Format Efficient Progress Reports

Spend less time updating your boss about the status of your team’s projects. Follow this simple template:

  • Title. [insert project or task name] Progress Report
  • Date. Include the report’s date and the time period it covers.
  • Status. State the stoplight status (green, yellow or red).
  • Overall metric. Example: Use the heading “Percent Complete” and provide actual versus plan percentages.
  • Executive summary. List all the major points in your report.
  • Progress of components. This section contains every detail about every part of the project. Include developments, accomplishments and future plans. List your roadblocks and the work being done to clear them.
  • Next report due date. Establish a timeline for the next report and stick to it.

— Adapted from “How to Write a Progress Report,” F. John Reh, Management,

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What Would You Choose: Money or More Flexibility?

A recent survey found that most people would prefer more flexibility and free time over money. What would you choose? Answer in the comments section.

Free time or money.

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When the Biggest Problem is the People

A day in a dysfunctional office can feature more drama than a soap opera: coworker conflict, gum-flapping gossips, turf wars that are entrenched in the culture and demanding divas of either gender, just to name a few.

No wonder studies estimate that managers spend about 20% of their time—the equivalent of one day each workweek—dealing with employee conflict.

Instead of shutting the door and trying to ignore it, consider that you might be the trigger, or at least adding fuel to the flames. Make sure that your actions contribute to a calm workplace.

Do you:

  • Consider job candidates’ attitudes and fit with your organization’s culture? It’s easier to train an employee to develop the necessary skills than to change someone’s attitude.
  • Involve yourself in employee battles when you should—and only when you need to? If you keep solving problems, employees will keep bringing them to you.
  • Act as a coach, instead of a referee? When you show employees how to get along, everyone will have more time to focus on the work.
  • Apply consistent standards for behavior across the board, no matter how much a “star” employee contributes to sales or other areas? Drama kings and queens can cost you more than they are worth, with the distractions, resentment and turnover they cause.


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Shorten Rambling, Unproductive Phone Calls

When you are busy,  you just don’t have the time to spend on long, unproductive phone calls. Use these phrases to keep phone calls under 10 minutes:

  • “I have only eight minutes to discuss this.”
  • “My next appointment is waiting.”
  • “I’d like to discuss this at length with you, but before we proceed, would you please send me a detailed written description of all your points to be sure I have them right?”
  • “I don’t have much time. What’s your No. 1 issue right now?”
  • “What should our next step be?”

— Adapted from 101 Productive Things to Do in Ten Minutes or Less, Columbia Books,

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Is Your Brand Helping or Hurting You As You Climb Your Way to the Top? 5 Ways You Could Be Destroying Your Promotion Opportunities

Top Candidate

Don’t underestimate the power of personal branding—that is developing a trusting, knowledgeable problem-solving persona that people can relate to.

A strong personal brand can land you a job at a new company. In fact, recruiters will make decisions about whom to interview based on people’s online reputations. In addition, a strong personal brand can drastically improve your interactions with customers.

Those are all great reasons to develop and manage your personal brand, and here’s one more: Your personal brand can make or break your career advancement opportunities within your current organization.

So, if you have any desire to move up within your organization, whether that is moving from one role to another or moving into a management job, you need to make sure that the personal brand you currently put out there shines the best possible light on you and your abilities.

Here are five of the biggest personal branding mistakes that might be holding you back:

  1. Not knowing what your personal brand is. Right now, you have a personal brand. It may not be the brand you want, but you have one. The goal is to develop a positive one both externally with customers and prospects and internally among your coworkers. Are you the trustworthy advisor? The office clown? The isolated hermit? The loudmouth, busy body? Not knowing how others perceive you is as dangerous as not caring about how they perceive you. Pick a few trusted friends, family members or coworkers and ask them to be honest with you about how you come across to others. Be prepared to hear some criticism, and don’t become defensive the minute you hear something you don’t like.
  2. Failing to take your personal brand seriously. You can be the top sales person in your company and still be overlooked for promotions if people don’t perceive you as a leader—and we’re not just talking about your boss here. Your coworkers’ perceptions matter too. If they don’t see you as an asset and respect you, it will be apparent in their interactions with you. You’ll meet more resistance, have a harder time collaborating and experience more conflict—all things that could hurt your advancement opportunities.
  3. Allowing your personal life to affect your personal brand. It is highly likely that your boss and your coworkers have Googled you at some point. What they find there can big-time tarnish your reputation. Social media profiles filled with images of your partying, inappropriate or derogatory comments or even just tons of typos can make the powers that be think twice before promoting you. Research yourself and spend some time cleaning up your online image.
  4. Thinking you can behave however you want. Bad behaviors are remembered the most. If you are rude to people, talk bad about others, gossip, whine, bully, use inappropriate humor or shut yourself off from the rest of the world, that’s how people will think of you. Forget the good work you do. People will only remember how you act. Decide whom you want to be and then make your actions fit that persona.
  5. Believing your trophies are enough. Receive all the accolades and win all the awards in the world, but ensure that your brand is not just about winning. Personal branding is about positioning yourself as an expert, a problem solver and as someone others can trust and rely on. Forget all the slick talk, brownnosing and bragging, and instead prove to everyone around you—not just the management team—that you can be counted on. That’s how you will move your way to the top.
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Provide Foolproof Instructions

When staffers follow instructions correctly the first time, their productivity soars and your
frustration level drops. Follow these steps to ensure employees get it right every time:

  • Verify oral instructions. When you assign a task, ask the staffer to write it down; watch as the person takes notes. If you speak with someone by phone, ask the person to read back the instructions. That guarantees that the person understands what you want done.
  • Create deadlines. Always attach a specific deadline—a date and time—to any tasks you assign employees. That creates a sense of urgency.
  • Allow for a margin of error. Things don’t always go as planned, so build in a little lead time. If your boss needs the report by Friday, tell your staffers that you’ll need the work Wednesday afternoon.

— Adapted from “Put It in Writing,” Jeffrey Mayer,

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Don’t Let Good Ideas Die

Leaders who focus solely on “the next big thing” may pass by numerous employees’ suggestions and solutions.

Yet those small ideas often have the potential to deliver big savings in terms of time, money and productivity. So whenever a worker offers a good idea, no matter how small, stop and ask: “Where else in the organization could that idea be used?”

A single small idea can be applied in many other places, ultimately turning it into a big idea. But it’s easy to miss the opportunity. Consider the following small idea from an appliance salesman at a nationwide retailer:

Customers often bought refrigerators without realizing that the new appliance wouldn’t fit through their doorways. Delivery crews would often damage both the appliance and the doorway before boxing up the refrigerator and returning it to the warehouse.

Nationwide, the problem was costing the retailer millions of dollars. The salesman’s solution? Cut pieces of string to the length of the appliance’s critical dimensions and staple them to the customer receipt. Then ask customers to use the string to check the doorways and to call immediately if the appliance is too wide.

The salesperson’s co-workers adopted the idea, as did several other stores in the area. But the suggestion never raveled to more than 2,000 locations, so the company squandered the idea’s huge potential.

Does your organization have a system in place to capture and capitalize on small ideas?

— Adapted from “Big Results From Small Ideas,” Alan Robinson, Industrial Management, Institute of Industrial Engineers,

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