Food for Thought

Why Active Listening Is a Critical Skill for Founders and Entrepreneurs

How you listen to your employees and associates has a direct impact on your success.

Article from Entrepreneur by Stu Sjouwerman

Despite what you might have heard in professional circles, money does not make the world go ‘round. What does make a difference, both in and out of the office, is good communication. It’s this key component that determines your strength and success in business. And what really makes your communication insanely effective is active listening.

What is active listening?

Active listening basically means that, when you try to communicate, you stop trying to multitask. You focus on what the other person says, rather than formulating what you’re going to say and impatiently waiting until they’re done to respond. Your main goal is to pay attention, read between the lines and ensure that you really understand what the other person has told you. It’s only when you have a grasp of the shared information that you can then formulate an appropriate answer and do something. So in this sense, active listening is a great example of a strategy that incorporates John Boyd’s famous OODA loop for decision-making, wherein you Observe, Orient, Decide and then Act.

Listening to the words someone else says to you is only one part of active listening. You also have to pay attention to elements like non-verbal cues (e.g., facial expressions, posture). Those cues tell you an enormous amount about what someone really feels, thinks or needs, and so they help you get a better sense of the big picture and come up with a more thoughtful, rational answer. 

Asking questions is also an essential part of active listening. It shows your conversation partner that you are interested in what they have to say and actually want the conversation to keep going. It also offers a way for you to get clarification or access details.

If both people who are communicating do active listening properly, then it’s much easier to achieve their meaning. But in normal conversation, you’ll constantly flow between the listener and speaker roles. And it goes both ways in that when you are the speaker, you must take ownership of your communication and find another way to get your point across if your active listener doesn’t understand. 

Why is active listening so important for leaders?

No matter your industry or company mission, as a leader, everything you do ultimately relies on the interpersonal relationships you form with your team, stakeholders, customers and others. Without active listening, these relationships are much harder to develop, because you might not understand the problems at hand or be able to acknowledge them in a positive, reassuring way. Lack of understanding also translates to difficulty digging down into an issue and cooperatively brainstorming for and developing innovative solutions. All of these things can make others question whether you’re really qualified to be at the top and, in the worst-case scenario, lead to problems like insubordination, low morale, poor productivity and atrocious retention rates. In the end, this slashes your ability to compete and keep the doors of your company open. 

Conversely, good active listening produces informed, willing people who know what to do and why they’re doing it. They can work together harmoniously for common goals and move your company in the direction you want it to go, all while feeling more respected, included and valuable. High productivity is thus a surefire sign that good active listening is happening with your team.

Balancing professionalism and fun

Active listening clearly is serious business, as it can have such a dramatic influence on the results you get in your office. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun as you open your ears. It’s okay to smile, tell the occasional disarming joke or anecdote and be yourself. The key is simply to keep everything relevant and avoid dipping into silliness. With the right balance of fun and professionalism, you can create a relaxed yet intentional atmosphere where people feel safe enough to share concerns, get creative and lean on each other according to their own personalities and skills. This is what many leaders might consider the holy grail of contemporary office culture, inviting real diversity, inclusion and support at all levels.

Genuine interest makes active listening easy

Active listening is just like any other skill in that it takes practice to get it right. Strategies like finding a distraction-free area for your conversation, jotting down a note or two and making good eye contact can all help you stay present in the moment and take in the speaker’s information better. 

But perhaps the biggest tip for good active listening is simply trying to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying. This can involve personal intrigue about the topic. But because everyone is different, and because most of us will likely find certain business subjects like expense reports a little dull, interest can also come from basic respect of the other person’s value as a human being and contributor. The more genuinely interested you are, and the more you connect to the speaker’s larger purpose, the less you have to “fake it,” and the more naturally you can pay attention and analyze their information properly.

Communication is an integral part of everything we do — at work and beyond. And to successfully communicate, we must actively listen. As a leader, it makes the difference between success and failure, which is why practicing active listening and honing it until it’s second nature is so important. Active listening isn’t just a vital tool in a leader’s toolbox — it’s a vital tool for anyone! And if you find yourself actively listening and encouraging your employees to do the same, you’ll soon find work operations from end to end progressing more smoothly than they ever have before. 

Competitive Advantage

As a #CEO you need a competitive advantage when it comes to decision-making, especially in challenging times. Even during the Great Recession, our member companies grew at a rate of 5.8%. Why? Because Vistage members could rely on the advice and perspectives of their peers to make better decisions. Learn more about the Vistage advantage:

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Humble confidence and going to bat for your people are ways to lead well in a crisis.

Article from You 2.0 by Dr. Travis Bradberry

Conviction in a leader is an incredibly valuable yet increasingly rare trait. It’s in short supply because our brains are wired to overreact to uncertainty with fear. As uncertainty increases, the brain shifts control over to the limbic system, the place where emotions, such as anxiety and panic, are generated.

This brain quirk worked well eons ago, when cavemen entered an unfamiliar area and didn’t know who or what might be lurking behind the bushes. Overwhelming caution and fear ensured survival, but that’s not the case today. This mechanism, which hasn’t evolved, is a hindrance in the world of business, where uncertainty rules and important decisions must be made every day with minimal information.

Craving Certainty

We crave certainty. Our brains are so geared up for certainty that our subconscious can monitor and store over two million data points, which the brain uses to predict the future. And that isn’t just a neat little side trick—it’s the primary purpose of the neocortex, which is 76% of the brain’s total mass.

