Seeking Solutions for Obamacare

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

As the HR Director of a company with 56 people, Obamacare is on the top of my mind. My company is on the fence about what we should do. We don’t want to let go 7 people to be under the magic number of 50, but we want to avoid the steep penalties. What are your thoughts on how to best handle this new law as an employer or business owner?

Dear, Seeking a Solution:

Thank you for the question! Business owners and employers are all struggling with the looming question of how they will handle the coming implementation of Obamacare’s penalty provisions. I am glad to hear that my readers are already thinking about the subject and beginning to get their strategies in order now. In your situation Doctor_Handswith just over 50 employees, you are in the category that must provide affordable health insurance or face hefty fines.

After doing some research and evaluating the options, I have determined that the best course of action for businesses like yours is to move your excess employees over to a staffing firm’s payroll. Here is how I came to this conclusion.

  • By migrating 7 workers to a staffing firm’s payroll, you can cut your “full-time equivalent” staff below the 50-person limit, which means your company will not be subject to fees and penalties. The staffing company becomes the official employer of record and is responsible for providing health care or absorbing the penalty. In our reader’s case, if they were to move Medical_Filesthe 7 people from their payroll to a staffing company, it could save them $14,000 in penalties and potentially even more in insurance costs.
  • Some staffing firms offer health benefits to their temporary employees, relieving you of any moral concern or burden. My favorites are Select Staffing, RemX Specialty Staffing, Remedy Intelligent Staffing, and Westaff.
  • Lower insurance rates for your employees.  Larger staffing firms have so many employees on their insurance plans that they are able to negotiate great group rates. This cost savings can be passed on to you.
  • By moving your a portion of your workforce to a staffing firm, you will not be required to comply with the complex reporting requirements. The employer must report regularly to the IRS, its employees, and to all states in which the company does business. This will reduce costs and provide a savings in administrative overhead.

On a recent episode of his CNBC show Mad Money, financial analyst Jim Cramer noted that the demand for temps is mushrooming, “fueled in part by the pending implementation of Obamacare.” He says: “Businesses of all sizes are searching for ways to cope with this law, and the easiest way to avoid paying these expenses is to hire more temps.”

Employers, what are your plans for managing the Obamacare mandate? Will you be turning to staffing firms for help?

Best wishes,

Anita

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Customer Service Tips and Tricks

A reader writes:

Dear Anita,

I am so excited to report that after a long and exhausting job search, I have finally landed a great customer service job through my local temporary agency. Now that I am employed, I want to make sure I have the skills and know-how to perform my job to the best of my ability. What are some pointers you can give me about being successful in customer service?

Hi, Customer Service King!

Congratulations on your new job placement! I always love hearing success stories from my readers. You are proof that you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to.

Now for your question, customer service is a great job to have if you enjoy working with people, are a great problem-solver, and have the ability to diffuse seemingly unpleasant situation. Companies spend millions of dollars a year to provide and improve the service they present to their customers. Client and potential customers base their opinions of an establishment heavily on the service and attention they receive. To be the best that you can be, here are the MUST know actions that I got from my friends at Select Staffing.

These are surefire ways to be top-rated in customer service:

Sales AssociateSmile, no matter what! A smile or the bright sound of a representative’s voice can change the entire direction of a call. When working with a customer, try to smile. Even though your customer won’t see it, it will have a positive effect on the messages you are trying to communicate to the caller or customer.

Know your goals. It is important that you are aware of the company’s goals and how you plan to achieve them before starting your day. It will help you better evaluate your position, job performance, and the future expectations of the hiring company.

Become an expert. Have a deep understanding of the products or services you will be representing. Be prepared to discuss competitor offers and products. This will be very useful when you are asked questions by the calling customer.

Be prepared to handle unhappy customers. When faced with an unhappy customer on the other end of the phone or in person, remain positive and respectful during your entire interaction with them. All customers must be handled with dignity and respect at all times. If possible, do your best to calm the customer and cool down the dialogue.

Listen to your customer’s needs or concerns. Allow the customer to fully explain why they are calling before providing a solution or alternative. Even though you may already know the answers, give the customer the opportunity to fully express his or her feelings and opinions before acting.

