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Quick, practical management tips and ideas from HBR.org
Updated: 16 hours 36 min ago

Aspiring Entrepreneurs, Identify a Meaningful Problem to Solve

Fri, 08/14/2020 - 11:30

Starting a business isn’t easy — and scaling it is even harder — so you need to be committed. Before sending that “I quit!” email you’ve been fantasizing about, identify a problem that you have a personal connection to and that you’re driven to solve. It could be that you’ve identified shortcomings particular to your industry. Maybe you’re part of a consumer segment that’s underserved by the current offerings. Or perhaps you regularly encounter a very specific frustration that others are sure to share. Next, make sure you’re clear on the value you’ll bring to customers. How will you make their lives easier, more pleasant, or more meaningful? How will you go out of your way for them at every turn? However you come to your idea, you should feel like you have no choice but to start this particular business at this moment in time. It will make the mornings when you wake up and wish that it was someone else’s problem much easier to bear.

This tip adapted from “So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?” by Emily Heyward

Set Clear Boundaries When Working From Home

Thu, 08/13/2020 - 11:30

Balancing work and family has never been easy, but the global pandemic has led to a whole new set of challenges. If you’re struggling to be productive, consider setting boundaries for yourself and your kids. For example, you can make it clear to your family when you’re on and off the clock, trying to stay out of your office area during your “home” time. If something urgent comes up (and it will), be transparent with your family about why you’re putting in the extra hours and apologize. You don’t want your kids thinking that you’re choosing work over them. To avoid interruptions, consider posting signs by your work area. A red sign might mean you can only be interrupted if there’s an emergency. Yellow could signal that a brief interruption is okay if it’s urgent. And green says that they can come in and maybe work alongside you quietly, but not distract you. Having clear boundaries can make the impossible circumstances that many parents are working under a little bit more manageable.

This tip adapted from “HBR Readers on Juggling Work and Kids… in a Pandemic,” by Harvard Business Review Staff

Make Things Right After Committing a Microaggression

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 11:30

It was a throwaway remark, and you didn’t mean to offend. But now that a colleague has brought the slight to your attention, you realize what you said was hurtful. So how should you respond after committing a microaggression? First, make sure the other person feels heard. Your instinct may be to defend yourself — or your comment — but this isn’t about you. You can be a good, well-intentioned person who said something offensive. Follow your colleague’s lead in the conversation, and be curious and empathetic. Offer a sincere apology that expresses gratitude for their trust and acknowledges the impact and harm your comment caused. Say something like: “Thank you for telling me. I appreciate that you trust me enough to share this feedback. I’m sorry that what I said was offensive.” Be sure to keep it short and to the point. Don’t over-apologize or try to engage your colleague in a drawn-out conversation. Finally, commit to doing better in the future. Say, “I care about creating an inclusive workplace, and I want to improve. Please keep holding me accountable.” Then, do the work of striving to be better. It requires grace, humility, and commitment.

This tip is adapted from “https://hbr.org/2020/07/youve-been-called-out-for-a-microaggression-what-do-you-do?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod&referral=00203” by Rebecca Knight

Worried Your Boss Doesn’t Like You? Don’t Lose Hope

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 11:30

Your relationship with your boss can make or break your work experience. So what should you do if you suspect that your manager just doesn’t like you? Before you panic, make sure there are real differences in how the boss treats you as compared to your teammates. Some of the “signs” you may be picking up on may just be social awkwardness. But if you think you need to strengthen your connection with your boss, engage them in conversations about work issues. Notice which topics get their attention and what they seem to value. Uncovering what makes them tick will help you adapt your interactions to better fit their style. But be careful not to lay it on too thick — too much unwanted attention might cause them to withdraw even more. Finally, while you’re working on your relationship with your boss, you should also invest in other connections at your workplace. It’ll be hard for your manager to maintain a poor image of you if your colleagues think you’re a big asset to the team.

