One of the things I dislike most about moving to a new city is getting to know a new grocery store.
I like to move through the store quickly and methodically. My list is written in the order I’ll encounter those items as I walk through the store (veggies first, bakery second, etc.). And you can bet that if pasta isn’t on my list, you won’t find me browsing that aisle. At checkout, I organize my purchases by size and weight. The heavy stuff that the bagger will want to put on the bottom goes first, and soft things like tomatoes and peaches go last.
I don’t feel a compulsive need to shop this way. But as more constraints are put on my time, I find myself naturally seeking out efficiency all over the place—even in the grocery store. It feels good to get in and out of there in half the time it used to take me.
The same way of thinking can be applied to work. What can I do to get the most out of my day? How can I make the experience of work go more smoothly? How can I make sure I complete my most important tasks of the day?
I call this concept “logic-based thinking.” It simply means thinking about what you want to accomplish each day and mapping out a logical way to get them done.
It’s a lot like walking through the grocery store, where you could easily get caught up in all the distractions around you, like tasting samples or rethinking your entire meal plan after coming across a particularly beautiful display of brussels sprouts. You could wander through the seasonal aisle and get a jump start buying Halloween candy, or go around helping everyone who can’t reach the top shelves. But if you did all that, you might never leave.
Things like this come up at work all the time. Emails claiming to need attention come through, and you respond. Someone pops in to ask a quick question and leaves 45 minutes later. A new idea is brought up, and you find yourself deep in a research rabbit hole in order to decide if something is worth pursuing.
Start With a Plan
One day, Jairek Robbins, an accomplished performance coach, spoke to the employees of one of my companies. He said, “What we tend to do is shoot an arrow and then go draw a target around it. Then we look at it and call ourselves a good shot.”
That’s exactly what we do when we approach work without a logical plan. We look at all the things we got done, all the fires we put out, and we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Meanwhile, all the things we said we would do remain untouched.
Growing a business requires a higher level of thought than that. It requires us to identify the most impactful things we can do each day, to find a way to do them, no matter what, and to delegate everything else.
It is hard not to underestimate the role that family can play in successfully running a small business.
That point has been brought home by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led entrepreneurs and their families to share the same physical space. A new study has revealed that that increase in quality time may have many unforeseen benefits.
Research from the University of Georgia, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, has found that positive interactions with your child during your off hours can make you a better leader. This especially hit home with me as I have a young boy.
Specifically, the study examined two samples of 46 and 113 managers, measuring whether participants had experienced positive interactions with their families, such as working together on a project or laughing together, each day after work. Among the other factors examined was whether participants felt connected to their family and satisfied with their family life in general.
The researchers also analyzed leadership practices, asking participants how often they engaged in behaviors such as making sure employees know expectations and helping subordinates strengthen their skillsets. In both studies, the managers completed one survey in the morning and one in the afternoon for 10 days. The results showed links between positive family interactions after hours as well as more effective leadership during the workday.
Szu Han “Joanna” Lin, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, had some interesting thoughts on this.
“We focus so much on the negative things about work-family balance or the demands of a family—people need to meet these family demands, so that’s why sometimes they couldn’t perform well at work,” she said. “But one thing that is important to know is that leaders could be more effective because of their family life.”
Plenty of scholarly research on leadership focuses on how family life can negatively impact a person’s career. Studies that do examine positive effects of family life typically focus exclusively on task performance. Lin wanted to examine how positive interactions with family could specifically influence leadership behaviors like showing consideration, marked by things like helping and showing concern for employees, and more change-oriented behaviors such as helping employees develop their strengths and showing enthusiasm about what needs to be accomplished on a specific workday.
Transformational leadership, which focuses on creating a vision and how teams can work together to achieve it, is considered one of the most effective styles of leadership, Lin said. Through her research, Lin found a connection between showing more of those transformational tendencies and having had a positive family interaction as a parent the day before.
And the positive interactions do not have to be something big. Little moments can lead to big changes in attitude the following workday.
“You take your kids out for a walk. You chat about how your day was. These are positive family events that help you feel you connected with your kids,” Lin said. “Your needs are satisfied at home. And on the next day, you’ll be more motivated to help your employees.”
