Category Archives: Life balance

Small Business Strategy: The Power of Reflection

It’s amazing what you can get done getting still. Most small business owners, myself included, spend most of their days moving as fast as possible, getting things done, checking things off the list. But the most important work happens faster when we stop.

Once a year, my business partner and I go to Arizona for several days to think about the business. We take a thick workbook filled with questions about every aspect of the business, from our business development strategy, to how we define our company brand, to how we think each employee is doing.

For the first few days, it may look like we’re not doing much that’s productive. We go on hikes, have massages, take yoga classes, take naps. This year, Arizona had an unexpected cold snap and we spent a lot of time in our rooms sitting by the fire.

Then, ideas begin to surface. New-found clarity pulls everything into focus. Suddenly, we see business opportunities that we hadn’t noticed before. We notice things we need to change that we’d been moving too fast to see.

These annual trips are where we set our vision for the company. There are all sorts of important milestones in our company’s growth that can be traced back to an idea we had during Shiatsu or sitting by the pool on our Arizona retreats. If we hadn’t done these trips consistently through the years, there are plenty of times we would have veered off course and not caught it.

The trick is taking the time, even when you think you don’t have it. Or when you think the company can’t afford for you to spend money going away somewhere to loll around.

Our trips are definitely expensive, but I’d say they’re one of the most important items in our annual budget. My business partner and I were talking yesterday, after our most recent Arizona trip, about how we could have spent that same amount of money on an executive coach for the year, or joining a CEO roundtable group, or any other sort of professional development that most business people would find a reasonable investment.

But for my money, the best bet is giving yourself a chance to sit still until you begin to see where you need to go next.

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5 Tips: How to Increase Employee Engagement with Workplace Wellness Programs

The key to a successful workplace wellness program is employee engagement. The reverse is also true. That is, one way to increase employee engagement is a successful wellness program.

Yesterday we were in a client’s break room, waiting for a meeting room to open up , and I noticed several flyers on the bulletin board about various wellness offerings. I was surprised by my initial reaction, which was, “Who would sign up for those?”

Why did they strike me as loser offerings? Because they seemed preachy and goody-goody and completely devoid of anything fun. One sounded like the school nurse was going to take you through a lecture on the five food groups. I’m not suggesting that wellness should be a barrel of laughs, but a good program creates energy and involvement. The more employees you can get to participate, the stronger your program will be.

An effective wellness program will do more than just increase productivity because people feel better and have more energy. It also gives co-workers a chance to do something together that’s unrelated to their usual work roles. It equals the playing field, so to speak, in a way that lets junior employees spend some time on an equal footing with those who rank above them in the company hieirarchy. It will also build relationships between people in different departments, which helps smooth the way to better teamwork and increased collaboration.

So how do you create a wellness program with plenty of employee engagement? Here are five tips:

1. Ask the employees what they want. Particularly in a small company, you can solicit input from the group. You can do a survey, if you want, but it might be easier just to ask people about their wellness concerns. Are they looking for ways to find time for exercise? Do they really wish they could quit smoking? Are they trying to eat healthier?

2. Get their help in constructing the program. Give some influential employees ownership of developing the program. If the group wants a yoga class at lunch, let an employee track down a good yoga instructor willing to do a class in the conference room. If they’re interested in a buddy-system diet, let an employee research South Beach vs. The Zone vs. WeightWatchers.

3. Make sure management joins in. The top level people in the company need to suit up and show up. If you give the impression that the boss is too busy for exercise, for example, employees might interpret the fitness program as something meant only for those who aren’t as serious about their work. Besides making it clear that you’re committed to wellness, it adds extra motivation for participation, at least by those employees who want more chances to rub shoulders with the boss.

4. Add an element of competition. Put together a contest with some level of cash prize, or a free day off, or something employees will see as worth their while. Look for a way to compete that doesn’t automatically give an advantage to the fittest among the group. For instance, instead of a contest to see who can bench press the most weight, compete on who can complete three workouts a week for the most weeks.