Remain focused on the job. Keep non-work conversations to a minimum. These can be distracting to other employees and cause a disruption in customer service.Man Taking An Order

Confirm that your call or interaction is complete. Before disconnecting with the customer, be sure to confirm that they have no other questions, comments, and concerns, and ask if there is anything else you can do to assist them.

Always go the extra mile. When working with any customer, always strive to go the extra mile to ensure their satisfaction and happiness. Your customers will greatly appreciate your commitment and dedication to fantastic service.

I hope these guidelines help you in your new employment venture. I know you will be very successful and provide the best experience for your employer and your customers.

Readers, who of you have worked in a customer service position before? What was your experience like? Anyone have a good/bad experience that they are willing to share?

Best Wishes and Luck!

-Anita

The Importance of Customer Service

A reader writes…

Dear, Anita,

I have been asked to speak at my company’s annual retreat that is coming up next month. The topic I have been assigned is how to improve customer retention in 2013. The number one reason I think that my company has trouble keeping clients for the long haul is the lack of customer service. Can you please help me explain why customer relations are so important?

Hi, Customer Service Conscious,

Thank you for the question, and congratulations! What a great opportunity you have!

Customer service is an incredibly important aspect of a business and a predictor of future success. In all businesses, your customers are your lifeline and the driving force that keeps your doors open. Without customers, we would be in a world of zero commerce and, worse, zero employment opportunities. Let’s take a few minutes to cover the 3 reasons why customer service should be your top priority on a day-to-day basis at your company.

Return Business:  As I have already mentioned, customers are required for your business to remain operational and profitable. If your customers feel neglected, ignored, uninformed, or disrespected, chances are they will run into the arms of your nearest competitor. With personal consumption expenditures increased by $41.3 billion dollars in Q3 of 2012, according to the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis, don’t you think you should be putting most of your effort into keeping the spenders happy? The more greenbacks you get from your customers, the better off your company will be. According to Flowtown, it can be 6 to 7 times more costly to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

New Business: Great customer service is what makes your business stand out from the crowd. If you had to choose between a business that provides lousy service and one that greets you with a smile and takes the time to understand your needs, which one would you pick? The service you provide your customers distinguishes you and puts you a step ahead of the competition. When you bring together an excellent product or service with a strong reputation for outstanding service, you will begin to create opportunities for new customers without changing your routine.

More Business: Word-of-mouth recommendations are a significant driver of business. Very satisfied customers will recommend your services to their friends. Alternately, very unsatisfied customers will tell even more friends than the satisfied ones! Either way, you have a viral self-perpetuating PR machine built into your customer service performance. According to Consumer Affairs, people that have a positive experience with a company’s customer service department will likely tell two or three others about their experience.

Tune in next week for a related blog post on training customer service representatives to perform at top levels!

Readers, what do you think about customer service? Is it a factor when you are deciding where to spend your money? What are your good, bad, and ugly customer service stories?

Here is a little something on the subject to brighten your day. Enjoy!

Best wishes,

Anita

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Making Time To Exercise

A reader writes:

Hi Anita,

I have sworn to myself that this will be the year that I successfully keep my New Year’s Resolution. For many years, I have tried to eat healthier, make smarter choices, and get more exercise into my daily routine but I seem to fall of the wagon in a matter of weeks. What can I do to make sure I succeed at my goal and become a healthier, better me?

Thanks for the question, Eager to Exercise,Man Stretching at the Office

During the holiday season, many of us see our weight creep up on the scales — to the point that we make Santa Claus himself look like a runway model! One too many of Grandma’s famous cookies or an extra helping of mashed potatoes here and there can really expand the waistline. It is no wonder that the top New Year’s Resolution is to become more physically fit and get healthy, according to a survey conducted by FC Organizational Products in December 2011. With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, where can you find the time to fit in exercise and smart diet choices? I have a few ideas that will help you be more active, involved in your health, and keep your resolutions all year long – even at work!

