of our ability to focus at work is our tendency to keep gathering information long after we have enough to make a decision. How can we avoid this “analysis paralysis” and learn when to stop collecting more information? The best approach is to develop your hypothesis or argument early on, so that your search is focused on supporting or refuting it. If that doesn’t work, give yourself a deadline. For example, when working with collaborators, aim to have something to send them by the end of the day. This helps avoid an open-ended search process. It’s tempting to seek evidence to support every argument, but don’t be afraid to bring your intuition to the table. And find time for reflection. Create breaks in the day – maybe during a commute or while exercising – so you can make sense of all the information you have.
Adapted from “Manage Your Team’s Attention” by Julian Birkinshaw.

Let Your Employees Nap at 3 PM

If you want to maximize your employees’ performance, consider circadian rhythms when setting assignments, deadlines, and expectations. The most important tasks should be done when people are at their peaks in alertness (around noon and 6 PM). The least important should be scheduled for when alertness dips (very early in the workday and around 3 PM). But we often flood employees with low-level tasks (e.g., emailing) in the morning, so they can only get to important tasks later in the afternoon, when they have to power through to meet an end-of-day deadline. Instead, consider letting your team schedule naps around 3 PM. Naps can be a good way to regulate energy and increase alertness, and evidence even links them to increased performance. This way, employees can recharge at a time when they’re less useful for important tasks anyway, and they’ll be more alert during the next high point in their circadian rhythms.
Adapted from “The Ideal Work Schedule, as Determined by Circadian Rhythms” by Christopher M. Barnes.

Keep Checking In on Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence can be strengthened over time with commitment and discipline. But those who most need to develop it often realize that too late. So here are some telltale signs that you need to work on your emotional intelligence:

  • You get impatient and frustrated when you think that others don’t get to the point soon enough.
  • You’re surprised when others are sensitive to your comments or jokes, and you think they’re overreacting.
  • You think being liked at work is overrated.
  • You weigh in early with your opinions and stand behind them no matter what.
  • You hold others to the same high expectations you hold for yourself.
  • You find others are to blame for most of the issues on your team.
  • You find it annoying when others expect you to know how they feel.

Adapted from “Signs That You Lack Emotional Intelligence” by Muriel Maignan Wilkins.

Apologize Quickly If You Send an Embarrassing Email

Most people have made the mistake of hitting “reply all” on a private email or sending an insensitive message to the wrong person. After the panic sets in, you need to own the mistake. Approach the offended colleague quickly and apologize: “I’m sorry I did it and even more sorry that I hurt/showed disrespect for you.” Seek forgiveness: “I wrote without thinking, and if I could take it back I would. I can only ask you to forgive me.” Avoid insincere language like: “mistakes were made” or “I’m sorry if you were offended.” Apologize in person or by phone – you don’t want to risk getting it wrong again via email. And as awful as it feels having to make an apology, recognize that you may have done real damage. You might need to take additional steps to show that you actually care about the issue and are taking it seriously.
Adapted from “When a Private Message Ends Up in the Wrong Place” by Karen Dillon.

Befriend Your Boss Without Causing Resentment

Being friends with your boss can be complicated. If you genuinely like each other and want to have a social bond, a friendship is worth cultivating, as it would be with any coworker. But don’t make a special effort beyond what you’d do with any other colleague. If the boss/friend line is too blurry, articulate where you stand in the moment: “I’m speaking as your friend here…” or “As your employee, I’m telling you…” And you don’t want others to think you’re getting special treatment, so take time to consider the decisions your boss is making. Are you getting all the good assignments and easy trips? Ask trusted coworkers if your relationship is a problem for others. If it does seem to be causing resentment, talk with your boss. You might say, “I really appreciate you’ve given me some of the softball assignments, but I’m concerned my colleagues might perceive this as favoritism.”
Adapted from “Can You Be Friends With Your Boss?” by Karen Dillon.

