Teach Your Managers the Art of Feedback

Teach your managers the art of feedback.

Teach your managers the art of feedback.

When an organization introduces a new initiative to train their managers to give feedback, a feeling of dread can often come over those managers who will be taking the training. Anyone who’s ever been a manager knows why – very few people are comfortable giving feedback. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four key ingredients to feedback that every manager should know:

1. Begin with expectations.
Clear and concise expectations (written and oral) that include a description of what success looks like, are essential to successfully giving feedback later on. Expectations lay the groundwork for giving feedback, and virtually eliminate employee surprises. After all, if you expect someone to complete a project or task in a certain way, and they don’t do it, feedback and counseling should come as no surprise. Of course, if they meet or exceed expectations, that should be included in feedback as well.

2. Make feedback timely.
Many managers allow individual performance deficiencies, and the stress that can accompany them, to build up in their minds until they unload a barrage of negative feedback on the often unsuspecting employee. This is one of the primary reasons no one seems to like feedback – either giving or receiving it.

The proper approach, and best for all involved, is to give feedback (positive or negative) in a timely manner. Normally, that would mean immediately after you observe the behavior. When you do this, the recipient of negative feedback is less likely to react negatively, provided you delivered the feedback in a calm, yet matter-of-fact way.

3. Use the right venue.
There are basically two venues where you can deliver feedback – in the presence of other employees, or in private. Negative feedback and accompanying counseling should be given in private. You can give positive feedback in public, although it’s also OK to give it privately, especially if there’s some counseling involved.

4. Always follow-up.
This is especially important when you’ve given negative feedback and counseling. Providing follow-up feedback (positive or negative) regarding the individual’s progress in correcting the problem takes the pressure off the employee, making it that much easier for them to improve in all areas. Occasionally following up with additional positive feedback to the employee who’s been doing well reinforces their desire to perform well in all aspects of their job.

When you train your managers to give feedback properly, it not only makes giving feedback a pleasure for the manager, it becomes more welcomed by the employee.

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Book Review: The End of Average

The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness

The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness

Every day we are measured against the yardsticks of averages. The assumption that metrics comparing us to an average—like GPA, personality assessments, standardized test results, and performance review ratings—reveal something meaningful about our potential is so ingrained in our society that we rarely question it. That assumption, says Harvard’s Todd Rose, is spectacularly, and scientifically, wrong.

In The End of Average, Rose shows us that no one is average. We are all jagged, to use his word, or unique. Two people with the exact same average score on any multi-dimensional measurement will have completely different attributes, with hugely differing scores on the individual dimensions. This means that they will have unique strengths and weaknesses that are completely obscured if we only look at the average score.

Weaving science, history, and his experiences as a high school dropout who eventually earned a Ph.D. and a prestigious job, Rose brings to life the untold story of how we came to embrace the scientifically flawed idea that averages can be used to understand individuals. His writing is smooth and his arguments convincing. We can understand groups through looking at averages, but not individuals.

Rose offers three principles of individuality: the jaggedness principle (you can’t apply one-dimensional thinking to something that is complex, which of course includes people), the context principle (there is no such thing as a person’s essential nature, because our behavior depends on the context), and the pathways principle (there are many valid ways to reach the same outcome, and the paths people choose are based on their own individuality).

These principles seem a little obscure, but Rose clarifies them through great examples and interesting stories. For example, he talks about personality profiles. Personality tests are fun to take and give some interesting information. However, says Rose, “trait-based personality tests assume that we can be either extroverts or introverts…but not both.” Yet, everybody is both. We might be extroverted among our friends and introverted with strangers, or vice versa. “Sure, you could say someone was more introverted or extroverted on average…but if you relied on averages, then you missed out on all the important details of a person’s behavior.”

