HBR: Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

With the upcoming NRLA Leadership meeting, this blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight may be very useful:

Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say

“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work. “You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.” In addition, you must be aware of your effect on others, according to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? “You need to be constantly assessing how other people are responding to you,” she says. “Some people find this easy and intuitive. For others, it’s a challenge.” The good news is that this skill can be learned. Here are some ways how.

Observe

The best way to read a room is to pay close attention to people — and not just what they’re saying. “If you’re relying [solely] on their words, you’re only getting half the picture,” McKee says. Upon entering a meeting, she recommends, do “a quick scan of the individuals,” noting “who’s next to whom, who’s smiling, who’s not, who’s standing, who’s sitting, and how much space is between people.” Next, try to pick up on “the almost invisible clues on how people are feeling” by looking carefully at “their facial expressions, posture, and body language.” Be on the lookout for “quick microexpressions” such as “fleeting smiles, raised eyebrows, or even tiny frowns.” Vigilant observation will give you the information you need to interpret group dynamics. Dillon recommends identifying role models to further improve your social awareness. “Think of people you admire who are great at reading the room,” she says. “Isolate the things they do and try to emulate those.”

Control how much you talk

You can’t observe if you’re spending most of your time talking. You need to listen, Dillon says. “Be conscious of how much you are saying.” Whether you’re in a room with a large group of people, a small group, or you’re speaking with a colleague one-on-one, she advises taking frequent pauses “to really think about what the other person is saying” and watching out for the nonverbal cues. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk; there is “no shame” in silence. When the conversation is more intimate, Dillon says, you must strive to “make the other person feel heard.” Be present. Be engaged. Make eye contact. “Position yourself so that you’re not inviting others to butt into your conversation. Help the other people feel confident that you are all in the moment together.” After the other person says something, paraphrase what they said to indicate that you’re paying attention. Similarly, “if the other person doesn’t seem to be hearing what you’re saying, and you start to realize that you’re talking at them, you should ask a question,” she adds. Try open-ended questions such as “What do you think about…?” or, “What are the consequences of…?” or, “Have you experienced this?” The answers to these questions help you uncover what’s really going on.

Interpret your observations

Once you’ve “tuned into the emotions and energy in the room,” you can “try to make sense of what you think you know,” McKee says. She recommends “generating multiple hypotheses about what’s going on.” Consider the people in the group more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states. “What’s happening in their lives? What’s going on in their jobs? What do you know about these people?” If you don’t know much, this can be tricky, but you can still come up with hypotheses for what’s motivating people. At the same time, you shouldn’t project your feelings onto the group. “Keep your emotions in check,” McKee says, adding that this is a feat that “takes tremendous skill and self-control.” If, say, the room is reverberating tension, don’t let yourself “be hijacked by negative energy, and don’t give in to your natural inclination to be frightened and angry.” Remember, too, that the emotions you perceive are not personal. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Check your hypotheses

When you’ve developed a few explanations for what’s going on in the room, check your understanding. You can do this by continuing to gather further information — though you should continue to be open to what you’re seeing and sensing so that you don’t fall prey to confirmation bias. You can also ask people directly, in private, McKee says. When you’re in one-on-one conversations, you might say something like, “In the meeting I saw you furrow your brow when discussion turned to the xyz project — how do you feel about it?” Most likely, your colleagues will be pleased you noticed, she says. When you make note of people’s feelings and reactions, they “feel attended to.” Another tactic McKee suggests is talking with a trusted colleague, mentor, or coach. “Talk about what you’ve observed — not in a gossipy way, but as a learning opportunity,” she says. “You want someone else to check ideas with” so that you can say, “What do you think is going on with that colleague? Or that coalition?”

Put your perceptions into practice

If in the midst of a meeting or interaction, you notice that things are getting tense or heated, you can “take the opportunity to shift the emotional reality of the room,” McKee says. “Use humor,” she adds. “Or empathize with the group — make them feel okay.” She recommends determining who in the room has “the most social or hierarchical capital” and then focusing on getting that person on your side. “It could be a person who has the most seniority, or the person who others are sitting closest to. It could be the person who’s telling jokes and has the ability to lighten the mood.” Keep an eye out “for any positive signals” — the executive in the corner who’s smiling, for instance — and concentrate on those. Importantly, continue to pay attention to what’s not being said. “Most people are just waiting to talk,” she says. As a result, “we may catch most of the words, but we miss the music.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Consider the people in the room more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states.
  • Look for microexpressions such as fleeting smiles or raised eyebrows. These offer clues to group dynamics and individual emotions.
  • Isolate the behaviors that your socially aware role model exhibits and try to emulate them.

Don’t:

  • Be distracted. Maintain eye contact and be present and engaged in conversations with others.
  • Make it all about you. Ask open-ended questions to help you uncover what’s really going on.
  • Allow yourself to be hijacked by a room’s negative energy. Keep your emotions in check and do what you can to shift the emotional reality of the room.

Case Study #1: Pay attention to people’s body language and facial expressions

As the chief human resources officer at Prosek Partners, the global PR company, Karen Niovitch Davis has a good deal of experience reading rooms. “I’ve had a 20+ year career in HR,” she says. “A lot of what I do is about trying to really understand what people are saying when they are not actually saying it.”