  • Avoid the elevators. Take the stairs whenever possible.
  • Park your car at the far end of the lot. Depending on the size of your parking lot or structure, you can make up for the half of a cookie you grabbed walking out the door. Remember, every step counts!
  • If possible, walk or bike to work. You are already leaving time to complete your standard commute. At least double your normal commute time and put your shoes and pedals to the pavement.
  • Find more opportunities to stand while working. Standing will increase blood flow throughout your body and relieve some soreness from muscles. It also takes more effort from your body to stand than it does to sit. Try taking a call with a head set or trade emails and phone calls for a walk over to a co-worker’s desk.
  • Make room for a quickie walk. Utilize your allotted break times or put 20 minutes of your lunch break aside to take a brisk walk around the building, either outside or inside.
  • Swap out your regular office chair for a large fitness ball.
  • Rise and shine. Wake up an hour or so earlier and take a fitness class at a local gym. By the time you get to work, you will be running on the energy you just earned at the gym and you also have freed up a whole hour after work for other activities.
  • Bring your exercise clothes to work with you. Anything you can do to make getting a workout in easier the better. You are also limiting your excuses for not making it to your sweat session.
  • Keep a set of these guys (look left) at your desk.
  • Make a run for it. Bring your lunch to work with you and swing by the gym on your lunch break. Even 25 minutes of exercise will have a positive effect on your day and health. Once you get back to the office, eat at your desk and refuel from your great workout.
  • Join or start a sports team at your work. Gather your co-workers for a game of kickball or basketball after work. Having other people depending on you and holding you accountable for the team will make it harder for you to wimp out at the last minute.
  • Snack the smart way. At all costs, avoid the vending machines at your office. These on -the-go food facilities are full of high sugar, calorie, and salt options with little to no nutritional value. Keep healthy snacks like fresh fruit, unsalted nuts, raw veggies, and yogurt with you or in the office fridge. For tips on how to keep it safe from thieves, check out my post, “Bring Your Own Lunch, Bandit.”

DumbellsI hope these tips help you stay on track with your New Year’s Resolution goals. Remember that it takes time to transition into new habits and ways of life. Make your goals small and achievable. If you have a slip-up or fall off the tracks, don’t give up. Pick yourself back up and start fresh.

What are you trying to achieve in 2013? What advice do you have for others trying to make their goals in the New Year?

For a quick workout while you are at the office, check out the video below!

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Best of Luck,
Anita

Perfecting Public Speaking

A reader writes:

Hello Anita,

I need your advice on something. Ever since I can remember I have been terrified of public speaking. Just the thought of it gets my stomach all stirred up. I have goals and aspirations to be an executive someday but know that I need to overcome my fears to get there. What can I do to make speaking in public less difficult?

Woman RunningDear, Stage Frightened,

Public speaking ranks very high up on the list of people’s biggest fears. According to Live Science’s article “What Really Scares People: Top 10 Phobias,” public speaking and social phobia ranked #4 behind scary spaces, spiders, and snakes.

Being in front of a crowd with all eyes on you can be intimidating and anxiety ridden. I myself have had my fair share of being stage shy. The thought of speaking to a group made me feel like running for my life. I have always been jealous of those lucky individuals that look carefree, unscathed, and darn-right comfortable when they are giving speeches and presentations. Not fair, right? Well, life is not fair and when life gives us lemons, what do we do? Make lemonade.

Before you start even thinking about presenting a topic in public, you have to figure out the key elements. My friend, Bonnie Cox at Power Training Institute, has a great amount of experience in public speaking and has offered her professional advice to us! How lucky are we? Here are Bonnie’s proven tips to become at ease with your presentation skills and make you a pro in no time at all.

