Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

    Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

    Drawing on interviews with more than 150 executives and on her own experience as the former vice president of Oracle University, Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, argues that leaders are either Multipliers or Diminishers:

    We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment.

    On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less.

    For this week’s blog, I interviewed Wiseman to get her take on how small business owners can multiply or diminish those who work for them.

    Q. What exactly is a multiplier?

    A. A multiplier is someone who uses his or her intelligence to amplify and bring out the smarts and capability of those around them.

    Q. What is a diminisher?

    A. The multiplier’s evil counterpart who always needs to be the smartest guy in the room and shuts everyone else down.

    Q. What other differences did you find between managers who are multipliers and managers who are diminishers?

    A. To begin with, there is a big difference in how each of these types sets direction. Diminishers tend to be know-it-alls in how they set direction. They base strategy on their insight. They only see what they know and then never ask their company to do something other than that. In this way, they limit what’s possible in an organization because their business can only take on something they have an answer to or know how to do.

    Q. What about managers who are multipliers?

    A. In contrast, multipliers play the role of challenger. They ask the big strategic questions and contribute what they know of the markets and trends to frame up the organization’s challenge. They ask questions that make the organization stretch and take on something that seems impossible, but frame it in a way that makes it possible.

    Q. Don’t multipliers add their own knowledge to the mix?

    A. Yes, but they are comfortable asking questions. They have a strategic agenda, but not all the answers. They let the organization figure it out.

    Q. Is the way a business owner makes decisions impacted by which type they are?

    A. Yes. Diminishers are the decision maker. They are quick to determine what should happen and isolate themselves to an inner circle of trusted advisers. Their point of view is that the smart people in the know should make the decisions, and the rest of the company should execute.

    Q. How does this impact the rest of the business?

    A. The problem with this is that the diminisher thinks they are being effective and agile because they are making rapid decisions. But the rest of the company is struggling to understand why these decisions were made, so they are slow to execute. So diminishers make great strategic decisions that don’t get implemented very quickly or effectively.

    Q. How do multipliers approach this?

    A. Multipliers tend to be debate makers. They frame a decision with, “Here are the key questions,” and then assemble brainpower and key players to weigh in on the topic. It may take longer to make the decisions, but because everyone has had their voice heard and has insight into why something is being implemented, the decisions are executed more intelligently and rapidly.

    Q. How big is the difference really in the results diminishers versus multipliers get from their people?

    A. We studied 150 leaders in 35 different countries across four continents and found that diminishers got less than half of people’s intelligence and capability — about 48 percent. Multipliers, on the other hand, got twice as much (1.97 times) greater intelligence and capability out of their people.

    In the end, Wiseman says that staff reported that working for both diminishers and multipliers could be exhausting. But here’s the difference: Those who worked for diminishers said they found it exhausting and frustrating, while those who worked for multipliers found it exhausting yet exhilarating.

    Are you more of a diminisher or a multiplier? In what way? We would love to hear your comments.

    Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

    Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

    Any small businessperson who currently swims in the swirling mass of a high-pressure workplace doesn’t need another study to tell him or her that they have reached their limit. However, just in case your overflowing email inbox and chaotic to-do list weren’t proof enough, according to a national study released earlier this month by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, one in three American employees are chronically overworked.

    “Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multitasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked,” reports Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. “Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.” Key findings of the study included:

    Fifty-four percent of American employees have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

    Twenty-nine percent of employees spend a lot of time doing work that they consider a waste of time. These employees are more likely to be overworked.

    Only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

    In addition, as we round the corner into summer, the study also found that 36 percent of employees had not taken and were not planning to take their full vacation days. Ironically, however, of the employees who did take one to three days off, 68 percent returned to work feeling relaxed, and 85 percent who took seven or more days away report that they returned more refreshed.