In terms of business, one of every company’s ongoing struggles is how to hire the right person for the right job. SAT scores and the prestige of a candidate’s alma mater are not predictive at all of success on the job. These are unidimensional scales that don’t uncover people’s individual talents. Successful hirers take into account the full complexities of a person’s talents. For example, instead of a resume, some companies ask job candidates to submit a statement of passion for the company and to answer a few questions about their abilities. These companies “feel like they have found a way to uncover diamonds in the rough, to identify unorthodox or hidden talent.” But, while they may have identified overlooked talent, there is nothing unorthodox or hidden about it. It is simply true talent, and it has always existed.

Rose talks about how Taylorism (Frederick Taylor wrote about standardization and management in his 1911 book, The Principles of Scientific Management) directed us down the path of a one-size-fits-all model, leading to factories where every job was standardized, schools where kids were funneled into high or low level reading groups and then on to college or vocational training, and the differentiation between workers and managers. He disagrees with this type of thinking, and instead supports the value of individuals. He sees the benefits of valuing individual employees as: increased employee engagement, increased productivity, and widespread innovation.

This is not a book about leadership or management, although it includes these concepts. It is about “how we succeed in a world that values sameness.” We need to think beyond averages and more about individuals, whether it is how they succeed in school, at jobs, or in life. It’s a fascinating read if you’re willing to wade through a compelling re-analysis of history and our basic assumptions about the world. In my opinion, it’s well worth the trouble.

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Envisioning Opportunities – A “Keystone” Skill

Envisioning OpportunitiesThe skill set of a good leader must be both wide and deep. Some skills are innate, and others are learned and developed. Remember television’s popular boss, Michael Scott? His skill set was thin and shallow. As much as we loved him, he would have scored pond scum low on any leadership competency test.

On the other end of the spectrum is the strong and successful manager who embraces and strengthens qualities that propel his/her organization forward while creating a positive working environment for everyone involved.

Envisioning opportunities is one such skill, and could even be called the “keystone” skill. A good leader has the ability and propensity for envisioning opportunities within his/her organization. This means that they have a clear vision and focused ideas and goals to make the vision a reality. To envision opportunities, a leader must also generate ideas for change, recognize and use the good ideas generated by others, and stimulate others to think in innovative ways.

What does a leader with this skill look like?

  • She thoroughly understands her organization, as well as the way it should interact with its corresponding industry and marketplace.
  • Her executed goals and direction for the organization’s growth have continually proven to be successful.
  • Colleagues respect her and feel inspired and motivated by her vision.
  • She continually implements new ideas, either of her own making or of those with whom she works.

Envisioning Opportunities does not have to be an innate capacity. It is a skill required of the best leaders that can be both developed and strengthened. The following tips will prove helpful in developing skills around envisioning opportunities:

  • Review your organization from the ground up. Educate yourself on each level and note any areas you may find lacking. Then envision ways to improve those areas.
  • Stay up to date with your industry’s trends.
  • Continuously look for connections between your industry and others, no matter how unrelated they may seem.
  • Find a mentor, be it in your field or simply an exemplary leader in general.
  • Promote idea sharing by brainstorming with colleagues.

As these strategies for development are put into practice, you will notice an increased ability to envision the opportunities around you, and others will notice it, too.

Envisioning Opportunities – A Skill Worth Measuring

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Improve Performance Through Ownership

Giving your employees plenty of discretion in solving problems will make them feel more ownership in the business.

Giving your employees plenty of discretion in solving problems will make them feel more ownership in the business.

What is an employee? In the days when people were bound to a company or a household for life, an employee was part of a family. Now that jobs have become more transitory, employment has become riskier, it becomes harder for employees to feel part of a fabric. Employment has become “a contract where work is paid for, where one is the employer and the other is the employee.”

Many employees under such conditions feel a personal responsibility for quality in their work as long as the pay keeps coming, most will provide the services for which they are paid under the contracted terms. Not much emotional investment there. Many are constantly afraid of termination and most don’t want to tie themselves emotionally to their jobs. Labor is simply a sold commodity and the workplace is simply the market for labor.

