Tag Archives: productivity

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.

Advertisements

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.

Friday Afternoon Feng Shui Ritual

photoHow do you like to end the work week? I have this thing about clearing everything off my desk and either filing or tossing all the stuff stacked on my credenza. Then I wipe it all down to remove the week’s accumulated coffee circles and other debris.

Our Feng Shui consultant got me started on this, years ago. She said it was important to clear out all the old energy of the week, to make things ready for a fresh week to come. She advocated the use of Clorox Wipes, and suggested leaving a blank pad of paper square in the center of your work space to signal to the universe that you’re open to receive more business.

I swear, I think this weekly ritual helps. I love coming back to my office Monday morning and seeing that wide-open expanse of uncluttered desk space. And somehow, it lets me leave Friday afternoon feeling like I’ve got everything squared away, with no loose ends hanging.

Lately though, I’ve started to notice  how action-packed that 4:00 to 5:00 PM hour is in the social media world. Tweets are flying back and forth, Follow Friday is in full force, people are posting on Facebook, checking their LinkedIn account. Twitter, particularly, is like a weekly 60-minute cocktail party you don’t want to miss. Maybe it’s people killing that last hour of the week when they feel like they should be at their desk, even though they’re not about to start something new that close to the weekend bell.

So either I’ve got to start my little OCD clutter-clearing ritual a little earlier, or I’ll miss some of the fun online. What do you guys do to close out the work week? And what’s your must-click time of the day or week on social media?

How does a small ad agency manage to launch an iPhone app?

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1bBack in April, I read an article in the New York Times titled “The iPhone Gold Rush” and came into the office the next morning mumbling about how we should try making an iPhone app. Yesterday, Tribe‘s first iPhone application launched in the App Store and on iTunes.

This is a perfect example of how quickly a small company can do something that would take a large corporation months of meetings before they even got going. A small team of talented and capable people can move mountains — or in this case, launch an iPhone app in something under six months.

Here’s how it happened: We took it one step at a time. First, we kicked around ideas for the app and decided to start with a mini-version of a printed product we’d recently developed for entrepreneurs. The Start Your Own Company deck, from our Starter Cards division, is a stack of 52 cards that breaks down the process of launching and building a business into manageable steps.

Second, we started poking around for partners who could supply the programming skills we don’t have in-house. Through a friend, we found a team of developers who wanted to try their hand at an iPhone app. (Extra kudos and love to those programmers: Stephanie Baird and Ladd Usher.)

Next, we went through the process to be approved as a registered member of the Apple  iPhone Developer Program. It’s a somewhat daunting application, but between our designer, our accountant and our programmers, we managed to fill in all the blanks.

Then our creative team worked to design and format all the screen shots required and the programmers did their thing. We went back and forth on whether the screens would flip or slide and if the type should be a point size larger or smaller, and eventually arrived at a design that pleased us all.

We submitted the Start Your Own Company app, and sat back to wait. In less than a week, we received word that it was approved and ready to be launched in the App Store on September 10. In the past few days, we’ve whipped out press releases and shot a demo video for YouTube and figured out how to submit the app to reviewers.

Like many projects in a small company, this one was touched by every hand in the house. I tossed the idea out there on the table, but the team took over from there. Here are what I consider to be some interesting lessons in this process.

1: There is great momentum in making a decision. We didn’t hem and haw about whether to do it or not, and we didn’t overthink what that first app would be. Sometimes there are many right answers, and there’s power in picking one and moving on.

2: A good size for a team is the number of people you can get in a room right now. If you’ve got to coordinate several departments and calendars, you can spin wheels for a long while. A smaller team is less cumbersome and more efficient.

3: It  helps to have a range of skill sets on the team. This particular team included a writer, an art director, two programmers, an account manager, a traffic manager, an accountant, a president and a CEO. That covers a wide range of strengths.

4: If you need outside help, create a win-win situation. We couldn’t have done this without Stephanie and Ladd. We needed people who could program, and they were interested in adding an iPhone app to their resumes, so the partnership worked for all of us.

The 20-minute idea session is perfect for Gen Y

IMG_4133I grew up in the old days of ad agencies, when roles were clearly defined. The copywriters and art directors were in charge of the creative work, and we looked askance at any account executive who ventured to make a creative comment. The account people stuck to marketing strategy, and the media department figured out smart things to do with the media budget, but the domain of the imagination was thought to be the exclusive territory of the creative department.

At Tribe, I’ve learned to appreciate the power of pulling everyone together for an idea session. We generally hold what we call our jam sessions at the big wooden table in the studio, pulling up as many chairs as are needed. Everyone is welcome, from the art directors and copywriters to account people to the receptionist, but we don’t wait until every single person is available. We just gather anybody who happens to be around and start jamming on the project in question.