Every week, she attends a management meeting at Prosek for senior vice presidents, managing directors, and partners. The company’s CEO leads the meeting, and Karen, because of her role, is often aware of what’s on the agenda.

“Since some of the things that we discuss are sensitive or controversial, I am often prepping for how my colleagues will react,” Karen says.

Recently, for instance, the CEO announced that the company would be expanding and that it had signed a lease for more space in the building. Certain employees and teams would be moving to another floor.

Karen paid close attention to her colleagues’ body language and facial expressions to gauge their reactions. She was prepared for a mixed bag. “I knew everyone in the room was thinking: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my team? Are we all going to have to move?” she says. “That’s human nature.”

Many of her colleagues seemed “genuinely pleased” by the news, she recalls. “They were excited because the move means we are growing.”

Others, however, gave off a decidedly different vibe. Some people’s faces went blank; others visibly frowned. One — we’ll call her Jane — looked down and scribbled a note to a colleague sitting next to her.

Karen assumed that Jane wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of moving. She thought about what she already knew about Jane. “She does not like to change her routine,” Karen notes.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Karen approached Jane. She told her that it seemed that she was unhappy about the move. “I wanted to make sure she knew I noticed her,” Karen says.

Jane appreciated that Karen noticed. “She said, ‘I don’t want to move because I like where my desk is now,’” Karen says. “She told me that she didn’t want to say anything in the meeting because she didn’t want to come off as not a team player.”

Karen listened attentively to Jane’s reasoning. She empathized with her and asked her open-ended questions about her concerns. She wanted to make sure Jane felt heard. “I told her that the office would be an exact replica of our current space and that the views would be better,” she says.

But Jane was not swayed by the argument. “I told her we would work something out so she would not have to move,” Karen says.

Case Study #2: Don’t assume you know how other people feel — ask them

Heather Anderson, an executive mentor at Vistage International, the San Diego–based advisory and executive coaching organization, says that she often speaks to her clients about the importance of social intelligence. “Emotions contain data,” she says. “I tell them that the emotional data they receive in their team meetings, their one-on-ones, and their client calls are just as important to their end game as anything else.”

She speaks from experience. Recently, Heather ran a meeting for one of her peer-to-peer coaching groups at Vistage. One of the agenda items was to provide feedback to one of the newer members — we’ll call her Susan. These meetings happen regularly; their purpose “is to challenge each other to be better leaders.”

“People are candid in these meetings and it can feel harsh if you’re on the receiving end — particularly when it’s your first time,” Heather says. “It’s intimidating.”

Heather first scanned the room to gauge the temperature; it wasn’t particularly tense, but she could tell that Susan was nervous. Next, she listened carefully to what others said. The comments were “frank,” and it wasn’t particularly positive.

She paid close attention to Susan’s body language. “I could see the look of surprise and fear on Susan’s face,” she says. “She shrunk in her chair and her shoulders dropped.”

Heather empathized with Susan’s emotions and reflected on what was happening. “I thought she felt threatened,” Heather says. “I wondered, ‘Should we soften our words?’”

To be sure, she asked Susan how she felt. “I said, ‘How are you feeling? What is it like to get this feedback?’”

Susan surprised her. “She said, ‘Wow. This is intense, but this is exactly what I signed up for.’”

Heather realized that she had projected some of her own feelings onto Susan. “I expected her to feel a certain way,” she says, “but you can’t assume you know.”

Later, Heather asked Susan how she planned to use the feedback she received during the meeting. “Susan was able to recite very specific action items, and she talked enthusiastically about the things she wanted to do and changes she wanted to make,” Heather says.

Heather plans to follow up with Susan in a few weeks.

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HBR: How to Lose Your Best Employees

“When we are learning, we experience higher levels of brain activity and many feel-good brain chemicals are produced. Managers would do well to remember that.” What are you doing to keep your employees challenged at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Whitney Johnson:

How to Lose Your Best Employees

You want to be a great boss. You want your company to be a great place to work. But right now, at this very moment, one of your key employees might be about to walk out the door.

She has consistently brought her best game to work and has grown into a huge asset. But her learning has peaked, her growth has stalled, and she needs a new challenge to reinvigorate her.

As her boss, you don’t want anything to change. After all, she’s super-productive, her work is flawless, and she always delivers on time. You want to keep her right where she is.

That’s a great way to lose her forever.

This was my situation more than a decade ago. After eight years as an award-winning stock analyst at Merrill Lynch, I needed a new challenge. I’ve always liked mentoring and coaching people, so I approached a senior executive about moving to a management track. Rather than offering his support, he dismissed and discouraged me. His attitude was, We like you right where you are. I left within the year.

This kind of scenario plays out in companies every day. And the cost is enormous in terms of both time and money. But if I had stayed and disengaged, the cost may have been even higher. When people can no longer grow in their jobs, they mail it in — leading to huge gaps in productivity. According to Gallup, a lack of employee engagement “implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of Gallup’s global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.”

And yet engagement is only symptomatic. When your employees (and maybe even you, as their manager) aren’t allowed to grow, they begin to feel that they don’t matter. They feel like a cog in a wheel, easily swapped out. If you aren’t invested in them, they won’t be invested in you, and even if they don’t walk out the door, they will mentally check out.

