A few years ago, a comedian took a video of himself with his two children as he followed their written instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In the video, he follows his kids’ instructions exactly. As you might have guessed, it goes rather poorly.
Instruction: Put the peanut butter on the bread.
Dad: Puts the jar of peanut butter on the slice of bread.
Instruction: Take one piece of bread, spread it around with the butter knife.
Dad: Takes a plain piece of bread and spreads it around on the counter using a butter knife.
Instruction: Get some jelly, rub it on the other half of the bread.
Dad: Rubs the jar of jelly on the other slice of bread.
And so it goes. Complete chaos. While this video is hilarious, it speaks to a fairly common issue in the world of business. How often do we give or receive instructions that are lacking? If you’ve ever had to build a complicated piece of furniture from Ikea, you know the utter rage such things can incite. Despite the fact that Ikea does everything it can to make its instructions perfect—pictures and all.
It’s not that simple
How often do we leave gaps in our explanations, and send someone off with instructions made up of 50% assumptions that they think the same way we do or know the same things we do? It’s not surprising, really. Writing instructions—good instructions—is tedious. It’s boring. We already know what we’re asking for, leaving us inclined to leave out the obvious.
But not everyone has the same brain, the same frame of mind, or the same references. This means leaving out what’s obvious for you could be leaving out a key ingredient for the reader.
It’s all in the details
When you hire a new employee, change leadership, or implement a new piece of technology, how common is it for things to go awry? Think about how easy it is for roles to get mixed up or tasks to be incorrectly completed. This type of thing doesn’t just frustrate everyone—it wastes time and money. And the worst part is, it’s avoidable. If only you had prepared thorough instructions.
So next time you’re writing out instructions, follow these steps:
Write down everything.
Don’t skip anything.
Walk yourself through the instructions after you’ve written them. Take them literally.
Ask someone else to read through them and look for gaps.
Treat it like you’re talking to an alien. Don’t assume they know what anything means.
This isn’t a flashy topic, but it’s an essential one. While you’ve been trained to do many things, you’ve probably never been trained to write instructions. We all just assume everyone knows how—but they don’t really. Because “common sense” is dependent on common experience—and those aren’t the same for everyone.
Next time you’re writing instructions, ask yourself: is it worth a short amount of tedium now to be as detailed as possible, or a more frustrated, repeated tedium later when you have to start over? The answer is obvious.
Whether you’re in HR, marketing, sales, the C-Suite, or customer service, you rely on people. You need them to listen, to purchase, to follow, to keep coming back to you. And while your audience might be different, people are generally the same.
As the world of marketing has boomed over the past decade, so has its reliance on data and its ability to derive knowledge from it. Some data is too specific, but some data speaks on a grander scale, tying into modern human behavior and sentiment that we can use to inform just about any part of business.
We live in a world of abundance. Customers have seemingly endless choices when it comes to where they spend their money and time. If they don’t like their experience with you, they can return to Google and click the next link in their search.
What can this teach us? That you have to prioritize your customer’s experience—even if your product is the best on the market.
If you work in HR, this correlates to an employee’s onboarding or offboarding experience. If they have a bad one, their entire perception of the organization can be tainted. If you’re in sales, think about the experience your prospects have with you. Are you calling them once and then forgetting about them? Or are you only focusing on trying to sell them the product of the highest value despite whether it’s right for them?
Ultimately, your audience’s experience as they are introduced to you, your website, your product, or your organization, sets the tone for your entire relationship. If you’re not making your best effort to give them a quality experience, they won’t be inclined to stay for long.
While we’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” these days, that’s how people decide whether you care about them. If you haven’t updated your sales presentation since 2015, no one will take you seriously because they won’t feel taken seriously. If your employee handbook is ten pages of technical language without text breaks, no one will take the time to read it. If you show up to your job interview in an old t-shirt and ripped jeans, they aren’t going to give you a chance.
The way you present your information, value proposition, business, or company values is just as important as the information you’re trying to convey.
Investing your time, energy, and money into the experience of your audience pays off. While this may be common sense, it’s still one of the most impactful concepts you can learn. If your business sells products online, have you taken the time to walk in your customers’ shoes? Do you know what it’s like to purchase something from your own site?