Today it was a social media plan for a promotional contest that involves airport parking and NASCAR. Other times it might be a YouTube video concept for an upscale baby stroller, or a mobile text contest for equestrian teens or just a birthday card for someone in the office.

The sessions are quick and to the point. We define the goal and then start tossing around ideas. We try not to be idea crushers. If we’re not crazy about someone’s idea, we try to offer another approach, but without slamming the initial idea. The big idea of the day might come from any of us, from the intern to the agency president, and then it’s fleshed out with the benefit of the various expertise sitting around that table.

Within about 15 or 20 minutes, we can usually  have a plan mapped out in Sharpie marker on a giant sheet of paper. We break it down into some actionable steps and then we each pick up the various pieces of the plan that fall within our areas of responsibility. The session breaks up as quickly as it started.

Looking back, the old agency model with unflinching boundaries between roles strikes me as a particularly Boomer-like division of labor. The idea sessions we hold at Tribe are much more appropriate to a Gen Y work force. This new generation of employees tends to define leadership not as a place in the hierarchy but as the ability to harness the thinking of many, to inspire others and to create a strong team. They value collaboration. And they exhibit shorter attention spans than their older peers, so these quick sessions are more palatable to them than longer meetings.

Millennials also have no problem believing that their ideas will be as good or better than those of people who’ve been in the business for decades. That allows them to engage in these idea sessions with confidence, offering up anything that occurs to them. Sometimes that happens to be the best idea at the table. Regardless, people show more responsibility for seeing the project through to the end when they feel that they were present at its birth.

Small Business Strategies: Creating workplace wellness programs

Guy in suit meditatingYou know that your employees will be more productive if they’re well, but how do you put that into action? If you’re not a huge corporation, you may think you can’t afford a wellness program, but there are plenty of things you can do to create an environment that supports healthy living.

Wellness programs are also great for your office culture. Not only does such a program reinforce the idea that your company is somewhere people live healthy, balanced lives, it also can be powerful for building relationships among your staff. Doing something together that’s not work related, like a yoga class or a fitness contest, takes the corporate  hierarchy out of the equation and lets employees relate to each other outside their job functions.

As the boss, it’s important for you to participate as well. Not only does that speak volumes about your commitment to wellness, it also allows your staff to interact with you in ways that don’t involve you being the top dog. So put on those running shorts and put your ego aside. And remember, it’s okay if some of your employees can run faster than you. 

Here are some ways you can promote wellness in your company, at a range of price points:

1. Keep fresh fruit in the break room. Or any sort of healthy snacks. When employees feel a little blood sugar slump, it will be easy for them to grab something that won’t make them crash again later.

2. Start a lunchtime walking group. Or an after work running group. This can be a casual employee-led group. You don’t need to hire an instructor. (Although you may want employees to sign a waiver acknowledging responsibility for any potential injuries.)

3. Give wellness hours. Allow employees to take an extended lunch once or twice a week for exercise. Or to take an hour during the day, whenever their schedules allow. At Tribe, we allow everyone to put up to 5 hours a week of wellness hours on their timesheet. This gives them the idea that it’s okay to work out during the workday, but they very rarely use more than an hour or so of wellness time a week.

4. Set aside a meditation room. This can be an empty office, or you could let the conference room be used for meditation, when it’s  not needed for meetings. At Tribe, we  have a small office containing nothing but a couch and a CD player. Two or three people will often do a short meditation after lunch. I once asked a friend to come in and lead a lunchtime meditation lesson, but Tribe folks also use a lot of guided meditations on CDs.

5. Sponsor a yoga class. We used to do Yoga Fridays at lunch, which meant anybody who had time piled in a car and drove to the nearest yoga studio. Occasionally, I’d treat everyone to a company-paid class, but most times we all paid our own way. The important thing is that they didn’t have to feel guilty about that company-sanctioned two-hour lunch.

6. Spring for a massage. This is especially appreciated in the midst of a busy season. You can offer a gift certificate for a massage to one employee who deserves it, like after pulling off a particularly challenging project, or you could have a massage therapist come in and do 10-minute chair massages for the whole group. 

7. Establish a company fitness competition. We do this every year at Tribe, and it’s created some significant changes in a few employee’s lives. Our fitness competition lasts for 12 weeks and starts in February, right about when we’ve all abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. If you’re interested in setting up a similar plan, you might find some helpful ideas in my blog titled “How to launch a workplace fitness competition.”