How do you overcome this conundrum? It starts with recognizing that every person in your company, including you, is on a learning curve. That learning curve means that every role has a shelf life. You start a new position at the low end of the learning curve, with challenges to overcome in the early days. Moving up the steep slope of growth, you acquire competence and confidence, continuing into a place of high contribution and eventually mastery at the top of the curve.

But what comes next as the potential for growth peters out? The learning curve flattens, a plateau is reached; a precipice of disengagement and declining performance is on the near horizon. I’d estimate that four years is about the maximum learning curve for most people in most positions; if, after that, you’re still doing the exact same thing, you’re probably starting to feel a little flat.

Take my own career: I moved to New York City with a freshly minted university degree in music. I was a pianist who especially loved jazz. But I was quickly dazzled by Wall Street which, in the late 1980s, was the place to work. I secured a position as a secretary in a financial firm and started night school to learn about investing.

A few years later, my boss helped me make the leap from support staff to investment banker. It was an unlikely, thrilling new opportunity that required his sponsorship and support. After a few years, I jumped again to become a stock analyst, and I scaled that curve to achieve an Institutional Investor ranking for several successive years.

When I began, I was excited to be a secretary on Wall Street. I was also excited to become an investment banker. And I loved being a stock analyst. Though I started in each of these positions at the low end of their respective learning curves, I was able to progress and achieve mastery in all of them.

Eventually, I became a little bored with each job and started looking around for a new challenge to jump to. Most of us follow similar patterns — our brains want to be learning, and they give us feel-good feedback when we are. When we aren’t, we don’t feel so good. The human brain is designed to learn, not just during our childhood school years but throughout our life spans. When we are learning, we experience higher levels of brain activity and many feel-good brain chemicals are produced. Managers would do well to remember that.

Because every organization is a collection of people on different learning curves. You build an A team by optimizing these individual curves with a mix of people: 15% of them at the low end of the curve, just starting to learn new skills; 70% in the sweet spot of engagement; and 15% at the high end of mastery. As you manage employees all along the learning curve, requiring them to jump to a new curve when they reach the top, you will have a company full of people who are engaged.

You and every person on your team is a learning machine. You want the challenge of not knowing how to do something, learning how to do it, mastering it, and then learning something new. Instead of letting the engines of your employees sit idle, crank them: Learn, leap, and repeat.

HBR: Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

I would encourage you to do a time-tracking exercise for 30 days. The information would be invaluable to being more productive and evaluating your schedule.  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark:

Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

It’s hard to know if we’re really making efficient use of our time. It seems like we’re working hard — and we’re certainly stressed out. But are we spending our time on the right things? That’s the question I set out to solve at the start of this year. I was feeling overwhelmed after spending the fall launching a new book and was finally turning to the litany of tasks I’d neglected in its wake.

Inspired by a colleague, the time management expert Laura Vanderkam, I decided to spend the month of February tracking exactly how I spent my time, down to half-hour increments. It wasn’t high tech — I used an Excel spreadsheet — but even the process of remembering to write things down was arduous. After all, we’re used to living our lives, not recording them. But the insights I gained over the course of a month were extremely useful. In particular, there were four that made me rethink a lot of the conventional wisdom on productivity and time management. While I encourage you to do your own time-tracking exercise, if you don’t have the time for that (ha!), here’s what I learned:

The right kind of multitasking can be transformative. We’ve all heard plenty about the dangers of multitasking — we can’t do multiple things at once effectively, and we’ll always suffer from cognitive switching costs. That’s true for certain activities but — crucially — is irrelevant for others. For instance, almost anyone can easily listen to podcasts or audiobooks while exercising, cooking, or commuting to work, and if you’re dining alone, you can read while you eat.

With a month’s data in hand, I was astonished to discover I averaged almost two hours of reading each day, plus an additional 90 minutes of listening to audio content. “Reading more” is a common aspiration for busy professionals — one poll reported that nearly one in five people claimed it as their New Year’s resolution — and “strategic multitasking” is a surprisingly easy way to fit it in.

There are benefits from combining your personal and professional networks. Many people still hold to the idea that friends and business don’t mix and that you should separate your personal life and professional life. And it’s true that boundaries can be important for work-life balance.

But if you relish what you’re doing, the most interesting friends in the world are often ones with whom you can share both personal matters (discussing hobbies or commiserating about interpersonal relationships) and those related to your business. As I’m writing this article, in fact, I’m on an airplane with one of my closest friends, who nominated me for an elite business consortium that we’re now participating in together. In my time-tracking exercise, I counted my time under multiple categories if it legitimately filled both criteria. Amazingly, this allowed me to have a full 29% more time in my month — 866 hours instead of the typical 672 — which helped me to get more done.

For example, I learned that I spend 19.3 hours per week with friends and 17 hours doing some form of networking. The overlap isn’t perfect, but it’s close, and those relationships have formed the core of my professional success. I might spend more time socializing than some — I live in a city, and I don’t have kids — but the same principle of building overlapping personal and professional circles holds no matter how many hours per week you have to devote.

