Do Nothing

I recently finished Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee. In it, she shares:

  • A strive for efficiency can make us unhappy if we believe we need to keep up with others who portray success
  • While current-day productivity hacks are popular, medieval peasants worked less and had more vacation than today’s average worker
  • The cult of efficiency makes us feel guilty about enjoying leisure time. As shared in my post, Think Like a Rocket Scientist, downtime opens our minds to new ideas
  • Email and text are simple and efficient. Yet, they lack the connection that happens in a live conversation. In Do Nothing, the author shares a research study where a storyteller talks live with a listener. The listener’s brain waves end up emulating those of the reader
  • Comparison to others or using social media to determine the bar for happiness is a bad idea

In summary, take time for downtime and create your own definition of success and happiness.

Time for Life Planning

In The 100, I dedicate a section to life planning. Similar to using this time of year to plan next year’s business goals, this is a good time to plan next year’s personal goals.

Goals transform vision into reality. Practical goals are SMART: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. While many of us make long-term goals; specific short-term goals drive us to achieve our long-term goals.

Writing goals down is essential.  A study by Dominican University professor Gail Matthews found writing down goals, making an action plan, and communicating to others results in being twice as likely to accomplish the goal.

Here are some goal setting tips:

  • Write down your goals.  Then, wait a few weeks to test your conviction.
  • Break your long-term goals into short-term goals backed up by a plan
  • Look at your goals every day
  • Include dates. A goal without a deadline is just a dream.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz are a couple of great books on goals.

Here’s a goal setting template.

May You Live in Interesting Times

The exponential rate of change and response to the virus, or lack thereof on some fronts, has created an environment of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had many socially-distanced discussions on measures to keep business moving forward and employees informed. Here’s a re-cap.

  • If you don’t have a plan that addresses all aspects of the organization, from classifying top customers by risk level to cash flow projections to potential opportunities in the current environment (think acquisitions of competitors, hiring from distressed industries like travel, or targeting industries going up in the current environment like mortgage brokers), do so.
  • When you have a plan, communicate it with the organization. We’re all overwhelmed with the 24/7 news cycle. People are craving answers and direction.
  • If there are actions you’re considering down the road when some triggering event happens, do it now. From employees on the bubble who need to be humanely let go or the customer whose account is overdue and needs a call, act. Don’t wait.
  • There are tons of articles on how to effectively work-from-home along with how to live well, find some and share with your crew.
  • With teams working remotely and social distancing, remember we are social creatures. Encourage teams to be connected throughout the day with Microsoft Team, Skype, or other platforms.
  • Encourage employees to work through this together. For example, in our company weekly newsletter, we have a new section. In this section, everyone is free to contribute thoughts around dealing with the current situation. Ideas range from tips on staying healthy to Audible’s free offering for kids under 18 to using Target curbside pickup and Amazon Fresh to get household essentials without human interaction.

Stay safe and if I can help you, please let me know.

Getting Curious Gets Results

Curiosity might kill the cat, as the old saying goes, but it might just bring your business back to life. This month’s edition of Harvard Business Review focuses its spotlight on “The Business Case for Curiosity.” Harvard business professor Francesca Gino provides many thought-provoking ideas and practical ideas in her cover article. She also helped me realize how pivotal curiosity has been to the growth and success of Intertech, even though we do not expressly call it that.

“When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively and have less defensive reactions to stress,” she notes. I’ve seen this very dynamic in meetings with senior leaders. We all ask a lot of questions and challenge each other to think deeper. Sometimes the best ideas emerge because one leader was particularly curious about a particular issue and kept pushing back with more questions.

Knowing that we all have a shared investment in the company’s success makes it easier to stay curious and not get defensive. This is an important part of our company culture too, which is why we host an annual Town Hall for employees to talk and share their ideas, concerns and recommendations (more about that below).

But, back to Professor Gino’s idea in brief: “Leaders say they value employees who question or explore things but research shows that they largely suppress curiosity, out of fear that it will increase risk and undermine efficiency. . . Curiosity improves engagement and collaboration. Curious people make better choices, improve their company’s performance, and help their company adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures. . . Leaders should encourage curiosity in themselves and others by making small changes to the design of their organization and the ways they manage their employees.”