To Get Candid Feedback, Ask for It

Getting honest, useful feedback is the fastest route to better performance. But people are sometimes too nice to share the full picture or too intimidated to be fully truthful. You need to be clear that you want honest feedback. If you say, “Don’t be nice, be helpful,” people will be less likely to hold back. Instead of asking what you did wrong, ask what you can do better going forward. Try not to judge any feedback you receive, whether it’s positive or negative. Just thank people for being honest with you and let them know that you find their observations and opinions helpful. Try to write down what they say. A little silence communicates that you’re taking feedback seriously, and it gives people time to think about what else they might add. And don’t just ask once. Give people multiple opportunities to give you real feedback.
Adapted from “How to Ask for Feedback That Will Actually Help You” by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg and Peter Bregman.

Add Social Fluency to Your Leadership Skills

Leaders are increasingly expected to have a strong social media presence. Yet many still view social media as a broadcast channel, not as a way to connect. To become a truly social leader, start using it to listen to your customers. Social monitoring and engaging with followers is the best way to collect real-time market intelligence. Focus on connecting instead of promoting. You want to be spreading the good word about your company while also interacting with others and answering questions from concerned stakeholders. So put down the digital megaphone and think about building relationships. You’re also building your personal brand whenever you engage on social media, and, as the company’s number one brand ambassador, you can also improve the company’s image. Be authentic and generous.
Adapted from “The 7 Attributes of CEOs Who Get Social Media” by Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt.

Make Good Writing a Part of Your Skill Set

Good writers distinguish themselves at work. We write all the time – proposals to clients, memos to leaders, emails to colleagues – but we often don’t think about improving our writing. To communicate effectively and win business, learn to write simply, clearly, and precisely. The mistake many people make is writing prematurely. They work out thoughts as they’re writing, which makes their argument meandering and repetitive. Ask yourself: What should my audience know after reading this? Make your point up front, and don’t use three words when one would do. For example, there’s no need to say “general consensus of opinion,” when “consensus” works. Similarly, avoid jargon. If you rely on $10 words too much, readers will think you’re on autopilot or don’t know what you’re saying. Avoid terms like “actionable,” “core competency,” “impactful,” and “incentivize.” And don’t be afraid to ask someone for feedback.
Adapted from “How to Improve Your Business Writing” by Carolyn O’Hara.

Are You Sure You’re Not a Micromanager?

If you’re like most micromanagers, you don’t even realize what you’re doing. Some signs should make it clear: You’re never satisfied with deliverables. You get frustrated when you would’ve done something differently. You laser in on details and take pride in making corrections. You want to be Cc’d on emails. But while you need to make sure work gets done, you don’t have to drill down on the details all the time. That only hurts your team’s morale and productivity. To stop micromanaging, start letting go of the minutiae. This can be hard, but the key is to do it a little at a time. Articulate what you want the final outcome to be, but don’t give step-by-step instructions on how someone should get there. Focus on setting people up for success. Provide resources and support, and give credit where it’s due.
Adapted from “Signs That You’re a Micromanager” by Muriel Maignan Wilkins.

Greater Engagement Starts with Leaders

It’s important to cultivate a belief in the power of engagement across your entire company. And the first step is making engaging leadership part of your culture. To drive this, focus on four key steps. First, measure engagement levels through a survey. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Next, actively develop engaging leaders. Use workshops and coaching to help managers make engaging behaviors more habitual. Then, select engaging leaders to fill high-impact roles. Use tools like 360 reviews to assess and predict whether someone can improve his or her engagement skills. Finally, reward the engagement you achieve. Tying incentives to engagement survey scores can be tricky, but you need to get serious about recognizing leaders who are engaging – and holding accountable those who are not.
Adapted from “What Makes Someone an Engaging Leader” by Ken Oehler, Lorraine Stomski, and Magdalena Kustra-Olszewska.

Find Your Footing After a Bad Performance Review

It’s hard to pick yourself up after a bad performance review. But in order to move forward, you have to push past any anger and embarrassment and use the critical feedback to improve. Vent to someone who will be candid, not just consoling. Ask what might be right about the criticism, and think about whether you’ve heard it before. Ask colleagues for additional feedback. Once you’ve cooled off, make sure you fully understand the review. Go back to your boss with any questions (just check your tone). For example, if your boss said you don’t take enough risks, ask, “Can you give me an example of when I should have taken the initiative, but didn’t? What might you have done?” Come to an agreement with your manager on what changes to make. Experiment with doing some things differently and ask for another review to make sure you’re on track.