Our brains reward us for certainty. If our nomadic ancestors were anxious about where their next meal was coming from, finding it would result in increased dopamine levels in their brains in addition to a full stomach. You get the same rush from listening to music that has a predictable repeating pattern or from completing a puzzle. Predictable activities satisfy our craving for certainty.

Great Leadership Requires Conviction

In business, things change so quickly that there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next month, let alone next year. And uncertainty takes up a lot of people’s mental energy and makes them less effective at their jobs.

The brain perceives uncertainty as a threat, which sparks the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that disrupts memory, depresses the immune system, and increases the risk of high blood pressure and depression. These are things no leader wants her team to endure.

Leaders with conviction create an environment of certainty for everyone. When a leader is absolutely convinced that he’s chosen the best course of action, everyone who follows him unconsciously absorbs this belief and the accompanying emotional state. Mirror neurons are responsible for this involuntary response. They mirror the emotional states of other people—especially those we look to for guidance. This ensures that leaders with conviction put us at ease.

Leaders with conviction show us that the future is certain and that we’re all headed in the right direction. Their certainty is neurologically shared by everyone.

When leaders have conviction, people’s brains can relax, so to speak, letting them concentrate on what needs to be done. When people feel more secure in the future, they’re happier and produce higher quality work.

A leader who can demonstrate conviction will be more successful, and so will everyone she works with. Amplifying your sense of conviction is easier than you think. The following traits of leaders with great conviction will show you the way.

They’re strong (not harsh). Strength is an important quality in a leader with conviction. People will wait to see if a leader is strong before they decide to follow his or her lead. People need courage in their leader. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show strength themselves when their leader does the same.

A lot of leaders mistake domineering, controlling, and otherwise harsh behavior for strength. They think that taking control and pushing people around will somehow inspire a loyal following. Strength isn’t something you can force on people; it’s something you earn by demonstrating it time and again in the face of adversity. Only then will people trust that they should follow you.

They know when to trust their gut. Our ancestors relied on their intuition—their gut instinct—for survival. Since most of us don’t face life-or-death decisions every day, we have to learn how to use this instinct to our benefit. Often we make the mistake of talking ourselves out of listening to our gut instinct, or we go too far in the other direction and impulsively dive into a situation, mistaking our assumptions for instincts. Leaders with conviction recognize and embrace the power of their gut instincts, and they rely on some tried-and-true strategies to do so successfully:

They recognize their own filters. They’re able to identify when they’re being overly influenced by their assumptions and emotions or by another person’s opinion. Their ability to filter out the feelings that aren’t coming from their intuition helps them focus on what is.

They give their intuition some space. Gut instincts can’t be forced. Our intuition works best when we’re not pressuring it to come up with a solution. Albert Einstein said he had his best ideas while sailing, and when Steve Jobs was faced with a tough problem, he’d head out for a walk.

They build a track record. Leaders with conviction take the time to practice their intuition. They start by listening to their gut on small things and seeing how it goes so that they’ll know whether they can trust it when something big comes around.

They’re relentlessly positive. Leaders with conviction see a brighter future with crystal clarity, and they have the energy and enthusiasm to ensure that everyone else can see it too. Their belief in the good is contagious. While this might look natural, leaders with conviction know how to turn on the positivity when the going gets tough. Positive thoughts quiet fear and irrational thinking by focusing the brain’s attention on something that is completely stress free. When things are going well and your mood is good, this is relatively easy; when you’re stressing over a tough decision and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. Leaders with conviction hone this skill.

They’re confident (not cocky). We gravitate to confident leaders because confidence is contagious, and it helps us to believe that there are great things in store. The trick, as a leader, is to make certain your confidence doesn’t slip into arrogance and cockiness. Confidence is about passion and belief in your ability to make things happen, but when your confidence loses touch with reality, you begin to think that you can do things you can’t and have done things you haven’t. Suddenly it’s all about you. This arrogance makes you lose credibility.

Confident leaders are still humble. They don’t allow their accomplishments and position of authority to make them feel that they’re better than anyone else. As such, they don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and they don’t ask their followers to do anything they aren’t willing to do themselves.

They embrace that which they can’t control. We all like to be in control. After all, people who feel like they’re at the mercy of their surroundings never get anywhere in life. But this desire for control can backfire when you see everything that you can’t control or don’t know as a personal failure. Leaders with conviction aren’t afraid to acknowledge what’s out of their control. Their conviction comes from an unwavering belief in their ability to control those things that they can. They don’t paint a situation as better or worse than it actually is, and they analyze the facts for what they are. They know that the only thing they really control is the process through which they reach their decisions. That’s the only rational way to handle the unknown and the best way to keep your head on level ground.

They’re role models (not preachers). Leaders with conviction inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Many leaders say that something is important to them, but leaders with conviction walk their talk every day. Harping about the behavior you want to see in people all day long has a tiny fraction of the impact you achieve by demonstrating that behavior yourself.

They’re emotionally intelligent. The limbic system (where emotions are generated in the brain) responds to uncertainty with a knee-jerk fear reaction, and fear inhibits good decision making. Leaders with conviction are wary of this fear and spot it as soon as it begins to surface. In this way, they can contain it before it gets out of control. Once they are aware of the fear, they label all the irrational thoughts that try to intensify it as irrational fears­—not reality­—and the fear subsides. Then they can focus more accurately and rationally on the information they have to go on. Throughout the process, they remind themselves that a primitive part of their brain is trying to take over and that the logical part needs to be the one in charge. In other words, they tell their limbic system to settle down and be quiet until a hungry tiger shows up.