  • Try to relax. Your audience is there to see you deliver a great presentation. They are not there to see you fail. Luckily for them, you won’t!
  • Know your topic cold. Practice it until you are comfortable.
  • Remember that everyone has stage fright. Let it work for you, not against you. It can be very energizing!
  • Focus on what your audience wants or needs to hear. It’s not about you.
  • Stay humble. If you are more focused on what you can give to your audience, you’ll be less focused on yourself.
  • Do not draw attention to your hiccups or your nerves. You are probably the only one who notices them.
  • Join Toastmaster or National Speakers Association to hone your skills and perfect your ability to connect with your audience.
  • Know the room that you will be presenting in.
  • Arrive to your presentation at least 15 minutes early.Microphones

And from Anita’s bag of tips and tricks, a final piece of advice to leave you with… As scary as it may sound, the only way you are going to be more comfortable with your public-speaking self to is practice, practice, and practice some more. The more times you present, the less anxious you will be and the better you will become. Baby steps are usually the best way to go about it. It may sound silly, but try practicing your speech out loud in front of the mirror. Once you have nailed it, enlist your friends and family to test your skills out on. It should be a
no-judgment environment, one you are completely comfortable with. Then move on to bigger stages and audiences. You will be a master in no time.

Toastmasters has come out with a great video called Five Basic Public Speaking Tips. Check it out here:

Readers, what do you do before and during a presentation that makes you the star of the show?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Hire Our Heroes!

Today, we celebrate the courageous actions and valor of the servicemen and women who served in our country’s armed forces. Let us take a moment to thank them for their service and sacrifice in the name of freedom this Veteran’s Day and every day.

After last week’s post offering advice to recently returned veterans, I have been inspired to take it one step further. Hiring managers, I am talking to you. The large pool of skilled and accomplished veterans is some of the top talent available. Many of you may ask what skills and traits military personnel have that are applicable to your businesses.

There are many!

Veterans hold specials sets of skills that are so engrained in their being, they have become second nature. Determination, dedication, and drive are some that come to mind — all three highly valued qualities that any business owner, supervisor, or hiring manager would hope to bring to their teams.  I could go on and on, but I will simply highlight the top 10 reasons why you should put our veterans on your payroll!

  1. Leadership – The most successful military personnel are incredible leaders. They have the traits and characteristics to inspire and motivate those around them. The ability to lead and get the best from the members of the team is a priceless attribute.
  2. Global experience – Veterans have experience in a wide variety of regions around the world. They are used to adapting to different cultures and experiencing life/business from other viewpoints.
  3. Exceptional learning curve – Upon entering the service, military personnel must quickly master a series of skills and competencies that are required for survival. This experience allows veterans to quickly adapt and accomplish tasks that may take others months to achieve.
  4. Teamwork – Individual and group productivity are required in the military setting. Servicemen and women are familiar with working together as a team and understand the importance of personal responsibility to one another and accountability in a group setting.
  5. Ability to deliver results under pressure – Resourcefulness and adhering to tight time schedules are common occurrences in the military. Veterans are trained to organize and tackle priorities no matter what difficulties they are faced with.
  6. Respect for authority and procedures – Military vets understand the importance of structure to an organization. They value and encourage a clear set of rules and regulations that help maintain and support strategy.
  7. Integrity – This is a characteristic that is hard to come by in today’s environment. Veterans understand the value of hard work, persistence, honor, and honesty. Many have been involved in missions that require high level of secrecy and security clearance.
  8. Adherence to safety standards – Safety is a major concern in the military with regard to fellow servicemen and civilians. Military personnel believe in maintaining a safe and healthy environment; protection of colleagues and equipment is a top priority.
  9. Working knowledge of technology and machinery – Veterans are trained to effectively use the latest computers, machinery, and technology to achieve goals and accomplish tasks. If they are unfamiliar with a piece of equipment, I’ll bet my favorite set of knitting needles that they will be heads down until they can operate it with their eyes closed.
  10. Positive outlook – Even under the most dire circumstances and grim futures, military veterans have the intrinsic knowledge and skills to triumph over adversity. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, drive, determination, and the desire to achieve greatness and success for the team are of the highest priority.

As if all that weren’t enough…  thanks to the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, employers will receive tax credits for hiring veterans —  40% percent of the first $6,000 in wages (up to $2,400) for short-term unemployed vets and 40% of the first $14,000 in wages (up to $5,600) for vets who have been unemployed longer than 6 months.

Employers, what are you doing to recruit and hire military veterans? If you are uncertain of hiring veterans, what is your reasoning?

Here is a video sharing the many ways that you can help support our veterans.