5. Create a collaborative goal. If your group tends to get a little too competitive, choose a goal they work towards together. Maybe after the employees collectively walk or run 10,000 miles, the company donates $1,000 to a worthy cause. Or let the collaborative goal benefit the employees more directly. After they lose so many pounds as a group, you’ll hire a massage therapist to give chair massages on Friday afternoon.

Small Business Strategies: Starting a workplace wellness program might be easier than you think

Meditation room at Tribe

What can you do in the new year to improve employee morale and productivity without spending a ton of money? Easy answer: start some level of wellness program in your office. If you’ve ever considered doing something like that, this might be the perfect time.

Wellness programs allow you to give employees something they find meaningful without handing out big pay raises. Many small companies froze salary increases last year. In others, employees watched people in their company lose their jobs, and were understandably meek about pushing for their own salary reviews. But don’t think that means they’re not thinking about what they give the company for what they get. A workplace wellness program can be a very good way to let employees know you value their contributions.

Of course, it’s also the beginning of a new year. The perfect time for fresh starts, healthy new habits and lifestyle improvements. Your employees are probably already thinking about what they can do in 2010 to be healthier. A wellness program can help support them in their individual goals. It’s also a powerful way to bring new energy into the workplace.

How do you do it? You don’t have to build a company gym or pay for an on-site spa chef (although you could). Think in terms of providing flexibility (time) or resources (access). You can pick one element of wellness, like fitness or stress management or healthy eating and focus your program around that area. Or you can put together a small smorgasbord of wellness offerings. Here are a few examples:

• Allow employees extra time for lunch two or three days a week so they can fit in a walk or a run. At Tribe, we tell employees they can put up to three hours a week on their time sheets for exercise during the workday. We’ve found that whenever someone manages to fit in a workout or  yoga class during the day, they’re likely to come back to the office with a good idea or solution for something they’re working on. If nothing else, their energy level is higher that when they left.

• Use one of those empty offices for a meditation room. Move the desk out and put a small couch or a comfortable armchair in there instead. Or just put out a few yoga mats or some big floor pillows.  Add a few meditation CDs and a CD player, and you’re good to go. If employees feel comfortable spending 20 minutes meditating in the middle of the day, alone or with a coworker, that can go a long way towards reducing stress levels.

• Put a bowl of fresh fruit in the break room, and stock it weekly. When employees hit that pre-lunch or mid-afternoon slump, being able to skip the vending machine and grab an apple or banana instead can be a highly appreciated perk. Supporting wellness in the office can actually come down to some very simple (and inexpensive) changes.

The biggest thing employees are looking for in a wellness program is a way for the workplace to support them in living a good life. As a business owner, you do that by providing meaningful work and fair compensation. But lately, many companies have been asking employees to work harder without the hope of a big, fat salary increase. Especially in this economic environment, one of the best things you can do for your employees is to provide the flexibility and resources for them to take care of their own health.

Can you cut your payroll and still keep employees happy?

Most small businesses have already done some belt tightening this year. We’ve trimmed dead wood, become a more lean machine, and every other metaphor you can apply to spending less money. Still, when we see our final projections of where our year-end financials will end up, we might  wonder if we should cut a little more.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy, wrote in the New York Times this weekend about a creative approach to cutting costs by trading employees money for time. She cites the example of KMPG, the giant accounting firm, and their solution to cutting payroll costs without losing star talent. They presented 11,000 employees with a Chinese menu of choices: work a four-day week and take a 20% pay reduction; take a short sabbatical while earning 30 percent of their base salary; both of those options; or neither of those options, retaining their regular salary for their standard work week. Over 80% of them chose one of the flex options.

Hewlett points out that because KPMG positioned these options as “a strategic response to the downturn, rather than a ‘benefit’ for working mothers, it has gone some distance to legitimizing flex time. Taking this option has become an honored choice — a way to save jobs. As a result, overloaded men as well as overloaded women have felt free to vary their schedules.”