They don’t ask, “What if?” “What if?” questions throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, and there’s no place for them in your thinking once you have good contingency plans in place. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Leaders with conviction know that asking “what if?” will only take them to a place they don’t want, or need, to go to.

They’ll Do Anything For Their People. Leaders with conviction will do anything for their teams, and they have their people’s backs, no matter what. They don’t try to shift blame, and they don’t avoid shame when they fail. They’re never afraid to say, “The buck stops here,” and they earn people’s trust by backing them up. Leaders with conviction make it clear that they welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than their own. They know that an environment where people are afraid to speak up, offer insights, and ask good questions is destined for failure.

Bringing It All Together

Conviction assures people that their work matters. They know that if they focus all their energy and attention in a determined direction, it will yield results. This belief does more than put people at ease—it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of success.

Have you ever worked for a leader with conviction? Did it bring out the best in you?

Lean on me: How CEOs are helping each other lead through the pandemic

Article from Fast Company by Todd McKinnon

Every CEO should reimagine the future with a fresh lens: We’ve already vaulted five years forward in digital adoption, and we can continue to accelerate it further.

In February, I attended a dinner with CEOs from Slack, Box, Zoom, and PagerDuty. We discussed business plans, roadblocks, and aspirations for 2020. COVID-19 did not come up once. But by early March, all of the shop we talked just weeks earlier became obsolete—almost everything about our plans changed as we faced a slew of difficult decisions that were never accounted for.

CEOs across every industry can relate—no business was left untouched by this generational pandemic. But one major learning in a year filled with them is that decision makers don’t need to be alone in sorting out what’s to come next. When the world turned upside down, I was in almost daily contact with other CEOs, and their insights were validating, eye-opening, and, at times, liberating. In the spirit of those shared experiences, here are a few of the lessons learned on leading during unprecedented change. 


Employees take their cues from the top. If you can lead by example, be decisive, and be clear when sharing critical updates, you will send a signal to your team that a well-thought-out plan is being executed. This is especially true when it comes to major updates like expected timelines.

In a conversation with Peter Gassner, CEO of Veeva, we talked about how to communicate important decisions more clearly. He talked about how every team has either a remote-first or an office-first culture. If your default is remote, employees who choose to go into the office have to dial into meetings from their desks to maintain the remote culture for everyone. If it’s office-based, the priority is to accommodate team members in the office. 

I realized that although we’d been remote at Okta for a few months, we were still in limbo: everyone considered working from home a stopgap. I needed to make and communicate a firm decision about our default environment. I sent an email to the entire company letting them know our new default was remote, and that my team of direct reports would commit to working remotely until there is a vaccine or medical treatment for COVID-19. Since this conversation with Peter, I’ve worked harder at making firm decisions, sticking to them, and communicating them early and frequently, often across multiple mediums to drive home those decisions.


Even when the pandemic is behind us, we’re still not returning to “normal” as we know it. Every CEO should reimagine the future with a fresh lens. At Okta, we’ve prioritized building our “Dynamic Work” plan—a strategy that allows employees to work when and where they want and offers more experiential office spaces. When our head of workplace services first proposed this plan, I thought it was too drastic. But after experiencing the benefits of remote work, I realized we had a unique opportunity to create a more inviting, flexible, and productive way of working. 

But ditching a return to “normal” isn’t just about how we work, it’s about totally rethinking goals and priorities. We updated all 2020 goals when COVID-19 set in and the world shifted to a remote economy. We re-prioritized more timely needs like doubling down on training to empower strong remote leaders across all teams. 

And just as you shouldn’t be afraid to rethink your goals, don’t shy away from bolstering your technology stack to power virtual business. Those who stay at a standstill awaiting a “return to normal” risk missing out on critical technologies that can help your team stay innovative and keep your customers engaged. As a society, we’ve already vaulted five years forward in digital adoption, and we can continue to accelerate it further. 


We are creatures of habit, but the past few months have called for new routines. While it can be hard to stray from the norm, don’t hesitate to give up what you know and embrace what your people need. During times of uncertainty, people want leaders who are present, engaged, and transparent about how they’re coping. 

In the past few months, I’ve worked more closely with my team than ever before. When we brought on David Bradbury as our new chief security officer in April, I met with him for at least one hour each day. Prioritizing these in-depth meetings with critical new hires can make it easier for them to jump on board and make a difference early. It’s also a signal to the rest of the organization, illustrating how onboarding in a remote environment requires more of an investment. It’s part of how we’ll attract and retain the best minds.

I’m also opening up more personally with the Okta community, whether that’s through leading a burpee contest (no gym, no problem!), engaging more on Twitter, or participating in a virtual cooking class with customers. We’ve always had an anonymous Q&A forum where employees can submit questions for me to answer during our weekly all-hands meeting, but we’ve taken that a step further. At the start of the pandemic, I hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session about our response to COVID-19, and a couple of weeks ago, I held a “listening tour” to hear employees’ questions on Okta’s support for Black Lives Matter. By opening the floor for questions on critically important topics, you demonstrate the value of transparency, encourage your team to start hard conversations, and get the chance to answer good questions.