Certain hours of the day are especially likely to be “wasted.” I don’t waste much time on social media (I define “waste” as time spent scrolling aimlessly through feeds, rather than posting with a professional purpose in mind). In fact, it only came to 2.5 hours during the entire month of February. In the scheme of things, it’s not much, and we don’t need to optimize every minute. But I’d at least like to be deliberate in how I choose to slack off, and social media wouldn’t be my top choice.

During the times when I did fall into the social media rabbit hole, a clear pattern emerged: It almost always occurred between 10 PM and 11 PM. Despite recent questions about the accuracy of Roy Baumeister’s seminal theory of ego depletion, it certainly seemed to be the case for me that I was most susceptible to distraction at that time, when I was worn down from the demands of the day but not tired enough to sleep. Realizing that this time of day is when my defenses are lowest, I can now guard more vigilantly against misspending time.

Certain tasks carry disproportionate psychological weight. Before starting my experiment, my perception was that I was besieged by email, which was crippling my productivity. But the reality was somewhat different. Indeed, I spent about 1.35 hours per day handling messages, which isn’t trifling. But it’s also not overwhelming, and well under the amount of time I allocated each day to pure client work (my top priority), networking and time with friends, and even reading.

However, even recognizing this, email still bothered me the most of any task, and I felt constant psychological pressure when I was “behind” on my response times. It wasn’t so much the frequency of checking email that stressed me out. (Some have experimented with checking email only twice a day, with mixed results.) For me, the anxiety came from the feeling — endemic to the nature of email — that people were awaiting my response and that I was constantly being handed new tasks for my to-do list.

My time-tracking experiment, however, helped me put things into perspective. We may never be able to fully escape feelings of email-related guilt. But I’d much rather accept a minor twinge now because I’m slow in responding to someone’s message (the urgent) than the long-term shame I’d feel looking back and discovering I’d become an email ninja while jettisoning my own strategic priorities (the important).

Time tracking can be onerous. In fact, I assigned the experiment to the mastermind group I run, and several participants just couldn’t finish it. One strategy I used to force myself to log my hours every day was “habit stacking” — tying the new behavior to an existing one. In my case, I left my Excel document open on my computer so that it was the first thing I saw when I returned to work after a break. That prompted me to record whatever I’d been doing in the interval, whether it was sleeping (after an overnight break), taking a meeting, or having lunch.

If you can manage to keep it up, the knowledge gleaned from time tracking can be invaluable. Understanding where you can successfully multitask, essentially giving yourself more hours in the day, can transform your productivity. And recognizing which activities are stressful enables you to make smarter decisions about how to delegate or reshuffle your workflow, so you can optimize for the tasks that suit you best.

Without data, it’s easy to paint an erroneous picture of how we spend our time, whether it’s inadvertently exaggerating the number of hours we work or assuming we’re wasting more time than we really do. My month of time tracking revealed useful insights that have enabled me to become more productive — and if you make an effort to evaluate your schedule, it may highlight ways you can optimize moving forward as well.

HBR: Should You Cover for a Friend’s Mistakes at Work?

How would you handle your friend’s mistake? I’m interested in hearing your comments. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Liane Davey:

Should You Cover for a Friend’s Mistakes at Work?

It’s nice to have a friend at work who cares about you and looks out for your best interests. Research has even shown that it contributes to your engagement. The benefits of having a friend at work are clear, but what about the downsides? What happens when your friend starts to let things slip? How do you handle it when you notice they aren’t keeping up? Should you cover for them?

As with most difficult situations at work, there isn’t one right answer. The approach you take depends on a variety of factors. First, how worrisome are the slips? Will they create significant problems for your team, or even your customer? Next, how self-aware is your friend about their harmful behavior and the impact it’s having? Finally, how is your friend’s manager handling the situation? Is anyone other than you noticing the problem? The answers to these questions will help you decide when to intervene and how quickly to escalate from one of the following steps to the next.

The first couple of times your friend drops the ball, it’s perfectly acceptable to cover for them. When I say “cover,” I don’t mean hide the issue. I mean you can jump in and do the task yourself. For example, if your friend was supposed to guide a customer on a tour and is nowhere to be found, you might conduct the tour yourself. Covering could also mean you help diffuse any negative consequences by acting as a character witness, such as by saying, “I needed help a few times today, and Preet didn’t have time to get to the report he was working on. I know he’s focused on it now.” Importantly, you shouldn’t lie. Not only is it dishonest, but it could threaten both your standing and your friend’s if the lie is exposed.

As soon as you need to cover a second time, make sure you take the opportunity to let your friend know that their behavior had an impact. You don’t need to be formal about it, but you do need to raise your friend’s awareness of their behavior. You could say something simple, like, “You had a tour scheduled at noon. I covered it for you. Where were you?” If the answer causes you concern, you can probe a little further and see if there is something worrisome going on. Something as simple as “Is everything all right?” would do the trick.

If your friend continues to miss important duties, it’s time to be more explicit with your feedback. At this stage, share your experience of the person’s behavior and the impact it’s having on you. Now is the time to switch to more-formal feedback. Even the change in your language and tone will signal that something is wrong: “You were 30 minutes late for the team meeting this morning. I noticed Marie making a note in her book when you walked in. You’re probably going to hear about this at your next meeting with her. What’s up?”