Use Your Commute to Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness, which is all about being in the present moment., can boost creativity, lower stress, and improve concentration. But people miss out because they think they’re too busy to meditate. Consider using your daily commute to practice mindfulness. When you get in the car, take a few deep breaths. Buckle up and become aware of your body. Feel your hands on the steering wheel and your foot on the pedal. As you drive, notice what you are looking at: the road, your windshield, your mirrors. Notice the sounds you hear. Avoid sinking into autopilot. This sounds basic, but concentrating isn’t easy. Our minds wander and we’re tempted to check our phones. Brush these distractions aside and focus on making the most of your time in the car, on a train, or however you travel. You’ll arrive at the office refreshed and ready for the day, and you’ll get home ready to enjoy the evening.
Adapted from “Your Car Commute Is a Chance to Practice Mindfulness” by Maria Gonzalez.

Have a Strategy for Speaking to a Small Audience

Presentations don’t always involve standing in front of an audience. Many meetings and pitches involve fewer than 10 people in a room where everyone stays seated while someone talks through a slide deck. But even when you’re sitting down, you need to be conscious of how you can deliver your best. You want to work from the same printed deck (with the same page numbers) as the audience. Make it easy for people to follow what you’re saying by guiding them to each page and using highlights or sticky notes to emphasize important sections. Don’t just read from your notes; make it conversational. You can stand for the formal portion of the pitch and then sit to field questions. And it helps to bring an item that everyone can look at together. For example, rather than printing a small map on each deck, unfold a large map for everyone to gather around.
Adapted from “How to Present to a Small Audience” by JD Schramm.

4 Ways to Improve Your Storytelling Skills

People are wired for good stories. If you can weave a compelling story into your presentation or meeting, your message will be more memorable. Hone your storytelling skills:

  • Parachute in. Avoid “Let me tell you a story about a time I learned…” Drop your audience immediately into the action and draw the lesson out later.
  • Follow the “Goldilocks” rule for details. Give too much detail and your audience is lost or bored; too little, and they lack enough context. Test your story with friends to find the right level of detail.
  • Focus on one person with one thought. Focus on one person at a time, for four to seven seconds, and try to connect with as many people as possible.
  • Use silence for impact. Silence draws emphasis to what was just said or what is about to come, and it allows others to contribute their own interpretations.

Adapted from “A Refresher on Storytelling 101” by JD Schramm.

Rebuild a Work Relationship That’s Gone Sour

If you haven’t been getting along with someone at work, there are ways you can repair the relationship. First, ask yourself what’s happening so you know what needs work. Are you having trouble communicating? Are you failing to see eye-to-eye on things? Give up being right, and resist your tendency to analyze every detail of what’s happened in your relationship. That’s not productive. Instead, look forward and reflect on what you want from the relationship. Try to see the other person’s perspective. When you’re ready to approach him, make it on neutral ground. Go out for lunch or coffee, rather than asking to meet at one of your desks. Don’t debate what went wrong or who is at fault. Focus on the bigger picture or a common goal you share. But don’t expect the relationship to change overnight; it takes time to reestablish trust and reciprocity.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cold-Email Powerful People

We’re often hesitant to reach out to senior leaders who are only an email away. But a concise email to the right person can open up new possibilities for learning and growth – it’s happened for many people. And besides, what’s the worst that could happen? So the next time you want to cold-email someone powerful, consider these tips:

  • Expect a 50–90% failure rate (i.e., no response) the first time you cold-email someone.
  • Emailing once every two days is politely persistent, but you should probably give up after three or four tries without a reply.
  • Weekends are often the best time to send busy executives a note, since they may have more time to read something.
  • Keeping your message short and to the point increases the chance it will actually get read – and you may even get a response.

Adapted from “Tips for Cold-Emailing Intimidatingly Powerful People” by Peter Sims. 

Turn Your Boring Q&A Session Around

A lot of Q&As fall flat. Not all speakers are good at handling questions, not everyone participates, and not all questions are relevant. Luckily, there are ways to make these sessions better:

  • Do an inverse Q&A. The speaker poses a question to the audience, letting people discuss it with their neighbors.
  • Ask for reactions, not just questions. Invite people to share observations.
  • Have people vet questions in groups. Ask people to think of good, relevant questions in small groups. Then ask for some examples.
  • Tell a final story after the Q&A. Stop the Q&A session a few minutes before the end to share one final example. That way, even if it falls flat, you can still end your session with a bang instead of a fizzle.