If you’re preparing for a sales meeting, do you research your lead? Do you know what their pain points are, what their values are, what their goals are? Have you role-played your presentation?
As an HR leader, have you reviewed your employee benefits usage? Do you know what their experience is during open enrollment? Have you tried to seek out ways to improve it?
The success of your venture rests upon the ease of engagement for your audience. The easier it is for them to say yes, make the purchase, and understand what you’re telling them, the more often you’re going to succeed.
The underlying truth
Ultimately, each of these statistics tells us one fundamental truth: it’s not about you—it’s about your audience. Suppose your first concern is impressing your audience with your experience or making sure they buy the most profitable product or hit all the boxes on your compliance checklist. In that case, you’re setting yourself up for building low-quality relationships that won’t last.
If, however, you’re concerned with what they see when they first meet you, if you’re careful about how they receive the information you’re communicating, and if you’re bent on making it as easy as humanly possible to engage with you, then you’re setting yourself up for success. It’s that simple.
It’s a fact that losing good employees is a major pain point for business owners. Not only is it hard (and expensive) to replace a quality employee, but replacing institutional knowledge, relationships, and experience takes a lot of time. But this doesn’t mean employers should avoid thinking about or preparing for the eventual departure of an employee. In fact, employee alumni networks and strong networking communities comprised of ex-employees may make the next step of hiring much, much easier.
While onboarding programs are all the rage among HR professionals and business leaders, it’s sadly common for employees to leave a company in a very different manner. New employees are greeted with training, communication, and team engagement, but an employee leaving a company may be met with an exit interview, a pat on the back, or in some cases, outright hostility, resentment, scrambling and confusion on behalf of their managers.
But this doesn’t make sense for both the business and the departing employee. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job retention rate in the United States consistently hovers at around four years. In fact, business professionals have been noted to advise against staying in a jobfor too long to avoid damaging your career. So why do exiting employees so often get ignored or treated poorly?
The short answer? A lack of foresight. Previous employees can have a dramatic impact on a business even after they leave. They may come back in the form of clients, business referrals, vendors, brand ambassadors, and boomerang employees. The fact of the matter is that employees are almost never going to stay with your company for their entire career, so it makes sense for organizations to prepare—well in advance—for their eventual departure and subsequent post-departure impact on the business.
But how do you nurture relationships with previous employees?
Corporate alumni programs
These programs are popular among corporate industries, including legal, consulting, and financial services. They are designed to create a network for former employees to stay connected with their old colleagues and organizations, providing a space for them to continue growing and nurturing their relationships long-term.
According to a report by Conenza Inc. in conjunction with Cornell University, there are four main motivations people have for joining alumni programs:
With that in mind, it seems like a major loss for organizations to miss out on staying connected with people driven by these traits. After all, they all point to growth-driven mindsets that positively impact both the alumni and the organization.
If you’re a smaller business or simply not a fit for an alumni program, there’s plenty you can do to maintain mutually beneficial relationships with employees after they’ve left your organization. The basics of offboarding aren’t complicated—it’s simply a step-by-step process that allows for clear communication and preparation as an employee arranges to depart, ensuring the employee and the organization have everything they need before the final day. Here are some simple steps you can take to help the process along:
Begin preparing for their eventual departure long before you expect them to leave by creating an offboarding program that matches your organization’s values, mission, and culture. You want employees to have a cohesive experience throughout their entire lifecycle. This will help you manage expectations and maintain trust even as an employee begins the exit process.
Create an ongoing dialog around career development that starts the moment an employee enters your ranks. Make it clear that while you hope employees will stay forever, you understand most employees change jobs every handful of years and you’ve created opportunities and resources for them to develop within your organization and stay connected with you after they leave.
Offboarding programs will help leaders not to go into chaotic damage control by creating a clear process for each step of the departure. It allows organizations to say, “We’ve prepared for this and made it simple and easy, so we can all continue on without anxiety.” It allows the employee to leave in a measured, calm way, and the organization to be prepared to handle their leaving without confusion or missed steps that would end up frustrating both the organization and the departing employee.