This tip is adapted from “What to Do If Your Boss Doesn’t Like You,” by Liane Davey

How to Work After a Bad Night’s Sleep

Mon, 08/10/2020 - 11:30

We all know we need a good night’s sleep for the sake of our health — and our effectiveness at work. But what about when that’s just not possible? Here’s the bad news: Coffee is only a temporary fix. But there are a few ways to mitigate the risks of working while sleepy. For example, try to focus on routine tasks that don’t require a lot of creativity (which is hard to muster when you’re depleted), and avoid taking on any high-stakes projects (because sleep deprivation makes you more prone to mistakes). Also, look for ways you can rely on other people. Is there anything you can delegate? Or can you ask colleagues to look over your work to catch any mistakes? If not, set aside some time to review it yourself when you’re feeling more rested. Finally, if you can, consider a nap. Even a short 20-minute rest can make a meaningful difference in your effectiveness for the rest of the day.

Use Your Social Network to Promote Equity and Inclusion

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:30

If you’re looking for ways to actively champion women and people of color, consider using a powerful tool you already have: your social network. There are two simple ways you can use your network to be a better ally and promote equity in your workplace. First, show your support by broadcasting anti-racist, anti-sexist values. Research has shown that when you post on social media, you’re reaching much farther than your immediate contacts. Little by little, you can help to create a new norm when your friends and colleagues see that you believe in and live those values. Second, empower and back up women and people of color by actively including them in your network. Introduce them to people who they might otherwise find difficult to meet, or proactively forward opportunities that they might otherwise miss. It’s important to use your privilege to promote equity. And your social network can be effectively deployed in your anti-racism and anti-sexism efforts.

This tip is adapted from “Use Your Social Network as a Tool for Social Justice,” by Raina Brands and Aneeta Rattan

Write a Better Job Description

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 11:30

One of the ways that organizations miss an opportunity to attract top talent is by writing — or even recycling — lackluster job descriptions. Your goal is to attract and invite people to join your company, so the words you use matter. Don’t overinflate the qualifications for the role: You may end up discouraging good candidates from applying. Avoid language that may seem normative or limiting to women or candidates of color. For example, research tells us that women are more hesitant to apply when descriptions include more typically masculine characteristics, such as “outspoken,” “competitive,” and “ninja.” To check your unconscious bias, read your job description through a different lens. If you’re white, how might the job description read for a person of color? If you’re a driven, career person, would what you’ve written invite an applicant who needs to work from home? Consider testing the job description with a diverse group of colleagues before you post it. This may reveal any blind spots. Finally, use language that reflects and promotes your corporate values. People want to feel energized and passionate about what they do, so show them that the job offers an opportunity to contribute to your company’s collective mission. Rather than focusing on specific skills, you can use words like “high-performance creativity” and “optimistic” to describe the kind of candidates you want to apply. Hiring an individual whose values align with your organization is a win-win. It’s worth taking the time to craft a job description to invite those candidates to apply.

This tip is adapted from “Write a Job Description That Attracts the Right Candidate,” by Whitney Johnson

Ask for Feedback … from Your Kids

Wed, 08/05/2020 - 11:30

Performance evaluations are a routine part of our work lives. But if you’re a working parent, it’s unlikely that you ask for the same kind of feedback at home. It may sound a little silly, but following the best practices you’d use in the workplace to solicit upward feedback from your children can be a great way to help you identify ways you can improve as a parent — as well as what you should continue doing. First, set a specific time and place for the conversation, and provide your kids with specific questions to answer in advance, such as: What do I do that you like or that you’d like to see more of? What do I do that you don’t like or that has a negative impact on you? What would make me a better parent? During the conversation, reassure your kids that you’re listening with an open mind, and manage your emotions so you’re not tempted to react defensively. When they’re done answering your questions, thank them, and summarize what you’ve heard before reacting. And finally, be specific about what you plan to change. Follow up with them once a month to check in on progress. There’s always room to improve, both at work and at home, but you need feedback to make that happen.