    As for the source of these warrior work habits, the study highlighted several key factors including:

    Lack of Focus. Fifty-six percent of employees say they often or very often experience having to work on too many tasks at one time and/or experience interruption during the workday, making it difficult to get their work done. Sixty percent of employees who very often have to work on too many tasks at the same time feel highly overworked, compared with only 22 percent who sometimes experience excessive multitasking.

    Job Pressure. Eighty-nine percent of employees agree somewhat or strongly that they never seem to have enough time to get everything done on the job, and those who experience greater pressure feel much more overworked. Fifty-four percent of employees who feel highly pressured on the job are highly overworked versus only 4 percent of those who experience low levels of job pressure and 18 percent who experience mid levels of pressure.

    Low-Value Work. Twenty-nine percent of employees strongly or somewhat agree that they spend a lot of time doing things that are a waste of time. More importantly, 51 percent who feel they have to do a lot of low-value work are highly overworked versus 25 percent who don’t feel this way.

    Accessibility 24/7. The electronic leash of cell phones, computers, texting and email has blurred the lines between when we work and when we don’t. The study showed that the respondents who were in contact with work once a week or more outside of normal working hours more often reported being highly overworked (44 percent) than those who had little or no such contact (26 percent).

    Wait a minute; wasn’t technology supposed to be the panacea that would automate our most mundane tasks and bring us the leisure time needed to improve the quality of our relationships with friends and family? Apparently not.

    While there are no simple solutions to how a small business owner can keep his or her staff and self on the sane side of productivity, there are some standard practices to consider implementing, including:

    • Offer more flexible work hours so staff can customize their schedules to meet their personal needs to a greater degree.

    • Experiment with telecommuting to allow more work to be conducted from home, lessening travel time.

    • Do a quality workflow audit of your business to determine where wasted efforts and rework exist.

    • Create a no-cell phone/text/email policy in meetings. The meetings will go faster and be more productive.

    • Train all staff in the skills of time literacy, including how to manage interruptions, overcome procrastination and use focused time planning to get maximum work done, in minimal time.

    Oh, and for heaven’s sake, please take a vacation this summer — your small business will thank you.

    What are your biggest overwhelm and overwork challenges? We would love to hear your comments.

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    Mobile Devices Are Creating Meeting Madness

    A few weeks ago, I was off site at a client’s office facilitating a strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working — at the same time.

    When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, “Surely you must be joking,” to, “Heretic!”

    “I need to check my email,” stammered one participant.

    “I’m on deadline for a project,” said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point.

    “But we always answer our phones, even in meetings,” said another.

    I’ll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

    Things have gotten so out of hand, in fact, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that the majority of those surveyed (62 percent) believe that during work meetings, their co-workers are sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. The most common ways people believe others are stealing a glance at their handhelds include:
    47% – Hiding their mobile device under the table
    42% – Excusing themselves to go to the restroom
    35% – Hiding their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
    9% – Pretending to tie their shoes
    8% – Creating a distraction

    Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn’t think “sneaking a peek” was necessary — they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It’s a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in.

    The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

    In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

    Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

    In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

    And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resources and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

    But most of us don’t need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily –that distraction is bad for business. So if you’re ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

    • Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.

    • Don’t bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way — on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.

    • Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

    If all of this isn’t enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report just in from TeleNav.
    One third of us would rather give up sex than part — even briefly — with our phones.

    How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    How Small Businesses Land Superstar Clients

    I did a post for this column on identifying bad clients and knowing when to fire them. In the emails and comments that followed, many of you mentioned the flip side of the coin — building a business based on ideal clients.

    These are the clients we created our companies to serve. The ones who make it all worthwhile. They are the customers who, when they ring us up or ping us with an email, brighten our day. Interestingly enough, they are often also the best paying, most profitable and least pain in the (fill in the blank) clients we have.

    But how exactly does a small business secure this magical stable of superstar clients? It starts by defining what makes up your unique ideal client profile.

    “The ideal client profile is a clear description of the type of client you would love to have more of. It may be an exact replica of a client you’re working with today. Or it could be a combination of qualities you’ve seen in past and current clients,” says small business coach Maria Marsala.