I’ve seen one small company try a flawed version of this plan with disastrous results. Faced with the need to reduce payroll and loathe to eliminate jobs, the business owner asked everyone in the company to take a 15 percent pay cut, assuring them that she was taking the same reduction in salary. She hoped they would see this as a good way to help all their coworkers keep their jobs.

It didn’t work that way. Morale plummeted and some of her best talent jumped ship. Months later, when she was able to reinstate full salaries, she didn’t score any points with her staff because the damage was already done.

The crucial elements of cutting payroll while retaining employees are 1) giving them something back, i.e. time, in exchange for giving up some of their salary, and 2) giving them the choice of making that trade or not. Asking employees to help suck up your losses by getting paid less for the same work week is only going to hurt the company in the long run.

The thing about being an entrepreneur is that you have the potential to make a lot of money in good years. You also have the potential to lose money in the bad ones. We all willingly take that risk, but it’s not fair to expect our employees to share in the down side. On the other hand, in 2010 or 2011, when we see year-end projections that show us closing the year with gobs of money, we’ll benefit nicely from the upside of that risk-reward ratio.

Sustainable Startup: Worthwhile Wine From South Africa

Tom_Miranda_Zumas_smallTom Lynch’s new company really began on a father-daughter trip. He and his 13-year-old Miranda were planning a trip to South Africa, and decided they should spend a week of their time there doing something to help. They ended up in Nzinga, a remote village of mud huts, where Miranda read books to the children and helped out in the school while her dad was put to work planting potatoes and working in the communal garden.

On the trip home, Miranda told her father they couldn’t just leave and do nothing else. She wanted to keep working to help this village. Tom agreed to help her launch a non-profit, which Miranda named Isopho, a Zulu word for “gift” and the children’s nickname for Miranda. While they were sitting there waiting for the plane, Tom searched for available URLs and registered Isopho.org then and there.

Eventually, Tom began to feel a disconnect between his work with Isopho on nights and weekends and his daytime job as a VP of Strategy & Planning for a large digital agency. Doing more of the same each day at work felt insufficient, in light of the challenges he’d accepted in Nzinga. When the company began to consider layoffs, he suggested a mutually beneficial exit agreement for himself so that he could spend more time on Isopho.

He also began thinking about starting a company that might be a better complement to Isopho. On one trip to South Africa, he stayed an extra few weeks to visit an extensive list of wineries he had culled from an even larger list.  His first requirement was that the vineyard consistently win awards for great wine. And the second was that it contribute to sustainability in some major ways. Despite its unfortunate history, the South African wine industry is now one of the most progressive in the world.

The result is Tom’s new company, Worthwhile Wines, which will import 261 sustainable wines from 21 different South African Vineyards. Although the history of winemaking in South Africa is oppressive at best, the vineyards Tom selected are doing things like putting a third of the land in the names of the Black workers, providing school and decent housing for the families working there, developing ways to use fewer pesticides, using organic grapes and employing Blacks in management roles.

Most of us would choose a sustainable product over a similar one that’s not sustainable. But few of us want to go to much trouble to figure that out. Choosing a bottle imported by WorthWhile Wines will be a quick and easy way for consumers to know they’re a) getting a good wine, that B) is from a vineyard that ‘s doing good.

Worthwhile Wines will also be a way Tom Lynch can a) run a good business that b) does some good in the world.

Participate in the Slow Movement – via Social Media

snail“The best way to survive and thrive in the fast-paced modern world is not to speed up but to slow down,” says Carl Honoré, author of “In Praise of Slowness,” and key instigator of the revolutionary Slow Movement. Honoré  believes we’ve become addicted to speed. The tell-tale symptoms of this addiction are  “when you feel tired all the time and like you’re just going through the motions, getting through the many things on your To-Do list but not engaging with them deeply or enjoying them very much. You feel like you’re racing through your life instead of actually living it.”

What’s wrong with speed? Nothing, according to Honoré, who admits he actually loves speed. The trick, he says, is to blend fast and slow, to do whatever you’re doing at the right speed. That, he says, is where you’ll find yourself more deeply engaged and enjoying your days more.