A mutual investment
For both individuals and organizations alike, the relationships developed, both externally and internally, are the foundation of success. They drive investment, engagement, reputation, and networking power. It’s simply common sense to get the best value out of the most intimate of these relationships—with your employees themselves. Remember, how you treat your employees—both current and past—has a determining effect on your reputation within your industry. Handle these relationships with intentionality and care, and reap the benefits of a robust, engaged, and long-lasting network.
Over the past several years, HR’s role has steadily risen in stature, with more and more leaders recognizing the critical nature of HR functions and their impact on business growth and the bottom line. And HR has risen to the occasion by finding solutions to the chaos caused by the pandemic, driving vital culture changes to improve equality within the workplace, prioritizing diversity and inclusion, and developing new solutions to improve the employee experience.
But despite this upward trend, the task of pitching new ideas, plans, or strategies to the C-Suite isn’t without difficulty. While you may understand how the solution you’ve worked hard to develop is right for the business, it’s not exactly easy to convey this—especially when money is on the line.
As more solutions become available and the market for HR solutions grows, HR professionals need to prepare themselves for the inevitable fight for the “right one”. But this can’t be done in a power-play.
As you prepare for your next conversation about an HR solution you’d like to implement, consider approaching it like a “pitch.”
Understand your audience
While you may understand why the solution you’re pitching is the right one, that doesn’t mean it’s clear to the CEO or CFO of the company. As you work to frame the information you’ve gathered, consider each of your audience’s perspectives, and try framing your pitch to fit their specific lens:
A CEO generally keeps the grand vision for the organization front of mind. They want to know how any solution will help them reach their ultimate goals. They want to be reassured that each section of the company will engage successfully with the solution. And they’ll want to know why this solution is better than others.
A CFO is a different story. They want to know how this solution will affect the bottom line. They may be more interested in hard numbers, data, research, and comparative data between similar solutions.
As you approach these conversations, consider how you might frame the information you have to fit your audience’s specific questions before sitting down with them. Preparing yourself for the decision-makers’ inevitable questions and worries will help you develop confidence and build their confidence and trust in you as your conversation progresses.
Start with small steps
Instead of expecting a decision to be made right out the gate, consider setting up a series of meetings in which you approach your ultimate goal of implementing the solution over time, creating stepping stones that gradually bring the decision-makers to the finish line. Set clear goals for each meeting so they’ll know what to expect. Consider breaking down the conversation into a series of small steps:
Set a preliminary meeting to talk about the current solution (or lack of solution) the organization has. Review how it’s going and identify what issues have arisen. Then take a look at the overall goals of the organization and identify areas that need attention. This meeting is an opportunity for you to uncover their concerns and goals, which will inform how you approach your second presentation.
In your second meeting, frame your solution around the main points and concerns highlighted in the first discussion. This is your chance to explain why you think it’s the best fit. Don’t leave your expert opinion out, but don’t forget to address your audience’s concerns. Before asking them to make the final decision, propose bringing in someone from the company offering the solution or from a similar organization as yours that has implemented it.
By approaching the pitch as a series of small steps that lead to a bigger decision, you’ll remove the anxiety around making the final purchase and help build trust as they learn about the solution.
As you prepare, don’t forget to practice these conversations. Try roleplaying and writing a list of questions you might expect. While you may think you know everything about this solution, you don’t want to risk giving a sloppy, confusing answer when the moment strikes. Run through your presentation at least three times, and identify areas that can be clarified, simplified, or left out.
Remember, you are the expert in this situation. If you believe your solution will make a difference for your organization, you owe it to your team to be as prepared and knowledgeable as possible. You got this!
In the world of business, buzzwords seem to rule the headlines. Optimize, disrupt, engage, drive—they pop up in headlines about leadership, HR, employee engagement, productivity, and the bottom line of your business.
What ties these ideas together? They all allude to the possibility of gaining something, of getting the upper hand—of winning. Yet, after all the articles you’ve read, how much time have you really spent ‘winning’?
This article isn’t about the next new leadership strategy or the latest piece of tech you should be implementing. It’s about you, your vision, and how not to lose sight of it amidst all the noise.