We still have a ways to go when it comes to uncovering how to best keep employees informed, connected, and productive at home. In addition to answering every question, sending out surveys frequently to gauge how your team feels about their productivity makes a big difference. And know that we’re in this together—no leader is an island, and we have a long road ahead. I plan to continue turning to the experience, guidance, and advice of others and sharing my own findings when I can to help collectively determine the best path forward.

ITR Economics say qualified employees are out there that weren’t there before. Take advantage of it.

Article by Alex Chausovsky

There are a lot of different way to assess the state of the US job market. With a variety of data points being reported, it is sometimes difficult for business leaders to make an accurate interpretation of what the numbers mean. The latest data highlights a job market that is more resilient than is reflected by the mainstream rhetoric.

US Private Sector Employment, which covers total private-sector, nonfarm employment in the US, stood at 117.4 million people as of June. This is substantially lower that the record-high 130.0 million seen in November 2019, but up noticeably from the COVID-19-pandemic low point of 108.2 million in April of this year. In other words, we have brought back 9.2 million jobs over the last two months. This is good news for the economy. Our latest analysis indicates that the low point in Private Sector Employment was in the second quarter of this year, as we projected.

The non-seasonally-adjusted US Unemployment Rate, which represents the rate of unemployment for the non-institutionalized population of the US, is also providing some cause for cautious optimism. After reaching a post-WWII record high of 14.4 percent in April, reflecting the tremendous impact of the black swan events that occurred in the first quarter of this year, the Unemployment Rate declined to 11.2 percent as of June. We had projected that the second quarter of 2020 would be the worst for the Unemployment Rate, and indications are in alignment with our outlook. However, it will be critical to watch the latest pandemic-related developments, as any steps made at the state or federal level to shut down the economy once again would be a significant risk factor for the job market and the expected economic recovery.

What does this data mean to you, as a decisionmaker and business leader? First, the resiliency of the job market so far should be an encouraging signal, one which supports our expectation for a recovery in the US macroeconomy (as represented by US Gross Domestic Product) commencing in the second half of this year and gaining momentum into 2021. Second, it should be a call to action. ITR is advising our clients to leverage the high levels of unemployment in preparation for their next rising trend. There is high-quality skilled labor available today that wasn’t six months ago. Even if your business is not looking to expand staffing levels, you can still look at hiring as rotational; leverage it to get underperforming people out and bring in high performers at a discount due to the current economic reality. This will help you position your business to take full advantage of the rising trend that lies ahead.

If you’d like to discuss how the job market implications pertain to your specific industry and to your business, please reach out to us. We’re here to help.

This Mental Bias Could Derail Your Career if You Don’t Actively Work Against It |

Here’s how to limit the damage that the ‘availability bias’ might have on your life

Article by Carmine Gallo

Psychologists say the worst time to make a long-term decision is in the middle of a dramatic crisis like the pandemic because a powerful mental bias called the availability bias makes it very difficult to step outside of the moment. 

As a leader, understanding the availability bias is the key to minimizing its potentially damaging impact.

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, and his research partner, Amos Tversky, identified what they called the “availability heuristic.” It simply means that we form a picture of the world based on examples, events, and experiences that come readily to our mind.

If everything you see, read, and hear is bad, then you’re more likely to expect the future will be bad, too. The problem, according to Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is that events we experience vividly today do not provide the most useful information to make wise decisions about your future.  

The way investors react to the ups and downs of the stock market provides a good example of how the availability bias works in our lives. Many investors bailed out of the market during the 2008 recession after stocks had fallen 50 percent. It’s too bad, as stocks then began the longest bull market of all time, rising 256 percent over the next decade.

Beyond the stock market, a crisis is the worst time to make sudden decisions that might impact you for years to come, but people do it all the time. The coronavirus pandemic is no different. One recent study found that half of young people have already changed their long-range plans for college, work, and career paths as a result of the crisis.

Based on my 20 years of experience studying cognitive psychology–and having professionally surviving four major economic collapses–here are three ways to reduce the damage the availability bias might play in your life.

1. Find the right advisers.

Seek advice from mentors who have survived–and even thrived–in past recessions.

In 2001, I was working as a television host for a network that covered technology. Advertising plummeted after the dot-com crash, and the network pulled the plug on programming. Tech stocks plummeted and the future seemed bleak.

Thankfully, I had built a network of contacts and mentors who I leaned on for advice. One CEO, who had successfully navigated his company through several recessions, told me: “Control what you can today, but focus on where you want to be in the future.” 

To me, it was the best advice ever. I controlled what I could and found a short-term position in public relations to pay the bills and add some valuable skills to my talent stack. While I worked in PR, however, I began researching and writing a book (my long-term goal). That book was The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and it became a global bestseller. 

If you’re too young to have experienced severe economic downturns, turn to people who have and follow their long-term guidance, rather than making assumptions based on what’s immediately in front of you.

2. Limit “doomscrolling.”

According to Webster’s, doomscrolling refers to scrolling through bad news, even though the news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.

Doomscrolling can lead to anxiety and depression, according to health experts interviewed by The New York Times. It puts you in a frame of mind that diminishes your ability to make sound decisions.

If you’re going to mindlessly scroll for news, put a time limit on it. I give myself 20 minutes a day to watch the news or scroll for information on social media. But I read about two hours a day, focused on economic reports, medical journals, and books.

Spend your time on content that will empower you for the long run. Focus on information that you choose to feed to your mind.

3. Follow Warren Buffett’s advice.

In Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting in 2018, Buffett held up a copy of the New York Times from March 12, 1942, when America appeared to be losing World War II.

