Most of us look forward to the holiday season as the perfect time to take some time off with family, but if you’re a typical business owner, you might be looking at this holiday break as a great time to get some extra work done. The freedom to work without being interrupted is a pretty exciting prospect for many of the business owners I work with. I advise that if we don’t take the time to relax and disconnect, we may end up piling more stress on top of an additional workload.
Aside from leaving your work back in the office, spending time with your loved ones during the holiday season is important. Even when you’re doing a thousand things per day, try to reset and think about who and what you’re working for. If you’re finding it hard to take your well-deserved time off, here are some practical tips to help you unplug during the holiday season:
Cover all of your bases before the holidays
Before that last work day of 2018, you might like to have your workload in a place that feels comfortable enough to leave for a couple of weeks, and manageable enough to pick up again in January. This includes responding to emails, setting up appointments and completing any urgent tasks. Many people find that they can’t relax if they have a mountain of work waiting for them when it’s time to come back to the office. See what you can do to take as much as you can off of your plate before loading it up again.
A concrete strategy for completion can be helpful in the weeks preceding the holiday break (e.g. having a set goal for completed tasks each day). Take a deep breath: no matter how organized you are, you may not complete everything on your list, and that’s okay. Try to prioritize, and leave the remaining tasks for a new, fresh year.
Leave work mobile devices alone
It’s going to be really tempting to check your work phone during the course of the holidays (trust me, you’re not alone), but doing so can make you spiral back into work mode. In order to turn off your work brain, try to shut down anything and everything that inspires you to start working again, especially work related devices.
To make it easier to step away, have someone close to you help you with accountability. Allow them to help you set some boundaries and have them recommend a safe place where you can keep your work phone during the holidays. Don’t worry – it will still be there for you, right where you left it, once January 1st rolls around.
If you must check your work emails, only do so once per day
If you’re the type of business owner who still likes to stay connected to your business, even when you’re on vacation, see if you can limit checking your email. Setting aside one time per day (e.g. in the morning) to check in can be a very helpful way to see it, deal with it, then leave it. Limiting the amount of time you remain plugged in can be a valuable step towards finding a sense of peace and relaxation outside of the office.
Have an automated email response that provides an emergency contact
In the event of a work emergency during the holidays, it can be helpful to have an emergency contact available via an automated email response. If someone absolutely has to get in touch with you during the holidays, an automated email response can be set up to provide them with your emergency contact. However, try not to give this contact out to anyone under other circumstances. Remember- you’re trying to relax!
Kicking back for the holidays can feel virtually impossible, and even when you’ve done everything you can to leave your work at the office, you may still find yourself reaching for your work phone during the holidays. It’s natural. As a business owner who is passionate about what you do, you’re always thinking about what more you can be doing, and how you can make it better.
Some experts suggest that taking some time off can actually help to increase your productivity. Mental stress doesn’t just create physiological issues; it can actually prevent you from giving your full attention to your work. Consider your holiday break as an opportunity to get fully charged for a new year. That way, you’ll end up feeling better and more productive.
However, taking a break is not only important for your own mental health, it’s important for the people you care about. We all deserve time to breathe! Work on releasing the urgency of getting work done in favour of enjoying every moment of joy the holidays have to offer. Who knows? You may even find yourself enjoying the time away.
A business is so much more than a “job”. It’s a lifestyle, a world-view, a reflection of the type of person you want to be. It’s how you want to contribute to the community, where you see yourself in your future, and in some cases, it’s what you want to leave behind.
So many business owners tell me that they want to take their business to the next level, but they never define why. Everyone has goals, but they rarely take the time to write everything down and decide the “how’s” and “why’s” of what they want their business to be. In my experience, it’s not only helpful to carefully consider and record your vision – it’s essential.
These personal goals and business goals can be defined and followed by crafting a personal vision and a business vision. Here is a brief outline of both and not just how they are different, but also how they can work together.
Create your personal vision first. As the owner of the business, your vision is key to where you want to take the business.