    I asked a roundup of small business owners, experts and authors to give me their tips, take and wisdom on the ins and outs of small businesses and ideal clients. Here’s what they had to say.

    The concept of an ideal client profile can be revolutionary for small business owners who have assumed that all business is good business. If a business depends on referrals, finding the ideal customer profile will have a long-term impact. These customers spread the word, attracting more customers like them. Taking on customers that don’t fit the profile also generates referrals — but for less-desirable business. Time spent with customers outside the target profile takes business owners further from their goals, making success more elusive.
    –Joellyn Sargent, BrandSprout Marketing.

    Ideal clients must appreciate the value you bring to the table and have realistic expectations. They also need to be willing to do their part in whatever process or journey you go on together. When clients meet these criteria, you can do your best work, instead of spending time bickering or playing games.
    –Patti DeNucci, Author of The Intentional Networker

    The first challenge is to get your ideal clients to step out of the crowd so you can begin that conversation. This becomes easy only after you understand that it’s not about getting someone’s attention, it’s about getting his or her interest. Two things get our interest: When someone talks about a problem we have and don’t want and/or a result we want and don’t have. The best way to get more of your ideal clients to seek you out is to ask and answer these questions.

    • What problems can I solve through my products and services?
    • What changes, or results, can I help create?
    • Who has these problems?
    • Who wants these results?

    When you have these answers clear, they form the foundation for all your marketing.
    –Dov Gordon, The Alchemist Entrepreneur.

    The most important attribute to look for is trust. If a potential client or existing client trusts you completely, then you can be most effective in your role. Trust means fewer questions and disappointments. Clients who will never trust you take too much time challenging every recommendation you make, reducing efficiency and frustrating both parties.
    Dylan Valade, Web Designer.

    Whether you determine your ideal client profile by asking and answering a series of questions or graphing the greatest attributes of your best customers, taking the time to articulate who your A-list clients are is smart small business all around.

    What makes up your ideal client profile? We would love to hear your comments.

    Inspiration Breathes Life Into Branding

    Inspiration Breathes Life Into Branding

    One of the first things I do when I start working with new clients on their personal or business brand is to ask them to consider what mood or energy they consciously strive to bring to anything they do.  In other words:

    What is it that you can be counted on for in terms of your presence? Not what do you do (the description) or even the how (the mechanics) of what you do, but the way you do it.

    You can think of this as the style, the energy, the mood you bring to any situation you are a part of.  Clearly identifying and consciously practicing the inspirational aspect of your brand is key.

    For example, one of my highest goals is to always bring creative inspiration to my clients. No matter what I’m doing — be it a speech, a writing assignment, a consulting session or a strategic off-site — I aim to leave my clients with creative inspiration about who they are and what they do. 

    A good deal of the marketing and branding I see out there today is sorely lacking in inspiration. The marketing spin may be an accurate description of the service or product being offered, but it misses the boat in terms of the essence of the brand. 

    So how do you breathe inspiration into your personal or business brand and marketing? To begin, let’s look at a few meanings of the word and how your business might bring this into the way you express your brand in the world.

    To affect, guide or arouse by divine influence. When you think back on what your past and current clients say about you, what is their experience of how you have guided, influenced or affected them? What words and phrases have they used?  Consider integrating these into your marketing message.

    To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion. While this may seem like a high bar to reach, in what ways are you going beyond simply providing a service or product to enliven your clients? Learn how to talk about this when you present what you do.  Speaking to the higher ideals of your client (keep in mind Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) helps to connect them to the bigger purpose of why they do what they do.

    To stimulate to action; motivate. In what ways does your business get others into action? A big part of my brand is that I help entrepreneurs and executives overcome inertia and make their personal brand, goals and objectives manifest in the world.  How do you inspire others to go from talking, thinking and hoping to making something happen?