Are social media and the slow movement mutually exclusive? Honoré mentions that social networks can tempt us to rush relationships and that when people claim to have thousands of friends on Facebook, it devalues the concept of friendship. True, but social media can also help us be more engaged with our friends, industry peers and the world at large.

Consider the many authentic and meaningful moments you share with others each day on social networks. The technology is fast, but the interactions can be slow, in the sense that, for those few moments, we are completely focused on the person or people we’re addressing online. We’re as engaged as if we were sitting across the table looking each other in the eye.

To keep your social media slow, think quality over quantity. Instead of following thousands of people on Twitter (or trying to get thousands to follow you), narrow it down to a smaller number of people with whom you truly share interests (or sense of humor. For instance, I always want to know what @Shitmydadsays is up to.) On Facebook, after the first few months of catching up with people you haven’t heard from in years, you might hide the updates of many you know less well, so you can better keep up with the core group of people who are most important to you. And on LinkedIn, although it’s nice to have tons of contacts in a wide variety of industries and roles, it helps if they’re people you truly consider trusted contacts. Before you invite someone to connect, ask yourself, “Is this someone I’d feel comfortable picking up the phone to ask, “Do you know someone who such-and-such?'” Also, think about participating more fully in LinkedIn groups that are good fits with your particular niche topics.

That doesn’t mean social media can take the place of face-to-face. Admittedly, it’s not the same as making time to take someone to lunch, or stopping by the house to visit. But social media is a tool, just like the telephone. We’ve all learned to get off the phone fast when it’s a telemarketer, and have all had long, relaxed conversations with people we love. In and of itself, social media is not fast or slow; it’s how you use it.

Mompreneurs have options military moms don’t

mombabyThe front page of the New York Times yesterday carried an article on women balancing military duty and family. The military seems to have adapted fairly well to women serving alongside men, just as the workplace has over the past several decades. “Motherhood, though,” says the writer of the article, Lizette Alvarez, “poses a more formidable challenge for the armed forces.”

The corporate world is also still struggling with how to accommodate motherhood. The difficulties presented by that dual life — corporate gig and loving mom — are one reason so many women start their own companies before they work their way up to that corner office.

“Hanging on to today’s war-savvy, battle-tested cadre of mothers — and would-be mothers — is both crucial and difficult for the Army, say officers, enlistees and experts. ‘The Army’s challenge, but also the military’s challenge, is to help service members feel they don’t have to choose between family life and their military career,’ said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, an organization supported in part by the Department of Defense.”

“’They leave when they can’t figure out’ a way to do both, she said.” Just as many mothers leave their corporate positions when they can’t reconcile the demands of their work calendar with their kid’s schedules.

Running their own businesses allows mothers the freedom to control their own calendars. Being able to schedule business trips so they don’t interfere with kids’ birthdays and school plays, to set client meetings at a time that will still get you to soccer practice by pickup, can make all the difference. It’s one of the chief advantages of entrepreneurship, especially for parents.

Most mothers I know who’ve started a company aren’t really looking for a way to work less hard. Entrepreneurs of every stripe work hard. They’re attracted to entrepreneurship partly because it allows them to work on their own terms  — and around their kids’ routines. They might put in a few hours before the kids wake up and break to get them breakfast and off to the school bus. They might field phone calls on their cell while driving a backseat of ballerinas to dance class. Or take the afternoon to oversee homework and fix dinner, but spend a productive few hours on the computer after the kids are in bed.

Starting a business is also a way women can have it both ways. They can manage the needs of their children, but not miss the excitement and satisfaction of doing work they love and are good at. Those two driving forces are much more difficult to reconcile when the place you work is a war zone.

“Not long after reuniting with her children in 2005, Specialist Holschlag said, she was sitting alone in her apartment in Iowa when she was struck by a thought she recognized as absurdly selfish: she wanted to go back to Iraq.”