This tip is adapted from “Learn to Solicit Feedback … from Your Kids,” by Scott Edinger

Don’t Ask Job Candidates for a Salary History

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 11:30

There’s one simple step your company can take to increase diversity and fairness in hiring: Stop asking job candidates about their salary history. Why? This information gives the employer a bargaining advantage — it can offer just a bit more than an applicant’s current pay level, with confidence that they will accept. But if the employee is underpaid to start with, the company is perpetuating that inequity. When access to salary histories is limited, Black and female job applicants see a more level playing field. In the past few years, 14 U.S. states have banned this practice, and new research found that these laws correlated with pay increases for successful Black (+13%) and female (+8%) candidates. If you’re a hiring manager, the next time you interview a candidate for a new position, you have an opportunity to help your company be more equitable and fair. Don’t let that opportunity go to waste.

This tip is adapted from “Stop Asking Job Candidates for Their Salary History,” by James Bessen et al.

Lead a Productive Brainstorm — Remotely

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 11:30

In the age of Covid-19, many of us are no longer physically working together, but we still need to generate ideas collaboratively. Fortunately, you can still lead a productive remote brainstorm session. First, invite a diverse group of contributors. Because you’re working remotely, you don’t have to limit participants by geography. Identify the roles and expertise you want, and then invite people who fit those descriptions. Make sure you clearly communicate the specific problem the group is trying to solve before the brainstorm begins. This step is especially important when you’re working in a remote environment, where communication is more likely to break down. Finally, structure a process that can unfold over time. In fact, a productive brainstorm doesn’t require everyone to be online at the same time: People may generate better, more distinct ideas if they’re working independently. So create a shared document where participants can add their ideas, and then ask them to collectively finalize the most promising ones at the end of the process. Following these simple steps can make the remote work environment an advantage, not an obstacle.

This tip is adapted from “How to Brainstorm — Remotely,” by Art Markman

Working Parents, Take It Easy on Yourselves Right Now

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 11:30

How does anyone effectively juggle a busy family life and career during quarantine? There’s no doubt that it’s challenging, but you can make it easier on yourself by focusing on some simple principles. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for happiness. Try to be patient with yourself if you need extra time to get your work done, because you often will. Accept that your days won’t go as planned. And rather than dwelling on your mistakes, be curious about them. What can you learn? Are there meaningful patterns in the mistakes you’re making? How can you adapt? You may be reading advice about how to be productive during this time — how much sleep and exercise you should be getting, or how to enrich your kids’ online learning experience over the summer. Ask yourself if these recommendations are actually serving you at this moment. If they aren’t, let them go and identify what your family really needs. Finally, make sure you find time for laughter. Especially during a crisis, we need to find ways to turn stressful moments into light-hearted ones — whenever we can.

This tip is adapted from “Lessons from a Working Mom on ‘Doing It All,’” by Francesca Gino

How to Respond When an Employee Cries at Work

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 11:30

People cry at work. Maybe it’s because of tough feedback or a particularly stressful day, or maybe it has nothing at all to do with work. Regardless of the reason, as a manager, you shouldn’t ignore or diminish the tears, even if they make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t try to interpret your employee’s emotions, tell them what to do, or judge them. Instead, show gentle curiosity and compassion. Try saying something like: “Let’s pause for a moment here. I can see you’re crying. Would you like to take a break or keep going? It’s up to you.” This neutral language gives the person a chance to take a second and claim some privacy. You can also say: “I’m going to stop our conversation for a second to check in with you. You can talk to me about what’s going on if you’re comfortable.” This demonstrates curiosity, without dramatizing or overplaying concern. Or, try: “You’re crying, so let’s pause. What would be most helpful for you right now? I’ll follow your lead.” This acknowledges what’s happening in a nonjudgmental way, while empowering the person to take control. Whatever you choose to say, the key is to be clear, understanding, and ultimately allow the person to tell you what they need.