If your friend is starting to take advantage of your generosity in covering for them, you should share the impact that their behavior is having on you: “You were 30 minutes late for the team meeting this morning. I had to cover the pipeline report for you. I felt unprepared and uncomfortable having to do it on the fly. What made you late?”

At some point, if your feedback isn’t working, you’ll need to change tacks. If every time your friend drops the ball, you’re there to catch it, the consequences might not be grave enough for them to change their ways. All you’ve done by covering for your friend is show them you’ll be accountable, so they don’t have to be. Now it’s time to let something drop.

Choose your spot wisely; don’t let something fall through the cracks that will be harmful to the team or visible to the customer. If your friend is ignoring internal deadlines or missing big chunks from the presentation they’re preparing, don’t save the day. Give your friend a heads up, and then leave it for them to fix the situation. For example, say, “I notice you don’t have the competitive analysis in your presentation yet. I know Frank is expecting it to be in the draft.” If your friend responds with puppy dog eyes and a plea for you to do that section, simply say “no,” or “I can’t.” Don’t make a big fuss over it, but stand firm.

At this point, if this person is really a friend, you’ll want to get a little more serious about understanding what’s going on. Is it a particularly busy time at home? If so, you can suggest the person ask for help from other members of the team, rather than leaving everyone in the lurch. If it’s something more worrisome, like a physical or mental health issue, your friend might be relieved to have someone to confide in. Don’t push if your friend isn’t comfortable discussing the problem. In that case, you can encourage them to seek support outside the office.

This might be the time to engage your friend’s manager in the conversation, particularly if the manager is supportive and focused on helping the team succeed. You can keep the conversation light and simply flag your concerns without causing alarm. For example, “I’ve noticed my friend has missed a couple of their deliverables this month. I asked them about it, but they didn’t say much. I’m worried. Would you have an opportunity to check in with them this week?”

Your approach needs to change as soon as your friend’s dereliction of duty threatens the financial, reputational, or legal standing of your organization. At that point, you need to put your responsibility to your company above your sense of obligation to your friend. As with all of the situations above, you should be telling your friend what you’re going to say before you say it: “I can’t let this one slide. The wrong shipment has gone to the client, and we need to rectify the situation before it causes problems for everyone.”

All of these scenarios, even the ones with the most basic comments to raise self-awareness, might feel uncomfortable. That’s a sign that you care about your friend and want to maintain the relationship. Remember, true friends are the ones who do the kind thing to protect you and support you in the long term, rather than saying what you want to hear in the short term.

If you have a friend who’s not pulling their weight, make it clear when you cover for them, share the impact their behavior is having on both of you, let the natural consequences of their inaction happen, and, if necessary, alert their manager if the repercussions of their behavior could have negative impacts on the team, the organization, or the customer. That’s what a real friend would do.

HBR: Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

Most building supplier retailers do not have a formal HR department.  If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees. What is your company doing about sexual misconduct? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Karen Firestone:

Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

The subject of sexual misconduct at work is dominating mainstream conversation and board room agendas. This doesn’t just mean men and women who run large global enterprises, Fortune 500 behemoths, film studios, and media platforms. The conversation is happening in small businesses as well.

In the U.S. 43% of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people. It would be a mistake to think that a smaller workforce means a decreased chance of sexual harassment. In fact, a few characteristics make small firms more susceptible.

For example, at a smaller firm, people may engage with each other more frequently and that proximity can make the impact of any harassment feel disproportionately large. It can be extremely disruptive if two out of twenty employees suddenly can’t work together and need to be separated. And the legal and punitive costs of sexual harassment cases can feel steeper to a firm with less money and fewer resources.

Importantly, many small firms, especially those with fewer than 30 people, do not have a formal HR department. There is often not enough work to justify a full-time HR employee. The absence of HR means that CEOs must take more responsibility when it comes to keeping current with changing laws, and designing, communicating, and monitoring rules regarding workplace behavior. Another challenge is that without an HR department, more incidents might go unreported, since it may be easier for staff to talk to HR than the boss.

Managing all this is no easy feat for leaders who must also focus on running the business. At our firm of thirteen, the president and I, as CEO, handle all the hiring, compensation, performance, promotion reviews, and any personal matters that our staff brings to us. (Our business manager handles the rest of our “HR” functions like administering payroll, health insurance, and 401K enrollment issues.) Over the past thirteen years, I have brokered the reconciliation of some damaged relationships among colleagues, occasionally helping them through difficult medical and financial situations, and remained watchful for any unhappiness or anxiety. We have never had a sexual harassment complaint, but I’m on high alert for any signs, and I’m thinking more now about how to preempt them.

My CEO peers feel similarly. I surveyed 57 small business CEOs on how they were thinking about sexual harassment. Twenty-nine of these firms had fewer than 50 employees and 21 had no full time HR staff. Among the group, 30 had a written sexual harassment policy, 14 had held a company-wide meeting, and 10 had conducted a training session on the subject.

Two-thirds of the CEOs were male and the group ranged in age from 27 to 81. The majority (70%) said they are more worried now about sexual harassment affecting their business than they were a year ago. They attributed this heightened anxiety to the news focus on high profile cases and reverberations, rather than to any specific incident within their company.