The question is, how does a company establish ownership thinking in a wage-employment culture? When employees have a sense of ownership of the work they are selling, but also of the role they are playing, their work performance becomes self-motivated. They try constantly to improve on what they are doing because they are improving their own possession, not just preparing a product to sell to the boss. Solving this problem of giving employees a sense of ownership (in spite of the economic and social realities of employment) is a very important issue facing management in this day and age.

In his article in Forbes, consultant Micah Solomon recommends five things.

  1. Give your employees “nearly infinite discretion” to solve issues. He gives the example of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel that gives its employees $2,000 of discretionary hotel funding to solve each guest problem.
  2. Give your employees positive support to solve problems. Ownership of the problem in an employment situation should not be just sink-or-swim.
  3. Give an employee input into or control over how their own work is carried out. You can’t expect an employee to feel like an owner if they are micro-managed.
  4. Never underestimate the negative impact of someone who doesn’t work out in the workplace. If three people are acting and feeling like owners, a fourth person who spoils the emotional climate can be very destructive. Change has to be made.
  5. Value your employees. Don’t cheat them out of economic benefits or work hours. Remember the lives of the people who work for you. If you have to fire someone, do it graciously with an eye toward doing no harm.

An employee is someone who is selling labor to you as a boss. Jobs have become more temporary and risky in today’s economy. How can you make an employee feel more like an owner of his or her work under those circumstances? Allow them to own it by giving them the discretion to do their work in their own way with your support. Make sure you don’t let a disruptive influence poison the workplace. Value your employees, treat them with respect, and honor the understandings you have made with them.

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The Importance of Defining Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and ResponsibilitiesIn many businesses, it’s difficult to define individual roles and responsibilities. Many employees wear several different hats, completing jobs outside the initial range of their job description. Unfortunately, this can lead to a great deal of confusion within the company. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities, on the other hand, can have a positive impact on the company as a whole, particularly as it relates to team projects.

Everyone knows what to do. When you set clear roles and responsibilities, especially formal ones, everyone knows what’s expected of them within the group. They know how to behave, what they need to accomplish, and how to reach the group’s goals.

Everything gets done. When you’re short on time, it’s easy for small pieces of the project to be overlooked. This is especially true if no one is completely clear on who is responsible for accomplishing those tasks. Less-desirable tasks are often left alone because no one wants to claim them. When people understand their job responsibilities, on the other hand, nothing gets forgotten in the process.

People work together better when they understand their roles. There’s less jockeying for position, fewer arguments, and higher overall creativity when everyone understands their responsibility as part of the group.

Less energy is wasted. Any time there’s a lack of clarity, people waste energy dealing with things that don’t matter. They argue over things that aren’t important, fail to focus on things that are, and miss out on opportunities. Define roles and responsibilities, and a great deal of that energy becomes accessible for other purposes.

Defining roles and responsibilities within your business, whether it’s an office-wide initiative or dedicated to a single group, permits you to more effectively manage your entire business. Everyone should understand their role within the business and what they are expected to accomplish, from opening the office in the morning to the tasks that keep them busy throughout the day.

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Book Review: The Right Kind of Crazy

The-Right-Kind-Of-CrazyAdam Steltzner, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, led the team that landed the Curiosity on Mars in 2012. Curiosity is a 2,000 pound, $2.5 billion, car-sized robotic rover that is exploring Gale Crater as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. Landing the rover on Mars required ten years of effort and thousands of people working in close teams. This is the story of that effort, as well as Steltzner’s personal story of how being curious led him to become the point-person for the design of this amazing craft.

The book includes Steltzner’s ideas about leadership, but it’s not a leadership book per se. It’s more of a memoir about his life and what he has learned along the way. If you are an engineer or a leader who’s responsible for managing engineers, it will probably be invaluable, because it presents intriguing insights about how engineers approach problem solving. And, if you’re interested in space exploration, so much the better. Mars is currently a hot topic, and Steltzner shows us the inner workings of teams that dedicate years of their lives to getting to the red planet. Because of the inherent risks of space travel, serious pressure is part of undertaking such a project, and Steltzner discusses how he handles the pressure (drinking and running), as well as many other topics relevant in today’s business world.