Filter for the vision
Fresh ideas can be a great motivator to take action, but without vetting them against the vision, they turn into a distraction. Here’s an example of how distraction can play out. A manager was called into a meeting with the upper management team to hear about their exciting new idea: they wanted to partner with another organization to share resources and expand their reach. They were excited, urging the manager to get to work immediately on a communication plan. Her first response instead was to ask questions:
How does this fit into the visions for the two organizations?
What resources are we sharing?
What benefits will we each receive, financial or otherwise?
How will we manage the combined financials?
What are the expectations of each team?
The room was silent. They hadn’t taken the time to think it through. They had no answers, and the idea was dropped just as soon as it was picked up.
If you’re not looking at new ideas through the intentional lens of your vision, it’s easy to get pulled off track. Leaders and their team members should know this vision lens well enough to filter ideas for ones that fit and ones that are a distraction.
Theme over numbers
To avoid the same story happening at your organization, try implementing an annual or bi-annual theme. While setting goals and hard numbers is a great way to hold yourself and your team accountable, that shouldn’t be the first place you go when you develop your organizational strategy.
A theme is an idea you intentionally want to take hold in the behaviors of your team. The most powerful themes are often the most simple, such as “be intentional” or “simplify” or “progress over perfection.” And a theme has a longer lifespan than numbers-driven goals, and the newly developed behaviors won’t disappear if you fail to meet any specific goal.
A theme will work as a guide and a reference for all the major (and minor) activities within your organization and can help weed out initiatives that sound great but aren’t aligned with your vision. Pick an idea for your theme that reinforces your company vision and acts as a reference point to keeping your ideas and intentions in alignment with your vision.
Creating a theme can help you think ahead in a logical, intentional way. One way that organizations get sidetracked or find themselves stumped by a complicated, poorly planned initiative is reactive planning. As your business grows, it will inevitably hit roadblocks. Problems aren’t avoidable. But often, leadership gets stuck in a loop of reactive planning, responding to each problem as it arises, only thinking one step ahead or one step behind each challenge.
Reactive leadership doesn’t allow for intentional growth and can suck an entire organization’s energy down the drain. So the next time your organization comes up against a roadblock, step back and consider your options. Don’t run with the first idea that comes to you without thinking things through:
Does the plan align with your theme?
Does it make sense long-term?
Does your team have the capacity to execute the plan?
Why are you choosing this plan over others, how will it help, and what does your team need to do to make it happen?
Change your mind (set)
If your team tends to complain when asked to do the hard work associated with getting a new initiative up and going, it’s likely that leadership hasn’t explained the initiative in proper context. It’s difficult to accept tactical chores when there is no obvious and immediate benefit.
If you want your business to win and your vision to be realized, you must take time to allow your team see how new initiatives help fulfill the vision. Once understood, the detailed, often frustrating work of laying down the pavement toward functionality and success, can be met with much more acceptance.
For example, if you’re paying for a robust tech platform to track sales, marketing efforts, and prospecting, but you’re frustrated by the results, ask yourself if you’ve equipped your staff with the right training. Do they know why they’re going to use it? Do they know how to use it?
If they don’t have a clear understanding, you haven’t implemented the technology with a solid strategy, and you need to reverse your steps and start over. If they do have a clear understanding, ask yourself why they aren’t using it correctly (or at all).
Organizations waste massive amounts of money on tech they hardly use, not because they don’t see its value, but because they don’t make the time commitment to 1) train their employees, or 2) take accountability for its success.
Your job as a leader isn’t just to hold people accountable or set the direction of your organizational growth—it’s to take responsibility for the details, the strategy, and the planning. Your vision = your responsibility. Sure, you get to ask for help, but the ultimate success or failure falls on you.
Where to start
To get your organization, or even your brain, back on track, retreat to your vision. Start there and move forward. Always ask:
“Does this idea align with our vision?”
“Am I willing to put in the work to develop a strategy?”
“How will I communicate this to my team?”
In the end, businesses get off and on track repeatedly as they grow and change. Remember to recenter your focus on your vision, even as it evolves, and resolve never to be above the “busy work” of strategy. After all, any idea looks like a good idea without a plan.