They worried that allegations of inappropriate behavior would damage their office culture, but they were also concerned that hiring a consultant for a day-long training session might be costly, redundant, ineffective, and cause tension about the reasoning behind such action. They were also nervous that the absence of a clearly written harassment policy could hurt both recruiting and the firm’s reputation.

Despite the lack of organized meetings or programs, they seem to be trying to create a constructive workplace culture: 20 of them acknowledged that they are more aware of their own behavior today than in the past, and 16 said that they encouraged their colleagues to come to them directly with any issues or complaints.

Small businesses do not need HR to root out and prevent sexual harassment. But leaders need to 1) be conscious of the factors that lead to a toxic work culture, such as having a predominantly male executive staff, layers of hierarchy in power within the organization, and indifferent responses to previous allegations; 2) establish clear policies outlining what constitutes sexual harassment, which behaviors will not be tolerated, and what employees should do if they see or experience misconduct; and 3) enforce these rules by designating clear roles for people within the organization. At my company I have told everyone they should come to me or my second in command immediately with any complaint. Should this ever happen, I would try to understand the incident by interviewing everyone involved, and I would likely ask the alleged harasser to take a leave until we understood the entire situation. Then I’d try to resolve the problem internally. If that was impossible, we would seek outside counsel.

So far, it’s not a dilemma I’ve had to face. Over a decade ago, we wrote up a sexual harassment policy that strongly denounced any form of sexual harassment. These included physical, verbal, or implied requests for sexual favors; inappropriate jokes and gestures; and intimidating behavior. It also offered directions about reporting that misconduct. Each year we revise this, recirculate it, and have every employee sign it. We continue to discuss this policy at company-wide meetings, including one recently, following all the recent news stories on the subject. At that session, I asked everyone if we should do anything else, such as hold a sexual harassment training session; no one believed that necessary.

Since we have no HR department, we tell employees that should they experience sexual harassment, they need to come forward, at some point, to one of the top managers. We know that this won’t happen if they don’t trust us and feel that we care about their well being. To foster this kind of trust, I talk to my colleagues every day when I see them, make sure people are included in any discussions around their work, and ask them questions about their assignments and contributions. This may sound trite, but these actions will generate more trust than merely telling people to come forward with a harassment charge.

Every CEO of a small company has concurrent goals of growing into a highly profitable business and creating a vibrant and desirable office environment. If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees, and face high financial, reputational, and energy-sapping costs of dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. The main way small businesses can prevent sexual harassment is to establish the right internal culture, which means paying more attention to the example you set. The well-being of your company could be at stake.

HBR: How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Do you request feedback from your peers and/or managers? What do you do to motivate yourself? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Julie Mosow:

How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Let’s face it: some bosses are not inspiring. They don’t motivate us to perform at our best — let alone improve our skills. What should you do if your boss is too hands-off, ambivalent, or downright demotivating? How can you keep your engagement up and your own professional goals on track? Is it possible to motivate yourself?

What the Experts Say

The good news is that while your boss has a lot of influence over how engaged you are at work, you can put yourself in the driver’s seat. “Employees have more control than they realize over their ability to build and sustain motivation in the workplace,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. There are many factors that influence motivation, but “the most significant one is a sense of progress,” says Monique Valcour, professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, citing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle. “And that comes from the feeling that we are doing work that is meaningful to ourselves, to our colleagues, to the organization, and to the world at large.” Halvorson adds: “Changing your mindset and habits can drive a more fulfilling, more motivated approach to work no matter who your manager is.” Here’s how to motivate yourself when your boss doesn’t.

Understand what makes you tick

If your manager doesn’t motivate you or, even worse, undermines you, it’s important to figure out what drives you personally and professionally. In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer stress that motivation stems from three things: love of the work itself, the desire to receive recognition, and a sense that our work matters and connects us to others. So ask yourself: When was the last time you felt a sense of meaning and purpose at work? What were the conditions that allowed those feelings to flourish?

Set your own goals

Valcour points out that many people feel they’re sprinting in place with no extra time to tackle anything other than their day-to-day responsibilities. However, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. Make an individual career plan to help you track your projects and results and set goals for your own development. While some of these goals may be directly related to your current role, others may be geared toward learning and exploring areas of interest outside your job description. Even though it’s tempting to set demanding goals for yourself, Halvorson cautions against going overboard. “Although it’s counterintuitive, setting unrealistic or overly ambitious goals can actually be demotivating because there’s so much on the line,” she says. Instead, set goals with smaller milestones so that you can celebrate your progress each step along the way.

Use if-then planning

Once you’ve decided on your goals, Halvorson recommends using “if-then” planning to stay on track or to handle setbacks. “Accepting that challenges are a part of life and being prepared to deal with them is critical to long-term motivation,” she says. For example, if your goal is to finish a presentation, but you find yourself getting distracted by conversations with colleagues, you might say, “If I haven’t finished the presentation by the end of the day on Wednesday, then I will come in early on Thursday to finish up while it’s quiet.” Or you might use if-then planning to move past a low point. For example, “If we don’t receive funding for this project, then I will rewrite the business plan and approach the partners again.” By anticipating obstacles, you’re less likely to get stuck.