Steltzner barely graduated from high school, and probably would have continued working in a health food store and trying to imitate Elvis Costello if he hadn’t become interested in why and how the stars appear to move. He tried to take a class in astronomy at his local community college, but the prerequisite for that class was a class in physics. He had passed geometry in high school with an F+, and that was after failing it the first time, so he was understandably nervous about the mathematics involved in a physics class. But he passed the class, and then went on to finish college, get a master’s degree, and eventually a Ph.D. in engineering. He attributes his achievement to his insatiable curiosity about the world.

The book isn’t limited to describing Steltzner’s personal story. He expounds throughout on the leadership techniques and philosophy that have worked for him. He states numerous times that he believes the only essential ingredient for success at work is an environment that’s structured to encourage our innate drive to wonder, question, and explore.

Here are some of his ideas that were most meaningful to me.

“The trick is to exhibit leadership—lead—without having to claim leadership or subjugate others. This is leadership really as a service function, as a gift to the group.” In other words, leaders only exist to facilitate the performance of a collective group, and leadership is always in service to the group. And “if you offer your direction to the group for their endorsement, you are not imposing your will. You are simply gifting your thinking of how the group should attack the problem.” He seems to be talking about leadership by suggestion rather than edict.

Another interesting idea is: “There are two forms of decision making; fear based and curiosity based. In fear-based decision making, we find ourselves wanting the answer as fast as possible. In curiosity-based decision making, we use one of the core traits of our species to pull apart, examine, and wade into the open question. In my experience curiosity-based decision making yields much better solutions.”

He also talks about the importance of finding one thing to love about every team member, which will help you connect with that person and smooth your working relationship. And how to stand patiently in what he calls the “dark room,” which involves not knowing how your solution will work, and sometimes not even knowing if there is a solution to your problem. And that understanding the connections between data points is even more important than seeing the data points themselves. Good leaders need to constantly strive to understand the connections among different functions.

These nuggets of experience and wisdom are tucked inside paragraphs about other topics. To find them requires close reading, but it’s worth the trouble. I have to admit that my eyes glazed over at some of the details about designing the spacecraft, but I’m not an engineer. Some of the Amazon reviews suggest that he could have gone into much more detail and those readers would have been happier. So, read the book and decide for yourself.

After you’ve finished you might want to watch “Seven Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars,” which I found on YouTube. It shows the components of the craft as they are described in the book and how they worked. The whole thing seems absolutely crazy. But it’s the right kind of crazy.

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Leadership Style of Jen-Hsun Huang: Failing Forward

By nvidia.corporation (Jen-Hsun Huang Headshot) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By nvidia.corporation (Jen-Hsun Huang Headshot) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jen-Hsun Huang is one of the most interesting CEOs of today. His leadership style is often overlooked in favor of more public CEOs such as Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Tony Hsieh (Zappos). Huang’s leadership style is about personal authenticity and intellectual honesty. He does not embrace the traditional model of “acting like a CEO”. He embraces a humility that is brilliant in its confidence.

Jen-Hsun Huang was born in Taiwan. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State and then earned his master’s degree at Stanford. He went on to found Nvidia, the graphics processing unit manufacturer, in 1993, on his 30th birthday. Nvidia now has 5 billion dollars in revenue. Initially, it was not clear that Nvidia would ever get off the ground.

Huang’s leadership style is defined by 2 core principles: intellectual honesty and the tolerance to take risks. In Huang’s own words, “the tolerance to take risks naturally encompasses the ability to learn from failure”. These may seem like very humble principles that border on clichés, however, they are not clichés when they are embraced and acted upon by leaders.

The leadership Style of Jen-Hsun Huang was built on the early near failure of Nvidia. He and his partners had raised the capital, hired the team, and developed the product. However, the product they had worked so hard to develop, that they believed in, did not work! Other leaders in that position might have been overwhelmed by such a setback.