    To affect or touch.  Are your clients and customers ever deeply touched by what you do? If so, how? What is the difference that you make personally in the lives of your clients? Think about what you generate emotionally with your products or services. Is it peace of mind, confidence, certainty, love, creativity?  

    To stimulate energies or ideals. How do your clients or customers expand their thinking by working with you? The more you can articulate the specific ways in which you enhance and expand your customers’ world by what you do, the bigger an impact your brand has. 

    Remember, in the end, people do business with people they like and trust. By breathing inspiration into what you bring to your clients, you elevate your brand from business as usual to a higher plane of purpose — and that’s a marketing message you can take to the bank.

    ‘Ruby Sparks’ Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

    ‘Ruby Sparks’ Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

    “Ruby Sparks” Reminded Me That Persuasion Marketing Sucks

    “Yup, instead of changing himself, he’s going to try and change her.” That’s what my friend Randy turned to me and said during a pivotal plot point in the new film “Ruby Sparks”.

    Now I don’t want to be a spoiler and give the big reveal away, so I’ll stay away from the details, but suffice it to say that the scene that followed was painfully hard to watch.

    Why? Because, as Randy so pithily put it, what we all do when faced with a person or circumstance we don’t like is try to change it or them.  As fruitless as this exercise often is, we are sometimes so fixed on our point of view, being right or getting what we want, that we continue to waste vast amounts of time, emotional energy and even psychic efforts trying to force the situation. 

    Although “Ruby Sparks” deals with this dynamic in a one-on-one romantic relationship, I see this played out daily in my work as a branding and marketing consultant and leadership coach.

    I observe high-powered entrepreneurs, C-suite executives and marketing managers attempting to get others to tow the line and do what they want them to do. I’d be less than honest not to suck it up and say I’m just as guilty of this fruitless exercise in trying to force the outcome I want from time to time as well. 

    But I’m not as bad as I used to be. Over the past year, I’ve actually made a conscious effort to learn to stop persuading and start inspiring, to stop trying to make things happen and leave more room for allowing, to say what I want and need authentically and vulnerably, but then let the chips fall where they may. I’m far from perfect at this, but I am evolving.

    I think this evolution is also at play in the larger world of branding and marketing.  Old-school marketing was about persuading clients, pushing them as to why they should hire you or buy your product. New-style marketing is about inspiring potential customers to come out and play, pulling them toward you — of their own free will.

    As luck would have it, besides seeing the movie, I happen to be reading a fantastic book called “Igniting Inspiration: A Persuasion Manual for Visionaries” by John Marshall Roberts.

    “I view persuasion as a fading 20th Century art for those who don’t yet know how to grasp and apply the basic laws of human inspiration,” says Roberts.  “Does this mean persuasion is somehow ‘bad’?  No, but it’s just not as much fun as inspiring, and not nearly as effective.  In the end it all boils down to this: persuaded people do things because they are seeking some extrinsic reward. Inspired folks do those same exact things because they intrinsically want to.”

    Marshall’s book clearly delineates a three-dimensional view of human nature:

    The material dimension of human beings. This includes the body and all material things in the universe. These things are brought to the mind via the five senses.

    The mental dimension of human beings. This consists of thoughts, feelings and ideas.  These thoughts — especially the re-occurring ones — tend to occur within a specific context (usually not conscious), based on certain hidden assumptions.

    The spiritual dimension of human beings. This is the pure potential we all have. It’s the source of intelligence and life energy and underlies the material and mental realms.

    Roberts’ very on-point point is that if we view our customers, clients, co-workers and others from the material plane, we see them as objects to manipulate and will engage in actions to pursue or, even worse, force the outcome we desire.

    However, if we think about these same people from a spiritual dimension, we realize that speaking to bigger truths, larger purposes and deeper insights results in inspiration.

    Just think of the last time you were forced to do something.

    How about persuaded?

    Now how about inspired to take an action?  

    I’ll bet the price of a movie ticket that the qualitative difference between how you felt about doing whatever it was you did changed substantially based on which of the three areas your answer falls into.