Adapted from “Four Ways to Fix the Q&A Session” by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. 

Don’t Let “Viral” Get in the Way of Good Marketing

Marketers make a lot of mistakes when trying to make their messages go viral. One of them is failing to develop relationships with the people who spread their content. For starters, you should stop applying passive descriptors like “audience,” “consumers,” or “targets,” and call the important people who share your content “multipliers.” Stop focusing on “viral” as the goal. It’s fleeting. Someone sees a shared video, watches part of it, and the marketer never figures out who he is. The relationship ends there. Instead, identify your multipliers. Get to know them. Encourage them to share often. You don’t need to offer financial rewards. Acknowledging them publicly, by featuring them on your website or responding to them on social, is often enough to generate engagement. Get their email addresses so you can deepen the relationship further with truly useful updates, offers, and calls to action.

Working Quickly Isn’t Always the Best Idea

We all know procrastination isn’t productive – but neither is “pre-crastination,” or trying to do something quickly just to be able to mark it complete. Many of us pre-crastinate because we’re constantly trying to check off tasks to free up our working memory. How often have you rushed to complete something, only to find that you need to go back and fix errors? Do you usually tackle easy stuff on your to-do list first, or do you dedicate your peak hours to your most meaningful assignment? Have you ever spent a whole day responding to emails, only to find it’s 5 PM and you haven’t done any real work? These tasks may feel productive in the short term, but rushing to complete something – anything – wastes time when you have to go back and revise and refine. Instead of being eager to get things done quickly, focus on getting the right things done slowly and better.

Push Your Team Out of a Rut

Every team falls into a rut once in a while. Instead of scheduling another tired brainstorming session, take a step back and diagnose the problem. Think about when, where, and how your team has been most creative in the past. Can you recreate that group dynamic? Focus your team’s attention toward solving a narrow problem – sometimes constraints enable fresh thinking. Get different points of view by inviting employees from other parts of your business to present ideas to your team. Make sure people aren’t stuck because they fear their ideas aren’t any good. You need to create a safe environment where people are comfortable voicing their opinions. And once you have ideas, commit to moving them forward by setting aside a small budget to create rough prototypes or relieving workers of some duties to free up their time for new projects. Finally, avoid overuse of the word “innovation” – it’s been talked to death.

To Delegate Successfully, Make Expectations Clear

To delegate an assignment, you need to describe the job as thoroughly as possible. But another crucial task is clarifying your expectations to hold the assignee accountable. Once you’ve gone over the details face to face and identified available resources and support, you need to establish a feasible timeline with agreed-upon deadlines. Make sure he or she agrees that the timeline is doable. Establish how much authority you’re granting by laying out clear guidelines for when the employee can act independently – and when consultation with you is required. Agree on standards of performance, measures of success, and levels of accountability. And determine a process for follow-up and feedback. Explain that you want progress reports every week or every month, and decide if these will be via an email, a staff meeting, or a one-on-one with you.

Tell a Good Story When Presenting a Business Case

Even with a thoroughly prepared business case, you’ll only earn support for your project with a memorable, winning delivery. Don’t be tempted to let facts and figures do the persuading for you – craft an emotional story. It can be as simple as outlining the need, impact, and solution; you just need to present what’s at stake through a clear arc. Grab your audience’s attention by immediately identifying the business need you are trying to address. Next, weave an emotional appeal or human connection into your narrative – maybe by showing the effects of a proposed customer management system with testimonials from real customers, or describing how the data-sharing project you want to expand helped employees stay connected during a major outage. Avoid relying on slides too much. And always have an elevator pitch ready.

How to Spot Abusive Behavior on Your Team

Abusive behavior at work stems from three distinct roles: the manager who is preying on the weak, the victim who fails to defend himself, and the witness who does nothing to stop it. No matter which role you’re in, you can disrupt the unhealthy dynamic by behaving differently.