Validation for Veterans

A reader writes:

Good Morning, Anita,

Recently, I returned home from a deployment to Afghanistan. Since coming home and taking a much-needed break, I feel that I am ready to join the civilian workforce and begin supporting my family again. Like many other veterans, I am running into some difficulty finding gainful employment and paying the bills. What advice can you give to me and other veterans looking for employment and experiencing the hardships of transition? Thank you!

Dear, Valued Veteran:

First and foremost, thank you for your service to our country and for the sacrifices you have made in the name of freedom. I can speak for many reading this blog that we greatly appreciate your efforts and dedication to the United States of America.

Unfortunately, as you mentioned, transitioning into the civilian workforce and regular life after serving in the armed forces can be difficult. Not only do you face the same challenges as those currently unemployed, but you must also Army_Bootsacclimate to new surroundings and hone your military training to fit open employment opportunities.

To get the ball rolling, make sure that you register with Veteran Affairs (VA) as soon as possible after you are discharged. You should qualify for medical and dental insurance. These benefits will diminish your financial burden significantly if unexpected medical emergencies arise. Co-pays for preventative medicine and routine exams are relatively low for this program and maybe expunged if you are unable to afford them.

Next, I suggest that you take some time to sit down and write a strong and compelling résumé and cover letter describing your skills, experiences, and work ethic. These items are job hunting gold and are necessary in landing your next career. For tips and advice on how to create and perfect these documents, take a quick look my posts How to Tailor Your Résumé and Covering the Cover Letter. If you feel like you need additional help, you can look into services such as CareerPerfect  to write your résumé and cover letter for a nominal fee. The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program also has services that can help.

Some strong qualities and experience to highlight are:

  • Military efficiency
  • Overseas experience
  • Problem solving skills
  • Flexibility and decision-making abilities under pressure
  • Leadership roles
  • Other relevant experiences

Also, take your military occupation code (MOS), area of concentration (AOC), Air Force specialty code (AFSC), or Navy Soldier_Saluteenlisted classification (NEC) and enter them into a skills translator, like those found at www.vetsuccess.gov/military_skills_translators, to turn them into commonly desired skills in the private sector.

Now that you have a strong and noteworthy résumé and cover letter, head on over to my friends at Select Staffing for employment assistance. Visit their website (www.selectstaffing.com), fill out the online application, and call your local office to schedule an appointment with a recruiter. Select Staffing is actively seeking skilled, dedicated, and versatile veterans for a wide variety of positions. They highly value the characteristics, commitment, and skills possessed by servicemen and women and are determined to do their part to help.

I know that they are currently recruiting for the following positions:

  • General Professional
  • Security Services
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Legal Assistant/Paralegal
  • Accounting
  • Data Entry Operator
  • IT Auditors
  • Utility Workers
  • Project Managers
  • Business Intelligence Analysts
  • And much more!

If you are looking to sharpen your skills and become educated in your field of interest, sign up for the GI Bill. Once you have done so, get in contact with Veteran Affairs Education and apply for benefits online to help cover tuition, books, and living expenses while you are in school. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this benefit as you will strengthen your résumé and have better chances of landing a lucrative career.

I found a great webinar that I think would be great for all veterans to watch, titled “Job Search Tips: Webinar for Military Veterans Transition to Civilian Careers” by Lida Citroën. It is a bit longer than my typical videos but worth the time.

Readers, what advice do you have for our recently-returned Veterans?

Veterans, what have you found to be the most helpful with you return to the civilian workforce?

Building a Beneficial Brainstorm

A reader writes…

Hi Anita,

I am looking for a fresh new way to get the creative juices flowing in my team. I have tried to host a brainstorm but was not successful as I had hoped. What do I need to do to have a brainstorming session that promotes creative thinking and will be beneficial to all involved?

Hi, Brainstorm Builder!

Bringing together a group of talented individuals with unique perspectives can do wonders for your team. But in order for a brainstorm to function properly, you will want to follow this simple plan and include an assortment of key elements that will really make the sparks fly.