    So how do we inspire? Pretty much in the same way that “Ruby Sparks” protagonist and novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (played by actor Paul Dano) discovers in the film. We allow other people to be who they are, and address our actions to that higher part of them.  That’s easier than it sounds, especially when we live in a business world chock-full of the persuasion-as-power model.

    One side note: Calvin’s brother (played by the always-captivating — and sexy — Chris Messina) has a scene where he encourages Calvin to turn toward the dark side and try and make Calvin’s love interest, Ruby, do what he wants. The point being that it’s important to surround ourselves with people who recognize the value of building our branding and marketing on inspiration, rather than persuasion, if we are to have any hope of succeeding. 

    Wondering if your brand needs an inspirational brush-up? I’m holding a contest for a free 30 minute Lightning Strike Strategy Session to the five people who email me with a compelling case for why they need to crank up the inspirational language and message of their brand. To apply, fill out the contact form on my site and let me know your business, your brand, what your inspiration goal is and why you think your brand needs some inspirational polish.

    Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. Apply to win a free 30 minute Lightning Strike Strategy Session by filling out the contact form here and letting Karen know why you think your brand needs some inspirational polish. For questions or comments, please contact her at karen@sterlingmarketinggroup.com.

    Why Your Personal Brand Wants You to Take Time Off

    Why Your Personal Brand Wants You to Take Time Off

    I recently returned from a conference that was wall to wall with smart, successful, type A movers and shakers from the worlds of government, academia, business, entertainment, the arts, sciences, publishing and social profit.

    Being around all those high-powered brains made me mindful about how our personal brands — be we small business owners or award-winning academics — can benefit from vacations and time away to rest and renew, regroup and redefine who we are today.

    These folks — as busy and in demand as they are — were for the most part not checking their iPhones under the table every 10 seconds during a speaker’s talk, and many were essentially off the technology grid for a few days. In short, they gave themselves the luxury to step back and think about the way they and others walk through the world, personal brand and all. In contrast, consider two studies out this June. The first from Career Builder.com determined that:

    • Three in ten workers contact work during their vacations.
    • Twenty-three percent of workers reported at least once having to skip the family vacation to work, while their family went without them.
    • Thirty-seven percent of employers say they expect their employees to check with work while on vacation.

    And even for those who manage to wrangle some time away, how they spend it can have an impact on the degree to which they refresh.

    Another survey by Cambria Suites reported that of all the respondents who have ever taken a family summer vacation, 65 percent of Americans say there is “nothing better.” However, 24 percent say they usually need a vacation upon returning from the group getaway.

    This may be in part because that same research showed that kids ask their parents “Are we there yet?” an average of nine to 13 times during a seven-day trip, depending on the ages of the kids involved. As enriching as these family trips are, they can sometimes occupy our brains in ways that may not fully allow us to contemplate the bigger pictures of our lives.

    Here are a few good reasons why taking the right type of time away might just be the best thing that ever happened to your personal brand.

    Keep your personal brand fresh. Exposure to ideas, activities and other people outside your usual circle can stimulate your brain, give you perspective and provide you with an opportunity to learn and grow. Even activities that may seem irrelevant to your personal brand have the potential to grow it by broadening your horizons. In addition to being content worthy of tweets, blogs and other social media, those stretches make great small-talk starters, jumping-off points for deeper conversations, and fodder for presenting new ideas. Some ways to start the conversation include:

    • I learned something interesting about myself this past week.
    • I want to tell you about a new experience I recently had.
    • I met a really fascinating person recently, and they taught me…
    • I had an idea while away that I wanted to share with you.

    For example: Last December, my husband and I tried out snuba diving on the island of Lanai in Hawaii. I’ve never been able to scuba dive since my claustrophobia has always gotten the better of me. But snuba diving involves shallower dives using all the usual equipment required for breathing under water, but places the air tank, connected via a long tube, on a float on the water above. The whole experience left me exhilarated, empowered and with a great metaphor to use with my marketing and branding clients about the power of finding options that utilize the best of both worlds.