  • As the manager: Ask yourself if you’re taking your frustrations out on the person who’s least likely to fight back. Find a better way to channel your stress, so you don’t project onto your team.
  • As the victim: Stand up for yourself. Not pushing back only invites more aggression. Next time, say something strong: “I think we can resolve this without raising voices.”
  • As the witness: Do something. Reach out to your teammate to provide support, advice, and coaching. Try to defuse abusive behavior in meetings. If someone continually interrupts the person, ask everyone to hear her out.

Adapted from “End Abusive Behavior on Your Team” by Liane Davey.

Learn to Say the Perfect “No”

It’s not easy to say no to a coworker or boss, because we fear damaging the relationship or appearing incapable. We need to stop looking at saying no as a choice between confrontation and staying on good terms. Instead, say no when you have to, and keep a neutral demeanor. Be clear and firm. If you say no tentatively, you can give false hope – the person will think you might change your mind, and he or she will just keep pushing you. Give a good business reason for your refusal up front – and stick with it. If you try to soften the no by offering weak excuses and holding back the real reason, you’ll appear disingenuous. Saying no neutrally doesn’t come naturally, so try practicing ahead of time with someone who will push back.

Recognize When You’re Being Passive-Aggressive

When was the last time you didn’t share your honest opinion when asked? Or the last time you got upset with someone and didn’t let the person know why? Or maybe you procrastinated on an assignment because you didn’t see the value in it. It’s hard to recognize our own passive-aggressive behavior, but if we don’t confront it, it breeds mistrust and erodes our credibility. First, identify what drives you to be passive-aggressive. Understanding the underlying cause (maybe a fear of failure, or rejection, or conflict) allows you to address it head-on. Then be honest with yourself about what you really want: What do you truly think or really want to say? What outcome are you hoping for? Think about how to express those desires in a direct, respectful way. And finally, get input from others to see if you’re improving.

Stop Bragging About Being Busy

We’re all too busy — and we’re proud of it. We want to do it all, have it all, and achieve it all. It’s no wonder why we backdoor-brag about being swamped: it’s code for being successful and important. But in the long run, all this motion leads to burnout. The antidote is to pursue less: design your life around what is essential and eliminate everything else. Disciplined prioritizing can leave you with work-free weekends, more thinking time, and time with friends.

  • Set up a personal quarterly offsite. Here’s a simple rule of 3: every three months take three hours to identify the three things you want to accomplish over the next three months.
  • Add expiration dates on new activities. Not every new activity has to become a tradition.
  • Say no to a good opportunity every week. This is counterintuitive, but if we don’t do it, we’ll never have enough time to figure out what we really want to invest our time in.

Adapted from “Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy” by Greg McKeown.

Three Rules for More Productive Meetings

We’re spending too much precious work time attending unproductive meetings. For most executives, meetings take up at least 20 hours every week; one meeting spawns another, and on it goes. Here are three ways to prevent meeting bloat:
  • Keep the invitee list to seven. The Rule of 7 states that every attendee over seven reduces the likelihood of making a good, quick, executable decision by 10%. So once you hit 16 to 17, your decision effectiveness is basically zero.
  • Make most meetings under an hour. Most of us schedule 60-minute meetings by default. Every additional minute generates more cost, so try blocking off shorter amounts of time that can be spent more productively. Can you get through your agenda in 30 or 45 minutes instead?
  • Use longer meetings sparingly. Create (and enforce) a new rule: any meetings scheduled to be 90 minutes or longer need senior approval.

Overcome Your Fear of Conflict

Many of us try to avoid confrontation. Instead of addressing issues directly, we try to be “nice” and then later vent about the frustration eating away at us. This can take a significant toll on our health and self-esteem — and on our work relationships and reputation. Next time you notice yourself shying away from conflict, focus on the business needs and speak objectively. For example, if you have a coworker who always interrupts you in meetings, explain the need to present a unified front: “In the last meeting, I noticed we were interacting in a way that may be throwing off the team. It’s important to appear united. Can we determine our roles in advance or establish cues for when it’s time to pass the baton?” People avoid conflict because they assume that it has to be aggressive or disrespectful. It doesn’t — if you remain approachable, non-judgmental, and calm.