Jen-Hsun Huang was not discouraged. He relates that it is at these times of adversity, not times of success, that he believes a company’s true culture and core values are created, because if your company has a great idea, you don’t give up on that idea. You nurture it, you adapt and you keep “failing forward”. It requires intellectual honesty to admit that a strategy has failed; to admit that no amount of further investment in that direction will be successful. In an interview with The New York Times in 2010, Jen-Hsun stated “I think that’s what’s thrilling about leadership — when you’re holding onto literally the worst possible hand on the planet and you know you’re still going to win.”

There are times as a leader that you might feel as if a setback is not a winning hand. Don’t be afraid to tolerate failure and gain knowledge from the situation which can be used for future success.

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5 Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder

Follow these tips to manage your work time properly

Follow these tips to manage your work time properly

The pace of life and business increases on a daily basis. If you feel like you are on the move from the time you wake up until bedtime, you’re not alone. Yes, you can use your computer, smartphone or another device to organize your day. To get the most out of your day, it is still important to practice proper time management at work.

Show Up on Time
It should go without saying, but you need to be at work to be productive. Yes, this applies even if you work from home. The first step in time management is showing up on time. This gives you the chance to get a jump on the day and accomplish everything on your to-do list.

Write Out A To-Do List
The honey-do list follows you to work. This time, though it is not your spouse or loved one writing it, you are.

  • Each day before you leave work, look at your schedule for the next day.
  • Write out a to-do list based on that schedule.
  • Hang it or place it somewhere you can easily see it the next day.
  • Make it a habit to check this list every morning and throughout the day. This keeps your focus on work and allows you to meet deadlines on time with minimal stress.

If you delegate portions of larger projects to co-workers, everyone can improve their time management.

  • Check with the others working on the project and see what their strengths are.
  • Delegate elements based on strengths.
  • Check in regularly to keep yourself and everyone else on task.
  • Add little incentives if you delegate, for instance, a snack for the team. Treats help motivate!

Limit Distractions
Distractions are not only time-consuming but are potential safety risks depending on your job.

  • Turn the phone off as you walk into work. Only check it at lunch time.
  • Close your office door if you have trouble focusing.
  • Log out of your email if you are working on a task. If a co-worker needs you they can call or talk to you in person.

Build in Time for Mental Breaks
There is a time to work and there is a time to play. Make sure you balance the two before burnout hits.

  • Leave work at work. This helps manage time because it separates work and life into two separate categories.
  • Get up and walk. This is not only a good thing for your physical health, it will help your mental health. A walk also allows you to regain focus and break projects into more manageable pieces.
  • The weekend is yours. If you are in a traditional office job, leave it there until Monday. Make sure you do enough on Friday that you are not behind the ball on Monday.

Take a look at what drains the time from your day and decide where you can apply these tips.

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Two keys to achieving trust and accountability in the workplace

Reach for trust in your workplace

Reach for trust in your workplace

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” — Ronald Reagan

Surround. Delegate. Don’t interfere. If your employees were honest, is this how they would describe your management style? Or would they say that you hover and micromanage?

In Rebecca Knight’s article for Harvard Business Review, she states,

“If you’re the kind of boss who lasers in on details, prefers to be cc’ed on emails, and is rarely satisfied with your team’s work, then—there’s no kind way to say this—you’re a micromanager.”

What your employees should hear: I trust you
Instead of micromanaging, great managers trust their direct reports to carry out their responsibilities by giving them the freedom to make decisions. In pursuit of this aim, IBM employed a creative tool in the workplace. At a time when blogging was in its infancy, IBM prompted its employees to write company blogs and “drafted a corporate blogging policy that encouraged employees to be themselves, speak in first person, and respect their coworkers,” according to Business Insider. In addition to the message this action sent to their employees, both IBM and the industry have benefited from these blogs, as they have become a tremendous marketing tool for IBM as well as a trusted technology resource.