Put together a Dream Team. For brainstorming to work at its best, youBrainstorm are going to need the number one, most important ingredient…brains! An ideal number is 6-10 people, and to throw some interesting twists into the mix, bring in a person from a different area of expertise. For example, if you work in Marketing, invite some members of the sales team to participate in your discussions. Different perspectives bring forth new ideas!

Bring in an outside facilitator. This individual should be someone from your company, but from a different department. Many people default to appointing the manager or department head to lead a brainstorm discussion. I think it is best to avoid this approach as it can lead to shaping and guiding ideas back to the standard mold.

Escape from the ordinary location. Break away from the day-to-day scenery of the office for brainstorms. Parks and playgrounds are a great location, as well as museums and scenic outlooks. Better yet, try a location that is applicable to your brainstorm goals. If you are thinking of new ways to encourage children to eat more vegetables, why not visit a local farm or farmers market. These visuals will awaken creativity!

Define the problem and what you are trying to achieve. Once you have determined what the goal is of the brainstorm and what you hope will come out of discussion and reflection, get the wheels turning. Ask participants to begin thinking about ideas on how to solve the problem and request that they come to the table with at least 3 alternatives and solutions to share with the group.

IdeasThink outside of the box. Make it clear to your team that there are no wrong answers at the brainstorm. Encourage your staff to dream wildly and come up with solutions that may lie outside of the norm. Stir up the wild thinking and see how far they can push themselves and stretch the boundaries. If it weren’t for this kind of thinking, who knows where we would be? Imagine a world with no electricity. Airplanes. Telephones. All very scary thoughts and all way outside of the box.

Quantity, not quality. Yes…you read that right. We are looking for the most content as possible here, people. Ideas can later be sifted through and viability/quality can be determined. The more ideas you have the more you have to work with and build upon.

Build off of one another. One idea has the potential to spur hundreds of other ideas. Encourage participants to “piggy-back” off of the creativity of others.  It will help produce more ideas and help the group move forward together.

Designate a note taker. If all goes to plan, ideas will be flying left and right. Be sure to have a person whose sole purpose is to capture and record all ideas and information being discussed. You don’t want any of that creativity to slip through the cracks.

Now that you have all the ideas on paper, I suggest bringing everyone together one final time to review the ideas. As a group, discuss and then select the strongest ideas. It may take a few rounds of brainstorming to come up with the ideal solution. Once you have narrowed it down, assign follow-up activities for the ideas you have designated as contenders. You will want to set deadlines, hold your team accountable, and keep track of the progress.

See this video for some other great tips about brainstorming and some silly ideas on preserving gum…Crazy, right?

What have you found to be the best tips for brainstorming?

Sincerely,

Anita

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Sharing Strategic Leadership

A reader writes…

Dear Anita,

I have been hearing about strategic leadership a lot lately. From what I have read, it seems like a pretty great leadership technique, but I need more information on the topic. What can you tell me about strategic leadership and what it can do for my team?

Thanks for the question. It appears that strategic leadership is one of the new buzz words in business. People are always looking for ways to become better leaders for their company and develop innovative plans to get ahead of the competition. So you want to be a strategic leader, huh? Here are few key points about this type of leadership and what you need to do to make it successful.

Strategic leaders are growth- and goal-oriented. They strive to get the best from their employees. Encouragement, equal Leadershipexpectations, and lead-by-example strategies are what make these leaders the most successful. A sense of equality is rarely seen in large well-established corporations. Employees are more likely to put in the extra effort and go the extra mile if they feel their contributions are being appreciated, recognized, and having an impact on the company and their peers. With this increased input comes a greater level of output in the form of higher productivity. More productive workplaces are much more efficient, cost less to operate, and have an improved rate of return. The increased productivity encourages best practices and streamlined process that are in the best interest of the company as a whole.

Future planning and awareness of the industry are key components to being successful as a strategic leader. You will develop a keen ability to foresee future issues due to growth and expansion. To prepare, additional funding should be invested in educating and providing opportunities for your staff to take responsibility of their future and execute their Leadersrole in the company as changes begin to occur. The employees will learn to act, think, and work in ways that have the best interest of the company in mind. With proper training and skill maintenance, decisions that may have previously needed additional management approval or second opinions can be made in half the time without expelling and wasting additional resources.