Regroup from a Failing Project

People tend to obsess over sunk costs (all that time and money we’ve invested in something and can’t get back). When teams commit more resources to a clearly failing project, it’s even more of a problem. The more cohesive the group, the more likely they are to hang in there when it’s best to walk away. To get back on track, your team needs to look at its investments objectively, deciding what to scale back on and what to cut altogether. Make it easier to measure what does and doesn’t work by establishing clear organizational goals — and avoid sweeping, abstract language. Break each goal down into smaller subgoals, and then identify the actions required to reach each one. This will give your team a better sense of what’s achievable, and what’s a lost cause.

Accommodate Older Workers

Corporate workforces are aging. Some companies have made strides to adapt, and they have seen improvements in retention and productivity, organizational culture, and the bottom line. Don’t fall behind. Use these practices to accommodate your older workers:
Flexible retirement. Give employees the option of working part-time. You retain experienced, talented employees and they get a flexible schedule and a paycheck.
Creating new positions or adapting old ones. Retrain older employees for jobs that better suit their current needs and skills. For example, can you transition an older worker out of a physically taxing role and into a training position? Could a long-time cashier move to customer service?
Changing workplace ergonomics. Companies should adapt for those who need extra support. Inexpensive tweaks like custom shoes and easier-to-read computer screens can make a huge difference.

Treat Your Next Work Interruption like an Opportunity

The laundry list of demands at work keeps growing. Meetings, phone calls, email, texts, videoconferences, etc. It can feel like there’s no time to get “real work” done. But these interruptions aren’t keeping you from work, they are work — and looking at them this way opens up a world of opportunities. Every “interruption” offers a chance to illuminate an issue, clarify expectations, or resolve a problem. By training yourself to see these moments as real work instead of distractions, you can lead more effectively. When someone interrupts you, listen intently, help frame the issue, and respond with positivity. Remember that even people who aren’t present may be affected by your words and actions, because whatever you say or do will be relayed to others.

A Winning Business Model Starts with One Primary Customer

Many executives are reluctant to choose one primary customer group, but this strategic choice defines a business. You must identify your most important customers – those who can unlock the most value in your business. They may be consumers of a product or service; or they may be resellers or brokers. Choose the best one by assessing each customer group along three dimensions:
Perspective: The primary customer must reflect a company’s culture and mission, so the energy and creativity of its people can be leveraged to serve the customer.
Capabilities: The embedded resources that a firm builds up over time (and which are difficult to copy) position a business to serve the needs of certain customers better than others.
Profit potential: A customer’s ability to deliver profits counts, but it’s not always about who can pay more; becoming a destination for a specific group can deliver profits through volume.

Stop Trying to Control Employees or Make Them Happy

For decades, two common thought processes have influenced management. Managers take a “hard” approach when it comes to addressing challenges − creating new structures, processes, and systems. And they opt for a “soft” approach when they need to boost morale − launching initiatives like off-sites or lunchtime yoga. The problem is that both of these are outdated in an age of mounting complexity. Stop trying to control people or make them happy; instead, give your employees more autonomy and encourage them to work with each other. Start by understanding what your employees do and why they do it, and foster cooperation by giving people the power and interest to do so. If you increase the total quantity of power (don’t just shift existing power around), create direct feedback loops, and reward those who cooperate, employees will feel liberated and empowered to make critical judgments and to come up with creative solutions to problems.

How Bosses Can Maintain Friendships at Work

It’s not always easy to have friends at work when you’re the boss. The critical skill senior leaders need to maintain their leadership and friendships is emotional courage – the willingness to act powerfully in the face of deep emotion. Three tactics can help you navigate this complexity – and make you a more capable leader overall. Have a strong, clear commitment to your business objectives. If you want to achieve something, you must be willing to make hard decisions. Be transparent, upfront, and passionate, even as others, including friends, disagree with you. Develop your friendship skills. Certain skills, like unwavering integrity, empathetic listening, and strong boundaries, can help you manage dual roles of friend and business leader. Be prepared to lose the friendship. Recognize that you ultimately can’t control what happens to the friendship. Some people just might not be able to live with your decisions. Learn to feel the sadness and move on.

Reading time: about 63 minutes