What your employees should see: Measurable goals
Complete autonomy in the workplace may sound ideal, but few employees actually thrive in this type of hands-off environment. Good managers keep their employees in check by setting measurable goals and then holding their team accountable. In his article How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team, Marcus Erb states that managers “often find themselves micromanaging their staffs when they don’t adequately communicate their expectations.” He offers the example of two companies, Hoar Construction and FatWallet, who each use regular evaluations that offer personalized, detailed feedback to their employees. “New tracking measures, goals and developmental needs are determined during these evaluations,” states Erb.

By giving your team freedom to make decisions and then holding them accountable to measurable goals, managers can avoid the trap of micromanagement and achieve trust and accountability in the workplace.

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5 Tips to Avoid Summer Slow-Down At Work

Man feeling exhausted andAvoid Summer Slow-Down At Work Author and philosopher Sam Keen said, “Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.” That’s true for beach-going and fishing, but leading a business or team of employees requires productivity year-round. Here are five tips to avoid summer slow-down at work.

1. Gain More Knowledge
The staggering of vacations that is common in most companies slows productivity. Either the person required to approve the project is out of the office or the one needed to complete the project is absent. Rather than twiddle your thumbs or pretend to look busy, learn something that will enhance your role as a leader or that will improve the business’ systems and service delivery.

  • Enroll in a college short course, a seminar, webinar or conference;
  • Read a book relevant to your business and share what you learn with your team;
  • Assess your company’s cross-training and learn to do another employee’s job;
  • Begin a mentoring relationship with a business-leader you admire.

It is important for company leaders and every member of your team to commit to life-long learning. Make learning a priority when productivity wanes in the “deep summer.” Talk show personality and financial guru, Dave Ramsey agrees:

“The average millionaire reads a book a month. Leaders are readers. But that’s just one way to gain more knowledge. Find a mentor, network with fellow business leaders, or attend seminars or other business events.”

2. Meet New People
During peak business times, it is hard to find time for lunch, coffee or cocktails with old friends or prospective clients. If your schedule is more open, then there is a good chance that others can find time too. Make a list of people you have been “meaning to call.” Set lunch or coffee dates with no specific agenda other than to learn more about that person and what they do. Sarah Field with the Small Business Administration recommends:

“…host your own networking event. Any type of open house or get together is a great way to not only celebrate and thank your customers and colleagues, but to find new ones.”

You can also host a seminar or “lunch and learn” for prospective clients – something short and light, not long and detailed. Consider joining a civic or business group, but be sure you can commit the time to it when the summer slow-down subsides.

3. Spend Time with Your Team
Summer is a great time to demonstrate an interest in your team members and the team as a whole. Without the pressure of formal performance evaluations that impact salary or bonuses, meet one-on-one and listen to your team members. Find out what is going on in their personal lives, what is frustrating about their jobs and how you can help them achieve greater satisfaction. Also consider convening your team for a time of goal-setting, evaluation of company progress and end with fun activities that promote cohesiveness and build trust. In a larger organization, limit the gathering to a group of supervisors or a particular department that generally does not receive much attention.

4. Start That Delayed Project
Inventory, tax preparation, digitizing documents are all about as fun as watching paint dry. However, when summer is over and your days are hectic, you will be glad these important, but mundane tasks are crossed off your list. Nellie Akalp writing for smallbiztrends.com suggests:

“Meet with a tax adviser to see if there’s anything you should be doing this year (whether it’s changing your business structure or increasing your expenses and distributions) to optimize your tax position.”

Rather than dictating that a project be started and completed by your team members, this is a time to roll up your sleeves and work side by side with your team. Show them you can get your hands dirty too.

5. Take Some Time for Just You
Maybe you have returned recently from a family vacation or have one planned. Let’s face it, family vacations are fun, but exhausting. Few people return refreshed, energized and ready to get back to work. Carve out some time during the summer just for you. Read, fish, hike or just sleep-in. Do whatever refuels your engine. Two weeks or a long weekend, take what you need to recharge. Once refreshed you will come back to work ready to finish the summer strong.

Summer slow-down is not a certainty. Be deliberate and follow these suggestions and your summer will be productive. Beating the summer slow-down means an improved business and a better you.

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