Evaluate your own performance and ask for feedback

One way that poor managers undermine motivation is by not giving sufficient feedback. “Seeking feedback is important,” Valcour confirms, “even if we sometimes hear things we’d rather not.” Halvorson believes that most managers are willing to offer feedback if you ask. You might request the feedback directly and in the moment by saying something like, “How did you think the meeting went? Is there anything I might do differently next time?” You might also look to peers for an objective assessment of your performance. Ask people who will be candid with you and whose opinions you trust. Another option is self-evaluation. “We’re more capable than we realize of generating meaningful feedback about our professional accomplishments,” Halvorson says. “Look critically at your own work and ask yourself the same questions you would use to evaluate the work of others. For example, consider if you’re moving fast enough or if the quality of your work is what it should be.”

Expand your internal and external networks

If your manager isn’t motivating you, it’s essential to look for support elsewhere — not only to boost your confidence but also to increase your visibility. Find mentors within your own company to give guidance and perspective, and, if possible, develop an in-house peer group designed to help all of you move forward. You can also seek out and develop external relationships. Valcour is a strong proponent of online networking. “Particularly for people who live far away from their colleagues, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networking sites provide a sense of connectedness to a larger professional community that might otherwise be difficult to maintain.” Even for someone in a major metropolitan area with many opportunities to connect, online networking is an effective way to stay in touch with colleagues and to keep abreast of industry-wide developments.

Focus on learning

By shifting the focus of your work from performing perfectly to consistently learning and improving, you create the conditions for both heightened motivation and success. “Research suggests that this change in mindset reliably results in better performance,” Halvorsen says. “When it comes to achievement, attitude and persistence are often more important than innate abilities.” Her advice: break the habit of kicking yourself when things don’t go perfectly and replace it by telling yourself that you’ll learn from your mistakes, move on, and do better next time. “No matter your manager’s approach, breaking away from results-oriented thinking is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your own motivation.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Determine your own personal and professional motivators ­— you can’t rely on your boss to get ahead
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues
  • Build a support system inside ­— and outside ­— your company

Don’t:

  • Set unreachable goals that stall your sense of moving forward ­— keep your goals manageable and celebrate your progress along the way
  • Underestimate the value of self-evaluation — look critically at your own work
  • Dwell on your mistakes ­— it’s more important to keep learning

Case Study #1: Cultivate a supportive, effective network

A vice president of human resources in the financial services industry, Lisa Chang* has had five different bosses during the past two years. The revolving door of managers proved to be very demotivating. So she looked elsewhere for support and decided to create an internal network beyond her team. Lisa developed relationships with three senior women in the organization: a woman who was briefly her supervisor before taking a role elsewhere in the company, another who is a leader in the client group she serves, and the chief human resources officer. “It’s unusual to have such a candid, open relationship with someone so senior, Lisa explains. “The chief human resources officer has given me opportunities at every turn in addition to being someone I can go to for advice.”

Lisa has looked to her peers as well but she feels that these mentorship relationships have been a far more effective way for her to stay motivated. “My peers and I are all in the same boat, so most of them wouldn’t have been a great help to me. By looking to more senior employees at the company, I’ve been able to create the kinds of relationships I might have had if I had been working with a great boss.”

While the lack of consistent, managerial support is not what Lisa would’ve hoped for, the situation has provided Lisa with the opportunity to learn from company leaders she otherwise wouldn’t have met. She says: “I’ve been able to seek feedback, challenge myself through new opportunities, and perform effectively in my role despite the leadership vacuum.”

Case Study #2: Stay focused on your own growth and development

Mark Barnaby* has risen through the ranks at several different investment banks, but with a string of managers who were either completely hands off or overly involved, staying motivated hasn’t always been easy. He coped by staying focused on his own ambitions. “Focusing on my manager’s faults just distracted me from my own goals, so I made it my priority to find ways to help him succeed while learning myself.”

He figured out what his bosses weren’t good at and stepped into the gap. “One of my bosses was a big picture thinker, but her approach wasn’t the right one for our work. I helped her by drilling down into fine points of regulatory policy, providing much needed detail in meetings, and being an in-house resource for her. Doing all of this helped me develop the subject matter expertise I needed to continue to move forward professionally.” Developing and meeting his own objectives kept Mark going even when his bosses didn’t.

Early on, Mark knew his growing interests would serve him well. “There is enormous demand for this kind of knowledge,” he explains. “During the past decade, regulatory policy has emerged as a critical focus of the banking industry.” Even though Mark admits that helping managers who weren’t helping him was frustrating, he acknowledges that it was the right decision for him and for everyone involved to approach each situation with a positive, goal-oriented attitude. He advises, “No matter what, never make an enemy of your boss.”

*not their real names

 

HBR: Shoppers Need a Reason to Go to Your Store — Other Than Buying Stuff

Does your store make small pickups a convenience? Should our building supply stores provide a compelling or memorable physical experience? How do you balance between time-well-saved and time-well-spent for your customers? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by B. Joseph Pine II:

Shoppers Need a Reason to Go to Your Store — Other Than Buying Stuff

The holiday season, which is by far the most important time of year for retailers, highlights the increasingly intense battle between physical stores and online websites. Given the large number of casualties this year — witness the bankruptcy filings of such venerable institutions as Toys ‘R Us, The Limited, H.H. Gregg, Gander Mountain, Payless Shoes, and RadioShack, to name but a few — retailers must finally wake up to the core terrain over which they’re fighting: customers’ time.