“The newspaper headlines were filled with bad news,” Buffett said. But he bought his first stock anyway because he believed the future would be brighter. 

Buffett said that $10,000 invested in the market at that time would be worth $51 million today–despite the wars, recessions, unrest, pandemics and other catastrophes he’s experienced.

The march of progress may be unstoppable, but it sure doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the middle of a crisis. 

My heart sinks when I see rising unemployment, businesses shutting their doors permanently, rising hospitalizations for Covid-19 infections. It’s awful. But as a student of behavioral psychology, I’ve learned that the “availability” of bad news can also derail people from pursuing their long-term dreams. 

Before you make any decision today, ask yourself: Where do I see myself five, 10 years from now? What skills do I need to build today to reach that goal?

The constant bombardment of bad news becomes a problem when it has an outsized influence on your career or business decisions. Just because it’s “available” doesn’t mean you have to act on it. 

Leading A Distributed Workforce: Keys from Collins, Christensen, Drucker and Deming

Article from Chief Executive by Betsy Atkins

There’s a case to be made that Covid-19 has caused the future to accelerate by 5 to 7 years. Suddenly, for many companies, the future of work—virtual, distributed, unbounded by geography and time—has arrived. We’re all adapting and trying to catch up.

How do you do it? And more importantly, how do your company’s leaders do it?

One way is to go back to the timeless insights of the masters of management theory. Reviewing the management thought leaders of the last hundred or so years reveals a host of learnable and adaptable concepts that remain valid for the challenges leaders are facing today. Even more important, they provoke useful questions for corporate leaders that are just as relevant today as they were the day they were published.

I pulled together a quick snapshot from a few of the most well-known of them, as well as some useful questions provoked by their work that are worth asking at your next board or management meeting. Hopefully you’ll find them useful:

Frederick Winslow Taylor

Key Takeaway: Good communication from management to teams, with clearly defined tasks and expectations, is essential.

Taylor revolutionized the idea of scientific management in 1911 in his work The Principles of Scientific Management. His focus on workplace efficiency is still utilized today.

He believed that workers without clarity and organization were not productive. As a result, he examined every job so that there was a clear expectation an employee’s workload. He preached that each part of an employee’s work should be analyzed in a scientific way, and then the work will be “devised in the best and most efficient method.” The amount of work is analyzed for each job to set a standard for how much work an employee is expected to do each day.

He also established that it is the role of management to determine the job best suited for each employee and to train them in order to do the task productively. This includes managers communicating and checking in on their teams to ensure this.

Questions to Consider:

• Have you reevaluated the expectations between managers and their teams while they are not in the same physical space? Have you communicated those expectations? Have managers?

• Have you re-evaluated the process/nature of the work you are expecting your employees to do in a rigorous way? Have you made sure employees are clear on what needs to be done?

• Do they know what is expected of them, what it means to succeed in this new environment? How that will be measured and monitored?

Henry Ford

Key Takeaways: Continuity of production; Motivate employees to exert their maximum effort

After introducing Ford’s Model T in 1908, Henry Ford wanted to increased production to satisfy growing demand, lowering the price so everybody American was able to afford a car. His solution: The assembly line.

Ford broke down the assembly of the Model T into 84 specific tasks. If each worker had one discrete task to focus on, then the production could be even faster. Ford hired Taylor to maximize the efficiency of those jobs. He also built machines capable of stamping out parts more quickly than humans.

Ford’s assembly line was inspired by a slaughterhouse in Chicago. Using conveyer belts and other systems, workers were able to build motors and transmissions at a continuous—and much higher—rate. Their efficient and continuous assembly line allowed them to reduce the price of the Model T to $269 in 1922. By 1924, more than half of the 24 million vehicles driven in America were Fords.

While he was able to standardize production, standardizing the work force was more difficult. In order to find workers to perform the same repetitive task day after day, he increased wages to $5 a day, double the average factory wage at the time.

Questions to Consider

• Have you clearly defined systems, tasks and continuity of work in this new environment? Are your employees clear on how work is to be conducted, and what role their efforts play in the larger picture?

• Are you re-focused on the right incentives to motivate your employees to work their hardest? Is it wages? Job security? A focus on purpose? Implementing ESG programs? Flexibility? How do you know these are the right incentives to drive high performance?

Edward Deming

Key Takeaways: Appreciation the system to run it most efficiently; Understand and prepare for variation

Following World War II, W. Edward Deming went to Japan as an adviser to the Japanese Census. He transformed Japanese manufacturing through his Theory of Profound Knowledge, (documented in his 1986 book Out of Crisis).

Deming believed his theory would allow for transformation of individuals within a company. He defined four parts, that, if understood and applied, would generate a “better leadership culture” and improve the efficiency of a company:

• Appreciation for a System – A business is a system. Every part of the business is interrelated. Therefore, company leaders must truly understand and be invested into the system that you are manage, and how everything coexists.

• Knowledge about Variation – There are two types of variation: common cause and special cause. Common causes are results from within the system and can be predicted. Special causes are variations that are from outside the system. These are unexpected and cannot be predicted.

• Theory of Knowledge – Without theory, there is no knowledge. By theorizing, you are generating predications and insights beyond just an understanding.

• Understanding of Psychology – Within the system of business, there are interrelated people that make it up. It is important to understand personally as individuals that work for you in order to lead them the most efficiently.