Do you dream about being able to take your family on vacation to an exotic location once a year? How about a four-day workweek, or buying your dream home? These things could be part of your personal vision.
When crafting a personal vision statement, you’ll need to write down where you want to be in a year from now or 2 years from now. This could include considering your desired material lifestyle, your passion giving back, your ideal workweek, time with your family, and time enjoying the things you love (not your business). If you want to make sure that you are making enough money so that your children can have their college tuition paid for, this should be recorded in your personal vision statement too.
In addition to this, it’s important to include an exit strategy in your personal vision. This will detail how you would like your business to proceed when you retire, including whether or not you intend on naming a successor (e.g. a spouse or child), or if you would prefer to sell the business. Be mindful that your exit strategy is carefully considered, and entails what you plan to do in place of work. Some business owners find it hard to leave their business behind, and it can never hurt to plan ahead for how you will fill your free time in the future.
Once you’ve completed your personal vision, it’s time to concentrate on your company vision. The two go hand in hand. If for example, you want to spend only 6 months of the year working at your business, then part of your business plan needs to include finding a current or future employee who can take on some of your current roles and responsibilities. If your plan is financial freedom, then your company vision will be to increase your sales and marketing efforts, etc.
As the business owner, it’s up to you to set the company vision; it is not a team approach. Although you need to share it with your staff, the company vision statement needs to be synergetic with your personal vision so that the two can work together to create a business that benefits both you and your employees.
The company vision will also help you create a big picture idea of what your company will look like as a whole, for both you and your employees. This is why creating a company vision can enhance your existing leadership skills, which in turn helps your employees attain their own career visions.
Writing out a personal vision and business vision and following them is crucial, and often, overlooked in creating the kind of business you’ll be proud of. Writing out what you really want out of your business in a personal vision and then writing out how it can be achieved through your company vision can be both humbling and gratifying.
To get a better understanding of how to help your business grow, contact me today to find out more about joining The Alternative Board.
As a business owner myself and through interacting with business owners nearly every day, I understand that it can be difficult to let go of certain aspects of your business. However, you can’t be everywhere doing every job all the time, especially as your business grows. I’ve seen many TAB members stretch themselves thin this way, which can lead to important matters slipping through the cracks.
In a perfect world, no one would wear more than one hat at a time. If you’re wearing so many hats that you’re feeling weighed down, find out if any of them will fit your existing employees. If no one is a match, or if your current employees are also overwhelmed, it may be time to recruit.
Needing to delegate is not a weakness. In fact, acknowledging that you need to practice delegation can reveal the following positive qualities of a leader:
You have big dreams for your business, but you may be hesitant to take the necessary steps to reach your end goals if you have enough on your plate as it is. By delegating you are preparing your business for future growth. By freeing yourself of tasks that can be trusted to your employees, you will have the time to look for new growth opportunities. It’s hard to see the horizon when your many hats obstruct your view.
When you show your staff that you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and know they can take the lead in areas that aren’t your strong points, you build a trusting work relationship. By respecting the skills of your employees, their performance and the overall work environment can drastically improve.
One of the best ways to show self-awareness is to listen to your employees. How would they suggest the business processes could be improved? What are their opinions on employee morale? They may even have constructive observations on how you can improve as a leader. I encourage business owners to welcome feedback from their employees.
Inviting your employees to provide feedback opens the doors to communication. No matter how approachable you may be, it can be difficult for some employees to feel comfortable around an authority figure. Communicating both your strengths and shortcomings to your staff humanizes you to an approachable level. If they seem resistant in the beginning, I would suggest sending an internal survey that staff can submit anonymously. Once they see that their anonymous proposals are being taken seriously, they may be more willing to come forward for future communication.
To discuss how you can find out how other business owners take initiative with delegation, contact me today to join a TAB peer advisory board!