She then lays out five ways leaders can bolster curiosity at work:

  1. Hire for curiosity. Google asks applicants: “Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent?” Finding people who keep learning out of personal interest is a good sign that they’re innately curious. A question I ask in interviews is “What is the last book you read for professional development?” To ensure they’ve read what they say they’ve said, I follow this question with “What is the biggest thing you learned from that book?”
  2. Model inquisitiveness. From our leadership to sales teams, we agree upon and read a book per quarter. Then we share insights we can apply to our firm.  I read The Economist and several other periodicals, two daily papers, multiple economic and business forecasting newsletters, and at any given time, a couple of books.  I also have always believed it’s important to listen more than I speak as a leader. In my book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership, I devote chapter 84 to the importance of listening to employees and to asking key questions. Listening to customers also is key, particularly in the early stages of a new project when we are working to understand expectations. Last, I look for ways to double down on learning and turn time commuting or running the kids around into learning with Audible and Blinklist.
  3. Emphasize learning goals. This one really hit home with me. Every Intertech team member has an annual learning goal. In an industry like software, staying ahead of the curve is essential. Notes Professor Gino, “Leaders can help employees adopt a learning mindset by communicating the importance of learning and by rewarding people not only for their performance but for the learning needed to get there.”
  4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests. I’ll admit that in the press of daily business, this can be hard. Employees with proven expertise are extremely valuable. But we know the best employees are most excited about learning new skills and staying ahead of the pack. Every month, we have a company-wide “Second Friday BBQ” lunch (being honest, the BBQ turns into subs or pizza when the snow starts flying in Minnesota). On the Second Friday BBQ, one or more team members deliver a chalk talk on an emerging technology.
  5. Have “Why?” “What If. . .” and “How might we. . .?” days. As I referred to earlier, our annual Town Hall meeting is dedicated to just such questions. Employees take a half-day off from their regular client projects to gather in small groups to explore how we do things and how we can do things differently or better. This feedback is provided to senior managers anonymously so employees feel completely free to speak their minds and ask tough questions. It’s one of the most valuable management tools we have and employees consistently tell us they appreciate the chance to share in this way. In the past, we’ve also used a concept we call “FedEx Day” where employees have 24 hours to work on whatever they choose then present their results to the company.

Staying curious might be difficult when you’ve been running a business for a long time, but resist the trap of thinking you know it all. No matter what your industry, it’s no doubt changing at the speed of light. Curiosity is the only way to keep growing your business and your mind!

Being a Great Place to Work takes Work

Image result for mspbj best places to work images

Intertech has been named a Great Place to Work for the 14th time by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. We also were included in similar lists in the Star Tribune and Minnesota Business magazine earlier this year. These honors mean a lot because they validate my original dream of creating a great place to work where great people do great work for great clients!

Sorry, I know that’s a lot of “greats” but it truly sums up the vision and reality of Intertech today, thanks to hard work by a lot of incredible people. If you’ve read my book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership,” you know about the multiple strategies we use to make sure Intertech remains a great place – for employees and customers.

My book, of course, offers my personal perspective and philosophy on business management. For today’s blog post, I thought it might be interesting to share the verbatim feedback of Intertech employees. These comments are gleaned from employee feedback shared (anonymously) in the survey used by Minnesota Business magazine in determining the winners of this year’s “Best Place” competition. To keep it simple, I’ve organized the feedback into five primary categories. I hope this candid employee feedback helps you as you think about building your own positive work culture.

 

Recognition/Make a Difference

“I can make a big difference in how the company succeeds by my work. I enjoy my role here.”

“There are a lot of opportunities for anyone willing to keep an open mind and seek out the space they would like to conquer.”

“Management listens to my ideas.”

“Many things make me feel appreciated at Intertech, from personal thank you notes from Tom to our ACE program.”

“There are opportunities to learn new things, get experience by working with smart people and make important decisions for clients.”

“We have a yearly meeting to have the employees try to help grow and change the company by figuring out new ideas to try. If you have an idea for something new, they will hear you out and see if it is something that would add value.”

 

Professional Development

“Internal and external training is paid for by the company.”

“I have latitude to try new things.”

 “I have freedom to influence my career.”

 “I am able to continuously learn and challenge myself each day.”

 “This position has allowed me to increase my work skills.

“The training has been good.”

 

Respect/Trust

“They just trust me to get my work done.”

“I am not micromanaged.”

 “I am free to handle my customers and have company support when I need help.”

 

Work-Life Balance/Flexibility

“Intertech is VERY flexible, which allows me to still be in the supportive family role I want to be in at home.”

 “The days and hours are flexible, and the workplace environment is healthy and encouraging.”

 “The flexibility is much more than I could have hoped for.”

 “I routinely receive input supporting the importance of family life. As long as I fulfill my obligations, I am given a great deal of flexibility in work hours, location, time off, etc.”

 

 Great People

 “My colleagues are absolutely top notch!”

 “From peers to management, everyone is truly top notch.”

 “The people are great, not only in professional excellence but in personal goodness.”

 “Fun people and environment.”

 “My co-workers are accountable and I can depend on them.”

 

And my personal favorite anonymous employee comment:

 When asked “What does Intertech do efficiently and well,” an employee wrote:

 “There are too many things to choose from! From … training to consulting, we are all committed to excellence and it shows!”