Questions to Consider:

• Do your leaders understand how all the parts of the system work together in this new environment? Are they clear on not just their goals, but the goals of other leaders, and the purpose of those goals?

• How might the work vary due to Coronavirus? What’s controllable? What’s likely outside the company’s control? What provisions/adaptations might be put in place to help buffer operations?

• Are your workers clear about the theory behind the work, especially at a time of great change and uncertainty? How can you help reinforce this among leadership team members, and their reports?

Peter Drucker

Key Takeaways: Manage people not things; Understand your employee

One of Drucker’s big ideas was that management was a “liberal art” and efficient managers needed a broad range of knowledge on subjects as varied as psychology, science—and even religion.

“Management deals with people, their values, their growth and development—and this makes it a humanity,” Drucker wrore in his 1988 book The New Realities. “So does its concern with, and impact on, social structure and the community. Indeed… management is deeply involved in spiritual concerns—the nature of man, good and evil,”.

“Managers draw on all the knowledge and insights of the humanities and the social sciences—on psychology and philosophy, on economics and on history, on the physical sciences and on ethics.”

His idea was that in order to be efficient as a manager, you must understand what drives and motivates your employees, aka human beings.

Questions to Consider:

• In a time when distributed work is causing a reduction in direct, in-person social interactions to diminish, how have your managers adapted? How do they know how to adapt? Do they know what is expected of them?

• Has your company researched and documented emerging best practices for leadership in this new, virtual workplace? Has your company developed any training programs to help front-line managers? Who is responsible for building effectiveness in this changed environment?

Clayton Christensen

Key Takeaway: Play the game differently.

In 1995, the late Clayton Christensen introduced his concept of “disruptive innovation” in a Harvard Business Review article, one of the most quoted and impactful business theories of the last century. His theory explained how arrogant, status-quo companies are pushed out the market by small and emerging startups that provide a better, and sometimes obvious, solution to consumers. “Disruption comes from playing the game differently,” he said.

In an article for Forbes in 2007, he boiled down his work: “In industry after industry, companies have created growth by following—explicitly or implicitly—the patterns of disruptive innovation. Disruptors create growth by redefining performance. They either bring a simple, cheap solution to the low end of an established market or enable ‘nonconsumers’ to solve pressing problems.”

“A successful disruptor masters the art of trade-offs,” he said. “Their offering isn’t better along traditional performance dimensions. In fact, it’s typically just good enough along dimensions that historically mattered in a mainstream market. A disruptor redefines the notion of performance by pulling an overlooked innovation lever. Simplicity. Convenience. Accessibility. Affordability. All of these are hallmarks of disruptive innovation.”

Questions to Consider:

• Are you seeking enough opportunity in the crisis? Are you tracking how societal behaviors will likely change as a result of this time, and how you might take advantage of those changes to grow your business? What do your customers want? How do you know? Who is responsible for finding out?

• What are you doing to increase simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability for your existing products and services? Who in your organization has been tasked with exploring these changes?

• Within your own company, what are you doing to simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability for your distributed workforce? What needs to go back to “normal” and what does not? What can you do now that you couldn’t do before? How can you document the improvements, and make them even simpler, more convenient, more accessible and cheaper?

Jim Collins

Key Takeaway: Have the right people in the right seats on the bus

This may be the most important discussion of all. Collins, one of the most admired management thinkers all time, analyzed more than 1,400 companies for his classic Good to Great, looking for the key traits that helped companies like Fannie Mae, Kimberly-Clark, and Nucor Corp. make the leap from also-rans to the front of the pack.

Lesson one: “Start by getting the right people on the bus (your company), the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

As he famously put it: “If you begin with ‘who,’ rather than ‘what,’ you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction.

“Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.”

Questions to Consider:

• Do you have the right people on your bus? Are they in the right seats? How do you know?

• If you’re facing the need for furloughs, layoffs or other changes in personnel, do you know who you should keep? How do you know? What is the mechanism for finding out?

4 Reasons You Should Have a Board of Advisors

Article from Entrepreneur by Tanner Simkins

A board of advisors is a group of individuals who are appointed to provide counsel, advice, and support for businesses and their leaders. Unlike a board of directors, which brings with it formality, liability, and expense, a board of advisors is an informal and inexpensive way to have a group that offers guidance. A board of advisors has no formal power or legal authority instead think of it as an informal team of experts.

All businesses can benefit from a board of advisors, but they are particularly helpful for startups and businesses that are growing. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, tells leaders, The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be. For many businesses, a board of advisors can serve as those people and can help to guide businesses to where they want to be. Here are 4 key ways that a board of advisors can add value to your business.

Offering an outside perspective

One of the greatest advantages that a board of advisors can bring your business is an outside perspective on important issues. Advisors bring different opinions, perspectives, and experiences than your leadership team has. They are able to look at issues like business performance, market trends, and long-term strategy through a different lens and in an unbiased way. Having this perspective can help to identify blindspots and problem areas and can be invaluable when it comes to strategic planning. As a result, the ability to get an unbiased, outside perspective from knowledgeable individuals is perhaps the key benefit of having a board of advisors.

Expanding your business network

A strong board of advisors can also help to expand your business network, which is especially important for startups and small businesses. Having a well-connected board immediately expands your organizations contacts and can help you to build or expand your presence in relevant markets. Additionally, your board members can utilize connections to help with funding, establishing strategic partners, connecting with vendors, and connecting with other industry experts. A strong network is key to growing and developing your business, and a board of advisors is an effective way to quickly expand your network and to add key contacts.