As your business becomes increasingly successful, certain aspects of your business will need to change and/or grow to keep up with your demand. Through TAB meeting discussions, I’ve seen this growth take the form of increasing your inventory to meet local demand, expanding to another location to meet national demand, providing more offerings to meet client interests, or outsourcing or hiring more staff to meet all of the above. If you keep hiring more employees, there will come a time when you need to reorganize your reporting structure or even your departments.
In anticipation for future growth, I encourage all business owners to create an organizational restructuring process to ensure your business expansion goes as smoothly as possible. Here are just a few topics you may want this process to cover:
Promoting vs. Hiring
When your business requires a new department, you will need to decide if it’s best to promote an existing employee or hire someone new to manage it. It may sound ideal to promote someone who already knows your business, but it could be best to hire someone from outside your business with a more precise set of skills. For example, your highly skilled and dedicated salesperson may not have the right qualifications to lead a new marketing department.
If you do hope to promote from within, how will you prepare your employee for the tasks and responsibilities that come with a higher-level position? If you anticipate expansion in the coming months, I have seen many business owners see success with managers mentoring talented employees to prepare them to take on the same or similar position. An outside hire can learn the ins and outs of your business this same way.
To ensure everyone in your business is on the same page at every step of growth, you may also want to detail how to communicate to staff that the growth may affect their roles within the company. If big changes are coming and your employees aren’t aware of what they are, they may jump to the conclusion that their jobs or the business may be in trouble when in fact the opposite is true. Your success is their success, and clear communication of any changes in roles or responsibilities can greatly help the progress continue.
Once your organizational restructuring process has been developed and implemented, I encourage you to regularly monitor and reassess its effectiveness. Perhaps there’s an area that can be improved or wasn’t ideal for the type of growth your business experienced. Did you actually need to hire more in-house staff, or should you consider hiring contract workers in the future? It’s important to be flexible and allow your processes to grow and improve with your business.
If you would like to discover how other business owners have restructured as a result of growth, contact me today to discuss becoming a member of a TAB peer advisory board!
It’s a standard business practice among large corporations, and even smaller businesses: annual performance evaluations. Many businesses hold on to the tradition of conducting annual performance evaluations to review employee progress and goals. However, 30% of performance reviews decrease employee morale rather than improve it.
To ensure your employees receive constructive feedback in a receptive manner, here are a few other options for providing feedback you can consider:
I encourage business owners to provide constructive criticism as soon as their employees experience difficulties within their role. This way, they can take appropriate steps right away to improve their actions rather than continue down a slippery slope of poor performance, which can in turn negatively impact your business. For example, if one of your employees seems slightly too blunt with a client, consider speaking with them immediately after the meeting to discuss how to better communicate with clients.
This suggestion of providing timely feedback applies to providing praise as well. Although it may be appreciated at any time, your employees will have a precise image of how to continue their good work if they can clearly remember the work you’re commending.
Clearly Define Expectations
Before we hire employees, we have an idea of the tasks they’ll perform and the role they’ll serve in the business. Sometimes, especially in smaller businesses, the roles and responsibilities of an employee can shift quite quickly based on the needs of the business. If there’s been any change in the roles or responsibilities of an employee, it’s important that you communicate any changes in expectations that arise as a result of a shift in responsibilities.
You can improve your employees’ performance even further by discussing with them how to meet the expectations of their role rather than to simply assign the expectations. Much of business success is rooted in two-way communication.
Ask for Their Feedback
Although intimidation isn’t your intention, some employees believe receiving feedback to be a daunting ordeal. To help them be more receptive to feedback, try asking them to comment on themselves first. If they are already mindful of their workplace struggles, this allows them the opportunity to inform you of the steps they are already taking to improve. You can then offer further guidance, as needed. The goal of this method is for your employee to have a conversation with you rather than feel they’re being criticized.
To find out how you can better provide employee feedback or learn how other businesses approach it, contact me today to discuss joining a TAB advisory board!
Have you ever patted an employee on the back to praise them? Or, have you ever asked them a deeply personal question simply because you care about their well- being? While your intentions may be good, your staff may perceive these gestures in a completely different way than you would like them to. Sometimes we work so closely with our staff that the boundary between employee and friend can become blurred. Despite having the best intentions, as a person of authority, you should be cognizant about how you interact with your employees.