This tip is adapted from “What to Say When Someone Cries at Work,” by Deborah Grayson Riegel

Support Your Employees Who Can’t Return to the Office

Wed, 07/29/2020 - 11:30

Chances are that you have employees who fall into the high-risk group for coronavirus and who may be unwilling or unable to return to an office when you reopen. Managers need to develop a specific plan for these employees. Support their ability to continue working from home, if possible. While working remotely isn’t ideal for everyone, the pandemic has shown that it’s doable for many — and it can even be beneficial. Allowing high-risk employees to continue to work remotely has the added benefit of reducing the number of people in the office, making everyone on your team safer. Make sure that any employee who continues to work remotely still feels included. Consider implementing a policy that if one person calls into a meeting, everyone joins by phone, even if it’s from their desks. This will allow your remote employees to feel fully included. The ongoing safety and welfare of all employees — but particularly your most vulnerable — needs to be at the top of every manager’s priority list. This is an unprecedented moment, and you should be prepared to make unprecedented accommodations.

This tip is adapted from “Office Reentry Plans Must Account for Medically Vulnerable Employees,” by Rebecca Zucker

Make Career Envy Work for You

Tue, 07/28/2020 - 11:30

Envy can be a powerful motivator, but you shouldn’t let someone else’s accomplishments make you feel inferior. If you find yourself falling into a downward spiral of comparison, there are several things you can do. First, remind yourself that while you can’t control envy, you can choose whether you feel ashamed about it. Shift from comparison to curiosity: Why has the other person’s career triggered this feeling for you? Instead of assuming that their success somehow detracts from your own, reflect on what their career can teach you about your potential trajectory. And instead of looking at them as a competitor, think of the person as a potential ally who might help you achieve your goals. Finally, remember that you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you let any one job define your self-worth. Instead, imagine your career as a portfolio of experiences that ultimately increase your overall value. While we all experience a little jealousy now and again, these strategies will help lessen your discomfort — and might even help you make your envy work for you.

This tip is adapted from “The Upside of Career Envy,” by Nihar Chhaya

Don’t Just Give Feedback. Engage in a Conversation.

Mon, 07/27/2020 - 11:30

When giving feedback, you might assume your role is to tell your employee what you see, but it’s far more effective if you engage in a two-way conversation. Start by asking questions about their strengths. For example, you might say, “Tell me about a time this month that you felt energized,” or, “What have you learned about yourself from working on this project?” Asking employees to look back on these moments helps you better understand what it took to get there — and what it will take to get there again. When employees hint at a challenge, try to draw out their concern. You might ask questions like: “What outcome are you trying to achieve? What have you tried so far to get there? How have you handled similar challenges in the past?” Then, help them shape the path forward. Let the employee offer ideas about next steps, but steer the conversation and offer concrete feedback. Close with questions like, “How do you think you’ll act on this?” and “What would happen if you tried this?” The best feedback helps your employees understand and build upon their strengths — and perhaps even see themselves in a new way.

This tip is adapted from “Good Feedback Is a Two-Way Conversation,” by Joe Hirsch

Set Clear “Communication Hours” For Your Team

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 11:30

When your team is working remotely — and possibly on different schedules — people can feel like they’re expected to be online all the time. But this lack of distinct downtime isn’t good for you or your team. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to establish communication norms while encouraging people to continue to work flexibly as needed. Define clear “communication hours,” for example, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., when team members are expected to check and respond to messages. Outside of those hours, encourage them to change their settings to “Do Not Disturb” and to send messages using the schedule feature of their email. Develop a plan, such as calling or texting, for urgent or time-sensitive communication outside of these hours. This way, people can comfortably shut off other channels, like email or Slack. Plus, the act of calling or texting a teammate is likely to make the sender pause and think, “Do I really need this person now, or can it wait until tomorrow?” An “always-on” culture isn’t sustainable, and these boundaries allow team members to set their own hours and not feel like they have to accommodate everyone else’s schedule.