Supplementing and expanding organizational leadership

A board of advisors is first and foremost there to support, guide, and advocate for your leaders and executive team. As such, they provide two key leadership benefits: They are able to fill skill and expertise gaps while also developing the skills of your leadership team.

A strong board of advisors is selected to offer different areas of expertise and experience than your corporate leadership possesses. As a result, they are able to offer advice that increases the effectiveness of your leadership team.

More importantly, perhaps, they can help your leadership build skills and become more effective. Its important that your executive team is consistently growing and developing, and a board of advisors is an effective way for your team to get the support and guidance needed to ensure that they’re regularly becoming more effective leaders and managers.

Increasing your credibility with investors, clients, and vendors

Another way that a board of advisors can add value to your organization is by building credibility with investors, clients, and vendors. Having a board of advisors instantly gives your business more credibility, which only increases if you have a strong board of advisors made up of industry experts and community leaders. This can help build trust with investors and potential investors while also making customers and vendors more willing to work with you. Having a board of advisors improves your community relations and public relations and is an effective way to immediately gain credibility with key stakeholders and clients.

Be clear about what you need and what you want to accomplish

Having a board of advisors adds value to your business in many ways and can provide invaluable support, guidance, and advocacy for your executive team. For many businesses that want to avoid the expense, formality, and liability associated with a board of directors, a board of advisors can be an informal, inexpensive, and effective way to develop a team of experts. That said, to get the most out of this team, its important to be strategic about how its developed. 

When considering creating a board of advisors, first consider the strengths and weaknesses of your management team and work to build a board with the skills to address and compensate for some of the weaknesses. Additionally, before developing your board, its helpful to have some clear goals about what you want the board to accomplish. Finally, going into it with a general idea of the size and structure of the board can help make this process smoother.

In addition to suggesting that its helpful to spend time with trusted advisors, veteran sports PR and marketing executive and Columbia University professor (and member of many company boards) Joe Favorito, more specifically advises, “We always need to grow personally and professionally and the best way to do that is to have people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise around us. They can both reaffirm strategy and hopefully challenge us on next steps. It’s easy to surround yourself with those who will tell you how great you are. What’s better is to have people who show you how great you can be, if you open your mind to different strategies and opportunities.” A board of advisors is a great way for your business to do just that.

Forbes article shares step by step how to cultivate a mentoring company.

Article by Ruth Gotian

It is well documented that those who are mentored outperform and out-earn those who are not. They get promoted more often and report lower burnout rates. However, having just one mentor is limiting. Having a team of mentors puts you in the driver’s seat. It is essential to have your personal mentoring team. This collective, which has your best interest at heart has to be selected carefully.

A mentoring team offers a diversity of thoughts, perspectives, skills, and social capital. The more diverse your team, the greater your reach and potential. I always encourage my clients to curate mentors from a diversity of industries and geography in order to learn and appreciate new ways of thinking and approaches to problems. Don’t limit yourself to one industry or organization. Think globally. To truly get a wide array of outlooks, make sure your mentoring team doesn’t all look like you. Aim for a cross-section of genders and ethnicities. My team of mentors includes people from a wide range of industries including medicine, science, education, law, and military. I’ve learned countless tips from each one of my mentors and have grown my network exponentially. My mentors led me to publish in major journals, taught me how to develop mentoring circles in my organization, and how to get face time with key people when traveling to their institution. You are the common denominator among your team. While you can reach out to any and all members on the team, they don’t all need to meet together.

But how do you identify who should be on your team? A simple five-step process can help you identify who can help guide your career and serve on your Targeted Mentoring Team. 

Step 1: Name your goal

What is your immediate goal? Is it to get promoted to vice president or associate professor? It’s important to identify and label your attainable short-term goal. Knowing what you want to achieve and where you want to go will help dictate the path you should follow. The reason for not choosing a long-term goal at this point is that as you develop new experiences and skills, you might find your long-term goals change.

Step 2: Identify your plan

French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” Naming your goal is a critical first step. To prevent your goal from becoming a fantasy, identify what you need to do in the short term to achieve your goal. Do you need to land a big account or publish more articles? Be very specific about what the next steps are.

Once you have these steps identified, you can start building your mentoring team. This is the group of people who will help you actualize your plan, provide insight, and connect you with the right people. You are developing your Targeted Mentoring Team. Envision a bullseye, with a total of three circles, one inside the other.

Step 3: Your inner circle

List the names of people who know you best. They know you when you’re tired, hungry, and maybe even cranky. They could be your partner, family, closest friends, maybe even your children. These people, even if they are not in your industry, will tell you the truth, even if it hurts. They know the ‘personal’ you.

Step 4: Your middle circle

This circle, right outside your inner circle, includes your closest work colleagues. They’ve seen you under the pressure of a deadline, crises, or being understaffed. They are attuned to your work ethic and reputation. These people might be senior or junior to you or right at your level. They know the ‘professional’ you.

Step 5: Your outer circle

This is the circle that will take the most work. It includes acquaintances and people who work in or outside your field. You may not know them directly, but you know of them. They may include people you have heard speak and those whose work, position, or reputation you admire. They don’t need to be in your immediate industry. If you are having trouble with negotiations, having a master negotiator on your team, from any industry is paramount. These potential mentors can be approached remotely. 