The relationship between the Chief Marketing Officer and the Chief Executive Officer has never been more important, especially as we enter the high-stakes year of 2021.
Why is this a high-stakes year?
With so many companies shuttered, or struggling alongside the road, there is opportunity in the air, especially for well-financed companies with a solid, strategic marketing plan. Such small businesses may be poised to disrupt entire industries with a new technology. Others may simply be eyeing significant new market share. Regardless, now is the time for small business owners and entrepreneurs to take advantage of future opportunities with the help of their marketing leader.
I believe the primary focus of that marketing effort in 2021 should be on creative strategies that leverage technology and the innate desire that customers have to help other customers, all while keeping a focus on the always-important customer acquisition cost. This might involve retooling your website to focus on lucrative niches or building engaging webinar campaigns.
As for that innate desire, what I have found in my years as a serial entrepreneur is that customers not only want incentives for themselves, but also their friends. In such scenarios, everybody wins.
Regarding costs, the plan needs to deliver a measurable ROI out of the gate, while leaving room to navigate changing consumer behavior and opportunity in the unpredictable 2021 climate.
But while the bottom line is important, this must be carefully weighed against the opportunities. What I have noticed in the short time we have been in a pandemic is that people become ultra conservative. There will also be a hangover effect with this, where it will take a while before small business owners and their marketing teams get into the passing lane again.
This fear is very natural. Many entrepreneurs and marketers are not sure how to cope with it. And that fear is compounded by the isolation and the fact that we are not able to collaborate as much in person as we used to.
Move through these challenges, however, and engage your CMO or marketing team. Your company will be richly rewarded. Now is not that time to pull back. It is time to grow!
Micromanagement is a tough habit to break. That’s because, more often than not, it’s rooted in fear. We become so scared that someone else will mess up—and of all the consequences that might bring—that we watch them like a hawk. We don’t give them the opportunity to make mistakes, because we are checking their work every step of the way.
The flaw with this way of thinking is that fear makes the consequences of mistakes seem much bigger than they really are. If someone’s livelihood or safety is put in danger by mistakes, by all means, get in there and micromanage. But if you need to review every social media post to check for typos before they’re posted, you might be down the micromanagement rabbit hole.
Being able to distinguish what would cause truly damaging consequences and what would just need some fixing is an important step to delegating well. Anything that could really hurt your business or employees if done wrong (health care benefits, accounting, etc.) may require you to put a system of checks and balances in place. Find logical checkpoints in the process to see how things are going and offer help. Avoid the impulse to hover by remembering that the whole point of delegating is to save you time. The solution you come up with should allow your employee to do the lion’s share of the work and for you to quickly sign off on what they’ve done.
The kinds of processes that require consistent oversight are actually few and far between. If you have gone through the requests and promises process and trust that your employee will do everything they can do to complete the task well (or that they’ll come ask you for help removing obstacles), give them the proper training and back off.
Going back to the social media example, you probably have some standards you want someone taking over your accounts to follow. They should use a certain voice and tone. They should share certain kinds of content, like blog posts or behind-the-scenes photographs. They should focus their attention on a few platforms. They shouldn’t say anything offensive. The basics.
Once you’ve given them all the relevant information and offered them a chance to ask questions, they’re ready. Unless they post something horribly offensive, the worst that will probably happen is that engagement will drop, or you need to delete a few tweets. And that is exactly what follow-up conversations are intended to curb over time.
Micromanaging feels productive in the moment but is a huge time suck. So, err on the side of macromanagement, or giving more freedom than feels comfortable. It’s (usually) quicker to fix a problem than it is to oversee the process with a magnifying glass. And your employees will appreciate the vote of confidence. If you’ve gone through requests and promises with them, they should feel empowered and confident to take their new responsibilities and run with them.
Pro Tip: Establish a “code red” protocol, or a way to address big issues that require your team to drop everything to fix it right away. Make sure you have a standardized way of communicating a code red situation to the team and that they know the appropriate response. This usually involves a way for all the key players to quickly discuss the situation. decide on a course of action, and leave their own marching orders. Something will go wrong no matter how prepared your team is. Don’t stress about it. Plan for it.