Coaching and mentoring  staff is one of the many blocks found in the foundation of strategic leadership. By presenting an inexperienced or new staff member with suggestions and guidance, an entrepreneur can mold and shape this individual into exactly the correct fit for the job. Contrary to managerial leadership, strategic leadership focuses on the potential of the individual and how to best utilize their skills and talents in the long run. The best employees are those who excel in their environment and have a sense of pride in their job.

This video from Carolyn Stevens will help you get more answers to your questions.

I hope this brief overview of strategic leadership gives you a better understanding as to what it is and how you can put it to good use in your office. For fun, take this quiz from CNN Money to see if you “Are a Good Leader?”

Readers: What do you think are your strongest leadership qualities? What types of management styles do you admire most?

Wishing you luck in leadership,

Anita

Rewards From Retreats

A reader writes…

Hi Anita,

I have a team of about 10 people who have been working incredibly hard over the past few months. I want to reinforce their positive attitudes and keep the group productivity and focus flowing through a department retreat. But I am in need of some pointers to make sure the outing is both rewarding and beneficial to our group. Please help!

Dear, Retreat Ready,

Department retreats are a great way to step out of the office setting and focus on reinforcing strengths of a group or addressing areas for improvement. They help
re-center and boost creative thinking and break through the monotony of daily activities and tasks, so your employees will return to work feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by the change of pace. Retreats also promote team unity and strengthen the commitment of the group toward a common goal. I suggest you schedule a retreat at Handsleast once or twice a year.

To make a retreat produce top results, your group must be comfortable, the presentations interactive, and the topic relevant. Here is a list of things you can do to put together a fun and productive staff retreat:

Provide breakfast or morning snacks, such as coffee or muffins. Your employees will appreciate the gesture. Added bonus: Now they will not have an excuse for low energy while participating in the activities.

Encourage participants to dress comfortably and on the casual side. It can help set a tone of relaxation and remove any stuffiness that should be left at the office.

Ask your team to be prepared with real-life work achievements and issues. Sharing successes and troubles will help the group come together as one to revel in wins and to find solutions to obstacles standing in the way. Make sure you give your team enough time to prepare before the meeting – don’t spring it on them in the room – and make sure they know you expect them to participate in the discussion.

Start the retreat with an “ice breaker.”  To start your meeting off on the right foot, play a fun game or activity that brings your team closer together. The more fun and crazy, the better! One example is to have each person share something about them that is not work-related. To keep everyone at ease, be sure to make a point to say that sharing is encouraged but not required. Check out this list of funny questions to integrate into your ice breakers. My personal favorite is “If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?” Some may disagree, but I am going along the lines of a chili. I like to think I am spicy!

Get people involved. Create a space for open discussion and creative thinking. Challenge your team to stir the creative juices and really think outside the box. Sharing thoughts with the team and encouraging feedback and input are where great ideas are shaped and big accomplishments take place. Keep your eyes out for a post I have in the works about hosting a successful brainstorming session.

Don’t just stand there; get up and move. Plan to have lunch off-site from the retreat. It will give your group time to stretch their legs, socialize with group, and develop relationships outside of the office. Make sure to pick a place that isn’t too loud and has a little something for everyone in attendance.

Provide visuals whenever possible. These are great for keeping the energy up and tstimulating the creative parts of the brain. Plus, I wouldn’t want to listen to me yap all day long. Throw monotony out the door and bring some images and videos into the mix.

Build in some competition and some prizes. Offer some goodies for good ideas shared, the quickest right answer to your question, and more. People love to win free stuff, and it will get your group talking and volunteering information faster.

End with a bang! People will most likely be starting to wind down after all the fun activities and discussions you have had during the day. Give everyone a little something to take home with them that ensures things end on a positive note! A card acknowledging their hard work and dedication to your team and a bag of M&Ms is just the right thing to accomplish this.

Managers, what interesting activities or ideas have you come up with to create a rewarding retreat? What were your results?

Employees, what types of activities have you participated in that worked well and others that fell short?

I can’t wait to hear from you all.

Best wishes until next time,
Anita

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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