This list might need to be tweaked a bit, but the bones are there for you to work with. Start with the inner circle and work your way out. Tell people what your goal and plan is. Mentors will emerge with guidance and connections to their network. Build on that. Ask for introductions to your outer circle if need be. 

The circles are permeable. Being a mentor is not a life sentence. Add and remove names of potential mentors as the needs arise and your circumstances change. Before long, those in the outer circle will move toward the middle circle and new names will be added to the outer layer as you advance. Your mentoring team, if chosen carefully, will help you ascend and achieve your goal.

Hybrid Remote Work Offers the Worst of Both Worlds

Article from Wired by Sid Sijbrandij

Post-pandemic, many companies plan to let employees work from home and a main office. But trying to do both ensures neither experience is good. 

REMOTE WORK, ONCE considered a novelty or an odd experiment, has become a necessity for many businesses in the Covid-19 world. This has challenged the common assumption that remote work environments hinder employee productivity. Executives across industries have marveled at productivity remaining consistent or even increasing as employees rapidly shifted to working from home, with many of them doing double duty as home-school teachers. Yet, somehow, the lesson that companies have deduced from this isn’t that they should go all-remote, but instead that they should go hybrid: combining remote and co-located work. No matter how you approach it, hybrid-remote is hard, and in the end, companies that attempt to do both will either go all-in with remote or go back to being office-based.

Hybrid creates two fundamentally different employee experiences to manage. Despite recent successes with remote work, employers are reopening offices to some of their employees to encourage social bonding, reinforce culture, and increase business collaboration. The assumption underlying these reopenings is that some critical things can’t be done as effectively outside of the office. Leaders who built their businesses in offices counted on shared space to act as a glue for culture and as a stopgap for inefficiencies in communication systems and processes. While the office-based model has historically proven to be successful for many companies, it will provide significant challenges for companies committed to also supporting a remote workforce. If an office is the “glue,” and processes and systems don’t adapt for a remote workforce, remote team members will not feel included and will face constant communication barriers. This will make it harder for them to perform at the same level as their in-office peers.

And whenever there is a head office, a physical co-located space where leadership resides, there will always be two ways of communicating. To get everyone on the same level, a company would need leadership to leave the shared office so no single physical place holds more power than another. Realistically, however, most leadership in hybrid-remote firms will keep working from the head office, degrading the default way of working from “remote-first” to “remote-allowed,” where remote employees are not penalized for working outside the office, but are also not proactively integrated into the fabric of the company. This will be a particularly frustrating result for team members whose organizations sold them on the idea that they could opt in to remote work as a perk. Employees will quickly discover that the company didn’t make the shift from the old ways of rewarding attendance (equating “being seen” in an office with being a great worker) to a new way of rewarding output (equating achieved results with being a great worker). Eventually, remote workers will find that they are not getting promoted at an equal rate, because they are less visible, and the productive remote employees will leave for all-remote companies that invest in their remote team members.

But it doesn’t have to happen that way. Success with a remote workforce, hybrid or fully remote, requires operational intentionality. Unquestioningly sticking to systems and processes that made an office-based model successful will doom any remote model to fail.

As a cofounder and the CEO of GitLab, I proactively built an all-remote company after discovering early on that you don’t need everyone in the same building to achieve results. Our executives, managers, and individual contributors all work remote. We don’t even have an HQ. This avoids the complexities of having to cater to onsite and offsite employees. It also fosters a shared commitment to our unique way of operating and iterating to improve over time.

Working from home will never be the best solution for everyone, and “remote” doesn’t always mean “home.” If a team member wants to work in an office because their home isn’t conducive to work, they’re distracted by roommates or family members, they want the social interaction of a coworking space, or they simply feel more productive away from home, we’ll pay for the space. We have noticed, however, that some people who prefer an office in the beginning transition to work-from-home during their first months.

We also care about and encourage informal digital communication such as coffee chats and even all-remote talent shows. This isn’t to say we don’t recognize the importance of in-person face time: Pre-pandemic, we organized an in-person, all-employee event every year and encouraged local meetups amongst team members who live in the same region. We also offered visiting grants, which provided company-subsidized travel to visit team members in another location anywhere in the world, and we look forward to bringing them back.

Proactively setting up your organization for remote goes beyond where you sit and how often you see other people. That’s why we don’t have employees from different disciplines report to the same manager, even though much of our work is multidisciplinary. Instead, we require each individual to be a “manager of one” who can self-organize and work asynchronously without a project manager.

While leading an all-remote company will require many managers to rethink and rework how they run their businesses, all-remote is possible and will lead to greater resilience to crises, increased efficiency, and access to talent that was previously out of reach. There is so much talent outside of major metropolitan areas, and this talent will suddenly be able to compete for high-paying and rewarding jobs at the world’s leading companies. This will help spread income a bit more equally around the world (even if inequality will still rise).

In the time since offices shut down, some companies have already canceled their leases with the intent to go all-remote. On the other hand, many companies are intent on reducing their in-office presence, rather than eliminating it, and plan to go hybrid-remote. Those who do hybrid, if not intentional about making systemic changes and treating every employee as if they are remote (whether in-office or not), will see their most effective remote people leave. The hybrid companies will then blame the lack of productivity on remote instead of the actual cause: Managing two distinct employee experiences is a very arduous task. These companies will write off remote work as a novel experiment, blame it for operational difficulties, and pull remaining remote workers back into the office.