Online retailers offer consumers time well saved. People can find what they want, when they want it, with incredible ease and convenience, and with the physical good shipped directly to their homes in a matter of days (and increasingly, in large cities, hours). As often as not, they don’t even have to pay shipping costs, and returns are a relative breeze. While the U.S. Census Bureau puts e-commerce’s share of the U.S. retail market at less than 10% as of the first quarter of 2017, online sales are growing at almost 10% per year. Should that trend continue — and it appears to be accelerating slightly — online retailing will account for nearly 20% of the total in 2025, over 30% in 2030, and about 50% in 2035.

To address this threat, one path physical retailers can take, of course, is to compete by going online themselves and even using their physical stores as a pickup spot — a strategy that many bricks-and-mortar retailers have taken. (One retailer I know saw a 35% bump in sales when it gave customers the option of picking up merchandise in its stores that they had bought online.)

But that alone will not save many retailers’ physical stores. They have to provide a compelling reason for consumers to visit them that online retailers can’t match. The best way is to compete on the basis of time well spent — to offer an experience so engaging that customers cannot help but spend time with you! And the more time they spend with you, the more money they will spend.

Consider what I think is the best new retail format in ages: Eataly. This Milan-based retailer (which so far has 13 stores in Italy, five in the United States, and five others in other countries) manages to combine all things Italian cooking into one amazingly engaging space: a café, one or more restaurants, a cooking school, and — especially — rows and rows of Italian groceries, kitchenware, and small appliances for sale. Consumers often spend hours there, and then memorialize their visit with photos posted to their Instagram feed or other social media outlets.

Many retailers (even banks) incorporate cafés to engage the senses and encourage consumers to linger, such as Restoration Hardware’s new 70,000-square-foot place in Chicago, which features a courtyard café, an espresso bar, and a wine room. Others, such as cosmetics retailers Lush and SABON, focus on getting consumers to experience their goods in the store, knowing that will increase the chances they will make a purchase.

Another approach is to focus on the story of each product, as happens in L’Occitane en Provence when customers encounter associates. Yet another way to offer time well spent is to stage special events, which even Walmart is doing this holiday season: It’s hosting 20,000 parties across its 4,700 stores, knowing that’s something Amazon cannot do. The Christmas season, of course, furnishes the perfect time-tested tactic that has worked for decades for department stores: Santa Villages and other Christmas extravaganzas for which people gladly pay to give their kids a festive experience.

Interestingly, many of the most engaging retail experiences have come from manufacturers. There’s American Girl Places, which immerses girls in its doll’s stories; Nespresso Boutiques, which lets people experience its espresso machines before they buy them; LEGO Stores, which feature play and building; and, of course, Apple Stores, where every product is live and workshops offer skills, “geniuses” offer support, and sessions offer inspiration. (Even Starbucks started out as a manufacturer before Howard Schultz turned it into an experience stager.) And recognizing the demand-generating power of physical engagement, numerous online retailers have opened up their own bricks-and-mortar stores; examples include Warby Parker stores, Bonobos Guideshops (bought by Walmart), and mass customizer Indochino Showrooms.

Those that are best at staging experiences have even figured out that when consumers truly value the time well spent they encounter in these places, the retailer can charge for that time via an admission or membership fee. Billed as the world’s most beautiful bookstore, Livraria Lello, in Porto Portugal, charges an admission fee of €3 just to enter the store — and then consumers get that money back if they make a purchase. Universal CityWalk in Hollywood charges from $5 to $50 (depending on location and time of day) per vehicle — not for parking per se but specifically to send the signal that it is a retail place worth experiencing.

Generally, though, retailers charge for particular experiences within their stores and do not charge for admission to their stores. American Girl charges for its café experience, a photo shoot and magazine cover, and even a doll hair salon experience (not to mention birthday parties that can run into the thousands of dollars). Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) charges customers $20 to $40 to tackle the 60-foot climbing walls and structures it has in its flagship stores, offering instruction and also essentially getting customers to pay to try out its mountain-climbing equipment. And the Mall of America charges for the various rides in its Nickelodeon Universe theme park in the middle of the mall.

Wingtip, a men’s store in San Francisco, doesn’t charge for the retail experience — as engaging as it is, with superb merchandising of clothing, including a bespoke experience, plus wine and spirits, cigars, and a barbershop fulfilling its theme of “Solutions for the Modern Gentleman”; instead it created the Wingtip Club in the top two stories of its building for which it charges membership fees. The club is a refuge from the bustle of the city, with a lounge, bar, game room, whiskey corner, and golf simulator; members spend hours at a time there. The price of a membership is a $3,000 initiation fee and then $200 per month for unlimited access. All members (men and women) receive a 10% discount on merchandise.

There will always be physical stores for pickup convenience and the commoditized or very inexpensive merchandise like Dollar Tree stores sell. But providing a compelling or memorable physical experience is a different strategy that can work. Physical retailers must choose between time-well-saved and time-well-spent strategies. Whatever they do, they should be careful not to choose a middle-of-the-road approach that fails to excel at either.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2017/12/shoppers-need-a-reason-to-go-to-your-store-other-than-buying-stuff