    Play with your personal brand. Time away, whether it’s for a conference or a cruise, invariably brings us face-to-face with new people who will predictably ask us, “What do you do?” Since we presumably never have to see these people again, it’s the perfect opportunity to try out a new way of talking about or expressing our personal brand. The ability to experiment with new ways of being — with very little at stake — can get us out of the rut of who we think we are and allow us the freedom to explore another side to our personal brands.

    Learn from how others present their personal brand. In the same way that relative strangers can provide you with a place to try out your personal brand, being around others lets you learn from how they present themselves. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so listen for how others share their ideas, present their accomplishments, or describe their passions. If you see something that inspires you and feels authentic, incorporate it at will.

    One of my recent lessons in this area came from listening to the humble way a much-lauded and awarded particle physics scientist spoke about the power of teams — not individuals — to create breakthrough results.

    So the next time you sit down to plan a weekend away or a summer vacation, remember: it’s not just your body and brain you’re rejuvenating but also your personal brand — it deserves a holiday too.

    Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. For questions or comments, please contact her at karen@sterlingmarketinggroup.com.

    Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Strategic Off-Site This Summer?

    Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Strategic Off-Site This Summer?

    It’s summer! Flowers are in bloom, cropped pants are being taken off their dusty shelves and small business owners, grumpy from the cold winter months, are looking forward to the future.

    What better time to take your staff away for a day or two of deep discussion, meaningful deliberation and donuts? While strategic off-sites and planning sessions are often considered the purview of Fortune 500 companies, small businesses can benefit tremendously from a focused foray out of the office.

    If you and your team could use some concentrated time to sort out a strategy, solve a big problem or step back and innovate, a summertime off-site may be just what the doctor ordered. Getting away from the office, and the usual interruptions, can revive your enthusiasm for a business or project and rev up your focus. The trick is to make the most of your time away.

    Spend at least one day away: If possible, make it two. Even though you save money by eliminating overnight accommodations with just a day’s outing, you miss out on the opportunity to socialize and informally discuss work-related issues in the evening. Greater group bonding also seems to occur over a two-day period.

    Go easy on the PowerPoint: While certain data is no doubt important to communicate, back-to-back PowerPoint presentations and endless ramblings in a half-lighted room invite drowsiness. Instead create an agenda that incorporates group exercises, discussion, role-play, hands-on working sessions, demonstrations and interesting outside speakers. Whenever I conduct strategic off-sites with a client, I use the “once an hour” rule. Once an hour, I make sure and include an activity that requires participation by every person at the off-site. This might mean paired or group sharing, role-play or another interactive exercise. It keeps everyone involved and prevents a few stronger players from dominating the entire day.

    Leave some breathing room: A tightly packed schedule with no downtime leads to information overload and off-site burnout. Don’t jam each day so chock full of activities that attendees never get a chance to catch their breath and reflect on what’s being discussed. Keep in mind that much of the value of the retreat will happen in side discussions outside the room. By allowing for these conversational spaces, your off-site will be even richer in results.

    Build in flexibility: Don’t be so tied to an agenda or timeline that a hot, heavy and important discussion gets shelved so that you can stay on schedule. The point of the retreat is to draw people in and get them to think, act and participate in new ways.

    Play: While you want your off-site to be productive, you don’t want it to be a grind. Setting up activities for play is an important part of the package. Ideas include: a golf outing, dinner at a popular restaurant, a visit to a museum, theater tickets and the spa.