In order to protect yourself and your brand’s reputation from unsavoury allegations, I encourage all businesses, no matter their size, to implement a workplace harassment policy. In fact, all employers are required to have a workplace harassment policy under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The purpose of a workplace harassment policy is to ensure there are procedures in place to prevent and handle employee harassment complaints. If there aren’t documented procedures that you and your employees can easily reference as needed, you potentially open yourself up to legal repercussions. To avoid any grey area, there are template policies you can use to create your own.
Your workplace harassment policy can cover as little or as much as you deem necessary for your business, but here are a few subjects to take into consideration:
I strongly suggest mulling over every comment in your head before sharing them with employees, because carefree comments from a superior can easily be misunderstood as inappropriate or intimidating. Some employees may give you the benefit of the doubt over simple mistakes, but there may be others who take offense. The same goes for jokes; a joke that went over well at a friend or family gathering may not be appropriate for the workplace.
You may have the most innocent of intentions when you pat an employee on the back or place a hand on their shoulder, but not everyone will realize this. If you have a habit of casually touching people when you speak to them, I would suggest trying to break it. If you’re unaware of any such habits, I would recommend taking a day or week to be particularly conscious of your actions around employees; you might have a habit you didn’t know about.
Décor such as calendars, posters, paintings, statues, and any other form of decoration brought into the workplace should be chosen with a purely professional mindset. Where possible, I suggest choosing pieces that won’t cause debate over the definition of “tasteful.” And similarly to being cautious of jokes you share with employees, satirical images may not be as well received among employees as they can be among friends.
For specifics on what topics should be avoided in the workplace and to ensure discriminatory or offensive remarks/actions don’t take place, consider reviewing the Ontario Human Rights Code.
If you need help manoeuvring around this delicate subject and want to discuss how to implement an effective workplace harassment policy, contact me today to join a TAB peer advisory board.
Based on discussions at TAB meetings, I have found that regular client feedback is essential for business improvement. Because of this, business owners often ask me how they can create surveys that get opened and collect relevant information.
To increase the probability that clients will complete your survey, here are the practices I follow:
- Use action verbs. Much of English conversation consists of the verb “to be”, resulting in dull, passive language. Try to use the active voice as much as possible.
- Create an easy user experience. Because the human attention span is generally quite short, I suggest creating a simple survey using multiple choice and dropdown questions rather than paragraph-style questions where possible.
- Offer an incentive. Who doesn’t like free or discounted products and services? Consider holding a draw for clients that submit the survey or providing a discount code upon completion.
As for which questions to ask, here are my suggestions based on the type of data you want to collect:
Do you want your client email list to answer which demographics your clients are from and in which neighbourhoods or countries they live? If this kind of client information might benefit your business, surveys are great opportunities to ask for targeted information, which in turn allows you to customize marketing campaigns.
Consider including these questions to gather useful information about your clients:
- What is your postal code?
- In which age range do you belong?
- What is your ethic background?
- What is your job title?
In order to assure clients that their information is safe with you, it is likely in your best interest to include a disclaimer at the bottom of your survey that states how the information will be used.
When a business’s sale decrease or become stagnant, I have found that surveys are effective tools to find out why that is. Your loyal clients want to see your business succeed and are likely more than happy to suggest a couple small areas of improvement. But whom you really want to hear from are the one-time buyers that didn’t return. How can you get them back or at least prevent future clients from walking away for the same reasons they did?
Consider including these questions to gather useful feedback about your products and your business practices:
- Which of our products or services do you use?
- Are you satisfied with the product or service quality you received?
- How can we improve your customer service experience in the future?
- Will you continue to do business with us in the future?
- What types of discounts would encourage you to purchase our products or services in the future?
If you would like to discuss different forms of client engagement with a peer advisory board, contact me today to find out more about TAB!