This tip is adapted from “The Downside of Flex Time,” by Maura Thomas

Balance Your Analytical and Emotional Intelligence

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 11:30

Solving big problems and making critical business decisions often requires you to activate different parts of your brain: the analytic network, which helps you solve problems and make decisions, and the empathic network, which enables you to scan an environment and be open to new ideas. To learn how to toggle between the two, start by figuring out which network is your “go-to.” Are you more likely to focus on concrete facts and probabilities? Or do you tend to reflect more on your emotions and the emotions of those around you? Practice exercising the neural network that isn’t your default. For example, you can develop your empathic network by spending 15 minutes each day in a conversation where you’re focused on understanding the other person, not solving their problem. To work on your analytic network, you might schedule specific time periods to complete certain tasks and then hold yourself accountable, even if you don’t have firm deadlines. The more you practice each of these mindsets, the more flexible and dexterous you’ll be as a manager — in any situation that arises.

This tip is adapted from “The Best Managers Balance Analytical and Emotional Intelligence,” by Melvin Smith, Ellen Van Oosten, and Richard E. Boyatzis

Turn Rejection into a Learning Opportunity

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 02:31

Whether you’re applying for a new job, vying for a promotion, or pitching a big idea to your boss, when you put yourself out there and it doesn’t work out, you’re likely to feel rejected. It’s natural to feel a sting after a setback, but internalizing that negative feeling won’t help. Here are a few strategies to help you channel your inner grit and seize an opportunity to grow. First, don’t allow your anticipation of any outcome to become an expectation. This can fuel false confidence and obscure your objectivity about how things are actually going. Second, let yourself feel the pain of rejection. Many people either try to bury or overindulge that feeling — neither of which is productive. Instead, name your disappointment, acknowledging that you feel hurt by the outcome. You might even talk to a trusted friend or colleague about it. Finally, use the experience to learn. Consider what part you played in the decision not going your way, and solicit feedback about what you could have done better. People are often willing to be honest when they think your request to improve is sincere. And ideally, you can use that input the next time you take on a similar challenge.

This tip is adapted from “How to Bounce Back from Rejection,” by Ron Carucci

Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 02:29

The fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing in normal times, and it’s even worse when we’re living through a period of heightened uncertainty. But there are things you can do to get unstuck. Start by naming your thoughts and feelings. For example, if you work in retail right now, you might be worried about making mistakes around reopening. Try to pinpoint your specific concern. Maybe it’s something like: “I feel anxious about the safety of my customers and my staff.” Stating your fears helps diffuse them. Next, try to accept reality by making a list of truths you might need to come to grips with, such as: “I understand that people will not always behave in ideal ways.” Finally, think about how you can act on your values to address the situation. Let’s say one conscientiousness is important to you. You might apply that value by making sure your employees have masks that fit them well and easy access to hand sanitizer. Using a process like this to address each of your fears will help you learn to tolerate uncertainty without worrying too much about making a mistake.

This tip is adapted from “How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes,” by Alice Boyes

Make a “To-Don’t” List

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 02:28

If you aren’t reaching your goals, the solution probably isn’t to take on more work. Instead, consider what you might stop doing. You’ll have more time for what really matters if you eliminate unnecessary busy work. Here’s a simple exercise to make that happen. First, identify a specific goal or an area of your work that you’d like to improve. Then, take a piece of paper and divide it in half. On the left-hand side, make a list of all of your daily tasks, and on the right-hand side, make a list of your biggest “wins” — the work milestones you’re most proud of. Draw a line connecting each of your wins to related daily tasks, and circle those tasks. Finally, step back and look at what’s left uncircled on your list. These are the tasks that you should either stop doing, significantly minimize, or delegate to others. Abandoning work that isn’t helping you meet your goals will give you more time to focus on the work that is — and then to revel in your success.

This tip is adapted from “Want to Be More Productive? Try Doing Less,” by Kate Northrup

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