    Sidebar: Off-Site Checklist

    Here are a few things to consider to make your off-site a success before you even arrive:

    • What is the purpose/theme of the off-site?
    • Given the purpose, who should be invited?
    • Who will select the site, make the arrangements and coordinate with the site management?
    • What kind of “welcome” packet do you want the attendees to receive on arrival?
    • Do you need audiovisual equipment? If so, who will be responsible for this?
    • Who is your contact person at the site? Is this the person that any deliveries should be addressed to?
    • Will you have any presentations during lunch or dinner? If so, is the catering department aware of your plans?
    • Do you want organized entertainment in the evenings? What will it be, and who will organize it?
    • What time is staff expected to arrive? Do they need driving directions? Is a meal being served upon arrival? Are you offering vegetarian food to those who need it?
    • Once at the site, who will be responsible for overseeing arrivals, room allocation and registration?
    • How do you want to begin and end the off-site?
    When ‘Decision Fatigue’ Frazzles Your Small Business Brain

    When ‘Decision Fatigue’ Frazzles Your Small Business Brain

    Last week I read an article in The New York Times Magazine titled: “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?” My immediate reaction was, “Doesn’t everyone?” In my world, the line forms to the left on that one. I don’t know of one small business owner who is not burdened with a multitude of choices — hourly.

    In some ways, I think small business owners suffer the brunt of this situation to an even greater degree than their corporate compatriots, since the majority of company choices fall to the business owner as chief cook and bottle washer.

    Based in part on the work of Roy Baumeister and EJ Masicampo, decision fatigue is a depletion of the brain’s mental stamina as a result of making too many decisions. When this happens, we end up making poor choices or rash decisions, or we forgo deciding at all.

    “Every decision we make implies a possible loss, and we are essentially loss-averse animals,” says Margaret J. King, Ph.D., Director of The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis “‘Decide’ means ‘to cut,’ and we focus on what we are losing, not gaining. This is the brain issue behind most decisions,” she says.

    But faced with the daily task of deciding everything from what social media buttons should be above the fold on our home web page to who we should invite to the Friday meeting, there are some ways we can maximize our power to choose while protecting our brain’s much-needed mojo.

    Layne Kertamus, president of NegotiGator.com, says that top performers understand the nature of decision-making and respect it, including:

    • Not making decisions that are beyond your competence.

    • Recognizing that a decision to punt is in fact a decision and may have costs.

    • Understanding that most decisions are neither good nor bad but carry with them tradeoffs.

    Nihar Chhaya, founder of MBA Balance, goes one step further and says that small business owners need to learn to delegate decisions to prevent brain burnout.

    “Small business owners must layout all the decisions they need to make on a consistent basis in the marketing, finance, operations and personnel areas and be honest with themselves about where their expertise lies,” says Chhaya. “Then they need to delegate those decisions to people that have both the skill and the motivation to make the best choices in those areas.”

    Chhaya says that, rather than using all their brainpower on making the decisions themselves, small business owners should instead spend time coaching trusted team members (virtual or onsite) and outside contractors in taking a chance on choices and monitoring their progress.

    By employing the above strategies, the small business owner’s brain will be a little less weary and more able to focus on building the business.

    Sidebar: Thoughts to Think About

    “We have access to more information than ever before, but the irony is that we feel less informed and more overwhelmed,” says Paul Magnone, co-author of Drinking from the Fire Hose: Making Smarter Decisions Without Drowning in Information. “It’s no wonder we have decision fatigue. It’s impossible to effectively deal with everything that comes our way — especially for small business owners dealing with limited resources, funds and staff.”

    To ease the burden, Magnone suggests considering the following when making decisions:

    • What is the essential business question? Determine how this decision will impact the overall strategy.

    • Where is your customer’s North Star? Keep in mind that above all else, the customer (and their wants, needs, etc.) comes first.

    • Should you believe the Squiggly Line? Ensure you’re not acting too quickly or making any harsh decisions based on short-term data.

    • What surprised you? Make sure you don’t ignore certain aspects of the situation or data in front of you that might be out of the ordinary.

    • What does the Lighthouse reveal? Consider the consequences of your decision and any danger that might lie ahead.

    • Who are your Swing Voters? Be mindful of your “swing voters” throughout the process — the group that’s neutral about your product, but can be swayed.

    • What? So What? Now What? Put everything into context.

    This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.