I saw a drawing circulating the internet recently that showed a line of sled dogs. There was an arrow pointing to the person at the back of the pack with the word “leadership” next to it. It’s not exactly a new idea—that leaders steer their teams while letting them take the lead. And yet, every time I hear that idea, I take issue with it.
It’s not that it’s inherently wrong. Leaders do need to let their team members take the lead, but I disagree with the placement of the leader in these scenarios. Great leaders are not separated from the team, standing in the back on a sled. They run along with them.
When I picture leadership, I prefer to imagine a flock of geese. Geese fly in a V-formation with one bird at the front, taking on the most wind resistance and making the flight easier for all the birds behind it. When the lead goose gets tired, it falls back in the group and allows another to take its place.
This is exactly how I view leadership.
At the start of any new idea, I am the first on the team to take off, and I do everything I can to remove any resistance and obstacles in the way. Once that idea is ready, I’ll hand the lead over to someone else and fall back to a supportive role. Finding myself in a less strenuous position, I’m better able to scan the skies for new ideas and may break off with a few others to head in a new direction, allowing the first group to continue on without my direct involvement. And once the next new idea is up and running, I’ll do the same thing again.
It’s an idea that relies on continuously replacing myself. Rather than sitting atop a sled and steering a growing group, this way of viewing leadership puts the onus on the leader to be an active part of the team—to recognize the outsized effort they’ll need to exert in order to get new ideas started. I have found that most business owners have no problem with the added exertion. Where most of us struggle is in allowing someone else to take the lead and retreating to a secondary position. We don’t want to replace ourselves, in other words.
When this happens, two things are sacrificed: well-being and growth. When leaders insist on staying deeply involved in every area of the business, they run the risk of spreading themselves too thin. The reason geese fly in a V-formation and switch positions is to travel farther. If you stay in the lead, you won’t make it as far. Not allowing yourself the time or bandwidth to look for and implement new ideas stifles growth.
You may also miss out on allowing someone with more knowledge than you to take an idea and run with it, stifling your company’s growth in a different way.
Among technology startups, non-compete agreements are a staple.
Without them, sales professionals might more easily take their book of business to a rival for a better salary. The same goes for technologists, who are privy to a company’s intellectual property.
These are “grip and rip” scenarios, which point to the value of such agreements. Someone is trying to do harm to your business. You need protections.
This is different from someone who is simply trying to get paid what they are worth. Companies should never be able to imprison an employee so that they must stay with them.
Given my philosophy on this, recent research out of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at The University of Maryland recently caught my attention. There, four research papers are set to be published in top journals, co-authored by management professor Evan Starr, who addressed the debate over whether non-compete agreements help or hurt employees. Professor Star’s conclusion: Non-competes stifle workers.
In “Non-Compete Agreements in the U.S. Labor Force” in the Journal of Law and Economics, Starr presents the most sweeping work in what represents the first systematic investigation of non-competes in the United States. In it, he studies a nationally representative sample, looking at all sorts of workers.
One of the key findings: Non-competes are found even among low-wage workers.
“There have been anecdotes of that fact, but this is the first systematic evidence,” Starr says. “This is shocking, because when you think about non-competes, you think about tech workers and executives—you’re not thinking about doggie-daycare sitters or hairstylists or yoga instructors, but that’s the modal worker that’s bound by a non-compete. Our paper launches from that fact, and the key question for policymakers is whether this a good or a bad thing.”
Starr concludes they are bad, which I agree with, except in specific circumstances.
“The argument for why they are bad is pretty clear,” Starr says. “Take the case of the low-wage worker, earning $12 an hour, who gets a better offer at a competitor to make $15 an hour. A non-compete could prevent them from making those sorts of moves that are going to enhance their social and economic mobility.”
Collectively, Starr’s papers show that workers do better without non-compete agreements. The same can be said for companies.
Firms may be less profitable if they have to pay workers more, according to Starr. But there is definitely a benefit for them, too. Without so many non-competes, firms have better access to the labor pool and can hire the workers they want to hire, including those from a competitor.
Small businesses are built on trust. While in some cases, for some positions, non-competes may be necessary, we need to move away from the idea that they are standard practice.
“It’s not really a firm versus worker issue,” Starr says. “It could be a win for both workers and firms.”